A Couple of Things Washington May Want to Consider Before Attacking Iran

As previously discussed, Washington seems to be hell-bent on ratcheting up tensions with Iran as far as possible and hoping to provoke a reaction that can then be used as a casus belli.

But before Washington continues with its reckless actions, if there are any clear heads left anywhere near the White House, they might want to consider two things.

The first is the fact that the version of the S300 system that Iran received from Russia in 2016, may have been effectively an S400 but without official acknowledgment. As reported by Military Watch Magazine last year:

In April 2016 Russia began delivery of the S-300 system to Iran, and delivery was confirmed by both parties to be complete in October of that year. What was notable about the delivery was that Iran received a heavily customised variant of the missile system with unknown capabilities. While Russia and Iran both confirmed the fulfilment of a contract to deliver the S-300 to Iran, no further details were given regarding the variant Iran had acquired or the weapons system’s capabilities. What was delivered to Iran could well have had capabilities comparable to the more advanced S-400, in some respects an S-400 in all but name, and such a delivery would have served both Iranian and Russian strategic interests. For an indication as to how this could be achieved, an analysis of the S-400 and its differences from the S-300 system is invaluable.

Over 20 variants of the S-300 have been produced by Russia since the system’s first induction into service in 1978. These have fallen into three main categories, the S-300P family of conventional land based systems, the S-300F family which were developed for naval use, and the S-300V family which feature enhanced anti ballistic and anti cruise missile capabilities and superior mobility. While Iran is known to have acquired a missile system from the S-300P family, all of which are near identical in their external appearance, which system was acquired remains a mystery. The S-300PMU-2 entered service in 1997 as the most advanced variant of the missile system at the time, and was set to be superseded by the S-300PMU-3 in 2007. To improve the weapons system’s export sales and distinguish it from previous variants however, the PMU-3 variant of the S-300 was given the designation S-400. Thus the S-400 is in fact a more advanced member of the S-300PMU family of systems, and should Russia have sold Iran a missile system dubbed ’S-300PMU-2 advanced’ or ’S-300PMU-3’ its capabilities could well be highly similar to those of the S-400. Russia could in this way have provided Iran’s armed forces with an air defence system with far more sophisticated capabilities than the basic S-300PMU-2 design widely suspected to have been transferred. One indication of this are the reports that Iran’s air defence batteries are equipped with surface to air missiles with a 250km range – the range of the 48N6DM/48N6E3 hypersonic surface to air missile. While the basic S-300PMU-2 is usually restricted to a 200km engagement range using the shorter ranged 48N6E2, the 48N6E3 was for a long time the longest ranged missile deployed by the S-400 system – until the later introduction of the heavier 40N6E with a 400km range. The fact that Iran’s customised S-300 variant is equipped with these missiles is a strong indication of capabilities above those of a standard S-300PMU-2 system. 

This theory, as the author points out, is also buttressed by the fact that Iran has not requested the S400 system even though adversaries in its neighborhood (e.g. Saudi Arabia) have pursued purchase of it.

If, in fact, Iran does have capabilities equivalent to the S400, this significantly changes the calculus of the effectiveness of a U.S. attack on Iran as the U.S. is heavily reliant on airpower in its military strategy. As the author sums up:

The U.S. military and civilian leadership upon the S-300’s delivery stressed that their ability to deploy advanced stealth aircraft, at the time including the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber and F-22 Raptor, would allow the U.S. Air Force to neutralise Iran’s air defences if required. Should Iran field a system as sophisticated as the S-400 with advanced anti stealth systems however such an operation would be considerably more difficult – effectively sealing off Iranian airspace to Western military aircraft and forcing the U.S. to resort to costly standoff attacks.

In my previous post, I also mentioned China’s interest in preventing or countering an attack on Iran. This leads to the second point that Washington may want to consider. As James Kennedy, an expert in rare earth materials and political consultant, has recently explained, the U.S. military machine is heavily dependent upon rare earth materials, metal and alloys. Having long ago gutted our own mining and industrial capacity to be self-reliant in this area, guess which country the U.S. is 100 percent dependent upon for these materials? China.

Having already stirred up bad blood economically by pursuing a trade war, China will be in a position to potentially grab Washington by the short hairs should it attack Iran. As Kennedy states:

A US war with Iran now will turn China’s already powerful rare earth trade-weapon into a terminal nuclear strike. Withholding these materials would not just neuter our military during a conflict, it would shut down every automobile and aircraft manufacturer in the US The shutdowns would extend to what remains of our electronics and green technology industries. It would be pink-slips from coast to coast. China would fill the global demand gap. In short, it would snuff out the few remaining embers of our already crippled economy.

If you are thinking that the US has “strategic stockpiles” of these materials – think again. The US sold off all of these materials in 1996. After repeated warnings Congress authorized the repurchase of a few rare earth oxides and dysprosium metal, none of which are directly useful to our defense industry. A 2016 Government Accounting Office report stated that these materials would need to pass through a value chain “outside the United States” before they could be utilized by our defense industry (read: China). In an earlier report the GAO estimated that it could take 15 years for the US to build a domestic rare earth value chain.

It appears to me that Russia and China’s strategy in dealing with Washington’s insanity involves the old adage, “Give them enough rope…”

Is Trump Administration Making its Case for Actual War with Iran or is Trump Doing Major Psyops as Misguided Negotiating Tactic? If the Former, NYT Carrying Water Again for Washington’s Aggression

National Security Advisor John Bolton. Copyright Chip Somodevilia. Getty Images.

Most of us remember Trump the presidential candidate as promising not to get us involved in a bunch of wars. However, since he’s been in office he’s surrounded himself with hawks and neocon architects of the very wars he criticized on the campaign trail. As president, he’s also used threats of war against North Korea, Venezuela, and Iran.

In recent weeks, in between threats by Bolton and Pompeo to install an unpopular puppet in Venezuela with “all options on the table” as to methods, Trump has allowed his Secretary of State and National Security Advisor to also stir up a potential armed conflict with Iran. Publicly, Trump himself alternates between blustering against Iran and acting like he’s not necessarily interested in a war.

