Monday, February 16, 2009

U.S. Interests Face Challenges in Europe, Intelligence Chief Says

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

Feb. 16, 2009 - (This is the second in a three-part series on the intelligence community's annual threat assessment.) Russia's perceived strengths and its policies, tensions in Eurasia, Caucasus and Central Asia, and instability in the Balkans all pose challenges to U.S. interests in Europe, the director of national intelligence said Feb. 12.

Dennis C. Blair, a retired Navy admiral, told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that Russia continues to rebuild its military and, as events in Georgia last year show, use those forces to impress on the world that the nation is still relevant.

"Russian challenges to US interests now spring more from Moscow's perceived strengths than from the state weaknesses characteristic of the 1990s," Blair said in prepared testimony.

"U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and general anti-Americanism have created openings for Russia to build alternative arrangements to the US-led international political and economic institutional order," he said.

Russia is attempting to increase its ability to influence events, he said, by "actively cultivating relations with regional powers, including China, Iran, and Venezuela."

Blair said Russia's energy policy is aimed at increasing the country's importance on the European continent.

"Moscow also is trying to maintain control over energy supply and transportation networks to Europe to East Asia, and protect and further enhance its market share in Europe through new bilateral energy partnerships and organizing a gas cartel with other major exporters," he said.

"Russia appears to believe the continued heavy dependence of European countries and former Soviet states on Russia's state gas monopoly, Gazprom, provides Moscow with political and economic leverage," he said.

The United States and Russia can continue to work some issues together, Blair said, but some issues – such as NATO enlargement, European Missile Defense and the breakaway Georgian provinces of Abkhasia and South Ossetia – will pose difficulties.

Russia's relations with its neighbors – and once vassals – will always be strained to one extent or another. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus all have complicated relationships with Moscow, he said.

Ukraine will have a presidential election next winter, and pressure applied by Russia pressure and by the global financial crisis will work on the country, he said.

"Ukraine has moved toward democracy and Western integration despite numerous political tests since independence," he said. Progress will be difficult because of weak political institutions and on-going conflicts with Russia over gas-pricing and contracts, he said, noting that the Ukrainian economy is weak, and this may affect stability in the nation.

The former Central Asia soviet socialist republics – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – are ill-equipped to deal with growing Muslim extremism, he said.

"Energy helped make Kazakhstan a regional economic force, but any sustained decline in oil prices would affect revenues, could lead to societal discontent and will derail to momentum for domestic reforms," he said.

The global financial crisis will affect Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan the most, since over 40 percent of the gross domestic product of both countries comes from remittances, but all of the Central Asian countries – with their weak governments – will be affected, Blair said.

The Balkans are the greatest threat to stability within Europe, Blair said. Kosovo could be a flashpoint. The new country is effectively divided into a Serbian ethnic majority north and a Kosovar-Albanian south. Even as Serbia's government in Belgrade seeks to align itself more closely with the European Union and NATO, it will not compromise on Kosovo.

There is also continued shakiness in Bosnia-Herzigovina and the future of the nation as a multi-ethnic state remains in doubt, Blair said, noting that inter-ethnic tensions may have increased in that country to "perhaps the highest level in years."

SemperComm Foundation Cancels 2009 GalaNominations still sought for SemperComm Award

SPRINGFIELD, Va., February 16, 2009 – The SemperComm Foundation canceled their annual gala scheduled for May 7, 2009 today, citing anticipated shortfalls in event sponsorship. The foundation also announced that the 2009 SemperComm Awards will still be awarded and military nominations are still being accepted.

The foundation’s decision to cancel the Gala is based on the current economic outlook as well as the forecast for low sponsorships. The SemperComm Gala is an annual event that began in 2004 as the primary fundraising event to support their mission of helping to provide remote, overseas U.S. military bases with much needed communications and entertainment equipment to boost morale of the service members stationed at those locations around the world.

“In lieu of holding a large Gala this year to raise support and funds, Sempercomm will focus its efforts in 2009 on smaller outreach and fundraising initiatives,” said Lara Coffee, SemperComm Foundation executive director. “While the SemperComm Gala has always been a tremendous success and a capstone event to honor all our contributors and the working military, the current environment calls for a change. Our values and dedication to our mission is unwavering and we will persevere.”

One of the highlights of the SemperComm Gala is the ceremony to honor selected servicemen and women for the SemperComm Award. The award is given annually for military members’ personal efforts to boost the morale of fellow service members during deployments to remote overseas locations. “The SemperComm Award is our way of recognizing service members each year who go out of their way to improve morale for those who serve with them,” said Coffee. “Although, the Gala is canceled this year, our award program will continue uninterrupted to honor and recognize worthy nominees.”

The deadline for entries is Friday, March 6, 2009. Awards will be shipped directly to the winners or they may choose to receive their award in person at a still to be announced 2009-2010 SemperComm event.

Nomination forms are available to be downloaded at For more information about the SemperComm Award, please contact Joanne Williams at 703-923-7615 or by email at