the Blog Papers of Dr. Michael Sakbani; Economics, Finance and Politics

Dr. Michael Sakbani is a professor of economics and Finance at the Geneva campus of Webster-Europe. He is a senior international consultant to the UN system, European Union and Swiss banks. His career began at the State university of NY at Stoney Brook,then the Federal Reserve Bank of New York followed by UNCTAD where he was Director of the divisions of Economic Cooperation, Poverty Alleviation, and UNCTAD`s Special Programs. Published over 100 professional papers.

Sunday, June 05, 2022

Getting Peace in Time of Peril

    Getting Peace in Time of Peril; An Essay

                       by

         Dr. Michael Sakbani 

 

In the Figaro last week Henri Guiano, a principal national security adviser to former President Sarkozy, Dr. Henry Kissinger three weeks ago, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times2 weeks ago and the Editorial Page of the NYT this week, all were warning the West, led by the US, of sleepwalking into global nuclear conflict with the Russian Federation.  Just like WW 1 and II,  a priori positions of states are leading them to a global conflict that no one wants or can afford.

In March 2020, this author wrote on these pages, a proposal plan to end the war in Ukraine. The compromises outlined in this proposal are still valid one hundred  days after the start of this war.

Prior to this war launched by Russia against Ukraine, President Putin had been since 2008 bringing up the security concerns of Russia of advancing NATO to Russia`s borders. The US, leading the West, had ignored and sometimes even dismissed these concerns. In a monumental shortsightedness, NATO in Bucharest in 2008 expressed its support and even its implicit approval regarding joining NATO by Ukraine and Georgia. This was also in violation of repeated promises to the contrary by the leaders of the West.

Since 2014, President Putin has been intervening militarily in Ukraine, and in Syria and interfering in the domestic affairs of the West and associating his opponents outside Russia. The West did not react to these subversive activities and did not try to comprehend his motives. Putin finally thought that he can get away with invading Ukraine and wrongly imagined that it will be like Syria, where nobody did anything about his atrocities there.

The Russian  invasion of 24 February 2022 of a peaceful neighbor was surely a catastrophe to the world in food supplies and energy prices and an open aggression on international peace and security. Unexpectedly, this wanton act of aggression unified the West, gave a "raison d `etre" to NATO  and opened the path to a conflict with no apparent end in sight.

President Biden policy has been  to lead the West into a coalition against Putin`s aggression through arming Ukraine at a scale never seen before. The idea behind that is that frustrating Putin`s designs by making it impossible for him to achieve his military goals, will lead to peace, it will force him to negotiations. The problem in this approach is that it has no timeline and has global externalities. The war has entered into a protracted phase where Russia and Ukraine are suffering gravely, the world beyond them is facing food shortages in most countries and sky--high energy cost and the rule based international system is breached .In democracies, these consequences have dramatic impacts on elected officials, as all indications point out in the upcoming US ‘elections. Peoples` patience with wars of principle is limited and surely perishable.   

So what can be done to stop this war now ?

The first thing is for the West led by the US not to  leave the matter of peace to Putin and Zelensky. The global externalities of the war render the international community an involved and concerned party. The sensible thing is to put forward proposals that give something to both sides.

 In the matter of NATO membership, Ukraine already accepts not to join. But this requires security guarantees for Ukraine under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. So, Russia has to endorse such guarantees.

In the matter of Crimea, the issue should be taken off the table and both parties should accept the results of a future referendum under the UN auspices, of the people of Crimea as to which political arrangement they choose.

On the matter of the Donbas region, again, the inhabitants`will, expressed in a free referendum, should be honored. Ukraine should offer a binational confederation for this region with linguistic independence as a quid pro quo for preserving its territorial sovereignty.

Finally, on the matter of Gas and oil reserves off the coast of the Black Sea, a just formula of sharing these can be devised.

The above means taken matters in hand by President Biden and other Western leaders in bringing both sides to the negotiation table on the basis of such proposals.

(Geneva 4/6/2022)

 

Monday, March 07, 2022

A Plan For Ending the War in Ukraine

 

The Blog Papers of Dr. Michael Sakbani; 

Economics Finance and Politics

Dr. Michael Sakbani is a professor of economics and Finance at the Geneva campus of Webster-Europe. He is a senior international consultant to the UN system, European Union and Swiss banks. His career began at the State university of NY at Stoney Brook,then the Federal Reserve Bank of New York followed by UNCTAD where he was Director of the divisions of Economic Cooperation, Poverty Alleviation, and UNCTAD`s Special Programs. Published over 125 professional papers and coauthored six books. Dr. Sakbani`s blog, michaelsakbani.blogspot.com was awarded by the « Intelligent Economist” the rank of of one of 100 top blogs in the world for 2020, and 2022..

Contributors

MONDAY, MARCH 07, 2022

A Plan For Ending the War in Ukraine

 

A Plan For Ending the War in Ukraine

   By

Dr. Michael Sakbani

( Based partially on a preliminary sent on 24/2/22 and published in this blog)

 

Between History and Democratic Realities

In his diatribe at the beginning of his invasion of Ukraine, President Putin denied the existence of the Ukrainian nation. In political reality, Ukraine has only been an independent state for 31 years. It is true that since the 14 th Century, Russia and Ukraine have often lived together. Moreover, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was the conveyer of the faith to Russia (Kissinger, )[1]. So, many families in Ukraine have relatives in Russia, and Russians and Ukrainians, despite different languages, can communicate with each other. But facts show that the  Democratic opinion of the people rather than history is what shapes the present.

During Stalin`s rule, he coupled some Western provinces of Russia with Ukraine, thereby mixing the ethnicities of the two peoples. Stalin also took some parts of old Poland and adjoined them to Ukraine.

During Khrushev`s presidency, he added the Northern coast of the Black Sea to Ukraine. Of course, neither Stalin nor Khrushev would have predicted the breakup of the Soviet Union.[2] As a result, Ukraine emerged from the Soviet Union with 20 percent more land than it had historically, and with that also some 10- 12 million Russians. In a nation of 44 million, this Russian minority is quite sizable and important and it behooves all Ukrainian officials to consider their country bi-national.

When Ukraine became independent, the nationalist advocates in Western Ukraine ignored this real bi--nationalism of the population and imposed a unilingual state in the land. This was an unfortunate and misguided act by the new state with subsequent harmful effects.

The Burden of History in the Perception of Russia

Russia has had a long history of invading and subjugating its neighbours. It is quite extraordinary, that not a single one of these neighbours has been spared this fate during the last 300 years. No wonder therefore, that after the breakup of the Soviet Union every one of them wanted to join NATO to protect themselves.

The breakup of the S.U. brought up three urgent policy concerns: what will be the future of the former Warsaw Pact countries after being freed of the SU domination; the reunification of Germany and the future of NATO. At the time, Secretary James Baker of the US and Chancellor Kohl of Germany, both assured the Russians that NATO will not advance towards Russia. These promises were not given in a formal way, but nonetheless, they were important promises of states. To further assure everybody, Ukraine accepted in 1994 to hand over to Russia all its atomic weapons in return for security  guarantees. Russia, along with the USA and its European allies signed in the Budapest security memorandumsecurity obligations to Ukraine, an agreement that Putin forgot.

The perception of Russia by its neighbors has been  a major motivating policy force. Their fears of Russia translated into pressures to seek self -protection by joining NATO.

 In the heydays of 1989-1992 , Washington was dominated by a policy crowd - Neo-conservatives- that saw in the collapse of the SU a triumph of Western market capitalism and a chance for the US to impose its vision on the world.

The New York Times respected correspondent Thomas Friedman sought at the time the advice of George F. Kennan , the great architect of containing the Soviet Union, to have his views concerning NATO`s prospective expansion. Kennan thought that this expansion was unnecessary and will be perceived by Russia as hostile. In sum, he counselled against it (Freidman)[3]. Indeed, NATO had lost its raison d`etre after the collapse of the SU and the Warsaw Pact. However the US and its partners still wanted its maintenance as a military instrument. At the heart of this benevolence was the West`s belief that NATO is a defensive alliance. Things were the opposite from the Russian vantage point. This asymmetry should have enlightened decision makers, but to no availe.

Putin came to power in 2001 after the drunkard and chaotic Yeltsin. His overriding concern was to stop the collapse of Russia, put its house in order and try to reassert its place among respected nations. He immediately saw in Uni- Polarism  and NATO expansion an intolerable threat to Russia. At the beginning, he tried to join NATO, but this was not taken seriously (Smith)[4].

NATO  expansion was pursued with vigour till it encompassed all the former East European countries. It did not matter at all that such expansion was promised not to be; the USA and its lead allies, UK and France, have had a long history of double dealing and broken promises. But look at it from a Russian vantage: a missile fired from Kharkiv on Russia`s border would give Russia 4 minute warning while one fired from Moscow would give the US 30 minutes. Ukraine`s loss will also mean that Belarus becomes an indefensible saliant. NATO decision makers, probably thought they are not in the business of attacking Russia. But to Putin, NATO is an offensive coalition bent on denying Russia its deserved super power status. This asymmetry of vision has been at the heart of the problem.