Is this a prelude to an Iraq-style invasion or is Trump thinking that if he allows his mad-dog hawks like Bolton and Pompeo to snarl and even snap their jaws a few times that Iran will come begging for negotiations, willing to offer him whatever terms he wants to stop the pain and the possibility of a war?

Some political and legal analysts believe that members of the Trump administration are carefully setting up the use of the 2001 AUMF as legal cover for an attack on Iran, leaving Congress with little recourse to stop such an action. In a recent NBC News article, a legal expert discussed this possibility.

The key elements involve drawing links between al Qaeda and Iran and casting Iran as a terrorist threat to the U.S. — which is exactly what administration officials have been doing in recent weeks.

That could give Trump the justification he needs to fight Iran under the still-in-effect 2001 use-of-force resolution without congressional approval….

….That law gave the president the power to use force against “nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”….

….But former government lawyers familiar with the 2001 law and its applications say it’s obvious from those moves what the Trump administration is trying to do.

“The whole thing is building up to the notion that they don’t have to go to Congress for approval,” Yale University law professor Harold Koh, who served as the State Department’s top lawyer under Secretary Hillary Clinton, said in a telephone interview with NBC News.

Yet Koh said an attempt to shoehorn Iran into the 2001 AUMF is absurd and shouldn’t pass legal muster.

“The theory of war powers has to be that Congress doesn’t just sign off once,” he said. “The suggestion now that Iran attacked us on 9/11 is ridiculous.”

The original law essentially creates a two-part test for the president to make a determination that force is warranted: a country, group or person has aided al Qaeda and force is necessary to prevent a terrorist attack against the U.S. from that entity.

Koh says that testimony given by Pompeo to the U.S. Senate recently involved providing justification to satisfy the first part of the test:

“The factual question with respect to Iran’s connections to Al-Qaeda is very real. They have hosted al Qaeda, they have permitted al Qaeda to transit their country,” [Pompeo} said at a Foreign Relations Committee hearing. “There is no doubt there is a connection between the Islamic Republic of Iran and al Qaeda. Period, full stop.”

Of course, such a connection is dubious as Iran is a Shia theocracy and Al Qaeda is a Sunni extremist cult and the two do not share the same interests. The article goes on to explain how recent events by Washington could be seen as trying to justify the second test:

But the deployment of more forces to the region to counter the threat of attacks on American personnel and assets, as well as the partial evacuation of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, could be seen as satisfying the second part of the use-of-force test. That is, the idea that force is appropriate to prevent a terrorist threat from a country that has given assistance to al Qaeda.

In what would seem to be suspiciously perfect timing, four oil tankers, including two Saudi, one Emirati and one Norwegian, were sabotaged on May 12th. A Norwegian insurance company tasked with investigating the incident has theorized that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards was responsible for the attack using underwater drones, but admittedly this has not been satisfactorily substantiated, relying on similarity with drones used by the Houthi in Yemen.

Gareth Porter, one of the best reporters out there on the subject of Iran, stated on a recent episode of Cross-Talk that there was a reasonable chance that this represented a false flag action by Israel, which has been trying to get Washington to do its dirty work by attacking Iran, a perceived rival in the Middle East, for years. He says that there is a working group between Israel and Washington that has been meeting since December of 2017, with the “intelligence” in early May about Iran planning to attack U.S. interests either directly or via proxies, likely originating from Israel as a result of this working group’s April meeting.

It was also brought out in the episode that the provocative behavior by the U.S. toward Iran is engendering sympathy for Iran in the world community.

The EU is most definitely not interested in a war with Iran, surely realizing that another war in the Middle East would, among other things, seriously worsen the refugee crisis it has been dealing with in the aftermath of Washington’s interventions in Libya and Syria. Germany, Spain and the Netherlands have even reportedly removed their forces from U.S. operations in the area in order to distance themselves from Washington’s provocations after two U.S. naval carriers arrived in the Persian Gulf last week.

Of course, Russia and China are actively opposing any aggression by Washington toward Iran. Russia doesn’t want any more instability in its neighborhood, a point which Putin no doubt would have impressed upon Pompeo during their recent meeting. But, with hard-core ideologues like Pompeo (and Bolton), facts and rationality often do not penetrate. With respect to China, not only is Iranian oil a significant issue (China is still buying it regardless of the sanctions), but Iran also represents a critical point on the Belt and Road Initiative, which Russia also has a stake in.

Trump knew very well who Bolton and Pompeo were and what their agenda was when he brought them on board. So, if he really isn’t looking to get the U.S. into another war, why did he hire these guys? I imagine that Trump likes to see himself as crafty – someone who can play others to further his goals. This would include using Bolton for the type of scheme I mentioned earlier. As much as Trump and what he stands for is appealing to the lowest common denominator, Bolton represents a far darker and more dangerous character – a person who would like to see the world burn and will do whatever it takes to get his way. A NYC real estate grifter is no match for this swamp creature and Trump is very likely to find himself being the one played rather than doing the playing.

At this point, Trump needs to can Bolton before he gets Washington to a stage where de-escalation becomes too difficult as these things tend to take on a life of their own.

