Tuesday, July 29, 2014

AP Interview: Gorbachev criticizes Putin’s party

Mikhail Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev

MOSCOW – In some of his strongest criticism of his successors, Mikhail Gorbachev on Thursday likened Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party to the worst of the communists he once led and helped bring down, and said Russia is today a country where the parliament and the judiciary are not fully free.

In an interview with The Associated Press some 20 years after the Soviet empire started its rapid collapse on his tumultuous watch, Gorbachev also said the global economic crisis showed capitalism should be tempered with elements of the socialist system he played such a critical role in sweeping away.

The last Soviet leader was interviewed in the offices of his Gorbachev Foundation, a think tank founded in 1992 to promote “democratic values and moral, humanistic principles” – as well as, some say, Gorbachev himself. A little aged and more heavyset perhaps, Gorbachev, 78, seemed feisty, friendly and often reminiscent of the man who once ruled one of two superpowers on Earth.

Gorbachev is a paradoxical figure even after all these years – widely credited around the world with a historic convulsion he admits he did not intend. He sought to fix communism, not destroy it, and in the interview said that while he was willing to let Eastern Europe go its own way he very much hoped the republics that formed the Soviet Union would stay united.

“I was a resolute opponent of the breakup of the union,” said Gorbachev, who was forced to step down on Dec. 25, 1991, as the country he led ceased to exist.

He still holds out hope that one day Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus will join with Russia in forming a new union.

He seemed to view the global meltdown as partly the result of years of Western hubris and excess.

“The American media trumpeted … about the victory in the Cold War, that socialism is down. This disease of extreme self-confidence led to it – the (belief) that things would always go on this way. And it did last long … I think that now everyone is learning a hard lesson.”

“It is necessary to overcome these mistakes of super-consumerism, of super-profits.” he said. “We have to think about finding – through the G20 or other institutions – new models of development (and) cooperation.”

The world should look for a composite system, he said, which incorporates “the past experience of all that the capitalist system brings, like competitiveness, and what socialism gives – especially a social safety net.”

Gorbachev also said the moment was right for improved U.S.-Russia relations, expressed skepticism about the wisdom of Ukraine joining NATO, and called on the world community to head off the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon not with confrontation but rather “a maximal dialogue.”

“Let (Iran) integrate itself into the global community, build normal relations,” he said.

Gorbachev had harsh words for the current Russian leadership, singling out United Russia, the party Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has built into a political juggernaut at the center of a tremendously centralized – albeit popular – power structure.

“I criticize United Russia a lot, and I do it directly,” the last Soviet leader said. “It is a party of bureaucrats and the worst version of the CPSU” – the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. “Regarding our parliament, I cannot say that it is independent (and) also our judiciary does not fully comply with the provisions of the constitution.”

Is the world waiting for such advice? If there are takers, most will be outside Russia, where he has become a rather marginal political figure: For every Russian who appreciates his role in ending communism there are certainly many more inclined to blame him for the privations of the process he unleashed: the impoverishment many suffered in the 1990s, the vastly unequal distribution of wealth that bedevils society even today, the failings of Russian democracy – and the humiliating loss of the once-vast empire ruled from the Kremlin.

Asked about the fateful Nov. 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell, Gorbachev said that he never contemplated force to stop the process that within months saw most of the Warsaw Pact break free. He said it was inevitable that the states of that region would be free to do as they wished.

Yet even in Eastern Europe, as the region gears up to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of communism, Gorbachev gets only the rarest of mentions and he is forced to share credit for the revolution with a slew of others – Poland’s Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel, Ronald Reagan and the late Pope John Paul II.

“We live more freely now than in the communist era because of what he did and achieved,” said Peter Nagy, a 37-year-old public employee in Budapest. “However, he was still the leader of a dictatorial system, not a democrat. I would not accept him today as a leader.”

Havel, the former Czech president, in his memoirs “To the Castle and Back” described Gorbachev as both a special and tragic case and said the collapse of communism would have been much more violent without him.

In Warsaw, former anti-communist dissident Adam Michnik said he feels “great gratitude” toward Gorbachev. “I don’t have the slightest doubt that it was Gorbachev and his policy of glasnost and perestroika that opened the gates for the great changes that first took place in our country and then in this part of the continent,” Michnik said.

