This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Two of Us

Americans weren’t the only ones thinking about how to cook Turkey this week…

Sovereignty, the idea that a state alone has absolute jurisdiction over its borders, has been the lifeblood of international politics ever since the 1648 Peace of Westphalia. For better and for worse, the modern world is defined by sovereignty.

Russia loves the concept of sovereignty, and it constantly throws the word around whenever its policies come under fire.

Sovereignty is far from a perfect modus operandi. This is increasingly apparent in an era of increasing globalization where non-state actors (ISIS for instance) factor heavily into the international calculus. But we don’t have to look at the challenges to sovereignty to realize that its flawed; states regularly fight over sovereign rights. There are the obvious grey areas surrounding irredentism. This is a term used to describe a situation nation or state feel at odds with a given nation-state and with to redefine or re-carve borders. Prominent examples of this include the Franco-Prussian rivalry over Alsace-Lorraine, the desire for statehood among Palestinians, and the recent Russian annexation of Crimea.

But we don’t have to introduce arcane words to prove a point against sovereignty. Some of the largest problems with sovereignty are inherit in the concept itself. For example, let’s say that State X has complete sovereignty over the land, waters, and sky within its borders. Now lets say that State Y is conducting military operations nearby and accidentally flies a plane over State X, which responds by shooting the plane down. Strictly speaking in terms of sovereignty, State X is justified. Of course, try telling this to State Y…

Sure, Russia loves sovereignty, but how do they feel about having a plane shot down?

Romancing Doomsday?

No. I don’t believe that World War III will ever happen. Nation-states generally don’t like committing suicide, and therefore a war between nuclear powers is as unlikely as it is undesirable.

That being said, it still sent chills down my spine to hear that a Russian jet was brought down by a member of NATO this past week.

24 November 2015. An Su-24 was shot down by Turkey.

Turkey claims that the fighter entered its territory. NATO stood by Turkey.

Russia claims that the fighter remained in Syrian airspace. It claims that Turkey is betraying the anti-terror cause and Russia is planning on using sanctions to punish Turkey.

What actually happened?

I would like to posit that theory that it absolutely doesn’t matter what happened. NATO will say one thing. Russia will say another.

The downing of wayward planes happens infrequently. Usually they are isolated incidents that just evaporate; lets agree to disagree. The Soviets downed a U-2 plane conducting espionage in 1960. They downed another U-2 above Cuba during the Missile Crisis. In 1983 they brought down civilian flight KAL007, alleging (likely correctly) that the flight was being used by the US to spy.

States have a sovereign right to bring down foreign planes within their airspace, even if this can also be construed as an act of war. Most times these “accidents” don’t lead to any sort of conflict. A war between NATO and Russia would be especially messy, so its unlikely that either side will pursue the matter further. Turkey will probably not repeat the incident. Russia has moved SAMs near the border to make sure of that, even if it is also likely that Russia will be a little more careful with where its planes fly.

Generally the most tangible outcome of a plane being brought down is that one side gets political capital. In 1960 the US was caught spying over the USSR and Khrushchev was able to point and laugh. In 1983 the Soviets were shamed for recklessly killing citizens. In 2015 Russia now has more fuel to throw around in its complicated game with NATO.

We can expect an immediate frosting of Turkish Russian relations. Russia is definitely looking to make Turkey pay, and is placing new restrictions on tourism as a big part of this.  But what does this event mean in the bigger picture?

The Context: Poking and Prodding

A Russian plane getting shot down was bound to happen given Moscow’s increasing use of aircraft to harass NATO. Russian fighters have forced several states on alert. I don’t think it was Russia’s intention to test the readiness of NATO (lets face it, NATO has been on a hair trigger ever since Crimea was annexed), but Russia is certainly trying to make NATO uncomfortable and show that it still poses a formidable threat.

If any NATO member was going to shoot down a Russian plane, Turkey was probably in the best position to do so. Turkey occupies a unique niche in NATO; not only is it the most Eastern member but it is also culturally and religiously distinct. During the early Cold War Turkey was used by NATO for a forward strike capability, although JFK was willing to sacrifice this in order to defuse the Cuban Missile Crisis. Turkey also enjoys a rivalry with Greece, which complicates NATO, and is on the front line of the battle with ISIS. Had a Russian plane been downed over, say, Denmark or Alaska the repercussions would likely be more serious than what we are seeing now.