Then there’s the media coverage of these events, led by the NYT doing their usual water-carrying for Washington’s warmongers. They played right along with the government’s take that small Iranian vessels armed with missiles represented something new and particularly threatening to the U.S. and its nearby allies. In a May 15th article, the Times stated:

The intelligence that caused the White House to escalate its warnings about a threat from Iran came from photographs of missiles on small boats in the Persian Gulf that were put on board by Iranian paramilitary forces, three American officials said…

….The photographs presented a different kind of threat than previously seen from Iran, said the three officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about it publicly. Taken with the other intelligence, the photographs could indicate that Iran is preparing to attack United States forces. That is the view of John R. Bolton, President Trump’s hard-line national security adviser, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

This ignores previous reporting from the Washington Post on July 26, 2012 in which it was stated:

Iran is rapidly gaining new capabilities to strike at U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf, amassing an arsenal of sophisticated anti-ship missiles while expanding its fleet of fast-attack boats and submarines. . .These highly maneuverable small boats, some barely as long as a subway car, have become a cornerstone of Iran’s strategy for defending the gulf against a much larger adversary. The vessels can rapidly deploy Iran’s estimated 2,000 anti-ship mines or mass in groups to strike large warships from multiple sides at once, like a cloud of wasps attacking much larger prey.

and a Naval Technology report from January 16, 2013:

Iran’s purchase of the British made world-record setting Bladerunner speedboat stirred up increased chatter on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy’s (IRGCN) development of a new fast attack craft (FAC) fleet. Simon O. Williams looks beyond the hyperbole to examine FACs in the context of wider developments in Iran’s naval arsenal. . . .Iran’s missile capabilities continue to grow. In reference to arming FACs, deputy defence minister and head of Iran’s Aerospace Organisation, General Mehdi Farah, stated that the country’s “missiles have the capability of being launched from vessels with speeds of over 30 knots, and these missiles include Zafar, Nasr, Noor and Qader” These are radar guided anti-ship cruise missiles capable of destroying 1,500-tonne targets and damaging even larger ones.

Threats never seen before…except they were seen and reported on publicly 6 and 7 years ago. (Shout out to Sylvia Demarest for pointing this discrepancy out in her e-newsletter analyses).

As most readers already know, this is par for the course for the NYT. I think I have the perfect new tagline for the newspaper of record: Pimping for U.S. Wars Since 1851.

Former State Dept. Psychologist Provides Political Psychological Profile of Putin; Denial & Projection: Gabor Mate Provides Psychological Analysis of Russiagate

“Crimea.Russia.Forever.” Billboard of Putin in Crimea. Photo by Natylie S. Baldwin, October 2015.

The theme of today’s post is psychology. It’s a subject I’ve had a life-long interest in – I almost majored in it at college, but didn’t. It’s a good subject for any writer to have knowledge in. Understanding human motivations and the various ways they manifest themselves can help a fiction writer create authentic and compelling characters. It can also assist non-fiction writers in analyzing politics and international relations. It’s a great tool for serious diplomats as well.

Dr. Kenneth Dekleva is a psychologist who worked in the Obama-era State Department. He has written a political psychological profile of Putin in which, among other things, he notes that successful diplomacy with Putin would be helped by amiable personal relations from an American leader and that this is partly what undermined Obama’s efforts for the reset. While, I’m sure that amiable personal relations would certainly help grease the wheels of effective diplomacy, it must be pointed out that George W. Bush’s personal rapport with Putin did not stop him from unilaterally pulling the U.S. out of the ABM Treaty or expanding NATO by seven more nations up to Russia’s border.

However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some interesting and insightful nuggets offered by Dekleva, such as:

Putin’s background as a KGB intelligence officer has colored his entire professional life.  The KGB shaped his ethos and his sense of identity—the embodiment of a boyhood dream.  Less useful commentary – either vilifying his KGB service or downplaying it – misses a more important question, having to do with how Putin’s skills (“I am a specialist in human relations”) manifest themselves.  Many have tended to see Putin as merely tactical, rather than strategic, but such a view is mistaken.  Seeing such labels as dichotomous, rather than as two sides of the same coin, loses sight of Putin’s adaptability regarding foreign-policy challenges, such as the Ukraine, Georgia, Syria, China, India, the U.S., and Europe.  At times, Putin has shown masterful flexibility, often reversing course and shifting priorities, while not deviating from key strategic concerns and his sense of Russia’s national interest.  A different concern has to do with Putin’s inner circle of advisors – many of whom he has known and worked with for decades – and the question of whom does he trust and listen to?  How do strategic decisions get made?  The recent changes in personnel within the Kremlin and key ministries bear careful study in this regard.

Martial arts and the study of Judo has likely shaped Putin’s personality as much as any other activity.  A student of Judo since age 10, Putin eloquently spoke (in a video made by him in 2008) of its virtues of discipline, respect for one’s teachers and fellow students, and humility.  Holder of an 8th-dan rank, Putin is the highest-ranking non-Japanese judoka in the world and a true ambassador of the art.  Videos of Putin demonstrating Judo showcase not only his immense talent, but also a flexible, playful, and competitive style, which for Putin – for whom Judo is a way of life – colors his political behavior as well. 

Overall, it’s refreshing to hear a public psychologist provide an analysis of Putin that reflects an intelligent, sophisticated and complicated person who largely acts based on rational interests, rather than simply writing him off with out-of-context images as suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder, psychopathy, gun-slinger gait, Asperger’s Syndrome or some other cartoonish defamation.

Next, is a very timely and perceptive interview from the Grayzone Project – an independent media outlet founded by Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton that I highly recommend.

Aaron Mate, who has done a tremendous job of debunking the Russiagate scandal by conducting actual journalism, is the son of famous psychologist Gabor Mate, who specializes in the study of trauma.

In this 30-minute video, Aaron prompts his father to explain how Russiagate gained such a foothold in the American political landscape and why it won’t die easily.

Craig Murray’s Take on the Mueller Report; National Security Archive Releases Documents Revealing U.S. Backpedaled on Geneva Agreements with Soviet Union re Withdrawal from Afghanistan; Trump to Push for New Nuke Treaty with Russia & China, Russia is Amenable But China’s Not Interested

Robert Mueller and his wife in Washington D.C..
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Former UK ambassador Craig Murray, who has worked with Wikileaks and stated that he knew the identity of the person who provided the DNC emails to Wikileaks, confirming that it was an inside leak and not a hack, has reviewed the Mueller report and provides his analysis:

Robert Mueller is either a fool, or deeply corrupt. I do not think he is a fool.

