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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

It's another cold war
Brrr... Kremlin frosts up
over 'Arctic' video game
Video game fanatics face yet one more challenge. The Kremlin is on the look-out for computer games that besmirch Vladimir Putin's regime, a leaked State Department cable reveals.

Putin's hand-picked foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, put the game Naval War: Arctic Circle in the diplomatic cross-hairs, arguing that a private firm, Turbo Tape Games, depicts Russia as the enemy in a conflict over Arctic resources.

Lavrov cited the game in his complaint to Norway Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere that Norway had been unnecessarily escalating tensions over the matter of Arctic resources. Despite the protest at the 2009 meeting, the computer game was released last year.

Lavrov's awareness demonstrated "impressive research" by the Russians well in advance of the game's release to the public, the cable noted in an apparent reference to the Kremlin's reputation for espionage. However, it was unclear whether deep-cover Russian moles were behind the video game caper.

The video game contretemps came to light in a confidential report from the U.S. embassy in Oslo that was leaked to Wikileaks and found its way to Oslo's Aftenposten newspaper.

Lavrov also told Stoere that he was appalled by the security problems in Afghanistan, where Norwegian troops are aiding the NATO-led war, and said Russia was considering offering training and small arms assistance to the Afghan police.

On Iran, Lavrov welcomed U.S. engagement and said that Iran is ready to use its leverage in the region positively, but needs to know what they will receive in return, the cable says. Without prompting, Lavrov mentioned that if Iran is brought into greater engagement with the world, Russia would even welcome the Nabucco pipeline, the cable adds.

The proposed Nabucco would carry natural gas from Erzurum, Turkey, to Baumgarten an der March, Austria. The plan is seen as an attempt to lessen European dependence on Russian energy. The project is backed by several European Union states and the United States and is seen as rival to the Gazprom-led South Stream pipeline project.

(Scroll down to read cable as published by Aftenposten.)

Brazil rejected a Bush administration offer to swap intelligence on Venezuela and its strongman, Hugo Chavez, according to another State Department cable found in the Wikileaks cache. The Brazilians said their relationship with Chavez was touchy. However, they said they would happy to accept whatever intelligence Washington would care to donate.

(Scroll down to read cable as published by
Washington Post slams Wikileaks prosecution
"Such prosecutions are a bad idea. The government has no business indicting someone who is not a spy and who is not legally bound to keep its secrets. Doing so would criminalize the exchange of information and put at risk responsible media organizations that vet and verify material and take seriously the protection of sources and methods when lives or national security are endangered. The Espionage Act is easily abused, as shown by a criminal case that dragged on for years, before being closed last year, of two lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who did nothing more than pass along to colleagues and a reporter information they gleaned from conversations with U.S. officials. The act should be scrapped or tightened, not given new and dangerous life."

The Post editorial sharply rebukes Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who heads the intelligence committee, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the Connecticut independent who heads the homeland security committee.

National security 'wolf' criers
Why are the government's national security secrets so widely scorned? Too many cries of "wolf" to excuse coverup of misconduct or political shenanigans by the "connected insiders."
Icelandic authorities subpoened the communications and financial data of Senators Feinstein and Lieberman as part of an investigation into whether Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a member of Iceland's parliament, is the target of a conspiracy to deprive her of rights of free speech and legislative immunity?

Conservative pundits taste own medicine
The manufactured hue and cry over the "tone of political discourse" in the aftermath of the Arizona shootings is a transparent ploy by "mainstream" media to bid for control public discourse to promote the ends of powerful interests. The idea is to stifle free speech and press in the name of civility.

Many of the conservative pundits who face having their fiery commentary hosed down are the same commentators who were demanding prosecutions of Wikileaks organizers and even their allies over the exercise of free, if unwelcome, speech and press.

