Aerial Encounters

The Times asks "Why Do Chinese and Russian Fighters Keep Buzzing U.S. Spy Planes". A question that is followed by two pages of largely irrelevant amateur analysis of military matters that seem to escape the author's grasp of reality. A much better question would be: why do US spy planes keep buzzing China and Russia? I can certainly understand the indignation if the Russians and the Chinese were flying their fighter jets off the coast of California. But they are not. We're talking about the Baltic Sea and the South China Sea: a long way from Los Angeles for sure.

An unarmed Russian Su-24 tactical bomber buzzing a US Navy destroyer near Russia's Baltic Sea coast.

Responding to the Meldonium Scandal

In case you haven't been following the news, as of the beginning of this year, Meldonium - a Latvian-made anti-ischemia medication - has been declared a banned performance-enhancing substance by the World Anti-Doping Agency. Meldonium has been used chiefly by Eastern-European athletes to counteract muscle tissue damage resulting from strenuous physical activity.

The USADA spent millions of dollars looking for traces of Meldonium in urine samples primarily of Russian athletes and later lobbied WADA to ban the previously-legal substance. As a result, over a hundred athletes from Russia and several other countries who tested positive for traces of the substance that two months ago was perfectly legal are now facing disqualification.

According to medical experts interviewed by the Russian media, each test for Meldonium conducted by USADA costs 400-500 USD and the agency conducted over 15,000 such tests. Keep in mind that the testing has been done when Meldonium was not on the list of banned substances, calling into question the agency's motives: why spend millions of dollars testing for traces of a legal medication?

This was clearly a well-financed attack on Russian athletes by the US anti-doping agency and it deserves a response. Russia should not be shy about spending the necessary rubles to re-test the samples. Given the volume of initial tests by USADA and questionable reliability of the third-party labs used for this purpose, at least procedural mistakes are likely. Considering that most testing has been performed by the same personnel, any such mistakes would cast doubt on the entire undertaking.

As a separate effort, Russia should challenge WADA to substantiate its decision to designate Meldonium as a performance-enhancing substance. WADA itself conducted no pertinent research and its decision was based entirely on USADA conclusions. Russia has the necessary capabilities to question these conclusions on a scientific level.

Finally, at least based on statements by Sharapova, it would appear WADA's procedure for notifying athletes, medical personnel and relevant sports authorities is inconsistent and capricious. Email should not be WADA's sole method of communication with the world of sports, and "as of now" hardly seems a reasonable advance warning.

The bottom line is Russia should fight this tooth and nail. Washington is clearly using anti-doping bodies to get ahead in a political fight with Moscow and the athletes deserve to be insulated from such unbecoming tactics.

Why Turkey Wants Assad Gone

This is something I didn't know. Norman Stone of the Financial Times revealed the personal reason behind Erdogan's dislike for Assad and it's hilarious:

High-level gossip in Ankara has it that there is a personal element to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s desire to overthrow the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Back in the days when Syria and Turkey had close relations, the Assads went on holiday with the Erdogans.

It is said that afterwards, Mr Assad's wife, Asma, sent an email to her husband pleading never to be asked to do that again: this was a couple with no languages, she is alleged to have said - he a thug who has read only one book, she a frump interested only in shopping. The email came to the attention of Turkish intelligence, and the rest is history.

And this is what Putin has to put up with...

Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma

American Khodorkovsky

Ex-Chesapeake Energy Corp. CEO Aubrey McClendon died in a car crash - an apparent suicide - less than 24 hours after he was indicted on conspiracy charges. Early reports suggest Mr. McClendon drove his SUV into a concrete wall at high speed while wearing no seat belt.

A few years ago McClendon got into a feud with an "activist shareholder" (aka "corporate raider") and Donald Trump's pick for treasury secretary Carl Icahn. This confrontation with the politically well-connected billionaire-investor earned Mr. McClendon a federal fraud indictment.

Russian business establishment would be well-advised to take close interest in this case as a likely counterpoint to the Magnitsky Act and the Khodorkovsky controversy. The McClendon case is a typical but rarely publicized example of government-sponsored persecution of inconvenient business leaders in the US.

Washington's "Plan B"

As Russian saying goes, one should not be waving one's fists after a fight is over. A piece of wisdom wasted on John Kerry, who told reporters the fight in Syria "can get a lot uglier" if Russia doesn't stick to the terms of the ceasefire. This clown was actually trying to be intimidating. As if Russia and not the failed US policy of trying to topple Assad gave rise to the country's five-year-old civil war. Kerry said he had a "Plan B". He's probably not too sure about this plan either, since his "Plan A" is Putin's plan. With all the problems, the Kremlin has at least one thing going for it: American diplomatic expertise.