Flight Records List Russia Sending Tons of Cash to Syria - ProPublica

Flight Records List Russia Sending Tons of Cash to Syria - ProPublica

Important story:

This past summer, as the Syrian economy began to unravel and the military pressed hard against an armed rebellion, a Syrian government plane ferried what flight records describe as more than 200 tons of “bank notes” from Moscow.

The records of overflight requests were obtained by ProPublica. The flights occurred during a period of escalating violence in a conflict that has left tens of thousands of people dead since fighting broke out in March 2011.

The regime of Bashar al-Assad is increasingly in need of cash to stay afloat and continue financing the military’s efforts to crush the uprising. U.S. and European sanctions, including a ban on minting Syrian currency, have damaged the country’s economy. As a result, Syria lost access to an Austrian bank that had printed its bank notes.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Powers continue jockeying over influence in Syria

The New York Times reports that the CIA has been on the ground in Turkey vetting armed opposition groups in Syria. The anonymous sources cited by the Times say that the US itself is not providing weapons to the rebels, in keeping with its earlier declarations to not directly arm them, but is apparently tracking weapons going into Syria and “advising” allies in the region as to which groups should get what weapons. Reports on alleged Western intelligence gathering operations along Syria’s borders several months ago were denied then, but the Times asserts that the CIA presence has been on the ground “for several weeks” at least.

The promise of weapons sales to the rebels has been advanced as a cost-effective way for the US and its allies to direct the course of the Syrian uprising’s armed resistance to the Assad regime. With arms comes influence - or so Washington, Doha and Riyadh hope - and the armed opposition has been hard-pressed to provision itself.

Even with these promises, armed groups in Syria, who are frequently at odds with one another, have relied and continue to rely on materials produced by Syrian expatriates, captured battlefield detritus or purchased from black marketeers. With the exception of equipment seized from a battlefield or brought over by defecting soldiers, the regime can still bring much greater firepower to bear, which manifests itself in the form of besieging and shelling neighborhoods concealing (or thought to be concealing) insurgents fighting the Syrian Army. As such, some factions of the anti-Assad movement continue to call for direct foreign military intervention, notably from the Turkish Army.

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Arab Spring and Russia parallels

It's probably too early to tell, but the recent electoral protests in Russia are somehow reminiscent of what's happened in the Arab world not just in the last year, but in the last decade. An autocrat at the height of his powers, who maintains a strictly formal veneer of democracy on a micromanaged polititical system, is blindsided by the rise of a leaderless protest movement. He can't put the ringleaders in jail because there are none, or too many. He can't pin down an ideological movement because the protestors are leftists, liberals, conservatives and anarchists. This passage from TIME reminds me of Egypt:

The brightest response to the crisis from the government side is typical of Putin's system of managed democracy. The ruling party wants to engineer a liberal party to channel the energy of the young, educated and middle-class voters attending the latest demonstrations. "This is a gaping hole in the system," the United Russia official said. "We have no party that can absorb this part of society." Last summer, the Kremlin already attempted to create such a party, Pravoe Delo (Right Cause), by tapping the billionaire owner of the New Jersey Nets, Mikhail Prokhorov, to run it. But he did not prove sufficiently loyal. As that party's list of candidates for the parliamentary vote was being formed, Prokhorov began pushing through his own men instead of accepting orders handed down from above. The reaction was swift, and revealed the Kremlin's almost pathological fear of competition. In September, Prokhorov was unseated as the leader of the party, a coup he blamed on the Kremlin's "puppet master," Vladislav Surkov, who has overseen the media and national politics throughout Putin's rule. Most of the protest votes in the elections then ended up going to the Communist Party, which got 19%, even though Russia's urban middle-class youth hardly wants to see it returned to power. Both the Communist speakers at Saturday's rally got a cold reception from the crowd; one was booed off stage.

[Hat tip to Blake who tweeted this fine piece.]