A word on all the pop psychology and sociology being bandied about over the airwaves concerning creating an atmosphere of violence: A psychotic person can't interpret reality properly. Hence, there's no telling what might set him or her off. Also, public figures have always been prone to fixations by disturbed individuals.
C O N F I D E N T I A L OSLO 000216
Classified By: Deputy Chief of Mission, Kevin M. Johnson for reasons 1.4 b and d
1. (C) Summary: During his March 24-25 Moscow visit FM Stoere clashed with FM Lavrov over the Telenor-Alfa Bank business dispute and NATO issues. On the Arctic Council, Svalbard, Afghanistan, Iran, the Middle East and energy cooperation, discussions were characterized by the normal positive atmosphere between the two ministers. Following the meetings, (TEXT REMOVED BY AFTENPOSTEN) briefed Embassy Oslo, highlighting the GONs wish for U.S. attention to the Arctic and the Secretarys participation in the April 28-29 Arctic Council Ministerial. The GON is concerned that Russia may drift in a more aggressive line and believes U.S. presence at the Arctic Council is necessary to balance this. The GON also seeks a relaunch of a U.S.-Norway High North dialogue. End Summary
Stoere objects to the Shakedown of Telenor ------------------------------------------
2. (C) (TEXT REMOVED BY AFTENPOSTEN) stated that despite their good personal relationship, Stoere and Lavrovs discussions over the Telenor-Alfa Bank business dispute were rough and tense. The GON-owned Telenor (53.9% state ownership) is locked in a heated dispute with the Alfa Group over control of their joint company Vimpelcom (Telenor 30% Alfa 40% share), a Russian mobile phone operator. Telenor has been in the Russian market since 1992 and in partnership with Alfa from 1998. Trouble between the partners began in 2004 over Alfas wish to expand into Ukraine, leading to a series of court cases which have not resolved the issue. Through questionable legal maneuvers conducted by a front company, Alfa won the most recent court case on March 11, resulting in the seizing of Telenors shares in Vimpelcom, currently worth about 1.8 billion dollars (11.8 billion NOK) and their possible forced sale. Under Russian law these shares could be sold before the appeal (currently scheduled for May 26) is heard.
3. (C) Stoere challenged Lavrov to ensure that Telenors shares are not sold before their appeal can be heard. He stressed the damage that Russias economy would suffer if it continues to be unpredictable and arbitrary. The abrupt fall in the Russian stock market on the day the Telenor verdict was announced was proof of this. Lavrov objected to Stoeres statement that the Russian economy was unpredictable and accused Telenor of stopping Russian investment into Ukraine and other former Soviet states in the interest of limiting Russian influence over these areas. Lavrov suggested the TNK-BP model of resolution where BP was forced to cede control and shares to TNK at less than market values, a solution which would not be welcome to the GON.
Real and Imagined Tensions over NATO ------------------------------------ 4. (C) Pointing to the NATO meeting held in Reykjavik in January, the NATO Cold Response exercise held in February-March in Northern Norway, and a Norwegian video game, Lavrov criticized NATO for unnecessarily increasing tensions in the Arctic. Demonstrating impressive research by the Russian Embassy in Oslo, Lavrov objected to the video game Naval War: Arctic Circle, to be released in 2010 by a Norwegian company, Turbo Tape Games (which recently received a substantial grant from the Norwegian Film Institute) and which depicts Russia as the enemy in a conflict over Arctic resources. On the NATO Russia Council Lavrov welcomed new meetings but insisted that they be at the same level as before the Georgian war. He also asked why there have been no discussions on human rights violations in Georgia or NATO shipment of weapons to Georgia.
5. (C) Stoere responded strongly, saying that Norway and NATO have the right to rehearse military maneuvers and that Lavrov should look in the mirror before criticizing NATO military activities in the Arctic, given the substantial increase in Russian military activities in the area. Stoere also urged Russian leaders to make an effort to change Russias image of the enemy and of the West, particularly in the north where bilateral cooperation is strong. Stoere also pressed Lavrov for an explanation on why there has been no substantial progress in the NATO Russia Council.
Less Tension on High North Arctic / Svalbard Issues --------------------------------------------- ------