Turkey has a distinct identity that, like Russia, is between East and West. Russian is therefore likely to be less enraged by a Turkish action than a US or British one. Another factor that helps to soften the blow is that, as a guardian of a valuable warm water access route, Turkey has a long standing geopolitical rivalry with Russia. Familiarity breeds contempt, but it also breeds some level of tolerance. Of course the Turks downed one of our planes! Of course!” 

Aside from growing distrust between Russia and Turkey (and, less so, NATO) we can also expect that Russia will be a little more cautious in flying planes around. We will see a lot less NATO jets being scrambled to counter Russian thrusts, which may actually help relations in the long run.

Regardless of what happens Turkey will not try the same thing twice, especially with Russian SAMs close-by now. The more interesting question is what effect this might have on Greek-Turkish relations. Turkey loves doing flyovers of Greek territory, and they will likely have much more difficulty justifying these now. Incidentally this event may actually push Greece closer to Russia. The two are already on better terms since the debt crisis, and some mutual hatred of Turkey can’t hurt the relationship.


And Now For Something Completely Different…

In other news ISIS recognized Taiwan. This is absolutely hilarious.

Looking Forward: Reconciliation?

I predicted a few posts ago that Putin would take his time to commit to any policy option following the terrorist attack on a Russian flight in Sinai. The attacks in Paris two weeks ago however forced Putin’s hand on the issue: Russia has attributed the attacks to ISIS and has been increasing pressure, both against ISIS in the form of bombs and against NATO in the form of calls for coalition. A Franco-Russian axis seems liable to form, and an improvement in NATO-Russian relations would be desirable in the fight against ISIS. A multi-lateral effort is the most likely to end with a good outcome. I don’t see Russia and Turkey making up though, so any NATO-Russian axis is predicated on  NATO’s willingness to distance itself from Turkey.

Putin continues to call for multilateralism and greater collaboration, and, ever the pragmatist, has taken advantage of the Paris attacks and Turkey incident to retain the initiative in the Middle East. A few weeks ago, following the attack on a Sinai flight by ISIS, most people seemed to be predicting that Putin would remain far more cautious in the Middle East and would rethink his operations in Syria. No more of that talk. The surprises of Paris and Turkey, along with the acknowledging that ISIS downed the Russian flight, have enabled Putin to double-down. He now has far more leverage against NATO; he has a friend in Hollande and can demonize Turkey. He also now has a great excuse to send additional equipment to Syria ostensibly with the goal of keeping Turkey in check.

And thus we end at the beginning. Putin remains slippery and smart as he plays crisis after crisis to his advantage. So far he has been able to weather fortune, but the last few weeks have shown that things can change at a breakneck pace. Putin has proven that he can keep up so far.


Sports, War, and Doomsday: A Week in Retrospect

What was originally intended to be another post relating the intervention in Syria to the Soviet-Afghan War has been hijacked by a dynamic week in news ranging from scandal to tragedy to farce. The occurrences of the past week have significant bearings for the current and future course of Western-Russian relations and all of them merit a fair assessment.

Scandal: The Agony of Defeat

I’ll be honest, international sport is not my field of study. Hopefully I can at least string together what has happened.

Essentially Russia has been under intensive scrutiny over doping. A World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) report was released which accused Russia of running a vast state-funded doping ring which included bribing and intimidating testers. If the allegations are true than this casts a massive stain on Russia’s successes in the 2012 and 2014 Olympics. The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) was also incriminated although they seemed eager to push much of the mess onto Russia. In an attempt to retain credibility for the time, a nearly unanimous vote by the IAAF has banned Russian track-and-field from participating in competitions. The 2016 Rio games are included in this ban, which is indefinite until Russia can clean up its act (although the details are fuzzy; what would happen if the Russian athletes simply register as independent as this Telegraph article points out). 