I did not comment instantly on the Mueller Report as I was so shocked by it, I have been waiting to see if any other facts come to light in justification. Nothing has. I limit myself here to that area of which I have personal knowledge – the leak of DNC and Podesta emails to Wikileaks. On the wider question of the corrupt Russian 1% having business dealings with the corrupt Western 1%, all I have to say is that if you believe that is limited in the USA by party political boundaries, you are a fool.

On the DNC leak, Mueller started with the prejudice that it was “the Russians” and he deliberately and systematically excluded from evidence anything that contradicted that view.

Mueller, as a matter of determined policy, omitted key steps which any honest investigator would undertake. He did not commission any forensic examination of the DNC servers. He did not interview Bill Binney. He did not interview Julian Assange. His failure to do any of those obvious things renders his report worthless.

There has never been, by any US law enforcement or security service body, a forensic examination of the DNC servers, despite the fact that the claim those servers were hacked is the very heart of the entire investigation. Instead, the security services simply accepted the “evidence” provided by the DNC’s own IT security consultants, Crowdstrike, a company which is politically aligned to the Clintons.

That is precisely the equivalent of the police receiving a phone call saying:

“Hello? My husband has just been murdered. He had a knife in his back with the initials of the Russian man who lives next door engraved on it in Cyrillic script. I have employed a private detective who will send you photos of the body and the knife. No, you don’t need to see either of them.”

There is no honest policeman in the world who would agree to that proposition, and neither would Mueller were he remotely an honest man.

Read the full blistering analysis here.

Last month, the National Security Archive released documents revealing how the agreements between the U.S. and Soviet Union in the 1980’s that were to govern the Soviet Union’s withdrawal from Afghanistan – with Washington disarming the jihadists it had funded/supported and allowing free and independent elections – were backtracked on by Washington once withdrawal was underway. According to the archive’s summary published with the documents:

The documents show that the U.S. position changed from “the mutual withdrawal of all outside forces” (as President Reagan told Mikhail Gorbachev at Geneva in November 1985), to insisting on continued arms support to the Afghan Mujahedin in 1988 (as National Security Advisor Colin Powell told Secretary of State George Shultz when the latter seemed to embrace “mutual restraint”), to the refusal of free election plans in 1990 if they allowed the Soviet-supported Kabul incumbent, Najibullah, to run. The core U.S. goal had been to bring about a Soviet military withdrawal, and once that was clearly underway in 1988 other factors came to the fore, such as U.S. relations with Pakistan, Congress’s commitment to the Afghan resistance, and U.S. insistence that Najibullah had to go.

The Soviet decision to withdraw from its disastrous military invasion of Afghanistan occurred as early as October 1985, according to the documents; but Gorbachev did not set a specific timetable until February 1988 while he sought to create a model of cooperation with the United States for resolving regional conflicts. While the Soviets shared the U.S. goal of an independent Afghanistan, they were especially wary of the power of radical fundamentalists, who dominated in the Pakistan-based resistance, supported by the United States. The Soviet leadership believed that the process of national reconciliation would culminate in free elections under U.N. monitoring and the resulting government would be secular and moderate. However, the documents show that eventually the Soviets accepted the fact that the Reagan administration would continue to arm the more radical factions of the Mujahedin through Pakistan, even in violation of the Geneva agreements. Gorbachev was hoping that progress toward a political settlement could be made by working together with the United States after the signing of the Geneva agreements, thus creating a precedent and further cementing U.S.-Soviet global cooperation.

Read the full summary and view the documents here.

President Trump has made remarks to the effect that the U.S. defense budget in general and the new nuclear arms race in particular are ridiculously expensive. As a recent RAND report confirms, while absorbing the costs of an expensive arms race would be supposedly more difficult economically for Russia, it would also be dangerous for the U.S., both in terms of economic costs and possible unintended consequences – a concept that the neocons and liberal interventionists who have been influential in the past 25 years don’t ever seem to grasp.

“Geopolitical measures to bait Russia into overextending itself are likely impractical, or they risk second-order consequences. Many geopolitical measures would force the United States to operate in areas that are closer to Russia and where it is thus cheaper and easier for Russia than the United States to exert influence. Ideological measures to undermine the regime’s stability carry significant risks of counter escalation. Many military options … could enhance U.S. deterrence and reassure U.S. allies, but only a few are likely to extend Russia.”

Trump’s approach for supposedly addressing this problem is to push for a new multilateral arms agreement with both Russia and China. As reported by the Washington Post on April 25th:

“Between Russia and China and us, we’re all making hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of weapons, including nuclear, which is ridiculous,” Trump said. “And I would say that China will come along, and I would say Russia will come along. It doesn’t really make sense that we’re doing this.”

Russia has expressed some willingness to consider such an agreement but probably has low expectations as the academic news summary service Russia Matters stated in its digest for that week:

  • Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters on April 26 Moscow is closely following reports that the U.S. would like to reach a nuclear weapons deal with both Russia and China, and is “willing” to negotiate. Ryabkov also said that Russia “would like to convince” the U.S. to adopt a joint statement that would condemn any use of nuclear weapons. In October, Russia sent the U.S. a draft joint declaration on how to prevent nuclear war, only to never hear back from Washington, Kommersant reported. “Nuclear war cannot be won and it must never be unleashed,” Kommersant quoted Russia’s draft joint declaration as stating. (AP, 04.26.19, The Moscow Times, 04.19.19)

China, on the other hand, is straight up dismissing the idea. A spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry explained that it’s up to the world’s largest nuclear weapons powers (Russia and the U.S.) to lower their arsenals, thus laying the groundwork for the smaller nuclear-armed nations to do so. According to a May 6th article in Reuters:

BEIJING (Reuters) – China on Monday dismissed a suggestion that it would talk with the United States and Russia about a new accord limiting nuclear arms, saying it would not take part in any trilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations.

….Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that the country’s nuclear forces were at the “lowest level” of its national security needs, and that they could not be compared to the United States and Russia.

“China opposes any country talking out of turn about China on the issue of arms control, and will not take part in any trilateral negotiations on a nuclear disarmament agreement,” Geng told a daily news briefing, when asked about Trump’s remarks.

