The Usual Mechanics of an Obama Speech

Case Study: Address to the UN General Assembly (09.28.2015)

Main Take Outs & Speech Summary 

Blah, blah, blah …. incorrect reference to historical precedent …. blah, blah …. sincere look …. blah …. fake empathy …. blah, blah, blah …. backslap and high five for fellow ultra-liberals (Choose Merkel or Pope Francis) …. blah blah blah …. dramatic pause …. blah …. knowing stare into the middle distance …. blah blah …. lots more words with no substance …. blah blah blah …. minorities matter, majorities must comply …. blah blah ….

Say more words that translate to weakness pretending to be strength …. blah, blah, blah …. more words that loosely mean more inaction disguised as diplomacy …. blah, blah …. make appeal to irrelevant emotions – your kids, my kids, the future …. blah, blah, blah …. some more vague general piffle …. blah, blah ….

Quote the US Constitution which you have rode rough shod over since 2008 (Choose creating own laws without due process using the Supreme Court, number of executive orders issued in last seven years, lack of consultation with Congress the alleged voice of the people) …. blah, blah ….

Make some more vague generalisations and non-specific argument …. blah blah blah …. point a finger (choose Israel, Syria or Russia in order of indifference to their respective motivations)…. blah, blah …. speak of friends and partners (choose Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia or Qatar) …. blah, blah, blah …. offer inappropriate comparison between problems resolved in Senegal, Singapore and Colombia and those of the current global war on terror specifically Syria and Iraq …. blah, blah ….

The end … cue lack lustre applause and eye rolling by the audience and a look of satisfaction and utter accomplishment from Mr. President …. meanwhile nothing changes for the better in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Ukraine, Crimea, the refugees crisis, the rest of the Middle East, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Balkans while race relations, illegal immigration and the deficit have all reached “basket case” scenarios in the USA.

The Serious Implications of the Unopposed Russian Military Build-up in Syria

Western Inertia Enables Russian Geo-Political Gains

The geo-political gains that Russia are achieving in the Middle East due to EU / USA / NATO / UN inaction will not be reversed with diplomacy. Whether the US administration – current or pending – does or does not decide to change their policy on the region is irrelevant now because when or if they do it will likely be too late as it will risk direct military confrontation with the Russians already on the ground.

Summary Satellite‬ Imagery Analysis‬ of Russian‬ Military‬ ‪‎Buildup‬

The following observations were made at ‪‎Bassel‬ Al-Assad International Airport‬ Sept 4. to Sept 24. 2015 to include:
1. Additional helicopter‬ hard-stands;
2. Ground clearance taking place for future construction;
3. Construction of large new concrete surfaces and taxi ways; 
4. Initial positioning of mobile housing units;
5. Temporary tent‬ facilities;
6. A battalion’s worth of ‪‎armoured‬ ‪‎vehicles‬ & tanks in temporary soft surface parking locations;
7. Several new helicopters deployed to location with rotors removed to facilitate air transportation;
8. Transport aircraft on runways with open nose cones for loading / unloading‪ troops‬ and ‪‎equipment‬;
9. 15 x new helicopters arrived to the airbase between Sept 4. & Sept 20. identified as Mil‬ Mi24‬ attack‬ helicopters‬;
10. Also new on Sept 20. – a large number of fighter aircraft sitting on parking bays parallel to the two runways at the airbase;
11. 4 x Sukhoi‬ ‪‎Su30MKI‬ multi-role fighter aircraft;
12. 12 x Sukhoi Su25‬ ground attack aircraft;
13. A further 12 x Sukhoi ‪‎Su24‬‘s to the base on Sept 24.;
14. Additional construction ground clearance land scars and further deliveries are observed on satellite imagery today Sept 24.;

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Russia & Assad -VS- The West, The Kurds & the Non Islamist Anti-Assad Militias

The Russians have moved to support Assad their long time ally. The West in the event of an intervention would do so to assist the Kurds against ISIS most likely but also to assist the anti-Assad non Radical Islamist militia’s, the latter bringing them into direct conflict with the Russian forces.