Obviously my mind first jumped to the FIFA scandal that exploded earlier this year. Washington uncovered and tackled rampant corruption among the leaders of the FIFA scandal. This move was odd since generally Americans have little investment in football/soccer/ball-kicking-game but I felt like it was a politically motivated move engineered to cast a shadow on the upcoming FIFA games in Russia. My feelings seemed validated by Moscow’s response: Putin defended FIFA head Blatter and didn’t seem moved by accusations of corruption. Putin himself prevails over a corrupt system, so its only logical that he would want to downplay corruption as a problem. Furthermore, it seems evident that Putin wants to reclaim Russia’s Brezhnevite glory; international sports make a fine arena to show off national strength. 

In light of the FIFA scandal I was therefore surprised by Putin’s reaction to the IAAF scandal as it unfolded. Putin seemed open to cooperation with the IAAF, calling for an investigation into the issue and calling for punishing individuals rather than Russia as a whole. While it is dubious that any investigations will be fair, Putin’s relatively compromising line comes off as an off-colour move. Why miss a chance to reinforce the Western-Russian tension that he has been carefully cultivating?

Again, I really don’t care much about sports to engage the literature as much as I should but I strongly side with this piece by the Guardian about Russian cooperation. The various big-wigs of the international sport world are all linked in more ways than one, and Russia has been especially active in courting and working with international sports agencies as part of its drive to make an international comeback. Putin likely won’t fire his sports minister who has been very successful in playing the game of international sports politics, and I can only assume that Russia, the IAAF, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will work on some sort of compromise.

If there is corruption it sounds like it goes a lot deeper than Russia. International sports groups and other nations are likely at risk. All parties have a desire to come out of this scandal with clean blood tests, and they’ll likely work for a quick solution. Far from using the allegations as a means of isolating itself from the world, Putin may use them as a means to sling mud on other countries or show that Russia is more agreeable than other nations might suggest. Similarly, Putin’s main goal is to ensure that Russia can participate and show off in the 2016 Olympics, so he likely just wants to put this behind him as quickly as possible. Based on the friends Russia has made with the international sports movement I agree with the aforementioned Guardian article when it says that Russia will likely just receive a brief slap on the wrist. The ban on participation seems tenuous at best; it is merely an attempt by the IAAF to overcompensate for inaction up to this point.

Putin likely already has this fight won, and therefore he can afford to be amenable to addressing the problem. If worst comes to worst he can simply force a few ministers to resign. That generally seems to be how these sport scandals go. Russia doesn’t seem to have responded yet to the decision of the IAAF to banish Russian athletes, although a brief and non-inflammatory story on RussiaToday confirms my suspicions that Russia will be able to navigate the crisis.

Tragedy: Article V

In my last post I predicted that Putin would play dumb about the downing of a Russian flight over Sinai and not attribute it to ISIS. Putin didn’t fold and he didn’t raise, he would merely call. So far my prediction has ranged true, and yesterday’s unfortunate events have assured that Putin has made the right choice. Presto, Putin has a winning hand in the Middle East.

I don’t think the attacks on Paris need much introduction. They are all over the news now. Over 120 dead, and climbing. Hundreds more wounded. France closed its borders in an unprecedented move (a retreat from the European norms which have been developing ever since the Coal and Steel Commission), and ISIS gloats over another victory. I won’t go into much detail about the tragedy or the horror that was unleashed on Paris, but there are a number of important conclusions for Russia.

  1. The West is now unable to capitalize on the Sinai crash. Before yesterday the West attempted to undermine Russia’s position by suggesting that the plane was brought down as a reprisal against Russian intervention. Russia can now justify its military operations in Syria while criticizing the West for a lack of cooperation. I need not mention as well that now people will talk about Paris, not the Sinai crash. The news has a short attention span.
  2. The West is now in a position to enter the Middle East. NATO already has operations in the region (and are making some important gains), but the perception is that Russia is the more dynamic power there. President Hollande has declared the attacks by ISIS to be “an act of war.” This is a bold statement that carries a commitment, and it reminds me of 9/11 when the US responded to the attacks by invoking Article V (collective defense) of the NATO treaty and launching the War on Terror. I predict that NATO, and France in particular, may now be more involved in the Middle East. Russia will still have the upper hand since they are working through Assad, but the calculus in the Middle East is much more complex and will grow more convoluted as ground forces enter.

I would like to see a NATO-Russian alliance (through the NATO-Russia Council) but I doubt this will come to pass. Yet again, Putin mentioned it in his condolences.