Comedian Zelensky Defeats Poroshenko to Become New President of Ukraine; Putin Signs Decree Allowing Donbas Residents to be Issued Russian Passports; Patrick Lawrence Interviews On-the-Ground Reporter Sharmine Narwani Regarding Syrian War

Ukraine’s next president in 2016 trailer for the TV comedy “Servant of the People.” (YouTube)

Volodoymyr Zelensky, who rose to fame for portraying the Ukrainian president in a comedy show has now been elected to the real role, defeating incumbent Petro Poroshenko in the second round of elections with 73% of the vote.

Zelensky tapped into widespread discontent with Poroshenko – another in a long line of corrupt Ukrainian leaders – and ran on a general program of tackling corruption and bringing an end to the conflict in the Donbas. However, he did not elaborate on specific policies to achieve these goals. Due to the significant influence of outside political and economic powers (Washington, the IMF which controls loans the country is currently dependent upon, etc.) and little institutional support, it is difficult to see how Zelensky can steer the country in a meaningfully different direction that will help the majority of Ukrainians who are now the poorest in Europe.

With respect to resolving the conflict in the Donbas, Zelensky will also have to contend with the influence of various armed ultra-nationalist groups.
Though their numbers are relatively small and their agenda has no real traction throughout most of Ukraine, the fact that they are armed, have combat experience in the Donbas, and have demonstrated their willingness to use violence to push their agenda, they constitute a dangerous force. With their deep hatred of Russia and their investment in bringing to power a coup government, fighting on its behalf against fellow Ukrainians in the east, these elements will not accept a compromise with the Donbas rebels.

Thus, it’s hard to see how Zelensky will be able to solve this conundrum even if he has more will to do so than his predecessor, Poroshenko – whom Kevin Zeese reminded readers of Consortium News recently has been on Washington’s payroll for years as exposed by Wikileaks.

A good discussion of Ukraine and the prospects for a Zelensky presidency can be found on a recent episode of Al Jazeera’s Inside Story with Imran Khan:

Representatives of the Russian government have congratulated Zelensky on his victory but seem to be very cautious in regard to expecting any breakthroughs any time soon.

For his part, Putin followed through this past week with the implementation of a plan to allow residents of the Donbas to obtain Russian passports. According to Russia’s Life (Google Translate used):

As Life has learned, the Russian Interior Ministry is ready to begin the procedure for issuing passports to residents of the DPR and LPR. Earlier, a reinforced detachment of employees from the units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in the field of migration from virtually all regions of Russia was transferred to the Rostov region. They will be on a business trip in shifts. According to Life, for this event even recalled employees from the holidays. According to our data, it may take six months for local residents to issue passports.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia divided the travel program into three phases.  According to the available documents, the completion of the issuance of Russian passports to residents of the two republics is scheduled for September 2019. Life’s sources in the LC and the DPR confirm that preparatory work is already underway.

At the first stage, the passport of the Russian Federation will be received by representatives of state and security agencies, as well as employees of other government departments, who will continue the procedure for issuing passports after the process of registration of all documents is established in the republics….

…It is not yet known what types of passports can be issued to residents of the LC and the DPR — domestic or international passports. It is worth noting that the issuance of documents to residents of the LC and the DPR means that Russian citizens will officially live on the territory of the two republics, whose rights will be respected and protected in accordance with the Constitution of the Russian Federation.

Putin’s public comment regarding the policy was:

“We don’t want to create problems to new authorities in Kiev but we can no longer put up with the situation when people living in Donetsk and Lugansk are stripped of any civil rights, this decision has been taken for humanitarian concerns.”

If I’m interpreting this correctly, it sounds like once these passports have been issued to Donbas residents making them effectively Russian citizens, then any military operations against the people of the LPR or DPR that result in deaths will mean that the Kiev government will be responsible for the deaths of Russian citizens. This is a very interesting idea to potentially deter continuing violence against the Donbas.

The OSCE criticized the “unilateral” move by Russia and expressed concern that it would interfere with negotiations toward a peaceful conclusion of the conflict as reflected in the Minsk Agreement. In response, Zelensky has called for more international sanctions against Russia.

In all fairness, Zelensky can’t really do more than squawk and call for the international community to symbolically spank Russia with more sanctions and condemnation. He has to show from the start that he won’t be pushed around by “big brother” Russia.

However, the reality is that, despite the machinations of the west in collusion with a minority of corrupt oligarchs and ideological extremists to install an anti-Russian power structure in Ukraine, it is simply not feasible in the long run for most Ukrainians. Contemporary Russia has its historical roots in Ukraine (Kiev Rus), many Ukrainians speak Russian, millions of Ukrainians are married to Russians or are children of such a mixed marriage, millions of Ukrainians work in Russia and send remittances back, and the two countries have trade ties that are more valuable to Ukraine than Russia. As Professor Nicolai Petro wrote recently for The National Interest, Poroshenko’s resounding defeat – the worst in post-Soviet history – represents a rejection of the extreme anti-Russian agenda put forth by Washington’s darling.

Putin, for his part, set out his intention a long time ago to provide Russian passports for Donbas residents who wanted it. It was his way of letting an intransigent Kiev government know that there would eventually be consequences for refusing to abide by its obligations under the Minsk agreements, which kept the conflict going and the Donbas residents vulnerable. It’s likely that Putin chose the timing of implementation intentionally to send the new government a message also. Whether this was the best way to kick off relations with Ukraine’s new president, I’m not sure.

Perhaps after this initial brouhaha dies down, the Zelensky government will recognize its long-term interest in settling the civil war in the east. But, as stated before, Zelensky will have to find the courage to stand up to the ultra-right and Washington. And Zelensky will have to have the wisdom and credibility to put together a team who can competently carry out the much-needed agenda that Ukraine needs, particularly diplomacy with Russia.

That’s a lot of ifs.


Patrick Lawrence has Part I of an in-depth interview of independent on-the-ground journalist Sharmine Narwani regarding her years-long coverage of the Syrian War. Read it at Salon.com.

