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Consulting Club

Público·34 miembros
Askold Horns
Askold Horns

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The Republic of Spies. On a sunny afternoon earlier this summer in the garden of a freshly renovated resort overlooking the Black Sea, a group of Russian security-service and Interior Ministry officers on holiday were raising their vodka glasses. The toast: to their future summers in the separatist republic of Abkhazia, once a favorite holiday spot for Stalin's elite and now, despite its nominal independence from Georgia, Russia's newest colony. After a war in 2008 to help Abkhazia and South Ossetia partition themselves from Georgia, Russia is making itself right at home. The party's host, Alexander Tsyshba - the head of the privatization and investments department for the seaside city of Gagra - looked satisfied. After over 15 years of economic blockade by Georgia, investment in Abkhazia was almost nonexistent, the resorts were empty, and the economy was stagnant except for a trickle of business controlled by Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB). Now, with 3,000 Russian troops stationed in the republic, Tsyshba's old FSB friends have begun to buy up prime property across the breakaway republic. "To buy property in Abkhazia, the FSB officers use the special relationship of their long-term contacts with us," he explains with a smile. The Russian special services' "special relationship" with Abkhazia began well before the region's break from Georgia in 1991, in the days of the Soviet KGB. From Stalin's era on, every other Abkhaz family had a KGB officer, a secret agent, or an informer among their relatives. Former agents told NEWSWEEK that Moscow gave the tiny South Caucasus republic a special status - of an autonomous republic within the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic - in order for the KGB to have a pleasant headquarters in the palm-lined seaside boulevards of Sukhumi. Locals like to boast that "Abkhazia used to beat the world record on the number of secret agents per capita," says Lavrik Mikvabia, a colonel in the Abkhaz border guard. And Vladimir Rubanov, a three-star general who ran the old KGB's analytical department, told NEWSWEEK that "the KGB always had its special power in Abkhazia. When I came for vacation and went out for a beer with my friend, a senior Abkhaz KGB commander, we did not have to pay for our beers or a plate of crabs. We just showed our KGB IDs." Traditions are respected in the Caucasus. So nobody was surprised when the FSB, the successor agency to the KGB, inherited the Mayak sanitarium, a former KGB rehabilitation center for agents, after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Or when officers of the Federal Protection Service, the agency guarding the president and other top officials, brought their families to spend summers at the dacha that Khrushchev once used - a strictly guarded, enormous resort covering more than 10 square kilometers of seafront property in Pitsunda. Now a rotating cast of former and current FSB officers has arrived to rent and privatize luxury hotels, sanitariums, and dachas on prestigious bits of land. In the two years since Russia went to war to "liberate" Abkhazia and South Ossetia from the Republic of Georgia, the Russification in those provinces has accelerated. Almost all the best Abkhaz architectural monuments have ended up in the hands of Russian investors: the 19th-century palace of the Prince of Oldenburg; Olga's Tower; another graceful palace in the Mauritanian style in the hills overlooking the city; and Gagra's oldest landmark, the ancient Persian Attaba Fortress, dating to the fourth and fifth centuries. Luxurious real-estate developments like the Dolfin Hotel, which opened last January, have emerged along the seafront, waking Pitsunda's tourist industry from years of comatose postwar decay. Tsyshba, the Gagra privatization guru, proudly boasts that the city is "the best FSB resort." The Dolfin Hotel's manager, Alexander Chukbar, agrees, but he adds warily that the new owners "are not the kind of people one can just go up to and chat with." In Soviet days, the KGB was a state within a state. Now, with former KGB officer Vladimir Putin and his circle of former spooks still very much in control of the country, the FSB's hand extends into almost every major Russian business. Former KGB officers turned businessmen are warmly welcomed in their old Abkhaz stomping grounds - and have brought billions of dollars of investment. Rosneft, Russia's state oil company famous for its ties to the Russian security establishment, arrived this year to open an office in Sukhumi and begin a $32 million geological-research program offshore in the Black Sea, considered a prospective oil-rich region. Other groups in the Russian elite have also followed the spooks' lead. Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov has lost no time grabbing a massive piece of land outside Gagra for a $70 million resort complex the locals call "Project Moscow." Luzhkov is also constructing a gigantic office in Sukhumi to coordinate investments from Moscow, to be called the Moscow Center. Russia's Ministries of Defense, Agriculture, and the Interior have reclaimed state dachas in Sukhumi, Gagra, and Gudauta so that their employees can vacation there. Alexander Tkachev, the governor of Krasnodar region in southern Russia, has spent the last two summers in the dacha built by Stalin's secret police chief; he rents it from the local government, which can't afford to renovate it. And Sergei Kiriyenko, the head of Russia's nuclear-energy agency, owns a winery in Abkhazia, according to the local administration. But the biggest investor of all is Prime Minister Putin, who visited Abkhazia last summer for the war's first anniversary, and pledged $500 million in state aid to strengthen Abkhaz defense. He has also promised millions for a huge project to redevelop the town of Pitsunda, famous for its enormous old pine trees - beloved by the tsars, the Soviets, and the new Russian elites alike. The Russian government is planning to build what Astamur Ketsba, head of the regional administration, calls "Putin City" - a lavish luxury resort with a port for yachts, health clubs, and private beaches. It is expected to be ready in time for the 2014 Winter Olympics in nearby Sochi. In the meantime, Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh told NEWSWEEK that he has already received 300 million rubles of 9 billion offered, and that he has reached an agreement with Putin that will allow Russian citizens to own private property in Abkhazia. He boasted that the airport Sukhumi will open next month is better than the one in Sochi, and that soon, Russian S-300 surface-to-air missiles will be stationed in his breakaway republic. Not all the locals are happy about the invasion of Russian money, fearing an assault on their newly won independence. Tomara Lakrba, the main architect of the towns of Gagra and Pitsunda, says she was "astonished" when she saw the proposed designs for Putin City, which - with more than 10 stories (where three or four are normal) - she considered tall and ugly. "I realized that Russian security services gave us our independence in order to be able to decide what to buy and build in our cities," she says. Many young Abkhaz also feel concerned about the Russian elite buying up their proud, small state. "I do not think Russians understand that we are different; we do not want to be a KGB state again. We would never give our land back to Georgia, but to be independent, we mean from Russia as well," says Akhra Smyr, a youth community activist in Sukhumi. He and other irritated young activists shared with NEWSWEEK their frustration about how Russian tanks destroyed the roads in the Gali region and how their international phone code has become +7, the same as Russia's. Abkhazia's tiny military also feels steamrollered by the FSB, which has taken over controlling the border with Georgia. There are only two checkpoints (of more than a dozen) left under Abkhaz control, and some 120 Abkhaz officers have lost their jobs. Sixty were fired outright and 60 were turned into customs agents. "We are all war veterans," says the commander of Abkhaz border troops, Col. Lavrik Mikvabia. "We spilled blood for our freedom. The FSB border officers should remember that when they treat us as if we were their colony." It seems too late, though, for the Abkhaz to reconsider their pact with their powerful northern neighbor. Abkhazia's border with Georgia is secured by a full division of Russia's border guards, who answer to the FSB. Bright orange trucks - with the double-headed-eagle logo of the Russian Federal Construction Co. - crawl along the coastal roads, carrying sand and gravel for the seven-story buildings the FSB is building for the border guards and their families in Gali, a regional center on the border with Georgia. With so much Russian money being poured into Abkhazia, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's calls for the Russian military's immediate withdrawal ring a little hollow. Never mind the ceasefire terms that ended the war, under which Moscow promised to withdraw. "Russia has just arrived," President Bagapsh told NEWSWEEK. The West should "stop having any illusions about what they call Russian occupiers leaving any time soon." [Maytisin/Newsweek/18August2010]