Loss of Near Time Regional Opportunity & Increased Complexity

There will now be no NATO / US bases in Syria for the foreseeable future without direct conflict with or agreement from the Russians meaning “boots on the ground” from the West are unlikely to be within easy reach if direct military intervention is eventually agreed by the Western allies and their coalition partners.

Even in the event that the USA and the coalition partners limited their actions to supporting the Kurds against ISIS the planning and logistics would be exponentially more complex due to the existing Russian presence.

The Russians have stolen a march in the region right under the noses of the West – Russia has been allowed to take the initiative in the Middle East. Western Europe is weak – the compromising of Europe is Radical Islam’s stepping stone to undermining the US. Europe needs the US to have strong leadership – the outcome in Europe will dictate the outcome in the US.

The Russian-Iranian-Chinese Triumvirate

In addition, the Iranians are controlling matters in Iraq (outside of the KRG) through their Shi’ite militia and on the ground QUDS forces. The Chinese too are making in-roads in the region driven by the rapid growth in oil and gas imports, Chinese trade with the Middle East has risen from around 20 billion USD a decade ago to an estimated 230 billion USD last year, with the trade volume expected to exceed 500 billion USD by 2020. The Russian-Iranian-Chinese triumvirate are leaving the West in a distance second place in the region.

Western Europe is Distracted

Meanwhile Western Europe’s resources are being stretched and infrastructure overwhelmed with all the negative effects of the conflict in particular the refugee crisis and the associated internal security risks which we have discussed in our post Schengen: Compromising Europe’s internal security by “democratic consent” previously and replied to criticism of our hypotheses in that post through Rebuttal to Comment on the LinkedIn Forum: Counter Terrorism & Geopolitical Security

Putin’s Coup De Grâce

The Russians have spectacularly come out on top in this one – Putin must be a very happy man – and the US runs the risk of losing existing bases in Turkey due to poor relations with Erdogan over the ISIS fight and his governments hijacking of that alleged process to further persecute the Kurds, the only consistent and viable opposition to ISIS in the region since 2013 and additionally bomb the PKK and murder countless Kurd civilians in the process.

Ukraine too and the US influence therein is threatened and the Crimea and the Black Sea firmly under Russian control both outcomes threatening Western Europe’s energy needs. It is easy to be tongue in cheek and suggest that Obama must be on the FSB payroll – they could hardly have done a better job themselves.

The Middle East – A Russian & Iranian Sphere of Influence

The conclusion – the continued unopposed build-up of Russian forces in Syria will mean that a direct Western intervention in the region is rapidly becoming an impossibility without a willingness to accept the risk of a direct military confrontation with Russia and the escalation of the conflict beyond all recognition – and not even the most hawkish US Republican would consider such an option as acceptable.

In the mid-term it would suggest that the Middle East is inexorably moving toward being an undisputed Russian & Iranian sphere of influence.  

Satellite Imagery Analysis of Russian Military Buildup at Bassel Al-Assad International Airport Sept 4. to Sept 24….
Posted by Graham Penrose on Thursday, September 24, 2015

1. Additional helicopter hard-stands:

2. Ground clearance taking place for future construction:

3. Construction of large new concrete surfaces and taxi ways:

4. Initial positioning of mobile housing units:

5. Temporary tent facilities:

6. A battalion’s worth of armoured vehicles & tanks in temporary soft surface parking locations:

7. Several new helicopters deployed to location with rotors removed to facilitate air transportation:

8. Transport aircraft on runways with open nose cones for loading / unloading troops and equipment:

9. 15 x new helicopters arrived to the airbase between Sept 4. & Sept 20. identified as Mil Mi24 attack helicopters:

10. Also new on Sept 20. – a large number of fighter aircraft sitting on parking bays parallel to the two runways at the airbase:

11. 4 x Sukhoi Su30MKI multi-role fighter aircraft:

12. 12 x Sukhoi Su25 ground attack aircraft:

13. A further 12 x Sukhoi Su24’s to the base on Sept 24.:

14. Additional construction ground clearance land scars and further deliveries are observed on satellite imagery today Sept 24.:

Acknowledgements:
STRATFOR – Full Video Analysis Here;
ALL SOURCE ANALYSIS;
GEONORTH – Imagery Coordination Center

Corruption, Geopolitics, Russia & the Ukraine

Viktor Yanukovych’s involvement in politically facilitated corruption is unprecedented even in the murky annals of Ukrainian politics. From his rise to power after the Orange revolution to his demise as a result of the Maidan protests, Yanukovych and his associates bled Ukraine dry of its assets through sophisticated embezzlement schemes and seizures of state property while actively and violently suppressing any dissenting voices.