This tragedy is additional proof of the barbaric nature of terrorism that is posing a challenge to human civilisation. It is obvious that to counter this evil effectively the entire international community needs to truly join efforts.

I would like to confirm the readiness of the Russian side to closely cooperate with our French partners in investigating the crime committed in Paris. I expect both the originators and perpetrators to be justly punished.

Putin will continue to push for joint efforts as this is the best way to re normalize relations and holds the best chance for sanctions relief. Western-Russian relations might still be frosty, but both sides would only gain from temporarily toning down their rhetoric and cooperating. At the very least I hope that the NRC can resume its active counter-terror operations to increase intelligence sharing.

Regardless, the deadly Paris attacks do not hurt Moscow. Quite the contrary; no tragedy goes missed as a political opportunity.

Farce: Cobalt-60

Russian Ambassador: When it is detonated, it will produce enough lethal radioactive fallout so that within ten months, the surface of the Earth will be as dead as the moon!

Turgidson: Ah, come on DeSadeski, that’s ridiculous. Our studies show that even the worst fallout is down to a safe level after two weeks.

Russian Ambassador: You’ve obviously never heard of cobalt thorium G!

Turgidson: (pauses) Well, what about it?

Russian Ambassador: Cobalt thorium G has a radioactive halflife of ninety three years. If you take, say, fifty H-bombs in the hundred megaton range and jacket them with cobalt thorium G, when they are exploded they will produce a doomsday shroud. A lethal cloud of radioactivity which will encircle the earth for ninety three years!

This exchange is from Dr. Strangelove serves as an excellent introduction to the final news story to discuss. Apparently Russian military intel was ACCIDENTALLY leaked on television. Russia was quick to suggest that this was a mistake. The rest of the world just said sure and then laid awake at night quaking incessantly.

Ever since the US announced an interest in putting anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems in Eastern Europe, Russia has been skeptical. The US maintains these are to prevent strikes from N. Korea or Iran. Russia however quickly realized that these ABM systems threatened their own nuclear capacity, and they have been vocal critics ever since.

ABM systems were considered very dangerous during the Cold War, enough so to be banned. ABM systems undo deterrence as they allow one side to potentially survive a first or second strike and for this reason they were taboo. While Russia has been increasingly flaunting its nuclear capacity, with little regard to the START treaty, its really just a reaction to America’s ABM systems.

The military intel being released was no accident, but rather a carefully calculated warning shot. Russia is showing the US it is more than capable of adapting to ABM systems.

So what exactly was unveiled?

Oh nothing really. Its only the superweapon featured in Dr. Strangelove. You know. Just a nuclear torpedo that may or may not be tipped with Cobalt-59.

Really. Its fine.

Cobalt bombs have long been a theoretical construct but until now no one, that we know of, has really tried building one. They are supposed to be able to produce a deadly, thick, and long-lasting fallout. In the long run, these bombs would do far more damage over a far larger area. If anything could trigger nuclear winter, it would be a cobalt bomb. This is why no one tried building one before. Cobalt bombs are less of a weapon and more of a several megaton middle finger to the human race. Nukes are already tactically unwieldy. While the neutron bomb was an attempt to render nukes more viable in combat, a cobalt bomb is a development in the opposite direction: it is not so much an instrument of war as an agent of extinction.

Suffice it to say that humanity could probably walk away from a nuclear war, so long as cobalt-59 isn’t involved.

So there you have it folks. You can’t trust international sports. ISIS is continuing to reap a bloody harvest. And Russia may or may not be working on a way to kill everything – literally everything.

Needless to say, I had trouble falling asleep last night…

Flight 9268: The Long Halloween

Russia has been busy in the Middle East these days, much to the chagrin of the U.S. A desire to back up the Assad regime has been made manifest in attacks against terrorists. Many people were surprised to learn that the Russian definition of terrorist includes U.S. backed Syrian rebels; these people fail to understand how Russia defines terrorism. Its only consistent that the nation which went through two wars to combat breakaway rebels in Chechnya would have a zero-tolerance policy on rebels. The union of Syria and Russia seemed true when Assad made a surprise visit to Putin.

I could hear my fellow Americans chomping at the bit at all of this. And who can blame them? To all appearances Russia had outmaneuvered us in the Middle East entirely. I was skeptical, as you may recall from an earlier post, but I didn’t think that the Russian stratagem would unravel so quickly.