6. (C) There was only a brief mention of Svalbard, and surprisingly Lavrov did not raise any of Russias standard issues of principle. The ministers discussed Barents cooperation issues, including the implementation of visa-free travel for residents, fishing, the maritime border, and nuclear safety issues. Although agreeing on the importance of the Arctic Council, Stoere and Lavrov discussed their different views of expanding membership, with Russia objecting to a wider membership, particularly the EU.
Energy and Carbon Capture ------------------------- 7. (C) In discussions over development of Shtockman Lavrov maintained that a decision on investment would be taken at the end of this year. He did not believe the financial crisis would impact this decision. Lavrov was also very interested in Stoeres explanation of the GONs carbon capture and storage program. Lavrov complained to Stoere that the European Commission had gone behind his back in making a deal with Ukraine on gas supplies before the Commission-Russia-Ukraine meeting in Brussels the week of March 16. The Norwegian MFA feels that the EU-Russia energy relationship was not good, even claiming that the Russian purposely created traffic and passport problems to ensure that Commissioner Ferroro-Waldner missed her flight during a recent visit to Moscow.
Afghanistan, Iran and the Middle East ------------------------------------- 8. (C) Lavrov had just returned from a visit to Afghanistan and was struck by the bad security situation. He said that Russia was considering offering training and small arms assistance to the Afghan police. On Iran, Lavrov welcomed U.S. engagement and stated that Iran is ready to use its leverage in the region positively, but needs to know what they will receive in return. Without prompting, Lavrov mentioned that if Iran is brought into greater engagement with the world, Russia would even welcome the Nabucco pipeline. Lavrov also mentioned Russias intent to host a Middle East meeting in Moscow during the summer, using the Annapolis format.
Will Norway Keep their Russian Rose-Colored Glasses? --------------------------------------------- ------- 9. (C) Comment: The GON is growing more concerned about developments in Russia, although they are careful to continually stress the positive developments in the bilateral relationship. The GON continues to (perhaps wishfully) explain away negative developments in Russia. The latest example was the dismissal of the long-standing governor in Murmansk, after accusations of treason for giving away resources and being too friendly to Scandinavians and Americans. This was characterized as sad, but not an attack on the Norwegian-Russian relationship and was not raised by Stoere in his meetings with Lavrov.
10. (C) It has taken the Telenor business dispute to slightly sharpen Norways criticism of Russia. Despite this serious dispute, the GON wishes to continue good relations with Russia possibly because it does not see any way to effectively counter Russian moves without damaging Norwegian interests. Oil and Energy Minister Riis-Johansens April 22-24 visit to Russia and PM Stoltenbergs May 19 visit to Moscow will show if the GON maintains a positive approach to Russia.
11. (C) Despite the generally rosy outlook, the GON is aware that the potential for trouble with Russia could be rising. The decision to directly brief the U.S. Embassy in Moscow on the Ministers meetings is indicative of the GON wish for the U.S. to counterbalance increased Russia activity in the Arctic. Norway and FM Stoere (helped by the Russians increased activity) have succeeded in raising NATO and U.S. awareness of the Arctic and Barents region but have been struggling to determine what steps they would like to see the U.S. take in the region, beside ratification of the Law of the Sea. In his April 6 meeting with the Secretary, FM Stoere will likely ask for increased dialogue with the U.S. on creative ways to engage in the Arctic and with Russia. Officials from the MFA are scheduled to visit Washington in May to speak with the State Department on a possible restart of the U.S.-Norway High North Dialogue, with a focus on issues such as climate, shipping, energy, Arctic research and resource management. End Comment. WHITNEY
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/14/2015
