Friday, 18 April 2014

Putin Uses Gas Exports as a Political Weapon. Let's Turn That Weapon Against Him

For those of you following the events surrounding Russia's growing takeover of Ukraine, you've probably heard about Europe's dependence on Russian gas and how Russian dictator Vladimir Putin takes advantage of it.  What you might not know, however, is that this dependence works both ways.  The Russian economy is heavily dependent on gas exports, so not having customers to export their gas to would severely damage the Russian economy and Putin's regime, which relies significantly on support from rich oligarchs, many of whom are involved in the Russian gas industry.  Putting an end to Russian gas exports would cost these oligarchs a fortune and so if they were threatened with the possibility that Europe would no longer depend on them for their gas supplies, they would likely press Putin to end his megalomaniac conquests.  In fact, they may even be able to force him from power should they feel that keeping Putin in the Kremlin is no longer in their interests.  So ironically, the gas exports that Putin uses as political leverage to continue his conquests can also be used against him.  But in order for this to happen, Europe must expunge itself from dependence on Russian gas, and the only way to do this is for the continent to find other suppliers.

One potential supplier is Azerbaijan, a former Soviet state that seeks to take advantage of its own vast oil and gas reserves.  The Azerbaijanis plan is to build a pipeline that would run from their country, through the former Soviet republic of Georgia, then through Turkey all the way to southern Europe.  This pipeline would bypass Russian territory and give Europe a new alternative to importing gas from Putin's Russia.  Click here for an article about this proposed pipeline.

Further to the south may lie another alternative in a country that up until recently few people would think of as a major gas exporter: Israel.  Within the last decade, the search for oil and gas off the Mediterranean coast of the Jewish state has turned up huge reserves of natural gas; enough for Israel to become a major exporter.  Indeed, there has been talk of building an undersea pipeline from Israel to Turkey.  A recent article in the Israeli press discusses this possibility, along with the prospect of Russian opposition.  Click here for the full article.

So there are potential alternatives to Europe's current dependence on Russian gas.  But of course, pipelines take time to build and before any shovels get put in the ground, there needs to be political will on the part of the leaders of countries that have an interest in seeing these pipelines realized.  I certainly hope that this political will materializes soon, because the sooner the politicians in the West decide that they no longer want to depend on Russian tyrant Putin for their gas supplies, the sooner the pipelines can be built and the gas can start flowing.  There's no time to waste as Putin continues to use Russia's gas reserves as a blackmailing chip to further his conquests.     

Thursday, 17 April 2014

How to Stop Putin Dead in his Tracks

After easily taking over Crimea, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is ready to chalk up another conquest in eastern Ukraine.  This time, the Ukrainian government is putting up some resistance, but it doesn't seem to be enough.  Putin's grip on the eastern part of the country seems to be growing stronger by the day.  And for all Putin's talk that he is fighting fascists in Ukraine, it's his supporters that seem to be the harbingers of fascism.  Recently, a leaflet was distributed in the city of Donetsk calling on all members of the Jewish community there to register their religion and property with the government of the self-proclaimed "people's republic" of Donetsk, or face deportation and loss of citizenship.  Click here for full details.

History tells us that a similar policy was carried out against Jews and other minorities in Germany before World War II.  It was only the first step before the Nazi death machine began working in full swing.  After all, a holocaust does not begin with mass extermination - it ends with it.  In other words, threatening Jews and other minorities with deportation and loss of citizenship could just be the beginning of worse things yet to come, so it's important that those who have the power to stop Putin in his tracks do so immediately without wasting any more time.

U.S. President Barack Obama may be a modern-day Neville Chamberlain, but he was right about one thing.  The Russia of today is not the Soviet Union of old and does not lead a large bloc of countries - yet.  Indeed, Russia's military strength is not equal to what the Soviet Union once had and she is not ready to challenge the military might of NATO, which is why Putin will limit his conquests to non-NATO members, at least in the near future.  Hence, NATO members' commitment to step up air and sea patrols in the Black Sea and beef up military deployments in NATO and EU members bordering Ukraine and Russia will do nothing to stop Putin as he will not pursue a head-on confrontation with the West anyways.