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

The moral imperative of revolution

This piece in Foreign Policy, titled Everything You Think You Know About the Collapse of the Soviet Union Is Wrong is a great read to put the Arab revolutions in context. In the last few years of observing the Egyptian scene, I had become convinced that most of all Egypt was going through a moment of moral crisis and the moral collapse of the Mubarak regime's legitimacy. I still believe it was the key factor that made the January 25 possible. This passage in the FP piece, by Leon Aron, comes after an explanation of how the Soviet Union appeared solid in most respects, and is very instructive in that regard:

For though economic betterment was their banner, there is little doubt that Gorbachev and his supporters first set out to right moral, rather than economic, wrongs. Most of what they said publicly in the early days of perestroika now seems no more than an expression of their anguish over the spiritual decline and corrosive effects of the Stalinist past. It was the beginning of a desperate search for answers to the big questions with which every great revolution starts: What is a good, dignified life? What constitutes a just social and economic order? What is a decent and legitimate state? What should such a state's relationship with civil society be?

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Links for 09.09.09 to 09.10.09

The Reporter’s Account: 4 Days With the Taliban - At War Blog - NYTimes.com | ✪ ISRAEL: Prime Minister Netanyahu's secret trip to...where? | Although Arab press said he went to an unnamed Arab country, it's more likely that secret trip was to Russia to meet Putin over military cooperation with Iran. ✪ RUSI The Gulf States and a fourth Gulf War | The GCC in the event of a confrontation with Iran. ✪ Israeli rights group says 320 minors died in Gaza war (AFP) | Israel's "War on Kids". ✪ Libyan Jihad Revisions — jihadica | Yet another jihadi revisionist book.
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Links for 08.18.09 to 08.19.09

THE CIA, SIBERIA AND THE $5M BAR BILL - New York Post | Funny story about a weird CIA operation to buy Russian choppers for use in Afghanistan, corruption, etc. ✪ Some of Obama's Actions Linked to Anti-Semitism - Special Report w/ Bret Baier - FOXNews.com | Israeli minister says Obama is anti-Semite. Does the word "anti-Semite" mean anything anymore? ✪ EGYPT: Union Eyes the Silver Bullet - IPS ipsnews.net | A nice detailed story on the property tax collectors by Cam McGrath, interviewing our own Hossam. ✪ Egypt's Next Strongman | Foreign Policy | My piece on Omar Suleiman. ✪ Mubarak on the Potomac | The Cable | Laura Rozen wonders whether the timing of the Mubarak visit, during a dead time in DC, isn't convenient to both sides who don't want a public airing out of democracy and governance issues -- for the Egyptians it lowers the profile, for Obama it avoids scrutiny on rights.
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More on Egypt's military procurement

Bint al-Beltway adds some interesting comments to my post about Egypt's negotiations with Russia to acquire the S-400 air defense system:
Since the Russians are unlikely to accept anything less than hard currency from the Egyptians for payment it begs the question of where Egypt would get the money for such a purchase, the price of which would undoutedly be very high since the S-400 is presumed to be the best air defense system available. Well, the logical answer is that they would use US military aid (the Foreign Military Financing Funds that the Egyptians still get every year as an incentive for signing the Camp David Accords in 1979). But, would the US sign on to Egyptian purchases of Russian weaponry, given that there is some built in expectation that the Egyptians would use that money to purchase US defense material and at the very least would not buy material from the Russians? A possibility I never considered (although now it seems entirely logical) is that the Americans would actually support such an Egyptian-Russian transaction on the premise that the Egyptians would give the Americans a few of the SAMs so they could use them in field tests (as opposed to having to resort to simulations and other computer generated tests. This would be especially beneficial to the US given that many of the countries that have bought these Russian weapons are those likely to be engaged in confrontation with the US in the future.
I would also add, incidentally, that on 6 July Mubarak promoted, with much pomp in the official papers, a new class of officers in the air defense branch of the military (Egypt has this separately organized). Another question worth asking is who is brokering the Russian deal, should it go through.
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Links February 17th to February 19th

Links for February 17th through February 19th:

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