¶1. (C) Introduction. Ambassador was called for a one-on-one meeting with Foreign Minister Amorim on the afternoon of 14 March. Amorim focused initially on reiterating his strong interest in meeting soon with Secretary Rice, in spite of unsuccessful efforts to schedule a Washington meeting in late March or mid April. (Amorim said he may cancel his April trip to Washington in light of the Secretary's unavailability on 18-19 April, when Amorim had considered combining a call on her with participation at a World Bank meeting on Haiti.) Amorim said that he and President Lula da Silva believe it would be important and highly positive for bilateral relations if the Secretary could visit Brazil soon, and he expressed the hope that she could stop here en route to or from the Community of Democracies summit in Chile in late April. Amorim then noted Ambassador's recent meetings with Deputy Foreign Minister Guimaraes (ref E) and Amorim's chief of Staff Patriota (ref D), and reviewed key issues from those discussions with Ambassador (per below). End introduction VENEZUELA
¶2. (S) Ambassador outlined points (refs A-C) on the USG's growing concern about Chavez's rhetoric and actions, and stressed that the USG increasingly sees Chavez as a threat to the region. Per refs, he asked that FM Amorim consider institutionalizing a more intensive political engagement between the USG and GOB on Chavez, and standing up a dedicated intelligence-sharing arrangement. FM Amorim was clear in his response: "We do not see Chavez as a threat." Amorim said that Chavez has been democratically elected (in a general election that was reaffirmed by a referendum), enjoys substantial domestic support, is a popular figure on the international left and is leader of a major power on the continent. For those reasons, "we have to work with him and do not want to do anything that would jeopardize our relationship with him," Amorim affirmed.
¶3. (S) Amorim said the GOB would welcome intensifying its political dialogue with the U.S. on Chavez, but has no interest in intelligence sharing (although Amorim allowed that the GOB would be willing to look at any intelligence we wished to provide unilaterally). Describing Brazil's relationship with Venezuela as "sensitive," Amorim said the GOB needed to take care not to take steps (e.g., intelligence activity with the USG) that could undermine its credibility with Chavez and undercut the GOB's ability to influence him in a more positive direction. Amorim said that he did not want to exaggerate the importance of Brazil's role in curbing Chavez's more extreme behaviors, but in example Amorim noted Brazil's work with the Friends Group (where he said Brazil weathered criticism from various sides to produce a balanced outcome), Lula's recent suggestion to Chavez in a meeting in Uruguay that he tone down his rhetoric, and also told a story of how Lula had personally persuaded Chavez not to go swimming at a Chilean beach where Chavez intended to proclaim to gathered press that he was bathing in a spot which should be Bolivia's coastline on the Pacific. Amorim also noted that the meeting between Presidents Lula, Chavez, Uribe and Zapatero scheduled for 29 March may occur in the Brazilian Amazon frontier town of Santa Helena for a discussion of economic integration (Note: This does not track with information from Lula's foreign affairs staff, who recently told PolCouns that the meeting would focus on counternarcotics and border security issues. End note.)
¶4. (S) Segueing into a discussion of Bolivia, Amorim said that Lula had been in direct contact with opposition leader Evo Morales in recent days. Lula and the GOB are trying to persuade Morales that he needs to act in a democratic fashion, Amorim said, noting that, as with Chavez, it must be understood that Morales has "political legitimacy," with popular support among a significant percentage of Bolivia's population. The USG, Brazil and others need to "take a steady and balanced approach" in supporting democracy in Bolivia in the next crucial weeks, Amorim added. The economic exposure of Brazilian companies in Bolivia, along with the threat posed to regional stability by unrest there, make developments in Bolivia of vital interest to Brazil, Amorim said.
HAITI 5. (SBU) Affirming the USG's support and gratitude for Brazil's leadership in the Haiti mission, Ambassador provided ref A invitation for Brazil to meet with the U.S. and Canada at the assistant secretary level, along with UN senior representative Valdes in Port-au-Prince in coming weeks to discuss cooperation in assistance projects and enhancing political dialogue. Amorim immediately agreed, and said he would designate a representative asap (Note: On the margins of the meeting with Amorim PolCouns spoke briefly with Ambassador Eduardo Felicio, the ministry's lead officer on political issues in the Haiti mission. Felicio indicated that either he or a senior GOB development official would likely represent Brazil at the proposed meeting. End note.) Amorim took the opportunity to affirm to Ambassador in strong terms that the GOB "has no intention of downgrading its commitment to Haiti; on the contrary, we plan to bolster our presence."