In the interview, Gorbachev was philosophical about his declining political fortunes.

“Personally, as a politician, I lost. But the idea that I conveyed and the project that I carried out, it played a huge role in the world and the country. But now the situation is such that more and more people are starting to understand what Gorbachev did …

“But anyway, we have gone far, and there’s no return.”

Gorbachev laughed when asked whether his recent appearance in Louis Vuitton ads might not cheapen such a momentous legacy, saying his foundation needed the money. He noted that he had also once appeared in Pizza Hut ads, and asked if any other offers might be forthcoming.

By DAN PERRY, Associated Press Writer Dan Perry, Associated Press Writer Thu Mar 5, 2009

Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland; Karel Janicek in Prague, Czech Republic; and Bernadette Tomsits in Budapest, Hungary, contributed to this report.

Afghan Supply Chain a Weak Point

The U.S. military is laboring to shore up a vulnerable supply chain through Pakistan and Central Asia as it seeks to expand the flow of supplies into Afghanistan by at least 50 percent to support an influx of tens of thousands of new troops, according to defense officials and experts.

One new link is now undergoing testing with the first shipment of U.S. military nonlethal cargo through Russia, officials said. That cargo has already crossed into Kazakhstan on its way to Afghanistan, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.

Escalating attacks on supply convoys in Pakistan, the anticipated closure in less than six months of the Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan — the last remaining U.S. air hub in Central Asia — and slow progress in opening up the northern supply route into Afghanistan have added urgency to the effort to strengthen the logistical backup for the troop increase, they said.

“If you ask me what I worry about at night, it is the fact that our supply chain is always under attack,” said Gen. Duncan McNabb, commander of the U.S. military’s transportation command, in testimony that focused on Afghanistan last week.

McNabb said that so far 130 contract drivers have been killed trucking U.S. supplies through Pakistan, for example. Once inside Afghanistan, he said, some roads are so dangerous that the U.S. military will have to fly over them to carry in supplies and personnel.

“As we increase the troop presence there, we will have to look at which areas will you secure, which areas will you convoy through and which areas will you have to jump over — in other words, go by vertical lift,” he said in House Armed Services Committee testimony.

The U.S. military is seeking to expand its flow of ground cargo into Afghanistan by at least 50 percent, to more than 100 containers per day, to meet the needs of the initial increase of 17,000 U.S. troops this year ordered by President Obama last month, McNabb said. There are currently about 38,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and U.S. commanders have asked to increase that number to as many as 60,000 to combat an intensifying Taliban insurgency.

Up to 90 percent of U.S. military ground cargo, which consists of nonlethal supplies such as food, fuel, water and construction materials, currently flows through Pakistan, defense officials said. Those supplies enter Afghanistan primarily through Torkham gate at the Khyber Pass and Chaman gate further south.

“You very clearly have an issue of flow through a small number of choke points that seem increasingly vulnerable,” said Craig Mullaney, who served as an Army officer in Afghanistan before becoming a war adviser to the Obama campaign.

The military wants to open a significant new ground supply distribution route into Afghanistan through the north, primarily through rail lines in Termez, Uzbekistan, which connect with tracks that extend about 10 miles across the border into Afghanistan, officials said. Tajikistan and Turkmenistan also agreed last month to allow nonlethal U.S. military cargo to travel on their roads and rail lines, officials and experts said.

The goal is for the northern route via the Russian rail system to handle about 20 percent of the ground cargo destined for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, or about 100 20-foot containers per week, compared with about 500 per week through Pakistan, officials said.

So far, however, that flow is much smaller, partly due to bureaucratic problems, they said. “There are obviously learning curves in crossing different boundaries and making sure customs paper work is in place,” said one defense official, who like the others spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of ongoing negotiations over supply routes.

Apart from the ground cargo, all lethal and sensitive U.S. military supplies, as well as all personnel, travel into Afghanistan by air. Such supplies include ammunition, weapons and vehicles with sensitive communications and other gear. Air cargo demands will increase significantly as fresh troops move into Afghanistan, according to McNabb. For example, when the Army’s Stryker combat brigade heads to Afghanistan this summer, all of its vehicles will be flown into the country, he said. The military’s mine-resistant armored vehicles are also flown in to avoid attacks, he said.