Well, its too soon to say unravel…But you still can’t say that the events of last Saturday weren’t a game changer.

31 October 2015. Northern Sinai. A charter plane bound for Russia blows up mid-flight. 7 crew. 217 passengers, mostly Russian. No Survivors.

What are the ramifications of this crash? What does it mean for Russia in the Middle East. Usually I don’t like to analyze news in the making but why bother blogging if I won’t get my hands a little dirty. Is this just a freak accident? An act of vengeance? Or something worse? Put on your tin-foil hats kids because we’re going to flirt with conspiracy here.

The Suspects

Normally after a big tragedy people ask “how?” The context within which this tragedy occurred has people asking “who?” instead. After I heard of the plane crash my thoughts immediately turned to ISIS. I knew that ISIS had a powerful ally in Sinai Peninsula in the form of the “Sinai Province” group which pledged fealty to Islamic State. The “Sinai Province” has been a formidable ally for the newly christened al-Sisi regime in Egypt just as ISIS and Russia have butted heads. Russia and Egypt have enjoyed increasingly warm relations over the last few years, and now their fates are linked together. But personal theories don’t matter here; what do the big players think and, more importantly, what are their biases?

  • Russia: Media was quick to attribute the crash to technical problems. Russia is pretending like this is a freak accident, and for good reason. Polls from the Levada center reveal mixed feelings among Russian’s toward aiding Syria, and Putin doesn’t want to lose what little support his foreign policy has. Russia does not want to conjure up memories of past terrorist attacks or of the Soviet-Afghan/Chechen Wars.
  • Egypt: Siding with Russia. Al-Sisi wants to convey that Egypt has the upper hand in the fight against terrorism. He also wants to protect Egypt’s tourism industry which, yes, is significant. A 2014 statement by Putin following a meeting with Al-Sisi actually includes an explicit mention of Egyptian tourism: “We gave special attention to contacts between our citizens in such an important area as tourism. Egypt is one of the favourite holiday resorts among Russian tourists. Last year, despite certain limitations, almost two million tourists from Russia visited the resorts of the Red Sea coast.” Egypt has no desire to see its national security questioned. Egypt incidentally recovered the black boxes and presumably handed them over to Russia, so who knows if these will even been interpreted fairly?
  • US/UK: Claim to have intel that indicates an explosion or an ISIS plot. The US and UK have the potential to spin this tragedy for political advantage: having been hamstrung by Russian activity they now have a chance to fire back. Details are still forthcoming, but the West is showing a remarkable unity in attempting to corner Russia on this issue. If the plane crash was a terrorist action it would undercut Putin’s legitimacy while enhancing the comparatively apathetic response of the West. The US has not gotten as involved as Russia and remains ostensibly free of any ISIS attack. Obama’s policy of keeping US involvement low is, by this standard, working.
  • ISIS/Sinai Province: Naturally the Islamic State has claimed responsibility, labeling the downing as a successful bombing. (Incidentally a bomb seems to be more likely than a surface-to-air missile according to expert consensus). Doing so not only serves to demoralize Russia but also greatly enhances the prestige of ISIS among jihadist groups. In a largely one-sided war between Russia and ISIS, this would be an incredibly valuable victory for the Islamic State, which has been threatening Russia with increasing frequency. I am still doing some research to see if the Sinai Province has claimed any responsibility, or at least if there is any disparity between ISIS and the Sinai Province over this. While the latter may be technically subservient to the former, relations between terrorist groups are generally rocky, especially when they both have much to gain from taking all the credit for themselves.

Freak accidents do happen, but the case for this being an ISIS attack seems credible. At this point it is far too early to tell what the exact cause is, but the closed nature of Russian/Egyptian media will likely hide any conclusions. The situation is made all the more confusing by the fact that Russia and Egypt have the black boxes. Speculation is all that we have right now, and it seems that speculation is what we’ll have to face.

The Kremlin Corollary 

Let us assume that the planes were brought down by a terrorist attack. Hell, let us assume that they weren’t. Schrödinger’s cat anyone?