Russia Acknowledges That All Cooperation with NATO Has Been Halted; General Scaparrotti & Others Say NATO and Russian Military Need to Talk More; General Dunford Says Everything is Russia’s Fault; Congress Introduces Another Insane Anti-Russia Bill

Anti-NATO protest rally in Munich
Sputnik Images

On April 14th, the Associated Press ran an article quoting several western military leaders about the dangers of the low level of relations between Russia and NATO in general, and the higher risk of nuclear war based on miscalculation or misunderstanding more specifically. General Curtis Scaparrotti, who in his role as Supreme Allied Commander of NATO in Europe has only met with his Russian counterpart twice, said the following:

During the Cold War, we understood each other’s signals. We talked. I’m concerned that we don’t know them as well today.

….I personally think communication is a very important part of deterrence. So, I think we should have more communication with Russia. It would ensure that we understand each other and why we are doing what we’re doing.

But even in the midst of making this crucial point, Scaparotti knows it’s somehow considered politically gauche to even suggest this modest and reasonable step, and seeks to temper it by adding, “It doesn’t have to be a lot.”

The article goes on to mention the law passed by Congress in 2016 hindering military-to-military cooperation between the U.S. (the dominant force in NATO) and Russia. It was amended in 2018 to allow military communications with the intent of “reducing the risk of conflict.”

Retired U.S. Navy admiral and Commander of NATO in Europe from 2009 to 2013 James Stavidris, doesn’t have a problem with challenging Russia over what the west sees as Moscow overstepping its bounds (e.g. Ukraine and Syria), but he believes that it’s critical for the west and Russia to have dialogue on nuclear arms control issues:

“We are in danger of stumbling backward into a Cold War that is to no one’s advantage,” he said in an email exchange. “Without steady, political-level engagement between the defense establishments, the risk of a true new Cold War rises steadily.”

Former senator Sam Nunn, who co-authored the Nunn-Lugar bill to cooperate with Russia on nuclear disarmament and safety after the end of the Cold War, also expressed concern about the extent of politicization of relations with Russia and the possible consequences:

“You can’t call time out,” he said in an interview. “The nuclear issues go on, and they’re getting more dangerous.”

Nunn co-authored an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal recently with former Secretary of State George Schultz and former Secretary of Defense William Perry in which they state:

“A bold policy shift is needed to support a strategic re-engagement with Russia and walk back from this perilous precipice. Otherwise, our nations may soon be entrenched in a nuclear standoff more precarious, disorienting and economically costly than the Cold War.”

However, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford was dismissive of these concerns, claiming that the modest senior-level military contacts he has with the head of the Russian military, General Valery Gerasimov, are sufficient and claims that any problems between the west and Russia are due to Russia’s aggression, making it difficult to have relations:

It’s very difficult for us to have normal relationships with a country that has not behaved normally over the last few years. There are major issues that affect our bilateral relationship that have to be addressed, to include where Russia has violated international laws, norms and standards.

Someone from Washington citing Russia’s violation of international law as a justification for cutting or minimizing critical communication. Let’s see, considering that the U.S. invaded Iraq in violation of international law and has been conducting military operations in Syria in violation of international law (it wasn’t authorized by the UN or invited in by the internationally recognized government of Syria, although Russia was) – well, I’ve had fudge that ain’t that rich. Maybe they’re talking about Crimea – oh wait, there was Kosovo which didn’t even have a referendum. Hmmm…..

I do like the idea of international law, but Washington isn’t in any moral position to advocate for it when it has made clear by its own actions that it holds international law in contempt when it is an obstacle to what it wants to do. And no one else on the world stage that is capable of acting independently is going to take such arguments seriously by Washington either. Wouldn’t it be nice if the journalist from the AP would have brought up this inconsistency to General Dunford or at least reminded readers of it in the article? Maybe they could have also reminded Dunford that the U.S. has allied with all kinds of unsavory characters since WWII who have violated international law, like the leaders of Israel and General Suharto of Indonesia. You know, just throw caution to the wind for a moment and conduct a true act of journalism, just for the experience.

Okay, back to reality….

An official from the Russian foreign ministry was quoted in the AP article as reiterating Moscow’s readiness to engage in dialogue to reduce risks.

The next day, the Moscow Times reported that Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko, who also served as Moscow’s permanent representative to NATO between 2012 and 2018, publicly acknowledged that Russia had ceased all cooperation with the U.S.-led alliance.

In what appeared to be a response to Scaparotti and Stavridis’s comments, Grushko reiterated the dangers of the abysmal state of current relations and increased risk of armed conflict:

“[A]ll sensible people hope it doesn’t happen. It would be a humanitarian catastrophe. I’m sure they understand that in Washington and Brussels.”

Let’s hope so. But…

As if all of this saber-rattling and lack of communication wasn’t bad enough coming from the military and intelligence establishment, Congress seems to be competing for who can come up with the more insane and provocative policy toward the world’s other nuclear superpower. Philip Giraldi reports in a recent article for Unz Review about a new anti-Russia bill introduced in the Senate:

A current bill originally entitled the “Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act (DASKA) of 2019,” is numbered S-1189. It has been introduced in the Senate which will “…require the Secretary of State to determine whether the Russian Federation should be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism and whether Russian-sponsored armed entities in Ukraine should be designated as foreign terrorist organizations.” The bill is sponsored by Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado and is co-sponsored by Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

The current version of the bill was introduced on April 11th and it is by no means clear what kind of support it might actually have, but the fact that it actually has surfaced at all should be disturbing to anyone who believes it is in the world’s best interest to avoid direct military confrontation between the United States and Russia.

Call your senators and tell them to oppose this nonsense right out of the gate. You can reach your senators by calling 202-224-3121. Ask the operator to connect you to the individual office. Thanks.