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Guns of August? by Arnaud de Borchgrave. For the first two weeks of August, the Internet buzzed with "inside knowledge" of an Israeli airstrike against Iran's nuclear facilities before the end of the month. One of most quoted warnings came from Philip Giraldi, a polyglot former CIA operative who writes for the American Conservative and is no friend of Israel. "We spend $100 billion on intelligence annually and then ignore the best judgments on what is taking place," Giraldi wrote on his blog recently and "might as well use an Ouija board. Not only would we save a lot of money but with an Ouija board there is always the chance you could arrive at the right decision." Five years ago, Giraldi wrote, "it is hardly a secret that the same people in and around the administration that brought you Iraq are preparing to do the same for Iran." U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, he wrote, had tasked the Strategic Command with drawing up a contingency plan in response to another Sept. 11-type terrorist attack on the United States. The plan was for a large-scale air assault on Iran (never mind if Iran wasn't involved) employing both conventional and tactical nuclear weapons. More than 450 major strategic targets were listed in the plan - evidently leaked to Giraldi by "appalled" senior U.S. Air Force officers. Tehran's propaganda machine has taken a leaf out of Bush 43's lexicon - "bring 'em on." The Pasdaran, or Revolutionary Guards, trotted out their latest acquisition - the 51-foot "Bladerunner," the world's "fastest warship," capable of 82 mph. The Iran Times, published in Washington in both English and Farsi, reported only two such "high-tech" speedboats had been built and that Iran was now planning to mass-produce them. The one acquired by Iran was purchased in South Africa and loaded onto a container ship. The Financial Times said the United States was prepared to board it but the operation was called off without explanation. One Bladerunner was used to set a record for circumnavigating the British Isles in 2005, when it averaged 61.5 mph over 27 hours. For the past 20 years, Iran's seagoing Republican Guards have been accumulating small, swift boats with a view to swarming U.S. warships going in and out of the Hormuz Strait, and to mining the narrow waterway used by supertankers that move 40 percent of all seaborne traded oil (which is 20 percent of all oil traded worldwide). Moving through the mile-wide exit channel is also three-quarters of all of Japan's oil needs. Iran also has an endless supply of seagoing suicide "volunteers." Hundreds were used to walk across minefields during the Iraq-Iran war (1980-88). Hormuz is the world's most important chokepoint and Iran's principal naval base, Bandar Abbas, is smack in the middle. The Defense Intelligence Agency knows from a former Iranian naval intelligence officer that there are detailed plans to close the strait to supertankers that move some 17 million barrels a day to the rest of the world. Oil would then quickly shoot up from $80 a barrel where it is today to $400 or $500. In January 2008, five Iranian speedboats darted in and out of a line of three U.S. warships as they entered the Persian Gulf through the Strait, dropping white boxes ahead of the vessels, forcing them to take evasive action. The USS Port Royal, a 9,600-ton cruiser, the 8,300-ton guided missile destroyer USS Hopper and the 4,100-ton frigate USS Ingraham were prepared to blast the Iranian boats out of the water with close-range, rapid-fire Phalanx Gatlings but word came from the Pentagon to hold their fire. The white boxes were designed to simulate mines. There is little doubt one or two U.S. warships could have been damaged and the United States would have found itself involved in a third war in the region. The suicide boat attack against the 8,600-ton USS Cole, at anchor in Aden Harbor in October 2000, which killed 17 U.S. sailors and immobilized a $1 billion warship for two years of repairs, demonstrated vulnerability to small craft laden with explosives. To demonstrate that fresh international sanctions won't weaken Iranian resolve, Tehran published a new law mandating the production of higher-enriched uranium and further limiting cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. At the same time, Iran and Russia announced they would begin loading "before the end of August" Russian-supplied fuel into Iran's first nuclear power plant. A cacophony of tweets amplified Giraldi's Guns of August scenario. If Israel has decided to strike against what most Israelis see as an existential threat, it would presumably wait until the U.S. Congress' return from vacation Sept. 10. A resolution (HR 1553) is winding its way through Congress that endorses an Israeli attack on Iran, which, writes Giraldi, "would be going to war by proxy as the U.S. would almost immediately be drawn into conflict when Tehran retaliates." Leading neo-conservatives pooh-pooh Iran's asymmetrical retaliatory capabilities as overblown anti-Israeli rhetoric. Reuel Marc Gerecht, a neo-con commentator, predicts Iran's response would be minimal and recommends Israel attack Iran to "rock the system" to make the regime "lose face" and suffer a military defeat from which its recovery would be doubtful. This reporter first began covering Iran in August 1953 when the shah fled a revolutionary upheaval (returning 10 days later after a military