Thursday, October 2, 2008

Pirate fizzle-out. Maybe...

Can't wait for the Russians to get there! - d

Yeah, me too pal, but it looks like we may not get our fireworks show, dammit!


MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- The Somali government has asked Russia to intervene against pirates who have seized a Ukrainian cargo ship, the Somali ambassador to Russia said Wednesday.

But the Russian navy issued a statement later in the day saying it had no intention of using force against the pirates, the Russian news agency Interfax reported.

"The questions of freeing the ships and crew are being dealt with in line with the corresponding international practices," Interfax quoted Navy spokesman Igor Dygalo as saying. "For understandable reasons, the use of force would be an extreme measure because it could threaten the life of the international crew of the ship."

Aw, geez, what a time for the Russkies to go all warm an' fuzzy on us! What could possibly have been their motivation?


To sum up: the Russians announced that they were sending a warship to patrol off of Somalia’s coast, and dispatched it just two days before a Ukrainian ship loaded with Soviet-era weapons was seized by pirates. A week after the hijacking, the Somalian government announced recognition of South Ossetian and Abkhazian independence, and announced that they were in talks with the Russians for military training and assistance. (Somalia was allied with the Soviets during the Cold War, but relations fell apart after pro-Soviet President Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991.)

Setting aside the coincidence that Russia announced the deployment of an anti-piracy warship three days before the hijacking of the Ukrainian ship, the strategic issue is that the Russians are involving themselves once again in the Horn of Africa. They had been involved there during the Cold War, and they are returning — on a very small scale for now. The Horn of Africa is critical to U.S. counterterrorism efforts; the region is watched through Africa Command, headquartered in Germany, and Djibouti hosts the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.

This follows the pattern Russia established with Venezuela: recruiting allies whose interests diverge from those of the United States. The primary function at this point is to irritate Washington, since the primary deployment is naval — and so minimal that it presents no threat to U.S. naval sea-lane control. At the same time, the Somalian announcement that the Russians are welcomed ashore in Somalia opens the possibility of a Russian land base in the region, and the possibility of Russian troops helping to assert government control over Somalian chaos — or at least trying to.

The fate of the hijacked ship is unknown. Kenya’s decision to buy T-72s from Ukraine is not unheard of. The timing of the announcement and the hijacking is entirely coincidental. We understand all of that of course. But in this bizarre affair what is clear is that the Russians are moving ahead rapidly to at least show the flag in diverse parts of the world, and are finding willing partners — maybe not of the first quality, but enough to distract the United States at least somewhat from more focused and pressing issues elsewhere.

I guess the best we can hope for is that there's a camera pointed at MV Faina when 30 or 40 previously unannounced limpet mines go off on her hull in a spectacular coincidence about two hours after the Russians show up.

Drat all this! I already bought the popcorn...

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