In either case, the Kremlin’s next move would seem obvious: use this attack to amp up pressure on ISIS and galvanize support. This is politics 101. Putin actually used this trick to rise to prominence in 1999, playing off of the Moscow Apartment Bombings to lead Russia into the Second Chechen War. Certain skeptics would label this a dirty trick when used in 1999, as the mysterious circumstances of the Bombings have led to accusations that they were staged by the government.

I doubt that Putin staged the Moscow Apartment Bombings, but I have no doubt that Putin is a consummate pragmatist. Even his bad moves are still excellent from a utilitarian standard. Putin is a master bureaucrat who could put Brezhnev to shame, and he knows all the right strings to pull.

So no matter what happened to Flight 9268, it seems as if Putin would have been able to fold it into an advantage. And yet…

And yet there is a catch. Russia is simply saying that this is an accident; they aren’t attempting to justify extra action against ISIS. Russia may be increasing its military operations in Syria since the accident, but they haven’t made any logical connections. The Russia Today link in that last sentence doesn’t even mention Sinai! 

The fact that the Russian government has not officially blamed ISIS or made any recent highly visible moves in Syria is interesting. Has Putin, normally a man on the move, finally been slowed down and forced to consider the situation? I think yes, but this isn’t a sign of weakness…not yet. Putin is clearly taking a cautious “wait-and-see” approach.

In the historiography of the Cuban Missile Crisis this would be referred to as the “owl” approach (see bottom for some sources). Not wanted to back down or escalate, JFK instead decided to wait and see what happens. So now lets turn to an analysis of the future along these same lines. What is going through Putin’s mind right now?

The Chips are Down: Next Move?

Owl Strategy: This is the current phase of decision making Putin is in. Putin is not withdrawing and he is not visible turning more to military solutions. I feel that he is currently deciding on his next move.

The beauty of the “owl” strategy is that is allows all options to be kept on the table. Putin still retains all of his freedom of action until enough information can be brought to the table. He doesn’t commit in a way that any side can fire back at: in a way he is simply passing off the initiative. Notice that the West and ISIS are the vocal ones in this situation, not Putin. While the US/UK and ISIS lay blame or claim respectively, Putin can sit back and figure out how to best position himself.

The curse of the owl strategy is that it forces you to make a choice at some point. Sooner or later Putin will have to take a stance and commit to a certain policy. For the purpose of this exercise we can boil it down to two possible answers: dove and hawk.

Dove Strategy: The dove strategy would manifest as a softening of the Russian line, ranging from full withdrawal to less commitment. Putin stakes a lot of his popularity on his tough guy image, and he is unlikely to step back from a situation once the die is cast. Any adoption of the dove strategy would be very limited as Syria is too valuable a prize for Russia to let fall. Various news outlets report that Russia is currently facing some stress with the Assad regime and other Middle Eastern governments after the downing of the Sinai jet. If this is the case, which I doubt, it would be even more important for Putin to remain committed to the region.

There is a “winning” strategy with the Dove tactic that I can detect though: suppose that Russia decided to soften its line by undertaking cooperative exercises with the West? Rather than retreat entirely, Russia could attempt to cut its loses by signing onto a coalition. While the US wouldn’t mind Russia being tied down in the Middle East this isn’t the Cold War anymore. The US doesn’t get stronger just because Russia gets weaker in the region. Asking the West for a coalition would weaken Russian freedom of action however while increasing US influence in the area, which may entice US acceptance. But. for this reason, Putin may not adopt this even if it is a safe option. It would be awkward and risky for Putin to work with the West, especially after so much bad blood and tension have been going on since the annexation of Crimea.

In either case, no matter how absurd they might be (all options on the table here!) I don’t see Putin adopting any dove strategies.

Hawk Strategy: This is the logical strategy and seems to be very likely. Basically just raise pressure against ISIS, maybe even increasing aid to Egypt in reining in the Sinai Province. Increased air strikes, bombings, and commitment. This would boost Putin in the short term (if it ever comes out that the plane was brought down by a bomb), but it would have massive long-term costs and would likely result in more attacks being conducted against Russia. Essentially this is the highest risk option, but it also the most consistent with Russia’s recent activities. Putin cannot risk weakening himself with a Dove option, so he may adopt a Hawk strategy hoping to offset potential long term losses with short term gains.