Putin`s discontent with Russia`s state of being whipped him up into aggressive actions. His first was the invasion of Georgia and biting off two chunks of its territory whose independence he recognized subsequently. In 2014, he invaded  Crimea under the pretext of defending the Russians there. He burnished his aggression by a referendum organized by himself. Again, in Ukraine, he slipped undercover agents in two Ukrainian provinces in the Donbas region to keep a territorial foothold. In both cases, the Western response was mute, ineffective and in the case of Georgia, nonexistent.

Putin was emboldened by the weak reaction in the West to his military actions. So, in 2015, after observing Obama`s lack of interest in the Syrian tragedy, and his abandonment of his so called ”red-line” on Assad`s use of chemical weapons, he intervened on the side of Bashar al Assad. Under the pretext of fighting ISIS, he undertook massive aerial bombardments of towns, villages, hospitals, schools and even popular markets. This culminated in bombarding Aleppo in an unprecedented aerial terror similar to what he did in Chechnya (Sakbani, NYT )[5]. Putin returned with a bang to the middle East, retracing the footmarks of the Soviet Union and reasserting Russia`s global reach.

What was the reaction of the West? Verbal denunciation and complete abandonment of the Syrian people.

Ukraine as a Strategic, Economic & Maritime Asset

Ukraine is a bread-basket and an exporter of wheat, vegetable oil and other agricultural products. Its agricultural capacity is a touch- stone for Russia`s food security. But Ukraine with its ports on the Black Sea and in particular its Crimea, is also the only opening for the Russian fleet on warm waters[6].

 Under the 12 mile limit of the International Law of the Seas, the Continental- Shelf of Ukraine- including Crimea- on the Black Sea turns out to have gas reserves estimated at 2 trillion cubic meters (sabados)[7]. In addition, in the Western and Eastern mountains of Ukraine there are significant shale- oil reserves. Hence, Ukraine is an essential card in Russia`s energy prowess vis a vis Western Europe. It should be recalled that energy exports account for 30 percent of Russia`s GDP and provide 50 percent of the budgetary receipts (Atlantic Council).[8]

But more than all the above, what Putin is seeking in his invasion is to toss over the prevailing security balance in Europe. He has been explicit that he wants a return to the security order in Europe of 1997 and that if he does not get that through negotiations, he will get it through war (France 24, CNN) []. So, the question is not just about Ukraine not joining NATO, but in addition, about strategic and economic interests and about accepting Russia as a super power with a sphere of influence.

 The West Faces Putin`s Invasion

 The invasion was correctly predicted by the intelligence services of the West. In fact, the US publicly shared its intelligence with everybody in the minutest details. From the beginning, the US decided to avoid directly involving the alliance in military engagement with Russia. This precluded establishing a no-fly zone over Ukraine. But the alliance was remarkably united in providing military and intelligence aid to Ukraine plus economic and humanitarian sustenance running to more than euro 2 billion at the time of writing. However, these were not the critical weapons in the arsenal. Economic and financial sanctions at an unprecedented level and scope were the West`s main response. The sanctions cut off the Russian Central Bank, Russian banks, and all Russian entities from world financial markets. And that includes the SWIFT system. The sanctions also cover exports and imports of Russia with the notable exception of oil and gas. These energy exports are differently important for the various Western countries. The US takes 8 % of its consumption from Russia. President Biden was reluctant to cut off that for domestic political reasons. However, pressure is now mounting to cut off this import. But, while the USA can find substitutes for this small amount, continental Europe, in the words of the German Chancellor, cannot, So, Putin can still, for some time, receive European money to support his invasion[10]. The sanctions extend to hundreds of Oligarchs around Putin and to their families and even Putin himself [11].

In addition to the official sanctions, hundreds of private transnationals have either existed or suspendid their activities in Russia, a blow to the quality of life of ordinary Russians.

To be sure, these are severe sanctions that amount to economic war against Russia. As time passes, the sanctions will dramatically affect the Russian economy and stunt its growth. But they will not stop Putin in the short-run as long as he has China and continental Europe buying his oil and gas and China selling him what he needs.[12] Isolating Russia from China is the missing strategic link. That is the critical difference to Nixon`s opening to China.

When Putin started this war, China was living up to the declaration signed by Xi and Putin that there is no limit to their friendship. The coverage of the Chinese media was totally repetetive of the Russian controlled coverage; they repeated the same lies like President Zelensky quiting Kyiv (CNN)[13]. Now that the Ukranians have stymied the Russian army and inflicted upon it unexpected losses of men and arms, the Chinese leadership has to face up to Putin`s mess. If they help him, they will face Western penalties covering the bulk of their exports. So, their interest must be to end this war. That means that China`s interest is to help intermediating for ending Putin`s war. China certainly has a weighty influence on Putin`s ability to continue seeking his maximalist demands. Will China intermediate for peace?

Putin on the other hand, miscalculated in many respects. Despite the joint history with Ukraine, the present reality is a Ukrainian nation that does not want to be under Russian domination. It is this democratic reality that governs matters. Kharkiv, a city of one and a half million whose population is 75 % Russian, has so far resisted Russian occupation. Ukrainians rose to the occasion, led by President Zelensky, and are resisting the might of the overpowering Putin military machine. The longer this resistance lasts, the more Putin fails. Occupying all Ukraine is impossible for the Russian army and installing a puppet Government seems beyond Putin`s reach. If the West, led by the US keeps supplying Ukraine with lethal weapons of every kind, the ill-commanded Russian army will not achieve PUtin`s objectives.      

How Can This War be Ended

Putin has achieved five things: unification of the Ukrainian population, unification of the Western Alliance, giving NATO a new vigour and Raison d ètre, destroying many places in Ukraine and killing thousands. In the extraordinary UNGA Russia was only supported by four dictatorships whose regimes are steeped in infamy. He has also demonstrated that his Russian Army is not really first rate; it can bombard cities and kill people but has not yet proved itself to be a modern well-led army. But in spite of all that, he has given concrete proof of Russia fears and legitimate interests.

The West, led by the USA, should have the statesmanship to recognize several facts. And such recognition can save Ukraine (J. Sachs)[14]These are the followings :

(1). Ukraine is a bi-national state which can best preserve its territorial integrity and sovereignty by a decentralized federation of its Eastern and Southern provinces with two official languages; 

(2). Russia fear of NATO`s expansion are legitimate; NATO does not have to expand to Ukraine and Georgia, at least for a decade; And that is totally different question than an EU membersip. Of course, the Ukranian people must approve Ukranian neutrality; 

(3). The gas reserves of the black sea-coast should be split between Russia and Ukraine;

(4). A special status should be found for Crimea, given its Tatar and Ukrainian population if it stays with Russia. A sensible suggestion is to do a referundom under international supervision; There should also be an arrangement for the Russian fleet if Crimea is ever to return to Ukraine;

 (5). There should be talks to come to an agreement about ofensive weapon deployment facing Russia and about international nuclear controls.


For Putin: 

(1).Putin should stop his war and withdraw his forces back to Russia and recognize the territorial integrity of a sovereign Ukraine prior to any settlement;

(2). His dreams of a Russia with a sphere of influence that covers its neighbours as it was during the Soviet Union, are fantasies he has to abandon;

(3). Eastern ukraine should be consulted under international supervision on its future relation with Ukraine;

(4). Russia should be a signatory for security guarantees to Ukraine and Georgia, and if there was vision in the West, of Syria as well.

Is President Biden and the Alliance up to that? Will President Putin back off his maximalist demands?

(Geneva, 8/3/2022)

     

                                                 NOTES 

[1]  See Henry Kissinger, "To Settle the UkraineCrisis; Start at the End", Washington Post March 15, 2014.

[2] Khrusheve was born in Ukraine to a Ukrainian mother. His career as a communist commisar saw long periods in Ukraine.

[3] Thomas Friedman, "Two Powers Are Not Just Bysanders." New York Times, 23 February , 2022.  

[4]  see Jullianne Smith, The NATO-Russia Relationship; Dfinig Moment or Dejavu,in CSIS, November 2008.

[5]Michael Sakbani, "Why Did the Syrian Revolution Fail", in michaelsakbani.blogspot.com, february 12, 2022. see also, Hill and Treibart, "the Russian Bombardment in Syria", New York Times, 2021.                                           

[6 ] When Ukraine became independent , the Russian government signed a 99- year lease to have the Russian fleet use Crimea. simmilar arrangement can be set up.

[7] Aura Sabados, "Why the black seacould merge as the world next great battle ground", Ukrainianalert, March 30, 2021

[8] See Atlantic Council; Euroasia Center, Russia Energy Strategy, july 2019.

[9] President Macron after a phone call with President Putin expressed his pessimism about the situation, He felt Putin did not budge and he expected the wors to come, France 24 and CNNInternational, march 3,2022. 

[10] Oil and gas imports of the US from russia are 8 % of US consumption. President Biden`s reluctance to ban these imports is dictated by the impact of rising gas prices on Americans already sqeezed by inflation. The Midterm elelections which are only 7 months from now, weigh heavily in his calculations. However, legislation will pass in the Congress to ban these imports. this is why a delegation of officials went to Venezuela last week.

