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Saturday, March 3, 2012

The cold wind from Russia---- Vladimir Radyuhin

Putin's election-eve attack against Washington and its western allies for exporting “rocket-bomb democracy” indirectly targets India too.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, almost certain to win the Russian presidential elections this Sunday, has laid out a tough foreign policy vision for his third term in the Kremlin that may entail changes in Russia's relations with its main partners East and West.

In an article titled “Russia and the Changing World,” the last in a series of election manifestos Mr. Putin has published in Russian newspapers in recent weeks, he mounted a scathing attack on the United States and its western allies accusing them of exporting “rocket-bomb democracy” and working to undermine Russia's security and global stability.

Mr. Putin said “certain aspects” of western policies, “based on the stereotypes of bloc mentality,” are “impairing our security and upsetting global stability.” He hit out at Nato's Eastward expansion in Europe, plans to set up a U.S. missile defence system in Europe, and “ever more frequent cases of crude and even armed outside interference in the domestic affairs of countries.”

On Afghanistan, he said the Nato operation had “not resolved its set tasks” and “it clearly does not suit us” that “the Americans are creating military bases there and in neighbouring countries,” even as they plan a withdrawal.

Denunciation of U.S. and Nato

Mr. Putin's article is reminiscent of his hard-hitting denunciation of the U.S. and Nato in the famous 2007 speech in Munich and stands in stark contrast with the Kremlin's friendly tone during the presidency of Dmitry Medvedev.

Many analysts say Mr. Putin has ratcheted up the anti-West rhetoric ahead of the elections to capitalise on the high level of hostility that persists in Russian society towards the U.S. (According to a January poll, 76 per cent of Russians, four percentage points more than a year ago, see the U.S. as an “aggressor bent on imposing its control on all countries.”) However, Russia's policy on the ground has indeed taken a harder line in recent months.

The veto Russia slapped jointly with China on two United Nations Security Council resolutions that sought the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad marked the most serious East-West confrontation since the end of the Cold War. It was a u-turn from Moscow's stand on Libya last year, when it voted for a no-fly zone to protect civilians, which led to the toppling of Muammar Qadhafi. In the case of Syria, Russia has firmly dug its heels in against regime change.

Western arguments that Russia is trying to save its last ally in the Middle East and a major customer of its weapons miss the point. Moscow feels its cooperation with the West on Libya was wilfully abused when Nato countries, in Mr. Putin's words, “did away with the Libyan regime by using air power under the pretext of humanitarian support.”

Mr. Putin reiterated Russia's opposition to the “right to protect” concept of foreign intervention on humanitarian grounds. “A string of armed conflicts under the pretext of humanitarian concerns has undermined the principle of national sovereignty, which has been observed for centuries.”

‘No replay of Libya'

Mr. Putin said Russia would not allow a replay of the Libya scenario in Syria. “Sadder but wiser, we are against any U.N. Security Council resolutions that could be interpreted as a signal for military interference in Syria's domestic processes.”

Russia's intransigence on Syria steps from a clear understanding that the U.S. and the Saudi-led group of Arab countries are out to pull down the Assad regime in order to weaken Iran, change its political regime, and remodel the entire region. The Russian leader warned that a military strike against Iran would have “catastrophic” consequences, whose “real scale is impossible to imagine.”

Mr. Putin's new anti-Americanism reflects his disappointment with the policy of “reset” in relations with the U.S. that has been the hallmark of Mr. Medvedev's presidency. The “reset” did bring its dividends in the form of the New START arms reduction treaty and Russia's membership in the World Trade Organisation but, as Mr. Putin pointed out in his article, Russia and the U.S. “have failed to fundamentally change the matrix of our relations.”

The U.S. and Nato “have developed a peculiar understanding of security which is fundamentally different from our view. The Americans are obsessed with the idea of providing themselves with absolute invulnerability,” Mr. Putin said adding that “absolute invulnerability for one means absolute vulnerability for everyone else.”

‘Not the 19th or 20th century'

“We cannot agree to this,” he warned. “A qualitative breakthrough” in Russia-U.S. relations was still possible, but on the condition that “the Americans are guided by the principle of equal and mutually respectful partnership.” In Russia's view, such partnership has been woefully lacking so far. “The West is too quick to grab the cudgel of sanctions or even military force to ‘punish' certain countries. Let me remind you that this is not the 19th century or even the 20th century today,” Mr. Putin said.

The standoff on Syria may also trigger shifts in Russia's relations with its two main strategic partners, India and China. The crisis has strengthened the strategic alliance of Russia and China. The veto the two countries used twice in four months was unprecedented in the recent history of the Security Council. Both refused to join the Friends of Syria meeting in Tunis and denounced attempts by outside forces to impose solutions on Syria. In his foreign policy manifesto Mr. Putin predicted that Russia's partnership with China will keep going stronger, and welcomed China's “ever more confident” voice in the world.