The only way to contain the Russian dictator is for NATO troops to deploy in Ukraine itself and any other country whose territory Putin has eyes on, such as Georgia or Moldova.  Better yet, the West should fast-track countries threatened by Putin on the road towards full NATO and EU membership.  In other words, there should be NATO boots on the ground wherever the Russian despot is likely to attempt additional land-grabs.  The message to Putin will be loud and clear: If he wants to conquer more territory, he will have to go through NATO troops to get it.

But would doing this provoke a war with Russia?  Not likely.  Putin may be a tyrant and a murderer, but he is not insane and he is still capable of rational thinking.  He knows that a war with the West now would be unwinnable and would most definitely lead to his downfall.  And if there's at least one thing all dictators care about, it's staying in power, which is why Putin would be incredibly foolish to risk a military confrontation with NATO and its allies, for now.

As I said in a previous blog post, Battlefield Ukraine: Stop Putin Now!, force is the only thing that can put an end to a dictator's aggression.  Hence, threatening Putin with force by placing NATO troops and hardware in countries and territories where he may try to make new conquests will ensure that he will not pursue those conquests.  The bad news, however, is that this will only work for awhile.  As long as Putin remains in control of Russia, he will be able to strengthen his military forces and solidify alliances with other friendly dictatorships, such as China and Iran, so that eventually he will be ready for a military confrontation with the West.  In essence, containing Putin is only a temporary solution.  The only permanent solution is to remove him from power.  But how can this be done without provoking a war?  I sincerely hope the leaders of the world's democracies will put their heads together and try to come up with an answer to this question.  Otherwise, war could be inevitable. 

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks: It's About More Than Just Peace Between Two Nations

After another round of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians under U.S. mediation, talks seem to have reached a dead end....again.  Last year, Israel, the Palestinians and the U.S. all agreed on a deadline looming at the end of this month to lay the groundwork for a peace agreement that would give the Palestinians an independent state and give Israel peace, security and diplomatic recognition from its Arab neighbours.  I don't have to tell anyone who has at least some general knowledge of the Israeli-Arab conflict that a lot is at stake with these talks.  In fact, a lot more is at stake than many people would believe, because peace between Israel, the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world, or lack thereof will determine the balance of power for the world as a whole.

As I said in a previous blog post, a new cold war is on the horizon, one that is similar to the old cold war but is also different in respect to its major players (see The New-Old Cold War).  The success or failure of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks will likely determine whether it is the new Western bloc, led by the U.S. and the European Union, or the new eastern bloc, led by Russian and China, who hold sway in the world's most significant oil-producing region.  Should the talks succeed and a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement is eventually achieved, the result will be warming relations between Israel and most of the Arab world.  The bulk of the Arab states will eventually form a strategic alliance with Israel supported by the U.S. and E.U. as a collective security arrangement to protect the region from Iranian aggression supported by Russia and China.

But, if the talks fail, there will be grave consequences for the West and the rest of the free world.  The Americans will lose what little credibility they have left in the Middle East, most of it having already been lost by the Iraq War, the Obama Administration's misguided policy during the Arab Spring, and its perceived weakness against Iran.  The failure of the Americans to broker a deal between Israel and the Palestinians will most likely push Arabs in the direction of the Russians and the Chinese.  In fact, Russia is even now using the Americans' increased weakness in the Middle East to re-establish the foothold that the Soviet Union once had on the region (see, for example, this article in the Russian press, Egypt Seeks to Bring Friendship with Russia to "Soviet Level"). 

Russia currently has the power to blackmail much of Europe through its control of natural gas supplies.  As Russian power in the Middle East grows and American power in the region wanes, it is very feasible to imagine a situation in which Russia could use the same kind of blackmail against the West by managing to withhold vital oil and gas supplies, thus bringing western economies to a crashing halt.  Moreover, if this new, emerging cold war ever gets hot, we in the West would be at a significant and possibly fatal disadvantage should our military forces not have access to Middle Eastern oil and gas to fuel our planes, tanks and ships. 