[10] The names of Oligarchs in the UK list differed than those in the US list. But such differences will be reconciled in the future. In january 31, 2018, the Insider,  released the 25 names of the richest Oligarchs clost to Putin published by the US treasury. This list is pretty much the same these days. Russians 

[11]  Prominent aids to President Putin include, General Shoigo, the defense minister, General V.Gerasimove, chief of staff, N. Patrrushev, A. Bortusev, S. lavrov, S. Naryshkov, V. Matviyanko V. Zolotov.

[12] During the visit to China to open the Winter Olympics in February 2022, Presidents Xi and Putin signed $107 billion agreement to sell energy to China and increase their commercial relations.

[13] CNN reported that 54 % of the Chinese TV coverage was pro Russian as opposed to oly 4% proUkrainian. Moreover, the Chinese TV repeated the lie that President Zelensky has fled Kyiv. 

[14].Jeffery Sachs, "The US should compromise on joining NATO to save Ukraine", Financial Times, february 22, 2022.

                                                 

posted by Dr. Michael Sakbani | 2:51 AM | 0 comments 

SUNDAY, MARCH 06, 2022

 

Prleliminary ouline of a ukraine solution

By

Dr. michael Sakbani

 

 

 



Michael Sakbani <sakbanimichael@gmail.com>

Sat, Mar 5, 6:43 PM (16 hours ago)

 

 

The problem of Ukraine is complex for both Putin and the Ukrainians. Remember that Poland and Ukraine were the only two countries in Europe that gained territory after WWII. Poland took a part of Germany and Ukraine a part of old Russia. Khrushchev, whose mother was Ukrainian and was born there, also gave Ukraine the Black sea coast. Of course, he did not anticipate the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

When the SU collapsed, Ukraine ended up with a handsome territory. But in addition, it inherited 10 million Russians. these Russians live mostly in the Donbas region. Note here that Kharkive is 75% Russian and yet it has not fallen to Putin.

 Crimea is a different story..up till 1873. it was an Ottoman province with a majority Tatar population. Russians thereafter started, as usual, to come there and claim overlordship.in 2014, Russians accounted for 50 % of the population. Ukrainians were om y 20 % and 30% are Tatars whose land was taken by the Russian immigrants and half of whom were forced out of the old majority in Crimea. In other words, it is historically a Tatar land.

without Crimea, the Russian fleet has no warm water harbor. More critically, Crimea has lContinental shelf water with a great amount of Gas. The gas is so important that it rivals Russia's own gas. Putin will never give it up if he is not defeated.

So, it is obvious that it is not only a question of NATO , although it is,  but equally one of the gas reserves and additionally, fleet problem.

Now add to all of that the military problem of defending Russia and Bilaruouss if you have Putin`s mentality... without Ukraine, it is very difficult to defend Russia and Belarouss bécotes a cutof saliant.

for Nato, if Ukraine is gone the only passage to the Baltic states would be a 30 km wide passage north of Poland.

I think Putin should be given a promise about NATO. Ukraine can join the EU but not NATO. On Cremia the spoils have to be divided. in return, Ukraine would reopen the water supply to Crimea. and the shelf gas should be divided. Finally, as to the Dombas, they should be given autonomy within Ukraine.

that is my suggestion

The solution is obvious. But like in the Palestinian-Israeli problem, there is no statesmanship, especially by Biden. To paint Putin as the villaine without unferstanding where he comes from and what has the west promised, but never delivered is steril and non imaginative.

The West is now paying for its silence on what Putin did in Syria and was allowed to go unscathed. Syria was the other and Putin killed hundreds of thousands without a hoot of protest.

 

.


Sat, Mar 5, 6:43 PM (16 hours ago)

 

 

i | 2:15 AM | 0 co

Dr. Michael Sakbani

 

Wout

The Syrian people have been ruled since 1963 by the Baath Party. Since its establishment in the late 1930s, the party has gone into 4 transformations. At the establishment, it was a pan- Arab movement reflecting the prevailing culture and the sense of Arab identity of Syria. The second transformation was in 1952 when Mr. Akram al Hourani merged his Arab Socialist party with the Baath, thereby forming the Baath Arab Socialist Party.

Mr. Hourani introduced into the Baath socialism as an economic goal, he also inserted the Party into the army. Mr. Hourani had been since the late 1940s encouraging the youth of his region, Hama, to enter the officer school so that he uses the army to further his political career. This enabled the Party that got only 16 elected members in the 142 deputies in the  Syrian parliament of 1954, to play an outsized role  in directing Syria.

 The third transformation came in 1961, after the demise of the Uniter Arab Republic.The old cadres of the party reestablished it after its dissolution by Nasser, but without Mr. Hourani.

This was the Baath that came to power by the coup d`etat of 1963. This Baath ruled Syria for seven years full of internal party strife for power and position. it also showed an inexorable increase  of control by the military elements of its regional Syrian command. These years exposed the lack of experience and indiscipline and sometimes even lack of political intelligence of the Party leaders.

 In 1965, the militarist now in control of the Syrian Party ended up expelling most of the civilian leaders, including the two founding fathers and breaking up with the  national command. Once that was achieved, Hafez al Assad  moved to get rid of his old allies of the” military committee”, First, it was Mohammad Omran in1966, then Abdul Karim al Jundi in 1969 and finally, Salah al Jadeed in 1970 (Note)[i].

In 1971, Hafez al Assad the ex- major who promoted himself to a major-general, took over the state and the Party in a military coup, thereby ushering the party into a fourth transformation where it claimed to be the leader and sole representative of the Syrian people. Indeed, his 1973 Constitution provided for that explicitly in its article seven. This ushered Syria into a one- party system with a very non-Democratic form of representation, where the concept of social contract was absent and the peaceful alteration of power non-existent (Constitution, 1973)[ii].

Throughout the 1970s, Hafez al Assad increased the representation of minorities, in particular his Alawites, in both the Party and the army top command. He proliferated the security services, dominated by Alawites and granted them immunity under the law and a wide scope of competence in every aspect of the state. Simultaneously, his 1973 Constitution arrogated to him the control of the judiciary, the Party, and the Executive. The Parliament was made a stamping body practically appointed by him. It was clear after the mid- seventies, that this Baath had acquired an anti-urban character, further marginalizing the Sunni urban majority.

The simmering discontent of the majority population broke out in the 1982 events where Hafez al Assad suffered an attempt on his life, and where many of his collaborators were assassinated. The state reacted by the massacres of Hamah,  Palmera`s prison and Jusrul Shughour as well as by arresting thousands of people (Note )[iii].

The 1980s and 1990s were periods of great repression by the multiple security services and of considerable economic difficulties. The economic performance was markedly bellow the median of developing countries in growth and technology acquisition. In many years, the per-capita income declined and the economy reeled under the control of an inefficient public sector most of whose institutions were in the red. The political system was in shambles, all the civil society organizations, including syndicates, were extinguished and the repression of other political views created a society in fear.

The Governance of Hafez al Assad, was described by Michel Kilo as a progression from the dictorship of the Party to that of the sect and thereafter to that of the family. Loyalty, not merit, was the prime criteria in all appointments and to lubricate that, corruption was allowed as a reward. So, the state became a family farm (Michel Kilo)[iv].

Hafez al Assad`s death in 2000, after years of semi-physical disability, ushered hopes of change. But his succession was a planned choreography in which his 34 year second son, Bashar, was to inherit the Presidency with the help of his father`s military collaborators and the regime beneficiaries. The Constitution which fixed the age of a President at 40 and above, was amended within a few hours to fit the son`s age of 34 and the Parliament approved the same day his election without dissent or discussion.

The new President with his youth and Western exposure, ignited hopes of a new era. For six months, the country lived in what was called the” Damascus Spring” and new names and personages appeared to articulate eventually in October, 2005,  the so called “the Declaration of Damascus” demanding freedom, gradual transition to Democracy and equality of all citizens.(M.H. Kerr )[v]. But reforms never came and the reality dawned that the new President is a continuation of his father but without the later experience or political intelligence. The disappointment in Bashar was total.

The “Damascus Declaration” gave rise to  a nucleolus of an opposition leadership, that theregime kept under watch. However, this opposition was far from homogeneous. There were first of all the Muslim Brothers and other political Islamists, who turned out to be as non- Democratic as Assad.  There were also some liberal Democrats, some leftists, some engaged intellectuals and some" opposants" planted by the regime`s secret services. This opposition “mélange” was later to become the “ opposition- abroad” which claimed to represent the Syrian people[vi]. The one thing common to all was the lack of political experience and the absence of domestic political base; for Syria had only 8 years of democratic practice; 1945-1949 and 1954 to 1958.

When the winds of the Arab spring blew into Syria, the uprising against the long entrenched regime was spontaneous and without a domestic leadership that has a program. People wanted to breath freely, wanted to choose their governance and wanted the rule of Justice and Laws.

The Leaderless Revolution

For six months, the revolution was unarmed. But as the numbers of the killed and arrested mounted into thousands, the leaderless revolution was in need of protection and perhaps arms. The regional Arab autocrats who viewed the revolution as a threat, found in the non- unified ranks, individuals who would do their bidding, while the West viewed its backing as a gamble on the unknown.

