In the last couple of weeks, Putin allies have come to power– with his help– in Moldava, Bulgaria and the United States. (Yes, Obama completely failed to protect America from that menace… and now I'm worried that the brutal Russian dictator will turn Ed Snowden over to Trumpanzee the first time el Presidente Pepe The Frog needs a rabbit to pull out of a hat.) This morning the Financial Times reported about Putin's ties to the neo-Nazi far right in an increasingly fascist Hungary (whose leader, Viktor Orban, and Trump have already forged a bond). Last week, The Guardian reported that some Russian agents were expelled from Serbia– Russia's traditional ally– for trying to implement a coup in neighboring Montenegro– a coup that would have cost the lives of Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Ðjukanović and Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić.
The plotters were allegedly going to dress in police uniforms to storm the Montenegrin parliament in Podgorica, shoot the prime minister, Milo Ðjukanović, and install a pro-Moscow party.
The Russian fingerprints on the October plot have heightened intrigue about Moscow’s ambitions in a part of Europe hitherto thought to be gravitating towards the EU’s orbit.
A group of 20 Serbians and Montenegrins, some of whom had fought with Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, were arrested in Podgorica, the Montenegrin capital. In Serbia, meanwhile, several Russian nationals suspected of coordinating the plot were caught with €120,000 and special forces uniforms.
According to the Belgrade daily, Danas, the Russians also had encryption equipment and were able to keep track of Đjukanović’s whereabouts.
Diplomatic sources told the Guardian the Belgrade government quietly deported the Russians after the intervention of the head of the Russian security council, Nikolai Patrushev, who flew to Belgrade on 26 October in an apparent effort to contain the scandal. The country’s interior minister, Nebojša Stefanović denied the government carried out any deportations connected to the plot.
A source close to the Belgrade government said Patrushev, a former FSB (federal security service) chief, apologised for what he characterised as a rogue operation that did not have the Kremlin’s sanction. In Moscow, a Security Council official told Tass that Patrushev “didn’t apologise to anyone, because there is nothing to apologise for.”
The Serbian government was further rattled three days after Patrushev’s visit when a cache of arms was found near the home of the prime minister, Aleksandar Vučić. The weapons were discovered at a junction where Vučić’s car would normally slow down on his way to the house.
Stefanović said there were “strong suspicions” that an organised crime gang had been hired to kill Vučić for €10m, but he would not specify who was behind the alleged plot, saying further investigation would show whether people “outside the region” were involved.
…Đjukanović has been instrumental in pulling his country to the verge of Nato membership– an accession protocol was signed in May– which has dashed Russian hopes of securing a naval foothold on the Adriatic. According to the Montenegrin press, Moscow lobbied hard in recent years for transit and maintenance facilities at the ports of Bar and Kotor.
The importance of such facilities was demonstrated late last month when the Russian carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov and its battle group was denied refuelling in European ports along their way to support the Russian military effort in Syria.
In Serbia, Vučić has been seeking a delicate balance between Nato and Russia, and the country’s armed forces have conducted military exercises with both, although far more frequently in recent years with Nato. Vučić has also refused to grant diplomatic status to Russian officials staffing a Serbian-Russian humanitarian centre established in the city of Niš in 2012, infuriating Moscow.
…Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry wrote on Facebook: “The publication in the Guardian with a link to ‘sources’ saying that Patrushev apologised for ‘Russian nationalists’ who had planned to kill the prime minister of Montenegro is a classic provocation aimed at spreading knowingly false information.
“I declare you “liars of the day”. You can sew your own hat.”
In an OpEd for Al Arabiya, Hisham Melhem asked the question about what a Trump presidency will mean for th Middle East, fretting that “given the paucity of President-elect Donald Trump’s clear views on the Middle East’s myriad crises and challenges, after a long campaign of contradictory positions and since he has not fully staffed his National Security team, it is difficult to analyze with great certainty how the 45th American president will deal with a rapidly changing region that has been accustomed to strong American leadership. The president-elect will soon realize that his outlandish claims and demands during the campaign, such as taking over the oil resources of countries where the US is engaged militarily or extracting protection money from other allies, are not feasible or realistic… Trump’s views on Middle Eastern crises and problems are vague,” he continued, “incomplete or simplistic declarative sentences such as 'we will bomb the hell out of them.' However, he has stuck to few positions during the campaign and based on what he said and did not say, one can make some preliminary, tentative observations. Somewhat surprisingly, some of his views are in sync with the Obama administration. Mr. Trump, like President Obama, does not see the removal of the Assad regime as America’s first priority in Syria, but rather to continue the fight against ISIS until it ceases to be a 'governing' authority. One of the few consistent views of Mr. Trump during the campaign was his lavish praise of the leadership of Russian President Vladimir Putin, including in Syria, where he would like to collaborate with Russia to 'knock out ISIS together.'”
Melhem warms that Trump is ill-informed and his claims about “Russia, the Assad regime and Iran are carrying out joint military operations against ISIS” are just plain erroneous– and Russian propaganda that no one but Trump and other Putin puppets seem to believe.
President-elect Trump shares President Obama’s refusal to get involved more deeply and militarily in the Middle East. President Obama is tired of the Middle East and has been critical of the Egyptian government’s violations of human rights and issues across the region. President Trump, on the other hand, wants to restore relations with Egypt including restoration of economic support. The initial studied welcome of Arab, Turkish and Israeli officials of the election of Mr. Trump is also due to the fact that Trump rarely spoke about the need to foster and support human rights and human dignity in the world, including the countries of the Middle East. The election of Mr. Trump, whose autocratic tendencies are well known and documented, has coincided with the rise of a confederacy of strong men and/or autocrats all over the world, including a number of them in western Europe, catapulted by populist movements and right wing parties and strong opposition to new immigrants and refugees from the Middle East, South Asia and Africa. President Putin is actively supporting this worrisome phenomenon and is familiar with the major players in it. Democracy as a system of governance is in a state of retreat. The silence of Mr. Trump during his campaign in the face of violations of human rights in Middle Eastern societies and beyond can only be welcomed by the autocrats who will not be subjected in the next four years to the usual cajoling and pressure that previous administrations imposed on America’s allies.
That’s in part what the Trump presidency means for the Middle East.
“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.” — Sinclair Lewis