The U.S. military’s efforts to sustain and grow air supply in the region faced a setback, however, with Kyrgyzstan’s decision last month to close Manas Air Base, the last remaining U.S. base in Central Asia following the shutdown in 2005 of a base in Uzbekistan.

Manas, a key mobility hub, served annually as a base for thousands of air missions, the transport of about 50,000 tons of cargo, and the refueling of more than 5,000 airplanes to support the counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan, according to U.S. data for 2007.

Indeed, the requirement to remove the Air Force tanker refueling aircraft from Manas will pose one of the biggest problems for the U.S. military if the base is closed as expected. Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev told the BBC on Wednesday that “the doors are not closed” for talks on the base. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates “remains hopeful” that the base agreement can be extended before the six-month deadline imposed by the Kyrgyz government for U.S. troops to leave, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said yesterday. Still, Morrell said the Pentagon has “a number of very good alternatives” if Manas closes.

Experts said the refueling could be done from U.S. bases in the Middle East — perhaps from Bahrain or Qatar — but that would be far more expensive and time-consuming given the distance from Afghanistan. Defense officials said negotiations are underway on possible places to relocate the tankers.

Still, experts said they do not foresee other Central Asian countries allowing the U.S. military to station an air base on their territory. “If you define the region as the five former Soviet republics of Central Asia, I don’t think there is a possibility at this time for an air base of the kind we had in Manas or in Uzbekistan prior to 2005,” said Evan Feigenbaum, a former U.S. envoy in Kyrgyzstan who is currently a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “A fixed American military installation is a huge undertaking politically for them,” he said.

One important factor is what experts see as Russia’s efforts to expel the U.S. military from bases in Central Asia.

“For Moscow, the absolute priority is holding onto their sphere of influence” in former Soviet republics in Central Asia, said Stephen Blank, a Russia expert at the Strategic Studies Institute of the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa. “That overrides everything else. That means excluding the U.S.”

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 6, 2009; A10

Clinton pushes for Afghan meeting

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called for a high-level conference on Afghanistan at the end of March.
Solutions to the situation in Afghanistan can only be found if the countries involved, including Iran, meet, she said.

Mrs Clinton was speaking at a meeting of Nato foreign ministers in Brussels, where the alliance agreed to resume high-level contacts with Russia.

She will meet Sergei Lavrov, her Russian counterpart, later on Friday.

Russia welcomed the Nato decision, which comes six months after it froze contacts over the conflict between Russia and Georgia.

Afghan challenge

Mrs Clinton stressed Afghanistan, which she called “Nato’s biggest military challenge”, was a concern for both Russia and the West.

“If we move forward with such a meeting, it is expected that Iran would be invited as a neighbour of Afghanistan,” she said.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said that he hoped Iran would attend such a meeting, but noted that Tehran had failed to attend recent French talks on Afghanistan.

“I hope Iran will be here this time,” said Mr Kouchner.

BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus says Nato remains central to the trans-Atlantic relationship but it is facing a critical challenge in Afghanistan, where failure could call into question its whole credibility.

‘Fresh start’

On Friday, Mrs Clinton will hold talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The US is hoping that Russia will help secure new and safer supply lines for Nato troops in Afghanistan. Russia’s help is also crucial in engaging Iran and curbing its nuclear plans.

” Today’s visit may be dominated by… Russia but Afghanistan remains the trickiest subject ”
Mark Mardell, BBC Europe Editor

“We can and must find ways to work constructively with Russia where we share areas of common interest, including helping the people of Afghanistan,” said Mrs Clinton.

But UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband told the BBC that it was not “business as usual” with Moscow.

He said “the invasion of Georgia and continuing infringement of its sovereignty” could not be “swept under the carpet”.

Earlier, Russia’s envoy to Nato defended the war against Georgia and said any new relationship with Nato would be on Moscow’s own terms.

Some Nato members, like Germany and France, had long been pressing for the resumption of ties with Russia, arguing that their suspension has been counter-productive.

Source:BBC