crackdown and covert CIA assistance). There is little doubt that an Israeli attack on Iran would trigger mayhem up and down the Persian Gulf and trigger a third war that would be yet another force multiplier for the U.S. deficit: Federal spending is now at $3.6 trillion; the national debt, $13.4 trillion; cost per citizen $43,000; cost per taxpayer $120,000. Check the debt clock online - in real time. Gulf and other Arab rulers who wish secretly for aerial bombing action against Iran's nuclear facilities will be the first to denounce Israel and its only ally when and if the first Iranian target is hit. [Borchgrave/UPI/17August2010] Why Gates Seems Set on a 2011 Departure, by Jim Watson. So Robert Gates is set on retiring from government - for the second time. Or so he says. In an interview with, he has repeated more firmly than ever his desire to resign as secretary of defense sometime in 2011. Why would he decide on 2011, and not 2010 or 2012? Strange but true: the arcane workings of the Pentagon budget process are one of the key factors behind his timing. Drawing up the annual defense budget - especially one now totaling $719 billion - is so complex that each exercise actually takes close to two years. Thus, the defense budget for 2012, the last year of President Obama's term in office, is already taking shape. Its unveiling in February of next year will place a capstone on Gates's extraordinary career. The first time Gates retired was in 1993, when he stepped down as CIA director. He was called back to service by President George W. Bush at the end of 2006, to rescue an Iraq war on the brink of defeat. He thought he would be in the Pentagon only for the two years remaining in Bush's presidency. To his real surprise, Obama asked Gates to stay on - the first time an incoming president had ever made that request of a defense secretary. Now Gates seems to have decided, in effect, to see Obama through the midterms. Each defense budget takes so long to prepare that a defense secretary coming into office with a new president finds his hands all but tied: the Pentagon budgets for the next two years have already been laid down by his predecessor. But Gates was, as he sometimes remarks, his own predecessor. His two years under Bush meant that he will be only the second defense secretary - the first was Robert McNamara in the Kennedy/LBJ years - to have shaped all four defense budgets of a presidential term. In the first of his budgets under Obama, Gates took an ax to multiple big-ticket weapons systems; preparing his last, he has announced his intent to hack away at the bloated defense bureaucracies. That battle - to slim down a defense establishment far bigger than it was during the Cold War - is going to consume every gram of political capital Gates has built up in Congress. Legislators, however much they say they support defense cuts in principle, oppose them when their own constituents are affected. Gates will probably win the coming battles - he's won almost every skirmish so far - but he'll emerge as damaged goods, and he knows it. For that reason alone, it may be time to let Obama choose a new defense secretary who can smooth ruffled feelings on Capitol Hill, and to prepare for a second term if Obama wins one in 2012. Quitting in 2011 will leave enough time to avoid what would inevitably be savagely partisan confirmation hearings for Gates's successor in the preelection frenzy. Policy reasons also argue for a 2011 departure. Next year Obama will be confronted with big decisions on U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. He'll have to decide whether to begin a substantial drawdown of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in midyear, as he has pledged to do. He also needs to decide whether to agree to an expected request from Baghdad to keep forces in Iraq beyond the currently agreed-upon deadline of the end of 2011. Having been through multiple reviews of both wars under Bush and Obama, Gates should be forgiven if he decides to leave yet further reviews to someone else. As a firm believer that if America is in a war, then America must win it - a conviction that may argue next year for extended commitments in Afghanistan and perhaps in Iraq - Gates may also wonder whether his views would collide with Obama's political necessities. Supporters and cynics unite in casting doubt on Gates's determination to quit. His press secretary, Geoff Morrell, issued a brisk reminder: "Bob Gates has proven to be a miserable failure at retirement. It remains to be seen whether his sense of responsibility trumps his desires as in the past." Cynics within the Pentagon point out that his coming battles with Congress will need the unflinching support of the White House. How better to ensure that, they ask, than for Gates to play hard to keep - requiring Obama to appeal to him to stay on? Certainly, Gates is conscious of tasks yet to be done. He i

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