¶6. (C) Amorim told Ambassador that the GOB intended to do all it could to produce a balanced summit statement that would use language of existing UNSC resolutions for any passages dealing with political issues. Amorim also noted that in his meetings with Syria's foreign minister and President Assad in Damascus, Amorim had urged Syrian compliance with UNSCR 1559 (even though Brazil abstained on that vote). Amorim claimed that, even before Syria publicly announced its pull-back in Lebanon, Assad had told Amorim in their meeting that he intended to withdraw Syrian forces from Lebanon, although Amorim said he did not claim to take credit for Assad's decision. Ambassador chided Amorim for Brazil's abstention on 1559 and post facto commitment to Lebanese democracy, at which Amorim smiled. Amorim reiterated that his recent Middle East trip had been focused on providing invitations to Arab participants in the summit, that he had no intention of slighting Israel and would be visiting Israel in June.
¶7. (SBU) Ambassador expressed disappointment that Brazil had canceled a March meeting of the FTAA co-chairs, but Amorim emphasized that the GOB had sought only a postponement to early April, so that Amorim would have the opportunity to consult with Brazil's negotiator Bahadian and also with Mercosul partners in advance of the co-chairs meeting. He reiterated that Brazil "wants to remain within the Miami framework," even though Brazil sees some recent USG actions as inconsistent with that goal (e.g., the U.S. approach to IPR and possible cross retaliation). Musing that Brazil is "happy enough to say that the negotiations are under an FTAA umbrella," Amorim opined that what is actually happening now is a Mercosul -U.S. bilateral trade negotiation, since the U.S. "has already executed bilateral agreements with everyone else."
¶8. (SBU) Amorim understood the two issues: property sales and INSS payments should be delinked. However, he added that if the U.S. can provide general language in an agreement that reflects a U.S. intention to pay past USG debts to Brazil's social security system or some other acknowledgment that accomplishes that purpose, a solution can be reached. He said "it is in your interest for Brazil to have a consulate in Atlanta," reflecting his understanding that the USG is using delay of approval for the new consulate as leverage to press for a solution on the USG property problem. Ambassador noted that this has been a long-standing issue that was an administrative and financial impediment to our diplomatic mission in Brazil, and that the time has come to solve this matter. Amorim seemed good natured and optimistic about resolving the question with some type of appropriate agreement regarding the USG "intention" to deal with its INSS obligations.
TSA/Alcantara SIPDIS
¶9. (SBU) Amorim also said that the GOB is close to being ready to engage with the USG on revision of the 2000 bilateral Technology Safeguards Agreement for participation of U.S. firms in commercial space launches at the Alcantara facility in northern Brazil. Amorim noted two specific issues -- language referring to safeguard agreements of other countries working at Alcantara and USG requirements on prohibiting launches by states accused of supporting terrorism - as areas where the GOB and USG may need to find new common language for the text.
¶10. (S) Comment: Amorim made it very clear that the GOB is not buying into our categorization of Chavez as a significant threat to the region, to be treated accordingly. The GOB sees him as a legitimate, democratically- elected figure (as is also Evo Morales, in the GOB's view) and Brazil is committed to working closely with Chavez, ostensibly to ameliorate his more extreme behavior by involving him in interdependent economic and political relationships. Brazil seems to believe that is the best route to enhancing regional stability. Amorim's flat rejection of intelligence sharing was balanced by his willingness to engage more intensely with us on a political level in approaching Venezuela, and we should look for ways to exploit that opening in making our case that Chavez represents a danger. Providing the GOB with more detailed information on human rights violations and repressive actions within Venezuela, as well as any information we can share about Chavez-backed mischief in other countries (even if that means offering intelligence unilaterally) can be part of the political engagement. On a more positive note, Amorim was forward-leaning on the two key bilateral issues discussed -- INSS/U.S. property and the Alcantara TSA -- and seems committed to working on resolutions in the near future.
Best regards,
Paul Conant

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