Personally I am wary of the Hawk strategy. Terrorism is difficult to exterminate by force, as the Soviet-Afghan War, Chechen Wars, and War on Terror all show. Putin’s Russia has been able to greatly curb terrorism in Chechnya, but at great cost and only by giving up some freedom of action in the region to Kadyrov. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Hawk Strategy was adopted (it is Russia’s default when confronted with terrorism) but I think it is far too risky.

So What is Putin’s Next Strategy?

The outcome doesn’t look good huh? There are no real winning strategies it would seem. If it was an attack Russia can’t look weak and back down. But Russia also can’t commit further without accepting further loss of life.

So what is the strategy? Has Putin finally worked his way into a dark corner?

No. The reality is that Putin has already picked out the best strategy. Putin is waiting and watching, and he will continue to do so. But wait didn’t I say that the owl option forced people to choose another option at some point? Well sure, but define “some point.” Putin already has the West right where he wants them, and he already has formidable freedom of action in the Middle East. There is no need to alter his strategy or change course. Flight 9268 may have been a critical loss, but it seems unlikely that it would be enough to further galvanize an apathetic Russian population to oppose further militarism. Quite the contrary, an excellent article by the Economist suggests that it will only “reinforce Russia’s fortress mentality” and add more credibility to Putin, and therefore even more freedom to act.

Putin has all options on the table, and as long as the plane failed due to technical problems he keeps all options on the table. He may make a decision sooner or later, but at this point later, much later, would be wiser.

So there you have it folks. The plane was not blown up, but merely had technical issues.




When planes explode in mid-air they usually leave a stream of debris. Egypt is likely still cleaning up the plane and body parts left strewn over a few miles. As each side angles for maximum political leverage let us not forget that there will be 225 closed casket funerals. Human beings dragged through hell only to be put on display so that the major actors can keep playing their political games. Will there be any justice for the dead? Is there ever justice in war?

For more discussion of the hawk, dove, and owl distinctions in the context of the Cuban Missile Crisis I recommend:

Allison, Graham, and Zelikow, Philip. (1999). Essence of decision: explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis. New York, NY: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc.

Blight, J. G., Nye, J. S., & Welch, D. A. (1987). The Cuban Missile Crisis Revisited. Foreign Affairs, 66(1), 170-188. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier.

Hawks, Doves and Owls: An Agenda for Avoiding Nuclear War (1986; New York, W. W. Norton) by Allison, Nye, and Carnesale seems to be the piece that first brought up the owl/hawk/dove distinction but I must investigate further…

Editorial: Balancing Act

A car was following me for 5 blocks. While I was driving into a busy township my paranoid reptile mind immediately conjured up thoughts of film noir inspired malefactors. I tried to give them the shake but they opened fire and shot out my back tires. I reached slowly for the jar of molasses I had just bought from the megamart. If anything could save my life it would be the molasses. As the dark trench-coat wearing figures approached my wrecked vehicle they stopped. My heart was pounding. What was going to happen? They bent over as if to carefully place something and then walked back to their car slowly. As they drove away I got out of the driver’s seat, clutching the molasses just in case, and wandered to the spot. I found a bottle of vodka, empty, with a scroll inside. I broke the bottle with the molasses jar and picked up the scroll, waving off the glass clumsily. I opened the scroll: IF YOU KNOW WHATS GOOD FOR YOU LESS IS MORE. The words rang hollow for about a minute…then I knew what they were talking about. The AK-47 fire. The shattered bottle of Russian Standard. The perfect Cyrillic writing on the scroll. My breath grew short…oh no…they know about the blog…and they don’t like it…

Generally my aim is to get at least a post a week. I’ve settled on every Saturday, but even that proved too much as I was only able to churn out 4 posts last month. The 4th one was late and when it came time to post the 5th (the one I was REALLY waiting on) I found myself without time. This is acceptable. I am a busy man and I did enjoy a brief respite a few weeks ago.

I just thought that I’d be able to keep up a high volume of posts, especially since starting a full time job a few months ago. That may seem crazy, but considering that before this job I was working a 30 hour part time job while doing a full time load at school (not to mention carpooling with my girlfriend) its not too hard to believe. True I have more free time now and true I have a regular set schedule, but its always easier to make a list than to cross things off. Suffice it to say: my eyes are bigger than my stomach.

