The realpolitik in the Levant changed significantly upon the entry of the Russian Government into the foray. Russia announced recently it would assist the Assad Government in Syria as well as Kurdish forces in fighting what it perceives to be a mutual threat to Russia by ISIS. It has interest in maintaining the Assad government, which has long established ties with Moscow. In the past weeks the Russian military established operational bases in Syria and began a heavy program in supplying material and personnel.
Now, the Russian leadership announced it was working on providing weapons to Iraqi Kurds fighting ISIS through the Iraq Government. This shows a clear departure from the politics in the region where the focus was upon the United States to provide the Iraqis with defense abilities. Yet, this has proven to be ineffective due to the rapid expeditionary campaign launched against the people and government of Iraq by ISIS. It was almost an embarrassment when the United States surprised the world with the announcement of ISIS’ threat after it was six months into its war effort against Iraq and Syria and went so far as to claim that despite the loss of 25% of Iraq’s territory and ISIS forces advancing within several dozen miles of Iraq’s capital, the situation was under control and was not an existential threat to the nation.
Now, in the vacuum of a serious effort on behalf of the west to address the ISIS problem, other than airstrikes and millions of dollars recruiting and training a handful of Syrian volunteers, Russia is emerging to fulfill the void left behind. Russia will gain both in terms of influence in credibility in the area as a result.
In another setback for political change in Russia, opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was gunned down by several men who shot him four times in the back while he traversed a bridge along with a Ukrainian woman. Boris was to speak before a peace rally denouncing Russian involvement in the hostilities in the Ukraine, economic policies, and other issues.
Boris, a former deputy-prime minister, is an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The crime scene was within two hundred meters of the Kremlin.
Russia has imposed a bizarre new law that bars transsexual and transgender people from obtaining driving licenses. The Russian now also ban people found to have proclivities toward fetishism, exhibitionism, pathological gambling, compulsive stealing, and voyeurism as “mental disorders” incompatible with driving.
The Group of Seven Nations (G7) agreed to impose new sanctions and move more swiftly against Russia for the state’s actions in The Ukraine. The group accused Moscow of violating the de-escalation measures mutually agreed to during the Geneva Accord designed to reduce tensions in the region.
The powers in North America, Europe, and Japan agreed Saturday to impose new targeted sanctions. In an official statement, the G7 announced:
“Given the urgency of securing the opportunity for a successful and peaceful democratic vote next month in Ukraine’s presidential elections, we have committed to act urgently to intensify targeted sanctions.”
The market is also beginning to deal blows to Russia’s increasingly perilous economy. Standard and Poors, a benchmark rating service for sovereign debt and other investments, announced that it was cutting the insurance rating due to the risk of Russia defaulting on its debt; lowering its rating to BBB- making it just one step above a junk rating. This is certain to affect large Russian government owned businesses such as Gasprom that supply the nation with hard currency. The reduction of this rating carries an 18% probably of default within the next three years. Russia defaulted on its sovereign domestic debt in 1998 and plunged the nation into a financial chrisis forstering a devaluation of the Rouble and an 84% rise in inflation.