Each of the regional autocratic regimes recruited its agents among the opposition figures living abroad. The Qataris sponsored the Muslim Brothers, the Saudis and the  UAE sponsored the other political Islamists while the West hung its hopes on the military defectors as well as on the minority of liberal democrats who had no domestic base. In effect, this meant that a majority of  the leadership of the opposition abroad was largely a set of sponsored agents on the payrolls of outside powers.

That was the seed that grew into failure. The revolution was about changing the way people are governed and the way that people accept how they are governed, but it metamorphed into accepting the agendas of so called "supporters of the revolution". This was tantamount to giving up what the people rose for. The revolution was not merely about transiting from one regime to another, but about leading the society from one state of being: corruption, despotism, agency for foreign powers and disregard of human rights into the anti-thesis of all that. And this is where the leaderless revolution lost its way.  

The regime which could not have sold itself to anybody now found an opportunity to highjack the revolution by introducing fundamentalist Islamists into this leaderless and divided revolution. So, it, along with Iranian intelligence and Maliki`s security services, released from prisons the Islamists fundamentalist that formed ” ISIS” and other outfits like” Jabhatujl  Nusrah” and” Ahrarul Sham”. these formations 

under the leadership of Saddam`s escaped Army officers, were inserted into the leaderless revolution (Kilo, Sakbani)[vii]. This enabled the regime to present to the world a binary choice between itself and these fanatic Islamists. All attempts by western diplomates, in particular, ambassador Robert Ford of the US and Ambassador Eric Chevalier of France, to unify the opposition and establish its presence on the ground failed (Antoine Mariotti)[viii].The support of the West, which was genuine, became, henceforth, purely verbal and without a balancing impact on the forces on the ground (note) [ix].

To every observant eye, the Islamists militants confiscated the revolution, and the struggle became between two authoritarian sides: the regime and the Islamists. Many Syrians felt that this was no longer their revolution; one does not want to exit from the Assad dictatorship to a theocratic mediaeval dictatorship.

 Many of the old faces from the Declaration of Damascus started their revolutionary careers by forming the Syrian National Council in 2011. The Council was dominated by the Muslim Brothers and their allies. In 2014 it was transformed with expanded numbers into the" Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces”, ,i.e., the “Eitilaf”. Interestingly, the new added  members came from so many so called "local bodies", that were fabricated by and bore allegiance to the MB.

The MB and their allies voted down the idea of creating a Syrian Free Army led by the defecting officers and the formation of a military council to conduct the armed struggle and to implement the UN`s Transiton Authority. (Labawani)[x].

 In this respect, the UN decisions, in particular, UNSC 2542, provided for the establishment of a transition authority with full executive power to supervise a UN supervised  election which will bring about an assembly to draft a new constitution and authority which will  release of all prisoners. The MB were evidently bent on controlling the transition to replace Assad with themselves (ibid.)[xi].

In 2015, Assad and his Iranian and Hizbullah supporters were on the verge of military defeat. This is when the Iranians sent the late Qasem Sulaymani to Moscow to talk the Russians into military intervention in Syria.

 President Putin found in that a return to the Middle East, a field to test and show-case his new arms and a new bargaining card in his global assertion of Russia . Under the pretext of fighting international terror, the Russians intervened to save Assad and defeat the Syrian revolution. Western intelligence estimated that a great part of the Russian aerial bombardment was directed at the revolutionaries. ( Hill & Triepart, NYTimes, 2020)[xii].

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Turkey, the regional supporters of the revolution, each reordered their respective priorities. Saudi Arabia and the UAE were involved in Yemen and Turkey shifted its priorities to combating the Kurds. The West, led by the US, looked the other way and, in effect, signed off Syria to the Russians.

The Putin Divergence Trap

To go around the UN decisions of transition, Putin created the Astana and Suchi venues instead of the UN venues and convinced Turkey and Iran to travel this route and sponsor its decisions[xiii]. Surprisingly, the so called "opposition coalition" accepted to participate in this Russian diversionary approach and set up and sent a negotiating team to this Russian farse.

Two major results came out of this Russian diversionary tactic : the first was a series of five local cease-fires and combatants transfer, in reality a forced immigration of fighters, to the Indians Reservation that became of Edlep, and the creation of the Geneva negotiations in the Committee of the Constitution. On the ground, the major result of this tri-partite conspiracy was the fall of Aleppo and thus, the effective defeat of the armed revolution.

Naturally, the regime violated every agreement and played out for time while the revolutionaries were decimated by his actions, and those combatants still alive were put out into the reservation of Edlep

The Geneva path has in 9 sessions resulted into nothingness and instead of establishing under the UN a transition body for Syria and releasing all prisoners, the regime and his sponsors shifted these meetings to trivial and irrelevant issues. The sponsors also shifted their gaze to their own agendas[xiv]. And ultimately, the Syrian people where absent in the deleberations of the outsiders about their future. 

Is the Revolution Over?

Throughout 2020 and 2021, practically nothing advanced on the Syrian dossier. The US has had zero ideas and evidenced a total lack of interest; the opposition did not gain a single concession from the regime and the localities controlled by the revolutionaries and the American sponsored Kurds sank into corruption, ethnic cleansing and brutality (Young, Gergis) [xv] . The Russians failed to bring about a political settlement on the regime ‘s terms

After Di Mestora’s failures, the UN named  Gier O. Pedersen as a special envoy to Syria. Pedersen did nothing for a year. Recently, he came up with the idea of step by step approach of mutual concessions.  The UN Special envoy idea, given where the revolution is now, amounts to an effort to garner up concessions to Assad and refloat him.

The call to refloat Assad despite all his unprecedented crimes, has found response among many Arab Governments, especially in the Gulf, and in Jordan( France 24, SOHR )[xvi]. These rulers harbor the illusions that retuning Assad to the ineffective Arab League, can wean him off the Iranians and change his behavior. a false premise that stands on no basis in fact or record (Sakbani)[xvii].

So, in effect, the armed revolution has ended but the revolution has not. A settlement that ends the 11 year old Syrian problem has to bring about full implementation of the UN international decisions. This  must include the followings:

1.   Establishing a transition authority with full executive powers to organize a UN supervised elections of a National Assembly to draft a new Constitution and to set up a representative Government which can then change Syria.

2.  The release of all prisoners,

3.  The voluntary safe return of all Syrian refugees and the preservation of all their property and personal rights,

4.  Realization of legal transition justice with respect to all committed crimes,

5.  Reorganization of all military and security forces,

6.  Facilitating an International effort to finance the reconstruction of the country.

Only such concrete and timed steps will bring peace and justice to the long suffering Syrian people.

 

(Geneva 10 /2/2022)


[i] Hafez al Assad along with four other officers : M. Omran, A.K..al Jundi, A. al Meer, and S. Jadeed, established a secret military committee in Cairo in 1959 when Syria was a part of the UAR. These officers were sacked from the Syrian army during the UAR. After the 1963 coup, they were returned to service and with the help of other officers of rural background, they succeeded in  occupying critical positions in the Syrian army. With the dismissal from the army by the Baath of thousands of officers of nonpartisan background, the  military committee and the officers around it were able to practically  control the army.

[ii]  Article 7  of Assad Constitution of 1973 provides that the Baath Party is the sole representative and leader of the people. This, regardless of the political fronts formed with other groups, has resulted in a system of one party.

3. There was an attempt of assassination against Assad senior in 1981. A series of assassinations took place after that of key regime figures. In 1982 some 70 Alawite cadets in the artillery school of Aleppo were also massacred. The regime accused the Muslim Brothers of carrying out all these acts. In 1982, a big rebellion against the regime erupted in the city of Hammah inflicting close to a hundred casualties of the local security elements. The response of the regime was to attack and sack the city inflicting anywhere between 15 thousand and 40 thousand civilians killed. This was followed by a massacres  of islamist prisoners in Palmyra prison by the forces of Assad`s  brother and another massacre in Jisrul al Shougour.

[iv] Michel Kilo, “from the Party to the family”, mimeograph, 2018.

[v]  Malcolm H. Kerr, Damascus Declaration, in al Monitor, March 2012.

[vi]Among the signatories of Damascus Declaration were Michel Kilo, Kamal aLLabwani, Akraml al Bunni, Rriad Seif, Yasser al Turk, Burhan Ghalyoun,Haytham al Maleh, H. Abdi and several others

[vii] During the second meeting of the Committee of the Constitution  in Geneva in 2014, Michel Kilo, a prominent opposition leader told the al Monitor that the opposition presented pictures of Assad with several Emirs of ISIS .see, al Monitor January 23, 2014. See also Michael Sakbani,” The Tale of ISIS and the Problematique of the Islamists”  in michaelsakbani.blogspot.com, September, 2016.

[viii] Antoine Mariotti, La Honte de l``occident ; la coulisses de la Fiasco Syrienne, Tallandrier, 2021.

[ix] The US and other Western countries refused to give lethal weapons, including anti- aircraft weapons to the Syrian Free Army, thereby insuring total sky domination for the regime. The regime was, therefore,  able to use Barrel bombs dropped by Helicopters to decimate villages, towns and cities.

[x]  Dr. Kamal al labwani, a prominent signatory of the Damascus declaration and a member of the Syrian National Council, recounted in his program on YouTube how the NC was expanded into the Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces in a way to preserve the majority for the Islamists. He also states that the MB were totally opposed to the SFA.