Therefore I’ve decided to just aim for two posts a month (about).

I am going to run updates every other Saturday.

This means several things:

  1. I will be able to focus more on quality than quantity and invest more time into research and proofreading. I already am organizing my thoughts in regards to the recent tragedy in the skies over Sinai. Wrestling with some conspiracy theories sounds nice right about now. Writing polished investigative pieces was the original goal of my blog and I feel like I’ve established enough of a post base from which I’m comfortable to venture off of.
  2. I will have more time to work on and develop the blog. I can decide on a citation system and work on smoothing out a few other kinks I’ve found with this layout (for instance what to do with pesky URLs). I’ll even get around to writing “updates every other Saturday and some change” on the sidebar so everyone knows.
  3. I will have greater flexibility to address current events as appropriate. Originally my aim was to do 4 blog posts a month while doing some current events on the side. This has resulted in me focusing more on book reviews than on the resurgence of a dynamic Russia. By setting two quality topics as the minimum I will be able to more clearly tackle the big events and material while leaving plenty of time and room for commentary and posts on the side.
  4. I’ll have more time to dedicate to other tasks and passions. I actually just read Alice in Wonderland for the first time the other night and I have a book list a mile long. Additionally I need to make more time for practicing my Russian skills and ocarina talents, not to mention playing through the Metal Gear Solid trilogy (which may prove to be a misguided venture). All of this means greater balance, normalcy, and (hopefully) a higher quality end product as a result in every aspect of these undertakings.

Editorial: On Sources

There doesn’t seem to be a way to incorporate footnotes into my work: at least, not from what I’ve seen thus far. As I was reading for and preparing my last blog post my irrational paranoia latched onto the fear that I was improperly citing my sources. I don’t want this to be a stuffy blog. After long years of writing high quality academic papers for college I find it refreshing to write informally. I view this blog as a casual side project meant to educate. I attempt to take the roll of professor in introducing and discussing ideas. College professors generally don’t cite sources in lectures, so that was my mentality going into this. Between you and me, half the time I don’t even bother proofreading. Its not due to laziness, I can and have churned out nearly flawless papers before, but rather just a sort of postpartum reaction to graduating.

I’ve been studying Russia for so long and have consulted so many sources that after a while it all blends together. Its hard, if not impossible to judge where one idea ends and a new, fresh one begins. I try to cite when I know its appropriate to but I can’t help but shake the feeling that I’ve been awfully lax about it. Even when I do cite I usually don’t give a formal AUTHOR-YEAR-TITLE format.

Perhaps I’m just being irrationally afraid of accidentally committing plagiarism. Again, I try just to write posts from memory so its possible. Ethically I view nothing wrong with committing accidental plagiarism. We can’t keep track of everything and mistakes are bound to occur. Furthermore I’m not trying to pass off any work or ideas as my own (if I did I would make it abundantly clear) and I’m certainly not attempting to profit in any way from this blog: its merely a labour of love meant to keep me sharp and invested in my studies. However I still understand that it is essential to avoid plagiarism wherever possible. Were I to ever be called out on it I would happily remove or credit the content in question.

Maybe I shouldn’t fret. According to this publication plagiarism is endemic in Russia: even Putin has dabbled in it. My intentions are pure at least.

Technically my last post did commit plagiarism: I plagiarized myself! I copied and pasted some excerpts from a paper I wrote in college. Some people say you need to cite yourself: I think this is bogus. No one has access to that earlier paper anyway aside from myself.

I’ve done some investigation into how other blogs cite sources and what is recommended and the consensus seems to be fairly lax. Yet again, as a whole the internet is sorely lack any sort of standards. How much content is posted and reposted? How many artists have their work illegally downloaded or copied? The internet is a sort of collective hivemind: beware intellectual property, here be dragons. So much data is accrued and stored and passed along that ideas of intellectual ownership, along with integrity and accuracy, are drawn into question.

As I’ve said before, I attribute sources as best I can. I include small parenthetical citations and give shout-outs, and that is far more than most people do. I will continue to attempt in earnest to blog with integrity, and with each post I come closing to actually creating a consistent method of accreditation. That is the goal. After all, we’re all just here to learn, including me.