Viktor Yanukovych

The most visible example of the climate of politically motivated show trials reminiscent of the Soviet era was the trial of opposition politician Yulia Tymoshenko. Tymoshenko’s trial was opened on the 24th June 2011 and resulted in her conviction on a charge of ‘abuse of power’. The abuse that Tymoshenko was convicted of centred on her ordering of Naftogaz to sign a gas deal with Russia in 2009. She was sentenced to seven years in prison.


Yulia Tymoshenko


Tymoshenko’s conviction was widely denounced as politically motivated. It was the opinion of the EU, the United States and Russia that the allegations levelled at Tymoshenko did not constitute crimes and showed clear political motivation. The June, 2013 session of PACE called for the recognition of Tymoshenko as a political prisoner, citing the vagueness of her charges, the physical and psychological torture that she was subjected to during her detainment and the numerous procedural violations during her trial process. [Kiyv Post 2014]

PACE further articulated that the agreement that Tymoshenko had reached with Putin “…was reached in a climate of severe crisis, after Mr Putin had ordered that gas supplies to Ukraine and through Ukraine to Western Europe be cut on 5 January 2009.” The order affected Hungary, Slovakia and Bulgaria but other regions in Western Europe were also affected including Germany and France.

As such Tymoshenko made the deal with Putin under extreme stress from both Ukrainian colleagues and European Union officials. On the 22 January after agreeing to Tymoshenko’s proposals the gas supply was restored by Russia. Unsurprisingly the prosecution failed to mention the Ukrainian cabinet sign off of the deal two days later. [PACE 2014]


After the jailing of Tymoshenko, Yanukovych set about shutting down any other opposition. Media outlets that investigated Ukrainian corruption were systematically closed down or taken over by Yanukovich. Ukraine’s Forbes, Korrespondent Magazine and TVi television were all either bought or shut down.

In the case of Forbes, the Ukrainian branch of the magazine was bought by VETEK group. VETEK group is chaired by Sergei Kurchenko, an oligarch and widely loathed figure in Ukrainian national affairs. Kurchenko, along with others belong to a tight knit group of Yanukovych associates, affectionately known as ‘The Family’. Kurchenko is widely thought to be a front for Yanukovych. Amassing huge wealth from seemingly nowhere, Kurchenko is believed to have made millions from embezzling state money and widespread tax evasion.



Junior Yanukovych


Recently Arsen Avakov, Ukraine’s interior minister announced eleven criminal investigations into the VETEK group. The most serious charges relate to the importing and ‘re-exporting’ of oil in violation of tax and customs regulations. VETEK is also accused of defrauding state gas company Naftogaz. In total, Ukrainian prosecutors estimate that the VETEK group and Kurchenko embezzled over $1 billion dollars in state and company funds. [Seddon 2014]

In response to VETEK’s acquisition of Forbes fourteen of its journalists signed a collective letter of resignation in protest at the new management’s attempts at widespread censorship of their reporting. According to senior journalists at the magazine, new management informed staff of a “tiny little list” of topics that would be off limits. The inference was quite clear, according to Forbes staff, any investigations relating to the business affairs or affiliations of Kurchenko and his associates were strictly off limits. [Seddon 2014]

Despite efforts to suppress media coverage of corruption and political opposition, Yanukovych’s exploits were still widely documented. As Oliver Bullough points out, one of Yanukovych’s favoured methods of defrauding the Ukrainian state was embezzling funds from state budgets. The easiest method for Yanukovych was to target the State Procurement budget which was estimated at $50 billion annually. Of this $50 Billion, 30% was embezzled by Yanukovych, estimated to be a total of $15 billion annually for each of his years at the helm.