[xi] Ibid .

[xii] See Evan Hill and Christaane Treibert, “ the Russian Bombardment,  New York Times, ,October 13, 2019, update on May 4,2021. Their documented investigation shows that the Russians bombarded 870 hospitals and clinics. The Russians also bombarded bakeries, schools, market fairs as well as militants’ positions.

[xiii] Saudi Arabia, and The UAE got bogged down for the last six years in a bloody war in Yemen without an end in sight. Turkey faced repeated attacks from Kurdish PKKseparatists in Northern  Syria and Iraq  This shifted the priorities of these countries away from the Syrian revolution

[xiv] Russia has now been in Syria for 7 years without achieving a political settlement that resolves the Syrian conflict on the terms of Russia and the regime.. It has deceived a part of the opposition into participating in useless negotiations in Geneva which produced zero results. It wants to spread Assad`s control over all of Syria, but to no avail. Russia  has so far  failed in that about 35 percent of Syria, containing the bulk of its water, energy resources  and agriculture remains outside the regime`s control. The Russians also face the problem of reconstructing the country for which neither they nor Iran have the resources to finance it.

[xv] Michael Young, “The administration in the Middle East”in Carnegie Middle Est  Center , February 3, 2022.

Professor Fawaz Gergis the LSE expert on the Middle east described on Fareed Zakaria program on Sunday, 6 february 2022, the US`policy as lost in inaction.

[xvi] The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights based in the UK (SOHR) has been tabulating statistics on the Syria. According to France 24, a new tally was established by the end of 2021. According to this source, 494,438 were killed by the regime. In addition, 42,000 were killed in the regime`s prisons, 168,326 were the regime`s casualties and there are still 57,567 persons in the government prisons whose fate is unknown. If the usual ratio of killed to injured is used ,it is reasonable to make a guess-estimate of 1 million injured and maimed.

To this staggering record, one has to add that 4 million Syrians have been internally displaced and 7 million Syrians forced to immigrate all over the world.. Moreover, the regime and the Russians have destroyed 80 % of the infrastructure. In a country whose population in 2010 was 24 million, this record delineates a catastrophe of unprecedented proportions in the annals of history. See France 24, January 2022.

The UAE, Oman and Jordan each for its own agenda have sent emissaries to Damascus in an attempt to return Syria to the Arab League.  

[xvii]See michael sakbani, The Middle East and the New Sham Project; Fantasies or Realpolitique, in michaelsakbani.blogspoi.com, November 2021.

 

 

posted by Dr. Michael Sakbani | 4:33 AM | 0 comments 

 



the Blog Papers of Dr. Michael Sakbani; Economics, Finance and Politics

Dr. Michael Sakbani is a professor of economics and Finance at the Geneva campus of Webster-Europe. He is a senior international consultant to the UN system, European Union and Swiss banks. His career began at the State university of NY at Stoney Brook,then the Federal Reserve Bank of New York followed by UNCTAD where he was Director of the divisions of Economic Cooperation, Poverty Alleviation, and UNCTAD`s Special Programs. Published over 125 professional papers and coauthored six books. Dr. Sakbani blog, michaelsakbani.blogspot.com was awarded by the « Intelligent Economist” the rank of of one of 100 top blogs in the world for 2020, and 2022..

Contributors

MONDAY, MARCH 07, 2022

A Plan For Ending the War in Ukraine

 

A Plan For Ending the War in Ukraine

   By

Dr. Michael Sakbani

( Based partially on a preliminary sent on 24/2/22 and published in this blog)

 

Between History and Democratic Realities

In his diatribe at the beginning of his invasion of Ukraine, President Putin denied the existence of the Ukrainian nation. In political reality, Ukraine has only been an independent state for 31 years. It is true that since the 14 th Century, Russia and Ukraine have often lived together. Moreover, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was the conveyer of the faith to Russia (Kissinger, )[1]. So, many families in Ukraine have relatives in Russia, and Russians and Ukrainians, despite different languages, can communicate with each other. But facts show that Democratic opinion of the people rather than history is what shapes the present.

During Stalin`s rule, he coupled some Western provinces of Russia with Ukraine, thereby mixing the ethnicities of the two peoples. Stalin also took some parts of old Poland and adjoined them to Ukraine.

During Khrushev`s presidency, he added the Northern coast of the Black Sea to Ukraine. Of course, neither Stalin nor Khrushev would have predicted the breakup of the Soviet Union.[2] As a result, Ukraine emerged from the Soviet Union with 20 percent more land than it had historically, and with that also some 10- 12 million Russians. In a nation of 44 million, this Russian minority is quite sizable and important and it behooves all Ukrainian officials to consider their country bi-national.

When Ukraine became independent, the nationalist advocates in Western Ukraine ignored this real bi--nationalism of the population and imposed a unilingual state in the land. This was an unfortunate and misguided act by the new state with subsequent harmful effects.

The Burden of History in the Perception of Russia

Russia has had a long history of invading and subjugating its neighbors. It is quite extraordinary, that not a single one of these neighbors has been spared this fate. No wonder therefore, that after the breakup of the Soviet Union every one of them wanted to Join NATO to protect themselves.

The breakup of the S.U. brought up three urgent policy concerns: what will be the future of the former Warsaw Pact countries after being freed of the SU domination; the reunification of Germany and the future of NATO. At the time, Secretary James Baker of the US and Chancellor Kohl of Germany, both assured the Russians that NATO will not advance towards Russia. These promises were not given in a formal way, but nonetheless, they were important promises of states. To further assure everybody, Ukraine accepted in 1991 to hand over to Russia all its atomic weapons in return for security  guarantees. Russia, along with the USA and its European allies signed binding security obligations to Ukraine, an agreement that Putin forgot.

The perception of Russia by its neighbors was a major motivating policy force. Their fears of Russia translated into pressures to seek self -protection by joining NATO. In these heydays in 1989-1992 , Washington was dominated by a policy crowd - Neo-conservatives- that saw in the collapse of the SU a triumph of Western market capitalism and a chance for the US to impose its vision on the world.

The New York Times respected correspondent Thomas Friedman sought at the time the advice of George F. Kennan , the great architect of containing the Soviet Union, to have his views concerning NATO`s prospective expansion. Kennan thought that this expansion was unnecessary and will be perceived by Russia as hostile. In sum, he counselled against it (Freidman)[3]. Indeed, NATO had lost its raison d`etre after the collapse of the SU and the Warsaw Pact. However the US and its partners still wanted its maintenance as a military instrument. At the heart of this benevolence was the West`s belief that NATO is a defensive alliance. Things were the opposite from the Russian vantage point. This asymmetry should have enlightened decision makers.

Putin came to power in 2001 after the drunkard and chaotic Yeltsin. His overriding concern was to stop the collapse of Russia, put its house in order and try to reassert its place among respected nations. He immediately saw in Uni- Polarism  and NATO expansion an intolerable threat to Russia. At the beginning, he tried to join NATO, but this was not taken seriously (Smith)[4].

NATO  expansion was pursued with vigor till it encompassed all the former East European countries. It did not matter at all that such expansion was promised not to be; the USA and its lead allies, UK and France, have had  a long history of double dealing and broken promises. But look at it from a Russian vantage: a missile fired from Kharkiv on Russia`s border would give Russia 4 minute warning while one fired from Moscow would give the US 30 minutes. Ukraine`s loss will also mean that Belarus becomes an indefensible saliant. NATO decision makers, probably thought they are not in the business of attacking Russia. But to Putin, NATO is an offensive coalition bent on denying Russia its deserved super power status. This asymmetry of vision has been at the heart of the problem.

Putin`s discontent with Russia`s state of being whipped him up into aggressive actions. His first was the invasion of Georgia and biting off two chunks of its territory whose independence he recognized subsequently. In 2014, he invaded  Crimea under the pretext of defending the Russians there. He burnished his aggression by a referendum organized by himself. Again, in Ukraine, he slipped undercover agents in two Ukrainian provinces in the Donbas region to keep a territorial foothold. In both cases, the Western response was mute, ineffective and in the case of Georgia, nonexistent.

Putin was emboldened by the weak reaction in the West to his military actions. So, in 2015, after observing Obama`s lack of interest in the Syrian tragedy, and his abandonment of his so called ”red-line” on Assad`s  use of chemical weapons, he intervened on the side of Bashar al Assad. Under the pretext of fighting ISIS, he undertook massive aerial bombardments of towns, villages, hospitals, schools and even popular markets. This culminated in bombarding Aleppo in an unprecedented aerial terror similar to what he did in Chechnya (Sakbani, NYT )[5]. Putin returned to the middle East, retracing the footmarks of the Soviet Union and reasserting Russia`s global reach.

What was the reaction of the West? Verbal denunciation and complete abandonment of the Syrian people.

Ukraine as a Strategic, Economic & Maritime Asset

Ukraine is a bread-basket for Russia. Its agricultural capacity is a touch- stone for Russia`s food security. But Ukraine with its ports on the Black Sea and in particular its Crimea, is also the only opening for the Russian fleet on warm waters[6].