By contrast, India and Russia found themselves on different sides of the barricade. India's decision to side with the West raised eyebrows in the Kremlin. As recently as October, India stood with Russia and China in the U.N. Security Council as they opposed a one-sided censure of the Syrian government. New Delhi reasonably argued that violence in Syria came from two sides and the government was fighting an armed insurgency.

However, on February 4, India turned around and voted for a similar resolution that again addressed the demand to end violence to only the Syrian government. At the same time New Delhi said that, like Russia and China, it supported “a Syrian-led inclusive political process.” How can one be in favour of an “inclusive political process,” Russians wondered, while backing a resolution that supports the ouster of President Assad as a precondition for launching such a process?

A day before India sent a high-ranking diplomat to the Friends of Syria meet, senior Indian and Russian diplomats held annual foreign policy consultations in New Delhi. Disagreement over Syria was apparently so serious that a Russian Foreign Ministry communiqué on the talks did not even mention that the Middle East was discussed.

‘India's stand surprising'

“India's stand on Syria came as a surprise to the Kremlin,” says Prof. Andrei Volodin of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Diplomatic Academy. He thinks it is shortsighted on the part of India to cast its lot with the U.S., whose global power is declining, and with conservative Gulf monarchies, which are historically doomed. But he admits that India's Syria stand falls into a trend.

“Some upper echelons in the Ministry of External Affairs, alarmed by China's fast rise and backed by the U.S. Indian community and a corporate lobby, are trying to impose a foreign policy course on the country's leadership that goes against India's long-term interests,” the Russian scholar who closely follows India's political scene told The Hindu. Prof. Volodin sees this trend as part of an ongoing struggle in the Indian elite between advocates and opponents of the foreign policy tradition of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, a struggle aggravated by a general decline in the level of strategic thinking in the Indian foreign policy establishment.

“India's stand on Syria betrays the same lack of strategic foresight as its recent decision to buy in a tender a 20th century fighter plane for 21st century tasks at a time when a fifth-generation platform that India is jointly developing with Russia is in the pipeline.”

Five years ago, Mr. Putin, then President, placed India along with Russia and China in an exclusive club of world powers that “can afford the luxury of genuine sovereignty”. As he prepares to reclaim presidency, Mr. Putin has again invoked the issue of sovereignty in foreign policy.

“Everything we do will be based on our own interests and goals, not on decisions other countries impose on us … Russia has practically always had the privilege of pursuing an independent foreign policy and this is how it will be in the future,” Mr. Putin wrote in his election manifesto.

“Syria has put to the test the ability of countries to take sovereign decisions,” says Prof. Volodin. “Russia and China have passed the test; India, unfortunately, has not.”

THE HINDU

Syria: Troops shell Homs, 47 defected soldiers killed, two dead after suicide blast


As Syrian troops continued assault against the rebellious city of Homs, the Red Cross denied reports that it had entered the besieged city, while a report of about 47 executed defected soldiers by the regime emerged on Saturday.

Syrian troops shelled on Saturday several districts in Homs where a standoff continued between a Red Cross convoy and the government that has blocked the delivery of food, medical supplies and blankets to the thousands still stranded in the area.

Abu Hassan al-Homsi, a doctor at a makeshift clinic in Khaldiyeh district of Homs, said he treated a dozen wounded.

“This has become routine, the mortars start falling early in the morning,” he said. Several homes were damaged from the morning shelling, which he described as steady but intermittent. Most of those he treated were lightly wounded, al-Homsi added.

The Local Coordination Committees activist network said mortars slammed into Khaldiyeh, Bab Sbaa and Khader districts of the city early Saturday.

The shelling came amid a standoff between the government and the Red Cross, which denied that authorities have allowed it to enter Homs on Friday.

“No teams entered on Friday Baba Amr, and (authorities) have not allowed entry of aid,” ICRC Damascus spokesman Saleh Dabbakeh, told AFP.

“We are still in talks,” he said, shortly after a Damascus-based ICRC official told AFP that a team went into the neighborhood on Friday to assess the needs while negotiations were continuing with authorities to allow aid in.

Regime forces overran Baba Amr on Thursday after nearly a month of bombarding the rebel-held neighborhood of Syria’s third-largest city.

In related news, around 47 Syrian soldiers who attempted to defect were executed in the northwestern province of Idlib, the Syrian Network for Human Rights reported on Saturday.

On Thursday, one of Syria’s main opposition groups, the Syrian National Council (SNC) announced that it formed a military bureau to support the Free Syrian Army (FSA) who is made up of deserters from the Syrian security forces.

