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Wednesday, March 31

Moscow metro terror bombings, Georgia, and the United States

On Monday night John Batchelor, toward the end of his discussion with Russia scholar Steve Cohen about the Moscow subway bombings, popped out with a question that made my blood run cold. He asked whether Steve had heard the "theory" that Chechen terrorists were being harbored in Tbilisi, which is the capital city of Georgia.

That was as much asking whether Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was allowing Chechen terrorists to use Tbilisi as a staging area for attacks against Russia.

For a second I thought I'd hear a crashing sound signaling that Steve had fallen off his chair. But he rallied well, as you will note if you listen to the podcast of the conversation, which starts around the 17 minute mark. Steve was very circumspect; he's a professor of Russian history, not an intelligence analyst, although his answer indicated he understood where John was heading with the question.

To summarize his reply: To the best of his knowledge at that early stage, suspicion for the Moscow subway bombings was falling not so much on Chechen terrorists but on terrorists from other regions in the Caucasus. If I recall he also mentioned the no-man's land of Panski Gorge in Georgia as being a place where Chechen terrorists had been known to congregate in the past, which he knew was old news. (See this in-depth September 26, 2001 report for well-sourced background on the Panski Gorge-Chechens story.)

John let the subject drop after saying that he was just hearing rumors, which indicated he was waiting to learn whether the information would pan out.

At the end of his Tuesday radio show, at 10 minutes to 1:00 AM EDT, John returned to the question he'd raised the night before; this time he made no mention of rumors, which indicated he'd received confirmation on the information.

Listen to the podcast for the exact quotes but to summarize:

John said that there was a larger network than the one established by the terrorist leader who was killed on March 3 by the FSB (Russian Security Service). The larger network was "made up of several different ethnicities, all enemies of the Kremlin, seeking refuge and finding sanctuary in Tbilisi."

He also said that the U.S. government knew about the situation but that Vice President Joseph Biden had made it clear he attaches great importance to his relationship with Saakashvili.

If Washington knows about the situation so does Moscow. That means a royal mess because the Russians are well aware that Mr Saakashvili was installed in office via a U.S. and British-engineered putsch. All he had to do once he became president was know his lines and not bump into the furniture but he turned out to be a surprise.

I interject this story has been repeated many times since the U.S. got into the business of installing puppet leaders. As with Benazir Bhutto and others who seemed to be a nice Westernized friend of democracy, Mr Saakashvili was a Dr Jekell while he was living and studying in the West. Once returned to the Olde Sod, with American power at his back, he transformed into a version of Mr Hyde.

If American readers snap, 'I can't take any more, not one more thing' -- well, we spent more than a half century putting off dealing with many things, including our habit of looking the other way while our government installed puppet leaders. Now we deal with it. Understand?

However, there are several obstacles to dealing with the U.S. entanglement with Georgia; one of them, as John Batchelor indicated, could be Joseph Biden. At least as early as 2008 Mr Biden seemed to take Saakashvili under his wing (Google both names for details). So if not for strongly anti-Russian comments he made last year I might be willing to hope he was simply trying to assure Saakashvili that the State Department was not going to draw and quarter him just because he almost started World War Three in 2008.

However, there are those comments, which tend to place Biden either in the Cold War Warrior camp or what I call the Get Russia crowd; I don't know enough about him to gauge which. There's a lot of cross-pollination between those two categories but the Get Russia crowd is my term for people here and abroad who ganged up after Vladimir Putin announced, in his own way, that the rape of post-Soviet Russia was ended:

No more being overrun by foreign business interests and governments in league with Russians who'd made billions off the breakup of Russia's state-run enterprises during the Yeltsin era -- Oligarchs who didn't pay their taxes, laughed at the sight of starving Russians, created their own enforcement militias out of crime syndicates, rigged elections, and hand-picked governors and other high-level officials.

The mobsters and the Oligarchs and their Western buddies in business and government didn't take Putin's ideas lying down. They decided that in the interests of world peace and their bottom lines they had to wrest Russia back from Putin and his fellow technocrats.

Their machinations were on top of the NATO Cold War plan for world peace, which was never shelved after the Soviet Union was dissolved. The plan was to reduce Russia to the size of a postage stamp and destroy any influence it might have in its former republics. Thus, any former republic that displayed a favorable or neutral attitude toward Russia had to be taken over via a 'soft' coup that placed anti-Russian politicians in power. This plan dovetailed with the designs of the Get Russia crowd, and thus the 'Rose Revolution' in Georgia.

I'm skipping over much history to arrive at the day in August 2008 when I sat down and banged out a post titled To any all U.S. forces in Georgia: STAND DOWN

I was pretty shook up when I realized that while I and the rest of the American public had been distracted by the U.S. presidential election campaign, Saakashvili and the Get Russia crowd had brought the United States to the brink of a shooting war with Russia.