 Under the 12 mile limit of the International Law of the Seas, the Continental- Shelf of Ukraine, including Crimea, on the Black Sea turns out to have gas reserves estimated at 2 trillion cubic meters (sabados)[7]. In addition, in the Western and Eastern mountains of Ukraine there are significant shale oil reserves. Hence, Ukraine is an essential card in Russia`s energy prowess vis a vis Western Europe. It should be recalled that energy exports accounts for 30 percent of Russia`s GDP and provides 50 percent of the budgetary receipts (Atlantic Council).[8]

But more than all the above, what Putin is seeking in his invasion is to toss over the prevailing security balance in Europe. He has been explicit that he wants a return to the security order in Europe of 1997 and that if he does not get that through negotiations, he will get it through war (France 24, CNN) []. So, the question is not just about Ukraine not joining NATO, but in addition, about strategic and economic interests and about accepting Russia as a super power.

 The West Faces Putin`s Invasion

 The invasion was correctly predicted by the intelligence services of the West. In fact, the US publicly shared its intelligence with everybody in the minutest details. From the beginning, the US decided to avoid directly involving the alliance in military engagement with Russia. This precluded establishing a no-fly zone over Ukraine. But the alliance was remarkably united in providing military and intelligence aid to Ukraine plus economic and humanitarian sustenance running to more than euro 2 billion. However, these were not the critical weapons in the arsenal. Economic and financial sanctions at an unprecedented level and scope were the West`s main response. The sanctions cut off the Russian Central Bank, Russian banks, and all Russian entities from world financial markets. And that includes the SWIFT system. The sanctions also cover exports and imports of Russia with the notable exception of oil and gas. The US takes 8% of its consumption from Russia. President Biden was reluctant to cut off that for domestic political reasons. However, pressure is now mounting to cut off this import. But, while the USA can find substitutes for this small amount, continental Europe, in the words of the German Chancellor, cannot, So, Putin can still, for some time, receive European money to support his invasion[10]. The sanctions extend to hundreds of Oligarchs around Putin and to their families and even Putin himself [11]

To be sure, these are severe sanctions that amount to economic war against Russia. As time passes, the sanctions will dramatically affect the Russian economy and stunt its growth. But they will not stop Putin in the short-run as long as he has China and continental Europe buying his oil and gas and China selling him what he needs.[12] Isolating Russia from China is the missing strategic link. That is the critical difference to Nixon`s opening to China.

Putin on the other hand, miscalculated in many respects. Despite the joint history with Ukraine, the present reality is a Ukrainian nation that does not want to be under Russian domination. It is this democratic reality that governs matters. Kharkiv, a city of one and a half million whose population is 75 % Russian, has so far resisted Russian occupation. Ukrainians rose to the occasion, led by President Zelensky, and are resisting the might of the overpowering Putin military machine. The longer this resistance lasts, the more Putin fails. Occupying all Ukraine is impossible for the Russian army and installing a puppet Government seems beyond Putin`s reach.      

How Can This War be Ended

Putin has achieved five things: unification of the Ukrainian population, unification of the Western Alliance, giving NATO a new vigor and Raison d ètre, destroying many places in Ukraine and killing thousands and in the extraordinary UNGA getting the support of only four dictatorships whose regimes are steeped in infamy. He has also demonstrated that his Russian Army is not really first rate; it can bombard cities and kill people but has not yet proved itself against a modern army. But in spite of all that, he has given concrete proof of Russia fears and legitimate interests.

The West, led by the USA, should have the statesmanship to recognize several facts. And such recognition can save Ukraine (J. Sachs)[13]These arethe followings :

(1). Ukraine is a bi-national state which can best preserve its sovereignty by a decentralized federation of its Eastern and Western provinces with two official languages; 

(2). Russia fear of NATO`s expansion are legitimate; NATO does not have to expand to Ukraine and Georgia, at least for a decade; And that is totally different question than an EU membersip.

(3). The gas reserves of the black sea-coast should be split between Russia and Ukraine;

(4). A special status should be found for Crimea, given its Tatar and Ukrainian population if it stays with Russia. 

(5). There should also be an arrangement for the Russian fleet if Crimea is ever to return to Ukraine.

 (6). There should be talks to come to an agreement about ofensive weapon deployment facing Russia and about international nuclear controls.

For Putin: 

(1).Putin should stop his war and withdraw his forces back to Russia and recognize the territorial integrity of a sovereign Ukraine.

(2). His dreams of a Russia with a sphere of influence that covers its neighbors as it was during the Soviet Union, are fantasies he has to abandon

(3). Russia should be a signatory for security guarantees to Ukraine and Georgia, and if there was vision in the West, of Syria as well.

Is President Biden and the Alliance up to that? Will President Putin back off his maximalist demands?

(Geneva, 8/3/2022)

     

                                                 NOTES 

[1]  See Henry Kissinger, "To Settle the UkraineCrisis; Start at the End", Washington Post March 15, 2014.

[2] Khrusheve swas born in Ukraine to a Ukrainian mother. His career as a communist commisar saw long periods in Ukraine.

[3] Thomas Friedman, "Two Powers Are Not Just Bystanders." New York Times, 23 February , 2022.  

[4]  see Jullianne Smith, The NATO-Russia Relationship; Dfining Moment or Dejavu,in CSIS, November 2008.

[5]Michael Sakbani, "Why Did the Syrian Revolution Fail", in michaelsakbani.blogspot.com, february 12, 2022. see also, Hill and Treibart, "the Russian Bombardment in Syria", New York Times, 2021.                                           

[6 ] When Ukraine became independent , the Russian government signed a 99- year lease to have the Russian fleet use Crimea. simmilar arrangement can be set up.

[7] Aura Sabados, "Why the black sea could emerge as the world next great battle ground", Ukrainianalert, March 30, 2021

[8] See Atlantic Council; Euroasia Center, Russia Energy Strategy, july 2019.

[9] President Macron after a phone call with President Putin expressed his pessimism about the situation, He felt Putin did not budge and he expected the worse to come, France 24 and CNNInternational, march 3,2022. 

[10] Oil and gas imports of the US from russia are 8 % of US consumption. President Biden`s reluctance to ban these imports is dictated by the impact of rising gas prices on Americans already sqeezed by inflation. The Midterm elelections which are only 7 months from now, weigh heavily in his calculations. However, legislation will pass in the Congress to ban these imports. this is why a delegation of officials went to Venezuela last week.

[10] The names of Oligarchs in the UK list differed than those in the US list. But such differences will be reconciled in the future. In january 31, 2018, the Insider,  released the 25 names of the richest Oligarchs clost to Putin published by the US treasury. This list is pretty much the same these days.

[11]  Prominent aids to President Putin include, General Shoigo, the defense minister, General V. Gerasimove, chief of staff, N. Patrushev, A. Bortusev, S.Lavrov, S. Naryshkov, V. Matviyanko and V. Zolotov.

[12] During the visit to China to open the Winter Olympics in February 2022, Presidents Xi and Putin signed $107 billion agreement to sell energy to China and increase their commercial relations. 

[13].Jeffery Sachs, "The US should compromise on joining NATO to save Ukraine", Financial Times, february 22, 2022.

                                                 

posted by Dr. Michael Sakbani | 2:51 AM | 0 comments 

SUNDAY, MARCH 06, 2022

 

Prleliminary ouline of a ukraine solution

By

Dr. michael Sakbani

 

 

 

Sat, Mar 5, 3:26 PM (19 hours ago)

Sat, Mar 5, 5:22 PM (17 hours ago)

Michael Sakbani <sakbanimichael@gmail.com>

Sat, Mar 5, 6:43 PM (16 hours ago)

 

 

The problem of Ukraine is complex for both Putin and the Ukrainians. Remember that Poland and Ukraine were the only two countries in Europe that gained territory after WWII. Poland took a part of Germany and Ukraine a part of old Russia. Khrushchev, whose mother was Ukrainian and was born there, also gave Ukraine the Black sea coast. Of course, he did not anticipate the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

When the SU collapsed, Ukraine ended up with a handsome territory. But in addition, it inherited 10 million Russians. these Russians live mostly in the Donbas region. Note here that Kharkive is 75% Russian and yet it has not fallen to Putin.

 Crimea is a different story..up till 1873. it was an Ottoman province with a majority Tatar population. Russians thereafter started, as usual, to come there and claim overlordship.in 2014, Russians accounted for 50 % of the population. Ukrainians were om y 20 % and 30% are Tatars whose land was taken by the Russian immigrants and half of whom were forced out of the old majority in Crimea. In other words, it is historically a Tatar land.

without Crimea, the Russian fleet has no warm water harbor. More critically, Crimea has lContinental shelf water with a great amount of Gas. The gas is so important that it rivals Russia's own gas. Putin will never give it up if he is not defeated.

So, it is obvious that it is not only a question of NATO , although it is,  but equally one of the gas reserves and additionally, fleet problem.

Now add to all of that the military problem of defending Russia and Bilaruouss if you have Putin`s mentality... without Ukraine, it is very difficult to defend Russia and Belarouss bécotes a cutof saliant.

for Nato, if Ukraine is gone the only passage to the Baltic states would be a 30 km wide passage north of Poland.