Blast in south, clashes in north

Meanwhile, Syria’s state-run news agency said a suicide bomber has detonated his car in a southern city, leaving at least two people killed.

SANA says the blast occurred in the heart of the city of Daraa on Saturday morning. The city is the birthplace of the nearly year-old uprising against President Bashar Assad.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says at least two people were killed and several others wounded in the explosion. The group says the blast occurred near a petrol station in an area known as Daraa al-Balad.

Opposition activists denied that the explosion was caused by a bomber but did not give an explanation for the reported attack.

And in the northern part of the country, the fight against anti-Syrian regime elements continued as the regime’s army launched an offensive early Saturday against rebels in the village of Ain al-Beida, not far from the border with Turkey, the Turkish news agency Anatolia reported.

It quoted witnesses as saying around 2,000 soldiers and 15 tanks were involved in the operation to seize control of the village only a few kilometers (miles) from Turkey.

The army overran the village and set fire to the houses, Anatolia said.

The agency said opposition fighters injured in the clashes had been taken to Turkey for treatment.

Residents in the Turkish village of Guvecci, just across the border in the southern province of Hatay, told AFP by telephone they had heard automatic gunfire and artillery at dawn.

Some 7,500 Syrians have fled to Turkey since the outbreak of anti-regime unrest almost one year ago, on March 15.

They are housed in camps in Hatay, where members of FSA are based.

Turkey, which shares a 910-kilometre (560-mile) border with Syria, broke its former alliance with Damascus over the regime's brutal crackdown on opposition protesters, which has left more than 7,500 people dead according to the United Nations.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

ISI-linked businessman claimed the financial backing of mystery Indian political family


Mansoor Ijaz, architect of Pakistan political crisis, told bankers he received $60 million from family's Swiss bank holdings

Mansoor Ijaz, a controversial Pakistani-American businessman with links to the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, raised over $1.5 million from a San Marino bank by claiming to have the backing of a politically-influential Indian business family, court documents available with The Hindu show.

Mr. Ijaz made the claims in a March 10, 2008 letter to Banca Sammarinese di Investimento SPA, as he fought for time to repay loans taken the previous year. The letter is among documents filed before the New York Supreme Court in September 2010, after BSI sued the businessman.

Late last year, Mr. Ijaz provoked a crisis in Pakistani politics after making public the contents of a secret memo calling on the United States to help the civilian government sack key military commanders. He claimed the memo had been authored by the country's Ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani.

In his letter to BSI, Mr. Ijaz promised he had secured $50 million from a “large Indian family that has real estate investments around the world, including over 40 apartment units in Las Vegas' newest condominium towers [as well as] Dubai and India.” “The head of the family,” he went on, “is an important political personality from the State, where the family resides”.

“The investor's funds,” Mr. Ijaz asserted, “are resident in Switzerland, and we are presently going through the necessary due diligence work”.

In addition, he said, “the same investor, due to its close ties with Tata Motors, has chosen to invest $10,000,000 in our planned launch of a company to develop the world's most energy-efficient powertrains”.

“The Indian family,” Mr. Ijaz told The Hindu, “was one of the big ones — I'm not at liberty to say.” He however said the family had only planned an investment in “in my Aquarius Towers project for Las Vegas, not the powertrain deal —that was all American investors in which I invested my share using my pledged collateral to borrow the funds from BSI.”

Mr. Ijaz, in his letter, claims contracts had been signed for both deals in February 2008. He told the bank he would provide further details after a visit to India scheduled for late March that year. “Much hard work,” he wrote in a message to BSI's directors citing temporary business reverses for his default, “has gone into correcting the situation, above all to protect my political reputation and future role in American politics.”

Tata Motors denies that it has had any dealings with Mr. Ijaz or EcoDrive, and there is no public-domain information available to suggest the businessman ever in fact began work on powertrains. Inquiries with immigration authorities in Mumbai also threw up no evidence that Mr. Ijaz had visited India during that time.

In filings before a New York court, BSI claimed Mr. Ijaz used funds it had advanced to his Ijaz Group and Aquarius companies “for his personal needs, including payment of mortgages and brokerage account fees, and used said lines of credit after his personal line of credit had reached its limit.” In addition, it alleged, “Aquarius never entered into any contracts, nor did it have any employees … [or] file tax returns.”

In a September 25, 2010 judgment, judge Charles Ramos ruled in favour of BSI, and Mr. Ijaz agreed to settle by repaying the bank $1.74 million. Peter Kurchen, the bank's attorney, says he is yet to do so. “Given that he has not voluntarily satisfied the judgment in the past two years we are forced to commence enforcement action,” he said.

The Hindu