Yanukovych also siphoned off state funds by awarding government contracts to fake shell companies controlled either directly by him or his associates. In 2013 the Anti-Corruption Action Centre investigated Ukraine’s procurement market, focusing in particular on government paid prices for HIV and Tuberculosis drugs. AntAC revealed a market that was so murky that international drug companies refused to take part. The result was that ‘pseudo competitors’ as termed by AntAC were allowed to thrive. These competitor companies were established by “insiders” and members of the Ukrainian elite and run by nominees using in most cases offshore companies to complicate the identification of the true beneficiaries and to put the looted monies out of reach of any future investigations or rulings.

Prices paid by the Ministry of Health via this rigged system were one and a half to three times higher than the prevailing prices commanded for the same drugs and paid for by other organizations such as the various Ukrainian patient advocacy organizations. The study concluded that $4.9 million out of the $21.9 million spent on ARTs, 22% of the total budget in 2012 and slightly more in 2013 was embezzled out of the final budget. Only six out of the 6,500 registered pharmaceutical companies in Ukraine won contracts, all of which delivered their promised antivirals late. As the report concludes, the conduct directly”…prevent[ed] Ukraine from overcoming the epidemics of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, both of which have threatened the country’s national security.” [Bullough 2014]

What Yanukovych did with these proceeds of crime was in part documented by the Ukrainian website yanukovychleaks.com (the website at this address does not seem to exist any longer and is redirected to ww2.yanukovychleaks.com which is a generic holding page) comprising documents seized from Yanukovych. They detail some of the money trails of the misappropriated funds. As the website pointed out, Tantalit, owned by a brother of Yanukovych’s chief of staff (widely thought to be directly controlled by Yanukovych) owned many luxury properties in Kiev. These properties included luxury apartments valued at $2.86 million and a helipad built on Parkova Road estimated to be worth $3.75 million. [yanukovychleaks.com 2014]

While corruption may not be new in Ukraine, Yanucovych’s activities went far beyond simply lining his own pockets. His activities were far reaching and endemic and in many cases directly and severely compromised the future of the Ukrainian people.

References

Bullough, O. (2014). Looting Ukraine: How East and West Teamed up to Steal a Country. Institute Of Modern Russia, [online] (July 2014), pp.7-10. Available at: http://www.li.com/docs/default-source/publications/ukraine_imr_a4_web.pdf [Accessed 4 Oct. 2014].
Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights Keeping political and criminal responsibility separate. (2013). 1st ed. [ebook] Strasbourg, pp.15-20. Available at: http://www.assembly.coe.int/Communication/ajdoc15_2013.pdf [Accessed 2 Oct. 2014].
Kiyv Post, (2014). http://www.kyivpost.com/content/politics/fule-eu-doesnt-consider- tymoshenko-other-former-of-113148.html. [online] Available at: http://www.kyivpost.com/content/politics/fule-eu-doesnt-consider-tymoshenko-other- former-of-113148.html [Accessed 1 Oct. 2014].
Seddon, M. (2014). Forbes Embroiled In Billion-Dollar Ukrainian Corruption Scandal. Buzzfeed. [online] Available at: http://www.buzzfeed.com/maxseddon/forbes- embroiled-in-billion-dollar-ukrainian-corruption-scan#491qky3 [Accessed 3 Oct. 2014].
Seddon, M. (2014). Forbes Ukraine In Censorship Crisis After Oligarch Takeover. Buzzfeed. [online] Available at: http://www.buzzfeed.com/maxseddon/forbes- ukraine-in-censorship-crisis-after-oligarch-takeover#491qky3 [Accessed 4 Oct. 2014].
Yanukovychleaks.org, (2014). OCCRP – Yanukovych’s Real Estate Empire, Part 2. [online] Available at: http://yanukovychleaks.org/en/stories/yanukovychs-real-estate- part-2.html [Accessed 5 Oct. 2014]. (the website at this address does not seem to exist any longer and is redirected to ww2.yanukovychleaks.com which is a generic holding page)