I think Putin should be given a promise about NATO. Ukraine can join the EU but not NATO. On Cremia the spoils have to be divided. in return, Ukraine would reopen the water supply to Crimea. and the shelf gas should be divided. Finally, as to the Dombas, they should be given autonomy within Ukraine.

that is my suggestion

The solution is obvious. But like in the Palestinian-Israeli problem, there is no statesmanship, especially by Biden. to paint Putin as the villaine without unferstanding where he comes from and what has the west promised, but never delivered is steril and non imaginative.

The West is now paying for its silence on what Putin did in Syria and was allowed to go unscathed. Syria was the other and Putin killed hundreds of thousands without a hoot of protest.

 

.

Mail Delivery Subsystem <mailer-daemon@googlemail.com>

Sat, Mar 5, 6:43 PM (16 hours ago)

 

 

to me

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To: Peter Miller <
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Cc: 
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Date: Sat, 5 Mar 2022 18:43:14 +0100
Subject: Re: Excellent Jonathan Cook
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posted by Dr. Michael Sakbani | 2:15 AM | 0 comments 

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 2022

Why did the Syrian Revolution Fail

 Why did the Syrian Revolution Fail

By

Dr. Michael Sakbani

 

What Was the Revolution About

The Syrian people have been ruled since 1963 by the Baath Party. Since its establishment in the late 1930s, the party has gone into 4 transformations. At the establishment, it was a pan- Arab movement reflecting the prevailing culture and the sense of Arab identity of Syria. The second transformation was in 1952 when Mr. Akram al Hourani merged his Arab Socialist party with the Baath, thereby forming the Baath Arab Socialist Party.

Mr. Hourani introduced into the Baath socialism as an economic goal, he also inserted the Party into the army. Mr. Hourani had been since the late 1940s encouraging the youth of his region, Hama, to enter the officer school so that he uses the army to further his political career. This enabled the Party that got only 16 elected members in the 142 deputies in the  Syrian parliament of 1954, to play an outsized role  in directing Syria.

 The third transformation came in 1961, after the demise of the Uniter Arab Republic.The old cadres of the party reestablished it after its dissolution by Nasser, but without Mr. Hourani.

This was the Baath that came to power by the coup d`etat of 1963. This Baath ruled Syria for seven years full of internal party strife for power and position. it also showed an inexorable increase  of control by the military elements of its regional Syrian command. These years exposed the lack of experience and indiscipline and sometimes even lack of political intelligence of the Party leaders.

 In 1965, the militarist now in control of the Syrian Party ended up expelling most of the civilian leaders, including the two founding fathers and breaking up with the  national command. Once that was achieved, Hafez al Assad  moved to get rid of his old allies of the” military committee”, First, it was Mohammad Omran in1966, then Abdul Karim al Jundi in 1969 and finally, Salah al Jadeed in 1970 (Note)[i].

In 1971, Hafez al Assad the ex- major who promoted himself to a major-general, took over the state and the Party in a military coup, thereby ushering the party into a fourth transformation where it claimed to be the leader and sole representative of the Syrian people. Indeed, his 1973 Constitution provided for that explicitly in its article seven. This ushered Syria into a one- party system with a very non-Democratic form of representation, where the concept of social contract was absent and the peaceful alteration of power non-existent (Constitution, 1973)[ii].

Throughout the 1970s, Hafez al Assad increased the representation of minorities, in particular his Alawites, in both the Party and the army top command. He proliferated the security services, dominated by Alawites and granted them immunity under the law and a wide scope of competence in every aspect of the state. Simultaneously, his 1973 Constitution arrogated to him the control of the judiciary, the Party, and the Executive. The Parliament was made a stamping body practically appointed by him. It was clear after the mid- seventies, that this Baath had acquired an anti-urban character, further marginalizing the Sunni urban majority.

The simmering discontent of the majority population broke out in the 1982 events where Hafez al Assad suffered an attempt on his life, and where many of his collaborators were assassinated. The state reacted by the massacres of Hamah,  Palmera`s prison and Jusrul Shughour as well as by arresting thousands of people (Note )[iii].

The 1980s and 1990s were periods of great repression by the multiple security services and of considerable economic difficulties. The economic performance was markedly bellow the median of developing countries in growth and technology acquisition. In many years, the per-capita income declined and the economy reeled under the control of an inefficient public sector most of whose institutions were in the red. The political system was in shambles, all the civil society organizations, including syndicates, were extinguished and the repression of other political views created a society in fear.

The Governance of Hafez al Assad, was described by Michel Kilo as a progression from the dictorship of the Party to that of the sect and thereafter to that of the family. Loyalty, not merit, was the prime criteria in all appointments and to lubricate that, corruption was allowed as a reward. So, the state became a family farm (Michel Kilo)[iv].

Hafez al Assad`s death in 2000, after years of semi-physical disability, ushered hopes of change. But his succession was a planned choreography in which his 34 year second son, Bashar, was to inherit the Presidency with the help of his father`s military collaborators and the regime beneficiaries. The Constitution which fixed the age of a President at 40 and above, was amended within a few hours to fit the son`s age of 34 and the Parliament approved the same day his election without dissent or discussion.

The new President with his youth and Western exposure, ignited hopes of a new era. For six months, the country lived in what was called the” Damascus Spring” and new names and personages appeared to articulate eventually in October, 2005,  the so called “the Declaration of Damascus” demanding freedom, gradual transition to Democracy and equality of all citizens.(M.H. Kerr )[v]. But reforms never came and the reality dawned that the new President is a continuation of his father but without the later experience or political intelligence. The disappointment in Bashar was total.

The “Damascus Declaration” gave rise to  a nucleolus of an opposition leadership, that theregime kept under watch. However, this opposition was far from homogeneous. There were first of all the Muslim Brothers and other political Islamists, who turned out to be as non- Democratic as Assad.  There were also some liberal Democrats, some leftists, some engaged intellectuals and some" opposants" planted by the regime`s secret services. This opposition “mélange” was later to become the “ opposition- abroad” which claimed to represent the Syrian people[vi]. The one thing common to all was the lack of political experience and the absence of domestic political base; for Syria had only 8 years of democratic practice; 1945-1949 and 1954 to 1958.

When the winds of the Arab spring blew into Syria, the uprising against the long entrenched regime was spontaneous and without a domestic leadership that has a program. People wanted to breath freely, wanted to choose their governance and wanted the rule of Justice and Laws.

The Leaderless Revolution

For six months, the revolution was unarmed. But as the numbers of the killed and arrested mounted into thousands, the leaderless revolution was in need of protection and perhaps arms. The regional Arab autocrats who viewed the revolution as a threat, found in the non- unified ranks, individuals who would do their bidding, while the West viewed its backing as a gamble on the unknown.

Each of the regional autocratic regimes recruited its agents among the opposition figures living abroad. The Qataris sponsored the Muslim Brothers, the Saudis and the  UAE sponsored the other political Islamists while the West hung its hopes on the military defectors as well as on the minority of liberal democrats who had no domestic base. In effect, this meant that a majority of  the leadership of the opposition abroad was largely a set of sponsored agents on the payrolls of outside powers.

That was the seed that grew into failure. The revolution was about changing the way people are governed and the way that people accept how they are governed, but it metamorphed into accepting the agendas of so called "supporters of the revolution". This was tantamount to giving up what the people rose for. The revolution was not merely about transiting from one regime to another, but about leading the society from one state of being: corruption, despotism, agency for foreign powers and disregard of human rights into the anti-thesis of all that. And this is where the leaderless revolution lost its way.  

The regime which could not have sold itself to anybody now found an opportunity to highjack the revolution by introducing fundamentalist Islamists into this leaderless and divided revolution. So, it, along with Iranian intelligence and Maliki`s security services, released from prisons the Islamists fundamentalist that formed ” ISIS” and other outfits like” Jabhatujl  Nusrah” and” Ahrarul Sham”. these formations 

under the leadership of Saddam`s escaped Army officers, were inserted into the leaderless revolution (Kilo, Sakbani)[vii]. This enabled the regime to present to the world a binary choice between itself and these fanatic Islamists. All attempts by western diplomates, in particular, ambassador Robert Ford of the US and Ambassador Eric Chevalier of France, to unify the opposition and establish its presence on the ground failed (Antoine Mariotti)[viii].The support of the West, which was genuine, became, henceforth, purely verbal and without a balancing impact on the forces on the ground (note) [ix].

To every observant eye, the Islamists militants confiscated the revolution, and the struggle became between two authoritarian sides: the regime and the Islamists. Many Syrians felt that this was no longer their revolution; one does not want to exit from the Assad dictatorship to a theocratic mediaeval dictatorship.

 Many of the old faces from the Declaration of Damascus started their revolutionary careers by forming the Syrian National Council in 2011. The Council was dominated by the Muslim Brothers and their allies. In 2014 it was transformed with expanded numbers into the" Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces”, ,i.e., the “Eitilaf”. Interestingly, the new added  members came from so many so called "local bodies", that were fabricated by and bore allegiance to the MB.

The MB and their allies voted down the idea of creating a Syrian Free Army led by the defecting officers and the formation of a military council to conduct the armed struggle and to implement the UN`s Transiton Authority. (Labawani)[x].

 In this respect, the UN decisions, in particular, UNSC 2542, provided for the establishment of a transition authority with full executive power to supervise a UN supervised  election which will bring about an assembly to draft a new constitution and authority which will  release of all prisoners. The MB were evidently bent on controlling the transition to replace Assad with themselves (ibid.)[xi].

