Dos Vedanya Tovarischa Anna Chapman née Kushchenko

I really haven't been following the embedded Russian spy story closely, though I have found it rather exceptionally amusing at times. I mean it is not often that one gets to see spy porn plastered in the British tabloids. Few page three girls can boast the lifestyle, if not the breasts, of a character that reads as if from the fiction of John Le Carré. The Russian femme fatale Anna Chapman née Kushchenko, aka The Lady in Red, is, no doubt, the Mata Hari of our day and age but unlike the Dutch tulip of yore, this Russian turnip gets to live another day. Today, she was deported to Moscow as part of a spy swap, the first in 24 years, between the United States and Russia.

Marc Ambinder over at The Atlantic finds that "the fact that the two countries managed to so quickly figure out a mutually beneficial solution after the arrests of Russian spies last week suggests that Moscow and Washington work together well and that both countries believe it is in their best interest to move on from the wilderness of mirrors." In Marc's view, the quick deal is "a sign of a healthy relationship." My take away is more nuanced. The relationship is as healthy as it can be given the dysfunctional nature of the relationship between the two countries. Frankly, I'd like to know what both the US and Russia are so eager to cover up. Alas, given the deal we are never likely to know.

It is somewhat stunning to me that in this entire episode no one has brought up the Cambridge Five, the most notorious embedded spy ring to ever operate in the West. In the 1930s amidst the background of the rise of fascism, the Soviet Union managed to recruit five Cambridge students - Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt, Kim Philby and John Cairncross - to provide intelligence even before they embarked on diplomatic and intelligence careers. Maclean, in particular, was quite the catch given that his father had been the leader of the Liberal party in the 1920s. And Kim Philby was the son of St. John Philby, the noted British diplomat and explorer who was instrumental in placing Ibn Saud on the throne of Saudi Arabia. And as per Anthony Blunt, well, he was a third cousin of Queen Elizabeth, the wife of King George VI and mother of the present monarch. Sir Anthony Blunt, a noted art historian, would also advise the royal family on its art collection but would have his peerage revoked after Margaret Thatcher revealed his role, minimal compared to Philby's and Burgess' roles, in the whole sordid affair. By these standards, Anna Chapman née Kushchenko's pedigree is rather that of a mongrel.

Personally, I can't wait until the BBC turns this latest chapter of Russian espionage into a mini-series. Below a delicious scene from Cambridge Spies with Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth and Samuel West as Sir Anthony Blunt:

This is par for the course. There is no reason to believe that Russia, the United States, Israel, China, the United Kingdom or most any country will curtail their spy games. We can only hope that in future such spy games are as entertaining as these.


A Statement of Principles for Cooperation between the US and Russia

"We proposed a very extensive action plan and they have adopted these areas of work and commitment. There is no guarantee on the outcome, but everything is on the table that we think is important to our relationship. They agree." - Secretary of State Clinton

The "they" is the Russians and the "plan" covers a wide-ranging set of issues that have strained US-Russian relations for over a decade. Today in London, President Obama and his Russian counterpart, President Dmitry Medvedev, announced that the US and Russia will begin fast-track negotiations on reducing their nuclear arsenals.

According to the joint statement, Obama and Medvedev agreed that the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms -- which expires in December -- "has completely fulfilled its intended purpose and that the maximum levels for strategic offensive arms recorded in the treaty were reached long ago."

"They have therefore decided to move further along the path of reducing and limiting strategic offensive arms in accordance with U.S. and Russian obligations under Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons," the joint statement said. Furthermore the President pledged to work for the US Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which Russia has long cherished.

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The Lost Art of Letter Writing & Diplomacy

According to the New York Times, the President sent a secret and hand written letter to Russian President Dimitri Medvedev last month suggesting that the United States would back off deploying a new missile defense system in Eastern Europe if Moscow would help stop Iran from developing long-range weapons. The Bush Administration argued that these deployments in Poland and the Czech Republic were to protect Europe from Iranian missile threats. The Russians thought otherwise and made their displeasure known threatening to point their still vast nuclear arsenal backs toward the continent.  

By linking the deployment of the missile shield in Eastern Europe to Russian cooperation in halting Iran's efforts to build nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles, the Administration is putting the Russians on the spot. The question in Moscow right now must be which relationship do we value more, the American or the Iranian? Alternatively, the Russians might try to figure how to bring the Americans and Iranians to a different plane. Furthermore while the Bush Administration effectively ignored Russian concerns to strategic detriment (recognizing Kosovo was a historic blunder), the Obama Administration is actively seeking to incorporate Moscow as a responsible actor with a role to play on the global stage. There is some risk to trusting Moscow, but the offsets are worth the risk.

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Forum of Gas Exporting Countries

"The time of cheap energy resources, and cheap gas is surely coming to an end." Vladimir V. Putin

This past Tuesday in Moscow and largely at the behest of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, fourteen large natural gas-producing countries met to establish an organization that will study ways to set global natural gas prices by limiting production, much as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries does for crude oil. For now, the organization is to be called the Forum of Gas Exporting Countries (FGEC. The forum members include: Algeria, Bolivia, Brunei, Venezuela, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Qatar, Libya, Malaysia, Nigeria, the United Arab Emirates, Russia, Trinidad and Tobago and, as observers, Equatorial Guinea and Norway.

Russia, the world's largest producer, accounts for 21.6% of global natural gas production. Other top ten global producers attending the meeting include Iran, Norway (as an observer) and Algeria. However, only eight of the 14 countries are world top 20 producers. As an aside, it's noteworthy that none of the large coming on stream Central Asian producers attended the meeting.

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