To be fair to the public we got no warning from our glorious mainstream news media; in fact the only warning came from John Batchelor's show. I can't recall at this point everything he said or even how long this was before all hell broke loose in Georgia. But I do remember he noted something strange was going on in Georgia, and he mentioned that a large number of U.S. troops and CIA operatives were there.

As to how the situation got out of control, part of it was perhaps due to Saakashvili's extreme impulsiveness. But there were some suggestions he'd launched the surprise massacre of UN-mandated Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia on the belief he'd gotten the green light from the U.S. government.

It's easy to see how he might have arrived at that impression. At the time, the U.S. military was finishing up provocative war games with Georgia's military, the United States (and Israel) had flooded the country with weapons, and there were about 1,500 CIA operatives there. God only knows how many MI6 operatives were bouncing around there as well. There were also about 1,000 Israeli military advisors hanging out. It must have been gridlock.

Unlikely we'll ever know the truth of the matter. In any event, since then Mr Saakashvili has lived with the fear he would be assassinated or otherwise summarily removed from office by the Americans -- or the British. That has only made him more paranoid and unpredictable.

If you want some idea of how paranoid, read this BBC summary of the Orson Wells-type stunt he pulled earlier this month; although he denied that he'd been involved. For readers who love this kind of stuff here's the blow-by-blow description of the hoax TV news broadcast, which tricked Georgians into believing the Russians had invaded and assassinated Saakashvili.

As to why he thought Georgians would reelect him once they realized they'd been tricked into wetting their pants in terror, maybe he didn't think that far ahead. Like the attack on the Russian peacekeepers -- seemed a good idea at the moment; beyond that a blank.

Vice President Biden has been consistently firm in calling for the democratic process to be upheld in Georgia during the upcoming presidential election and he's met with opposition politicians in Georgia. But he's also said things that Saakashvili could easily interpret to mean the United States would attack Russia with little excuse.

Another problem is that things have deteriorated greatly since 2008. Here's the situation as it stands today (and without bringing in the added problem of the Moscow bombings and terrorists in Tblisi); from a March 8, 2010 editorial:
Georgia vs Russia: Fanning the Flames
[...] Despite the likelihood that Saakashvili’s extreme pro-West policies will be reversed by a future government, the US navy is conducting war exercises at this very moment with Georgia in the Black Sea, and the Pentagon is preparing to build three military bases in Georgia and dispatch of up to 25,000 US servicemen to the country by 2015.[...]
That's just for starters; wait'll you read the entire article. Then move to this one dated March 6, 2010 (See the report for the footnotes):
Daunting Crisis in East-West Relations: U.S., NATO Intensify War Games Around Russia’s Perimeter
[...] Along with plans to base anti-ballistic missile facilities in Poland near Russia’s border (a 35 mile distance) and in Bulgaria and Romania across the Black Sea from Russia, Washington and the self-styled global military bloc it leads, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, have arranged a series of military exercises on and near Russia’s borders this year.

[For readers who interject, 'But I thought Obama had canceled the ballistic missile shields -- Surprise! ]

While the White House, Pentagon and State Department pro forma identify al-Qaeda, Taliban, Iran, North Korea, climate change, cyber attacks and a host of other threats as those the U.S. is girding itself to combat, Washington is demonstrating its true strategic objectives by deploying interceptor missiles and staging war games along Russia’s western and southern borders.

200 U.S. Marines participated in the recently concluded Cold Response 2010 NATO military exercise as part of a 14,000-troop force training for “cold weather amphibious operations, interoperability of expeditionary forces, and special and conventional ground operations” in Norway and Sweden [1] It was the fourth such military training held in Norway since 2006 and the first to be held exclusively in the Arctic Circle.


Cold Response 2010, in which U.S. Marines were involved for the first time in four years, ended on March 4. Less than two weeks afterward, from March 17-20, NATO warplanes will conduct exercises in the Baltic Sea region over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. All three nations border Russia’s mainland or its Kaliningrad territory.


Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Dillschneider, spokesman for the Allied Air Headquarters in Ramstein, Germany, described the purpose of the upcoming air exercises near Russia’s northwestern border as “to demonstrate solidarity with NATO’s Baltic members.” [7]

Recently, as NATO repeatedly defines itself as global and expeditionary, currently waging the largest and longest war in the world in Afghanistan, it has also increasingly emphasized its “core mission” to respond militarily to alleged threats to member states under its Article 5 “collective defense” provision.

There can be no doubt as to which nation the Alliance and its American leader are sending a signal to by deploying warplanes to the Baltic region in less than two weeks. It is the same country that NATO has been flying continuous patrols over the area against for the past six years. The same one that the West had it mind when it assigned 14,000 troops for war games in the Arctic Circle earlier this month.

Overlapping with NATO’s military exercises in Russia’s far northwestern neighbor of Norway, the U.S. dispatched the guided missile destroyer USS John L. Hall to Georgia’s Black Sea port of Poti for a seven-day stay starting on February 25.

Poti is nineteen miles from Abkhazia, which America’s Georgian client Mikheil Saakashvili is anxious to employ his army – financed, trained and armed by the U.S. – to subdue despite the presence of Russian troops there.