In fact, I believe that control of the Middle East and its vast oil and gas resources will determine who wins this new cold war, or for that matter a real war.  Hence, for the sake of the entire free world, it is crucial that the Middle East, or at least the majority of it, remains firmly in the pro-Western camp.  For this to happen, Israel and the Palestinians must continue negotiations, for however long it takes, until they can reach a permanent peace agreement, ending their conflict and the Israeli-Arab conflict as a whole.  Yes, that's right, the fate of the free world may ultimately depend on two small nations whose people make up a tiny fraction of the world's population making peace.  So in a way, the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators and the Americans mediating the talks between them hold the free world in the palm of their hands.  As if they didn't already have enough to think about.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Why Toronto Shouldn't "Chow Down" or "Drive a Ford"

If you're wondering why folks in Canada are so cynical about politics these days, look no further than the City of Toronto.  This fall, Toronto's municipal elections will be held and the choices could not be more stark - or more uninspiring.  The two frontrunners, Olivia Chow and current mayor Rob Ford, are two polar opposites, but they share one thing in common: the potential to destroy Toronto as we know it.  It's just a question of how.

Let's say we re-elect Mayor Rob Ford.  What would that mean for Toronto?  Well, the first thing that comes to mind is another four years of circus acts and vulgar behaviour that will continue to tarnish the city's image as the last four years of Ford's antics already have.  But this isn't even the worst of it.  Throughout his term as mayor of Canada's largest city, Mr. Ford has shown a clear inability to work with others, weather that be city councillors or anyone else that doesn't agree with him.  His arrogance is always on public display whenever he brags about what he thinks he's done for Toronto, like advocating for subways instead of LRTs.  But of course, for all the hot air he's put out talking about how great subways are, he hasn't managed to build any.  In fact, he hasn't even once told Torontonians how he's going to pay for all his glorious subways.  Perhaps the one billion dollars Ford claims to have saved Toronto taxpayers would help? - That is, if he actually did save the city a billion dollars. Click here to find out what I mean.

Still, even if Ford saved just one dollar of Torontonians' hard-earned tax dollars, it would be more than I could say for Olivia Chow, who will no doubt lead Toronto on a path to bankruptcy.  Electing Chow as Toronto's next mayor would spell disaster for the city's finances.  Like all left-wing politicians, she means well, but can't keep her hand out of the pockets of Toronto's taxpayers.  Whereas Ford, with all his arrogance and bad behaviour, still has the courage to say no to the multitude of special interest groups looking for free money, Chow always plays the yes-man when it comes to Torontonians' tax dollars.  Click here for a sample of this spendaholic's record.

So basically, Toronto's upcoming election is very much a choice between allowing Rob Ford to continue his comedy tour and reign of arrogance, or letting Olivia Chow pig out at the trough filled with your tax dollars.  Pick your poison, Toronto.  But wait.  Am I forgetting something?  Oh right, there are other candidates in this election, like David Soknacki, the guy who was the budget chief under former mayor David Miller - the same mayor who presided over that seemingly never-ending garbage strike and who was the conductor of the gravy train that Rob Ford was elected to derail.  Then there's Karen Stintz, the quintessential flip-flopper, who turned from Rob Ford's trusted ally into his arch nemesis overnight because she couldn't (and still can't) make up her mind as to whether she wants subways or LRTs.  And let's not forget John Tory, who's hoping that the third time's the charm after already losing one mayoral vote where he was initially the frontrunner and also losing a provincial election.  He failed to inspire twice and I'm not sure if he'll be any more inspiring this third time around.  That being said, he may have a chance if he can get his message out about moving Toronto forward instead of to the right or left, like Ford and Chow respectively.

I'm not sure who will win this election, but whatever happens, I don't think Toronto should either "Chow Down" or "Drive a Ford".  I just hope other voters feel the same way I do.