In 2015, Assad and his Iranian and Hizbullah supporters were on the verge of military defeat. This is when the Iranians sent the late Qasem Sulaymani to Moscow to talk the Russians into military intervention in Syria.

 President Putin found in that a return to the Middle East, a field to test and show-case his new arms and a new bargaining card in his global assertion of Russia . Under the pretext of fighting international terror, the Russians intervened to save Assad and defeat the Syrian revolution. Western intelligence estimated that a great part of the Russian aerial bombardment was directed at the revolutionaries. ( Hill & Triepart, NYTimes, 2020)[xii].

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Turkey, the regional supporters of the revolution, each reordered their respective priorities. Saudi Arabia and the UAE were involved in Yemen and Turkey shifted its priorities to combating the Kurds. The West, led by the US, looked the other way and, in effect, signed off Syria to the Russians.

The Putin Divergence Trap

To go around the UN decisions of transition, Putin created the Astana and Suchi venues instead of the UN venues and convinced Turkey and Iran to travel this route and sponsor its decisions[xiii]. Surprisingly, the so called "opposition coalition" accepted to participate in this Russian diversionary approach and set up and sent a negotiating team to this Russian farse.

Two major results came out of this Russian diversionary tactic : the first was a series of five local cease-fires and combatants transfer, in reality a forced immigration of fighters, to the Indians Reservation that became of Edlep, and the creation of the Geneva negotiations in the Committee of the Constitution. On the ground, the major result of this tri-partite conspiracy was the fall of Aleppo and thus, the effective defeat of the armed revolution.

Naturally, the regime violated every agreement and played out for time while the revolutionaries were decimated by his actions, and those combatants still alive were put out into the reservation of Edlep

The Geneva path has in 9 sessions resulted into nothingness and instead of establishing under the UN a transition body for Syria and releasing all prisoners, the regime and his sponsors shifted these meetings to trivial and irrelevant issues. The sponsors also shifted their gaze to their own agendas[xiv]. And ultimately, the Syrian people where absent in the deleberations of the outsiders about their future. 

Is the Revolution Over?

Throughout 2020 and 2021, practically nothing advanced on the Syrian dossier. The US has had zero ideas and evidenced a total lack of interest; the opposition did not gain a single concession from the regime and the localities controlled by the revolutionaries and the American sponsored Kurds sank into corruption, ethnic cleansing and brutality (Young, Gergis) [xv] . The Russians failed to bring about a political settlement on the regime ‘s terms

After Di Mestora’s failures, the UN named  Gier O. Pedersen as a special envoy to Syria. Pedersen did nothing for a year. Recently, he came up with the idea of step by step approach of mutual concessions.  The UN Special envoy idea, given where the revolution is now, amounts to an effort to garner up concessions to Assad and refloat him.

The call to refloat Assad despite all his unprecedented crimes, has found response among many Arab Governments, especially in the Gulf, and in Jordan( France 24, SOHR )[xvi]. These rulers harbor the illusions that retuning Assad to the ineffective Arab League, can wean him off the Iranians and change his behavior. a false premise that stands on no basis in fact or record (Sakbani)[xvii].

So, in effect, the armed revolution has ended but the revolution has not. A settlement that ends the 11 year old Syrian problem has to bring about full implementation of the UN international decisions. This  must include the followings:

1.   Establishing a transition authority with full executive powers to organize a UN supervised elections of a National Assembly to draft a new Constitution and to set up a representative Government which can then change Syria.

2.  The release of all prisoners,

3.  The voluntary safe return of all Syrian refugees and the preservation of all their property and personal rights,

4.  Realization of legal transition justice with respect to all committed crimes,

5.  Reorganization of all military and security forces,

6.  Facilitating an International effort to finance the reconstruction of the country.

Only such concrete and timed steps will bring peace and justice to the long suffering Syrian people.

 

(Geneva 10 /2/2022)


[i] Hafez al Assad along with four other officers : M. Omran, A.K..al Jundi, A. al Meer, and S. Jadeed, established a secret military committee in Cairo in 1959 when Syria was a part of the UAR. These officers were sacked from the Syrian army during the UAR. After the 1963 coup, they were returned to service and with the help of other officers of rural background, they succeeded in  occupying critical positions in the Syrian army. With the dismissal from the army by the Baath of thousands of officers of nonpartisan background, the  military committee and the officers around it were able to practically  control the army.

[ii]  Article 7  of Assad Constitution of 1973 provides that the Baath Party is the sole representative and leader of the people. This, regardless of the political fronts formed with other groups, has resulted in a system of one party.

3. There was an attempt of assassination against Assad senior in 1981. A series of assassinations took place after that of key regime figures. In 1982 some 70 Alawite cadets in the artillery school of Aleppo were also massacred. The regime accused the Muslim Brothers of carrying out all these acts. In 1982, a big rebellion against the regime erupted in the city of Hammah inflicting close to a hundred casualties of the local security elements. The response of the regime was to attack and sack the city inflicting anywhere between 15 thousand and 40 thousand civilians killed. This was followed by a massacres  of islamist prisoners in Palmyra prison by the forces of Assad`s  brother and another massacre in Jisrul al Shougour.

[iv] Michel Kilo, “from the Party to the family”, mimeograph, 2018.

[v]  Malcolm H. Kerr, Damascus Declaration, in al Monitor, March 2012.

[vi]Among the signatories of Damascus Declaration were Michel Kilo, Kamal aLLabwani, Akraml al Bunni, Rriad Seif, Yasser al Turk, Burhan Ghalyoun,Haytham al Maleh, H. Abdi and several others

[vii] During the second meeting of the Committee of the Constitution  in Geneva in 2014, Michel Kilo, a prominent opposition leader told the al Monitor that the opposition presented pictures of Assad with several Emirs of ISIS .see, al Monitor January 23, 2014. See also Michael Sakbani,” The Tale of ISIS and the Problematique of the Islamists”  in michaelsakbani.blogspot.com, September, 2016.

[viii] Antoine Mariotti, La Honte de l``occident ; la coulisses de la Fiasco Syrienne, Tallandrier, 2021.

[ix] The US and other Western countries refused to give lethal weapons, including anti- aircraft weapons to the Syrian Free Army, thereby insuring total sky domination for the regime. The regime was, therefore,  able to use Barrel bombs dropped by Helicopters to decimate villages, towns and cities.

[x]  Dr. Kamal al labwani, a prominent signatory of the Damascus declaration and a member of the Syrian National Council, recounted in his program on YouTube how the NC was expanded into the Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces in a way to preserve the majority for the Islamists. He also states that the MB were totally opposed to the SFA.

[xi] Ibid .

[xii] See Evan Hill and Christaane Treibert, “ the Russian Bombardment,  New York Times, ,October 13, 2019, update on May 4,2021. Their documented investigation shows that the Russians bombarded 870 hospitals and clinics. The Russians also bombarded bakeries, schools, market fairs as well as militants’ positions.

[xiii] Saudi Arabia, and The UAE got bogged down for the last six years in a bloody war in Yemen without an end in sight. Turkey faced repeated attacks from Kurdish PKKseparatists in Northern  Syria and Iraq  This shifted the priorities of these countries away from the Syrian revolution

[xiv] Russia has now been in Syria for 7 years without achieving a political settlement that resolves the Syrian conflict on the terms of Russia and the regime.. It has deceived a part of the opposition into participating in useless negotiations in Geneva which produced zero results. It wants to spread Assad`s control over all of Syria, but to no avail. Russia  has so far  failed in that about 35 percent of Syria, containing the bulk of its water, energy resources  and agriculture remains outside the regime`s control. The Russians also face the problem of reconstructing the country for which neither they nor Iran have the resources to finance it.

[xv] Michael Young, “The administration in the Middle East”in Carnegie Middle Est  Center , February 3, 2022.

Professor Fawaz Gergis the LSE expert on the Middle east described on Fareed Zakaria program on Sunday, 6 february 2022, the US`policy as lost in inaction.

[xvi] The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights based in the UK (SOHR) has been tabulating statistics on the Syria. According to France 24, a new tally was established by the end of 2021. According to this source, 494,438 were killed by the regime. In addition, 42,000 were killed in the regime`s prisons, 168,326 were the regime`s casualties and there are still 57,567 persons in the government prisons whose fate is unknown. If the usual ratio of killed to injured is used ,it is reasonable to make a guess-estimate of 1 million injured and maimed.

To this staggering record, one has to add that 4 million Syrians have been internally displaced and 7 million Syrians forced to immigrate all over the world.. Moreover, the regime and the Russians have destroyed 80 % of the infrastructure. In a country whose population in 2010 was 24 million, this record delineates a catastrophe of unprecedented proportions in the annals of history. See France 24, January 2022.

The UAE, Oman and Jordan each for its own agenda have sent emissaries to Damascus in an attempt to return Syria to the Arab League.  

[xvii]See michael sakbani, The Middle East and the New Sham Project; Fantasies or Realpolitique, in michaelsakbani.blogspoi.com, November 2021.

 

 

posted by Dr. Michael Sakbani | 4:33 AM | 0 comments