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Saudi snub Qatar and Oman 5, November 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Oman, Qatar, Russia.
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Al Sharq Al Awsat reports that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince summoned the Foreign Ministers of the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Jordan to his residence for a discussion. Plainly and pointedly missing from this meeting are the Foreign Ministers of Qatar and Oman. Whether this is a deliberate snub is difficult to say. Veteran – if implacably angry – commentator on the region Assad Abu Al Khalil certainly takes this for a snub towards the excluded countries.

Oman and Qatar have the highest levels of Israeli interaction in the Gulf. In Doha there is an Israeli trade office which has been closed since the January Israeli incursion. As for Oman, they too have a (now closed) Israeli trade office in Muscat but there is also an Omani Embassy in Israel and formal diplomatic representation for Israel in Muscat. Both countries also apparently offered to resume relations in return for Israeli movement (or lack thereof) on settlements.

This is, therefore, a perfectly feasible reason or common denominator as to why the two states may have been excluded. Perhaps the UAE are lucky still to have been invited given that the Israeli flag was raised for the first ever time in Abu Dhabi a few weeks ago, but their relations still do not really compare to Oman and Qatar’s.

Indeed, at higher levels of the Saudi government, there is believed to be considerable anger remaining from the Qatar-Saudi Arabian conference scuffle in January, with each seeking to hog the limelight and host the summit to get Arab agreement on how to proceed to resolve the recent Israeli invasion.

There are no firm conclusions to be made, only interesting suppositions to be conjured up and – essentially – gossip to be spread.

Russian economy down 7.5% 14, October 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Russia.
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…according to the BBC. This is a truly frightening figure. To think that those in the West are fretting about negligible growth…

Recognise anyone….? 17, March 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Russia.
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Recognise anyone?

…well, aside from Regan, that is. This picture was taken in Red Square on Regan’s visit to see Gorbachev at the end of the Cold War. And no, I m not after Gorbachev, just over Regan’s shoulder…any guesses? Answers on a postcard…

Russia’s MIG diplomacy 11, March 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Lebanon, Russia.
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I have written before about Russia’s use of its MIG fighter planes as part of its diplomatic strategy. It seems that this instance was by no means unique. The Times of London reported back in December 2008 that it was donating 10 MiG 29 Fulcrum fighters to the Lebanese government. The article further commented that this was seen potentially as the first of many such heavy ordinance arms deals. Yet is this quite the benevolent gift that it seems? I don’t mean this in terms of what the Russians are getting in return, but simply is this a good thing for the Lebanese?

 

First, considering that the Lebanese air force consists solely of a few massively outdated Hawker Hunter aircraft, they certainly do not have the pilots for such relatively new and complex machines. Training them will be costly and time consuming.

 

Second, whilst the planes are covered by some kind of warranty, this will eventually run out, leaving the Lebanese with a massively expensive bill for upkeep and parts. (Discounting the fact that they probably don’t have mechanics skilled enough to maintain the planes).

 

Third, this puts the Lebanese in a very awkward place with their American allies. Accepting this gift will not go down well in Washington in any, way shape or form and rejecting it will offend Russia.

 

Fourth, as angry as the US Administration might be, Bashar Assad in Syria is guaranteed to be practically apoplectic. Whilst Syria’s forces remain vastly superior (in number if nothing else) the fact that Lebanon has such potentially devastating weapons will not sit well with Assad’s military.

 

All this may be a moot point if Al Nahar recent reports are to be believed. They quote Russian sources maintaining that the MiGs are unsafe and probably ought to be scrapped. Russian’s entire MiG fleet was grounded recently after a second MiG crashed in Siberia killing its pilot. Adding to the calls insisting that Russia’s jets are of poor quality is Algeria, which is returning 15 of the MiGs that it purchased.

 

In short, it seems that the MiG is most certainly a plank of Russia’s foreign policy strategy. Just how useful a tool it is, however, is up for debate. The Lebanese example seems to have backfired on Russia. Not only was it intrinsically not a good proposition for the Lebanese, but now that they are little more than expensive scrap metal. This, along with the Algerian example, could seriously damage Russia’s arms exporting reputation, a crucial earner of hard currency for its struggling economy.