The American ship and its crew were engaged in joint exercises with the Georgian navy and coast guard.

“However, the main task of the American vessel in the Black Sea was not the practice of Georgian-American interaction on the sea, but in tracking the drills of the Black Sea fleet,” a Russian Navy source said on March 3. A dozen Russian ships had staged “an amphibious landing of troops on the coast of Abkhazia” on February 27 as the U.S. destroyer monitored the action from a few miles down the Black Sea coast. [8]

On March 1 new U.S. ambassador to Georgia John Bass presided over the launching of the fourth radar installation on the nation’s Black Sea shore constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

On February 22 U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke arrived in Georgia after visiting the former Soviet states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to expand American and NATO military equipment transport, troop transit, overflights and other logistics for the deepening war in Afghanistan. [...]
That too is for starters. Americans should read the rest of the article to learn more about how their tax dollars, or to be more precise additional billions in debt, are being put to use in the service of global peace.

Here's another obstacle to dealing with the Georgia situation: Influence peddling:

[Lobbying firm] Gephardt Group Government Affairs has signed a $436,800 annual contract to represent the Government of Georgia. Former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt, the firm's president and chief executive officer, will lobby for the former Soviet republic. The firm's team also includes Gephardt's former chief of staff and the firm's managing partner, Tom O'Donnell, and senior vice president Janice O'Connell, a onetime staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, disclosure documents filed with the Department of Justice show.
Georgia hired Podesta Group, yet another American PR [lobbying] company ...

According to Transparency International, in the months after [Georgia's August 2008 invasion of South Ossetia] Saakashvili spent $1.67 million on his American lobbyists. This does not reflect the full amount, however, as the Georgians agreed in writing to reimburse their American employees for business trips and accommodations on both sides of the Atlantic as well as to cover other "essential" spending.


When Saakashvili was asked by the anchor of the BBC "Hard Talk" about his ties to [lobbyist] Randy Scheunemann, an advisor to former U.S. presidential candidate John McCain, all he could say was that the anchor sounded just like Putin.
Sen. John McCain's top foreign policy adviser prepped his boss for an April 17 [2008] phone call with the president of Georgia and then helped the presumptive Republican presidential nominee prepare a strong statement of support for the fledgling republic. The day of the call, a lobbying firm [Orion] partly owned by the adviser, Randy Scheunemann, signed a $200,000 contract to continue providing strategic advice to the Georgian government


As a private lobbyist trying to influence lawmakers and Bush administration staffers, Scheunemann at times relied on his access to McCain in his work for foreign clients on Capitol Hill. He and his partner reported 71 phone conversations and meetings with McCain and his top advisers since 2004 on behalf of foreign clients, including Georgia, according to forms they filed with the Justice Department.

The contacts often focused on Georgia's aspirations to join NATO and on legislative proposals, including a measure co-sponsored by McCain that supported Georgia's position on South Ossetia


Another measure lobbied by Orion and co-sponsored by McCain, the NATO Freedom Consolidation Act of 2006, would have authorized a $10 million grant for Georgia.

For months while McCain's presidential campaign was gearing up, Scheunemann held dual roles, advising the candidate on foreign policy while working as Georgia's lobbyist. Between Jan. 1, 2007, and May 15, 2008, the campaign paid Scheunemann nearly $70,000 to provide foreign policy advice. During the same period, the government of Georgia paid his firm $290,000 in lobbying fees. [...]
Here's a Muckety Map showing a few of Mr Scheunemann's connections; one of them is that rascal Ahmed Chalabi, who presented himself as a great friend to the U.S. government but turned out to be in bed with Tehran's regime.

Reportedly some in McCain's camp tried to put a muzzle on Mr Scheunemann but I think the campaign was still in progress when he gave an interview to a Georgian newspaper; he as much told the reporter that once McCain was President of the United States he'd settle Russia's hash once and for all.

Mr Scheunemann next popped up on the radar after Barack Obama became President. He accompanied Sarah Palin to Hong Kong as her defense/ foreign affairs advisor for her 'breakout' foreign policy speech there.

What a cast of characters.

I need to take a break from this mess and have a sip of sherry -- for medicinal purposes only, of course. More tomorrow -- wait! I see John Batchelor has posted his own analysis to his blog:
Dangerous information that Tbilisi offers refuge and sanctuary for the Ingushetia/Chechen network that links to the Black Widow terror bombers in the Kremlin. Putin boasts of revenge. The Kremlin is exercised to hysteria that Washington offers support and morale to Saakashvili at Tbilisi. Joe Biden directly connects to Tbilisi and has since August 2008. Biden owes his choice as VPOTUS to his dash to Tbilisi those weeks before Candidate Obama chose Biden. This furious tension underlines the Kremlin disdain for the Obama administration. There will be blood.
Maybe that will make a dent in Mr Biden's cranium. Sherry, anyone?
Peace is a gift,
It is a gift we give to ourselves,
And then to each other.
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