Assange Wins EU Journalism Award; Kevin Gozstola Analyzes FBI Affidavit in Assange Case – Government Criminalizing Journalism; Assange’s Mother Passes on Request from Julian for What Supporters Can Do For Him Right Now

Julian Assange

Julian Assange has just been awarded the European Parliament’s
2019 GUE/NGL Award for Journalists, Whistleblowers & Defenders of the Right to Information. The award, started last year in honor of slain Maltese journalist Daphne Galizia, was accepted on Julian’s behalf by Mairead Maguire, the Irish Nobel Peace Prize winner. As reported by Australia’s Herald Sun on April 16th:

The award is given to individuals “uncovering the truth and exposing it to the public” and to honour “individuals or groups who have been intimidated and/or persecuted for uncovering the truth and exposing it to the public”.

Also on April 16th, Shadowproof’s Kevin Gozstola published an analysis of an FBI affidavit against Assange showing that the Justice Department is, in fact, trying to criminalize journalism with respect to its case against the Wikileaks founder:

An affidavit from the United States Justice Department’s prosecution of WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange shows prosecutors are focused on criminalizing the publication of the Iraq and Afghanistan War Logs.

The focus on the publication of the Iraq and Afghanistan War Logs is baselessly linked to an alleged “password cracking agreement” that prosecutors believe existed between Assange and Pfc. Chelsea Manning, who disclosed over a half million documents to WikiLeaks.

….FBI Special Agent Megan Brown, who was assigned to the “counterespionage squad” at the Washington Field Office in the District of Columbia, was tasked with sifting through information to compile the “basis” for a case against Assange.

Using language derived from the Espionage Act, which has been wielded by the Justice Department to aggressively crack down on whistleblowers, Brown contended, “Manning and Assange had reason to believe that public disclosures of the Afghanistan War reports and Iraq War reports would cause injury to the United States.”

Read the full article here.

It is also being reported that additional charges are likely to be added by the U.S. government – which is predictably keeping the legal process under wraps as much as possible, stating that documents filed will be redacted. This is expected by many to lengthen the extradition process in the UK which is theoretically opposed to the adding of charges after the initial request by the country seeking extradition. However, a recent article by Reese Ehrlich reveals a few different factors that could complicate the process, some of which could favor Assange and some of which would not.

If the extradition is not carried out by the time of elections for prime minister in the UK, then a Jeremy Corbyn victory might very well see a blocking of the extradition. However, if Assange is ordered to be extradited, no one in the executive branch blocks it, and the UK leaves the EU before his appeal could be brought before the European Court of Human Rights, then the UK would not be bound by any favorable decision that could arise from that court. Legal experts that Ehrlich spoke to for his article were split on what kind of chance Assange had of getting a fair legal shake in either the UK or the U.S.

Read Ehrlich’s complete article here.

Meanwhile, Julian’s mother Christine, has tweeted the following message to let Julian’s supporters know what he has requested be done to help him right now:

Letters to Julian

As Julians life is at risk he requests you send:

A SHORT personal NOTE

Attatched to: A copy of an ACTION youve taken to protect him (See my pinned tweet)

Thank you for respecting his wishes

Julian Assange

HMP Belmarsh

Western Way


London SE280EB

Want to Help Improve U.S.-Russia Relations? Travel to Russia as a Citizen Diplomat This September

Alexander’s Column, Palace Square, St. Petersburg; Photo by Natylie S. Baldwin, 2015

The following is a message from my friend and mentor Sharon Tennison, co-founder and head of Center for Citizen Initiatives. Sharon has been leading delegations of U.S. citizens to Russia since the 1980’s. She has an extensive network of Russian friends and colleagues all over the country and escorted me on my very first trip to the country in 2015.

Like many of us, Sharon recognizes that U.S.-Russia relations have reached a dangerously low point. In response, Sharon has revived her delegations of citizen diplomacy over the past couple of years. This September, she is organizing one of her most ambitious ever – 100 Americans. Below is more information from Sharon about this trip. Please consider participating in this important work or pass this on to someone else who may be interested. Thanks. – Natylie

…. In my 35 years of traveling throughout Russia, I have never before witnessed such a vast gap between what the average American ‘believes’ about Russia and Russia’s reality on the ground today.

CCI’s earlier Russia travelers describe their trips as life-changing … possibly because there’s nothing so relieving as “traveling to meet the enemy” and finding no enemies on arrival. We find differences, yes, different histories, different cultural norms and many other differences, but when understood, none of these are destructive to Americans.

Citizen diplomacy is finally being discussed as a viable pursuit by officials in the U.S. and in Russia today. THIS IS NEW. No doubt this is due to failed official diplomacy and nuclear treaties being scrapped in the very recent past. The current situation is extremely dangerous since we and Russia have nuclear weapons on high alert and ready to fire at each other. One accidental launch of a missile could bring a volley of returning missiles that would destroy both countries and likely the world within a short time. How can our military brass, congress members and media talk so glibly about nuclear war? It’s horrifying! How to pull our countries back from the brink of nuclear war? Let us educate ourselves ASAP regarding Russia with our own eyes and ears. Let us ask questions, listen, ponder … and educate others as rapidly as possible….

Consider traveling with us on this “one-of-a-kind” trip. It will be CCI’s most intensive diplomacy effort ever. Travelers will meet with and question a dozen Russian Experts in Moscow including Mikhail Gorbachev and Vladimir Pozner. The meetings are usually two-hour sessions. Our two videographers will capture the Expert meetings and much of the entire trip. Following Moscow meetings, we travel in triads to 30 regional cities to explore average Russian citizens’ interests, their thoughts and concerns, and how they carry out their lives far from the centers of power. We will share similar topics with them. Following these visits we reconvene in St. Petersburg where we will spend the first full day listening to and learning from fellow travelers’ experiences in their regional cities. YouTube videos, articles and stats will result from this data dump. With our important work completed, we will enjoy St. Petersburg’s unparalleled classical culture and meet with numerous CCI alumni from our former business management training programs. During these and regional traveling days we will have had face-to-face discussions with thousands of Russians across 10 time zones.  We need more Americans to travel on this CCI fact-finding diplomatic mission….