 

(Many thanks to Arab Media Shack for the hat tip)

 

Russia’s contribution to solving Sudan’s problems 25, November 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Russia.
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MIG 29

Russia has agreed to sell 12 MIG-29s to Sudan in a bid to help them overcome the multiple and chronic humanitarian issues they are facing. It is not clear, however, exactly how these supersonic fighter-jets can help out with the near-famine or with the building of new schools or hospitals or villages or houses or with the resettlement of the 2,000,000 people who have been forced to flee since the start of the conflict in 2003.

A corollary of this agreement is that – and i want to make it clear that i am casting no aspersions as to Russia’s motives here – Russia will now (coincidentally) have better access to Sudan’s oil industry. And speaking of large sums of money, whilst some may say that the untold millions of dollars that the Sudanese government spent on these exceedingly useful jets could have been better spent on medicine or food or shelter or something ‘practical’ like that, Russia, no doubt, thought long and hard about this, listened to their conscience and – as ever – came up with (what some people might refer to as) the most morally reprehensible course of action.

New Cold War? 15, October 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Russia.
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Foreign Policy has some impressive pictures in this month’s issue of the Russian rocket that took Richard Garriott into space last week. Despite the muted notions of a new cold war, surely examples of cooperation like this suggest that such notions are wildly off the mark. Inshallah.

China happy with “smooth” Russian election 4, March 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in China, Russia.
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China left themselves firmly in the minority when they unequivocally welcomed the election of Dmitry Medvedev as Russia’s new President. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said that China was pleased to see that the election went smoothly. To be honest, one wonders which election he was referring to. Smoothly is about the last adverb that ought to be used to describe Medvedev’s victory.

However, China’s reaction is not in the least surprising given their utterly rigid policy of non-interference and criticism of other country’s domestic affairs. Indeed, it is just this kind inflexibility and apparent choice to be immoral, as opposed to amoral, that lands them on the wrong side of international opinion so often.

China’s Russian future? 3, March 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in China, Russia.
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Simon Elegant over at Time’s China Blog wrote an interesting article suggesting that China might look towards Russia’s blueprint for its political future. Elegant suggests that the CCCP in Beijing would look favourably upon Russia’s current ability to ‘democratically’ guarantee power to the main party. Russia has, after all, all but turned into a one party state with but a fig leaf of democratic cover. This notion of democratically guaranteeing one party rule would surely be the panacea for China’s elite. All the benefits that they currently enjoy of their restrictive system and a modicum of democratic cover: perfect.

Indeed, it has never really mattered if the world believes than an election is fair, far from it. It is manifestly obvious that Medvedev’s election is questionable at best and a travesty of democracy at worst and it certainly didn’t matter to the various despots and dictators who got themselves returned to office with a miraculous 99.9% of the vote in the past. All that matters is that there is the figment, the notion, the light wafting of democracy in their general direction. The rest of the world carps for a while and then must put such notions aside as they need to have a working relationship with the country in question. 

Elegant suggests that there are two ways to achieve such a “managed democracy” result. Firstly, you simply need to emasculate, knee-cap, and generally destroy any opposition parties. Cue absurd arrests on pathetic pre-texts, complete marginalisation of said candidates or parties by your state controlled media, and, if all that fails – just kill them. Secondly, you need to co-opt the people. In Russia’s case, Putin feeds on the notion that Russians crave stability and prestige after the destruction wrought by the 1990’s. Putin fulfils these criteria superbly, particularly addressing the Russian need to feel like a superpower. In China’s case, Elegant suggests that the Chinese people could be co-opted by the desire to keep the economic boom booming. The CCCP could play on the notion that the ‘opposition’ (suitably emasculated, obviously) are a threat to the Chinese economic miracle and can not be trusted. 

Thus, just across the border, China have a ready made system on which they can base their next stage of political evolution if they so choose. The allure of democratic righteousness is surely a powerful one for Beijing, especially with Taiwan expertly (and infuriatingly) showing just how well Chinese characteristics, democracy and economic growth can go together.