For more trip details please email us. Many thanks!

Click here to see CCI’s official trip flyer.

Sharon Tennison
President and Founder (1983 – to present)
Center for Citizen Initiatives
sharon [at] ccisf.org

Julian Assange Arrested by British Police as Ecuador Breaks its Legal Obligations Under International Asylum Law

What many of us who’ve been paying attention have suspected for some time has finally come to pass. British police have arrested Wikleaks founder and former editor Julian Assange at the invitation of the Ecuadorian government of Lenin Moreno. Footage of the arrest is provided by Ruptly and can be viewed below. Assange, whom no one should have expected to go quietly, can be heard shouting, “UK Must Resist.”

Assange was granted asylum and Ecuadorian citizenship in 2012 by then-president Rafael Correa who had this to say upon learning the news of Assange’s arrest:

The greatest traitor in Ecuadorian and Latin American history, Lenin Moreno, allowed the British police to enter our embassy in London to arrest Assange. Moreno is a corrupt man, but what he has done is a crime that humanity will never forget.

Assange will be brought before a British magistrate regarding charges of jumping bail. There is also reportedly an extradition request by the U.S. on charges of conspiring with Chelsea Manning to hack into classified government computers. Supposedly, Washington has agreed to take the death penalty off the table. How generous of them.

An in-depth discussion of the arrest and charges and the implications for journalism and a free press are discussed in this Democracy Now! segment with Glenn Greenwald, Jessalyn Radack, and two members of Assange’s legal team:

Edward Snowden responded on Twitter with the following comment:

Images of Ecuador’s ambassador inviting the UK’s secret police into the embassy to drag a publisher of–like it or not–award-winning journalism out of the building are going to end up in the history books. Assange’s critics may cheer, but this is a dark moment for press freedom.

Indeed it is. Popular Resistance.org has put out a call for protests at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C. as well as other British embassies around the country. I will post any other calls for action I hear about in the future. I will close with a message from Assange’s mother, Christine, which she posted to Twitter after she heard of Julian’s arrest:

I have just spoken to one of Julians lawyers. Julian is likely to appear before a UK Magistrate within 24 hrs re (old defunct) “bail warrant” UK likely to seek max prison term of 12 months in higher court. Our focus is as always to STOP a U.S. Extradition! Let’s get to it!

Vladimir Lenin: The Shaping of a Revolutionary (Part IV of IV)

Lenin in July 1920. Photo by Pavel Zhukov.

“Revolution is a dirty job. You do not make it with white gloves.” – Lenin

Lenin mostly lived abroad from 1900 to 1917 (Salisbury 1977).  During the early years of this period he started a revolutionary journal called Spark and had begun using the surname he would become famous under (Krausz 2015).  He, along with Plekhanov and Julius Martov – another Marxist – were the principal contributors to Spark.  

In 1903, an official split occurred during the Second Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party.  This party had formed in 1898 to unite the revolutionary movement in Russia.  The split resulted in the Bolsheviks (meaning “majority” in Russian) led by Lenin and the Mensheviks (meaning “minority” in Russian).  Plekhanov would eventually side with the latter, headed by Martov (Cavendish 2003).   

The Mensheviks advocated a loosely-organized structure that could exercise the option of allying with the liberal bourgeois , while the Bolsheviks wanted a centrally controlled and disciplined conspiratorial organization of full-time revolutionaries.  The Bolshevik wing represented the ideas for spreading Marxism and inciting revolution among the working class that had been laid out in Lenin’s 1902 pamphlet, What is to be Done? , borrowing the title of Chernyshevsky’s novel.  

A fight over the editorial board of Spark also ensued which the Mensheviks lost, leaving Lenin in virtual control of the publication.  However, the organization’s Foreign League convened a meeting in Geneva a few months later in which the Mensheviks prevailed and Lenin announced his resignation from Spark and the organization’s party council (Cavendish 2003). 

This only turned out to be a minor setback for Lenin who became noted among the intelligentsia for his knowledge of economic thought.   In 1904, he started another journal, Forward. He also wrote an acclaimed book called The Development of Capitalism in Russia which was in a second print run by 1905 (Krausz 2015). 

Around this time, colleagues observed an increasing ideological rigidity and intolerance in Lenin.  He had acquired the tactics of ignoring and insulting rather than refuting the arguments of other revolutionaries with whom he disagreed.  This was not unknown in the revolutionary movement but it marked a transition toward behavior that was antithetical to those he was taught growing up.  Moreover, he began acting more on the Machiavellian approach that had gained a foothold within the more extreme strands of the movement, rationalizing the use of individuals who engaged in dishonest and/or criminal behavior as long as it was perceived to be facilitating the goal of revolution (Salisbury 1974).

Soon after the October Manifesto was issued after the 1905 revolution, Lenin returned to St. Petersburg. He had raised the issue of armed resistance publicly for the first time just prior to his return to Russia and continued a period of prolific writing. 

In May of 1906, he made his first speech in front of a mass rally in St. Petersburg, billed as a “leader of the Bolsheviks” – though he’d only just begun a meaningful association with the organized Russian Bolsheviks a few months before.  He wouldn’t make another appearance at a mass meeting until 1917. 

Due to police pressure in response to his increased organizing activities, he left Russia for Europe again in December of 1907 (Krausz 2015), not to return again until 1917 (Deutscher 1964).


  1. Salisbury, Harrison E.  Black Night, White Snow:  Russia’s Revolutions 1905 – 1917.  De Capo Press. New York, NY. 1977;
  2. Krausz, Tamas.  Reconstructing Lenin:  An Intellectual Biography.  Monthly Review Press.  New York, NY.  2015;
  3. The Bolshevik-Menshevik Split” by Richard Cavendish.  History Today.  November, 2003;
  4. The Mensheviks:  George Plekhanov” by Isaac Deutscher.  The Listener.  4/30/1964.

Analysis & Book Reviews on U.S. Foreign Policy and Russia

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