Update on E. Ukraine; Lavrov Calls for “Post-West” World Order at Munich, Russia’s UN Envoy Churkin Dies Suddenly; U.S. Used Depleted Uranium in Syria; Iraq War Likely to Go On Indefinitely; Daniel Lazare on “McCarthyistic Fever”

(Ukrainian military near Donetsk, Feb. 10, 2017; Oleksandr Klymenko, Reuters)

Another ceasefire was worked out by France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine this past weekend in an attempt to quell recently increased violence in the Donbass.   According to a report from Reuters:

Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine agreed on Saturday to use their influence to implement a ceasefire and the withdrawal of heavy weapons from Monday in eastern Ukraine.

Fighting has recently escalated between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists in the region, refocusing global attention on a simmering conflict that has strained relations between Russia and the West.

“On Feb. 20 the ceasefire regime will start and withdrawal of heavy military hardware will also start … We have actively supported this decision and obviously expressed a conviction that this time, failure should not be allowed to take place,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after talks with his Ukrainian, German and French counterparts in Munich.

Meanwhile, the news agency of the United Nations (UN) is reporting that one million children are in need of aid in Eastern Ukraine – double this time last year – due to the continuing periodic fighting near the contact line that has created a general deterioration of life, in terms of health, safety and education.  Of course, this has intensified with the recent uptick in attacks by the Ukrainian military.   The UN News Center provided the following details:

This is an invisible emergency – a crisis most of the world has forgotten,” said UNICEF’s Representative in Ukraine, Giovanna Barberis, in a news release. “Children in eastern Ukraine have been living under the constant threat of unpredictable fighting and shelling for the past three years. Their schools have been destroyed, they have been forced from their homes and their access to basic commodities like heat and water has been cut off,” she stated.

The release attributed the increase – an additional 420,000 girls and boys – to the continued fighting and the steady deterioration of life in eastern Ukraine, where some 1.7 million people have been internally displaced, and many families have lost their incomes, social benefits and access to healthcare, while the price of living has sharply risen.

Hundreds of daily ceasefire violations put children’s physical safety and psychological well-being at risk. The situation is particularly grave for the approximately 200,000 girls and boys living within 15 kilometres on each side of the ‘contact line’ in eastern Ukraine, a line which divides government and non-government controlled areas where fighting is most severe. In this zone, 19,000 children face constant danger from landmines and other unexploded ordinance and 12,000 children live in communities shelled at least once a month. Thousands of children are regularly forced to take refuge in improvised bomb shelters.

Teachers, psychologists and parents report signs of severe psychosocial distress among children including nightmares, aggression, social withdrawal and panic triggered by loud noises. More than 740 schools – one in five in eastern Ukraine – have been damaged or destroyed.

The DPR and LPR have announced a humanitarian aid program for people in parts of Donbass that are under the control of the Kiev government, including medical and educational services and the payment of pensions.  The Donetsk News Agency reported last week:

DPR head Alexander Zakharchenko and LPR head Igor Plotnitskiy announced in a joint statement on February 17, “We have decided to implement a programme of humanitarian aid and environmental safety for our brothers and sisters living in Ukraine-controlled Donbass areas.”

“The main guidelines for humanitarian assistance are medical and education services, pension payments and assistance to divided families,” the statement said.

The programme envisions humanitarian foundations for financial assistance and joint cultural, education and sporting events involving residents on both sides of the contact line.

Zakharchenko and Plotnitskiy noted that Kyiv-controlled Donbass areas are on the brink of a humanitarian crisis. Economic production is being discontinued in the zone of Kyiv’s so-called “anti-terrorist operation”, living standards are plunging and infrastructure facilities are in disarray.

“We insist on the possibility to inspect water pumping systems at operating and non-operating mines, the Popasnaya water utility, Lisichyansk refinery, Zarya (Rubezhnoye) and Azot (Severodonetsk) companies, Voda Donbassa water company, water treatment plants, chlorine storages, Avdeyevka coking plant, Konstantinovka state-owned chemical plant and Dzerzhinsk phenol plant,” the republics’ leaders said.

They also demanded unhindered access for humanitarian organisations to Kyiv-controlled territory for monitoring, power, water and gas supply facilities.

And the next day, Putin signed an executive order officially recognizing documents pertaining to identification and vital information provided by the DPR and LPR.  This met with criticism by Ukraine and other nations.  Alexander Mercouris provides analysis at The Duran:

The documents in question are things like driving licences, birth and marriage certificates, travel documents and the like.

The Ukrainian authorities are already complaining that Russian recognition of these documents amounts to Russia’s de jure recognition of the two People’s Republics.  The carefully worded Executive Order signed by President Putin however shows that this is not the case:

Being guided by universally recognised principles and standards of the international humanitarian law and in order to protect the rights and freedoms of individuals, the President has resolved that temporarily, during the political settlement period of the crisis in certain districts of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Lugansk regions pursuant to the Minsk Agreements, personal identification documents, education and (or) qualification certificates, birth certificates, marriage, divorce, name change and death certificates, vehicle registration certificates, and vehicle registration plates issued by the corresponding authorities (organisations), valid in the specified district, will be recognised in the Russian Federation as valid for Ukrainian citizens and stateless persons permanently residing in those areas.

Pursuant to the Executive Order, Ukrainian citizens and stateless persons permanently residing in certain districts of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Lugansk regions can enter and leave the Russian Federation without applying for visas upon showing identification documents (birth certificates for children under the age of 16), issued by the corresponding authorities which are valid in the said districts.

The Government of the Russian Federation has been instructed to take the necessary measures to implement this Executive Order.

The Executive Order will come into effect upon its signing.

Russian recognition of the documents in part reflects traditional Russian political and diplomatic practice of recognising and accepting realities.

The Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics unquestionably exist irrespective of whether or not they have been recognised internationally.   As the Executive Order says, it is inhumane to consign the people they administer to an international legal limbo because the two People’s Republics are not internationally recognised.

Recognising the documents they issue seems first and foremost intended to make it easier for the people who live in the territories of these two republics to travel to Russia, where many of them have relatives and where many of them go for work.

At the same time recognition of the documents of the two People’s Republics highlights a point the Russians have long been making, which is that the longer Kiev delays reaching a political settlement of the conflict, the further from Kiev’s orbit the two People’s Republics will go.

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov politely sat through speeches at the recent Munich Security Conference given by Washington (e.g. Vice President Mike Pence) and its allies who provided the usual mumbo jumbo about the U.S.-led world order being natural, exceptional and as righteous and cuddly as unicorn hugs.  Then he took to the podium and gave his own perspective on what had just been heard.  A few choice excerpts follow:

Ladies and gentlemen,

Ten years ago, President of Russia Vladimir Putin addressed this conference with a speech that many in the West saw as a challenge and even a threat, although what his message emphasised above all was the need to renounce unilateral action in favour of honest cooperation based on mutual respect, international law, joint assessment of global problems and collective decision-making. Unfortunately, the warnings he sounded then about the negative consequences of attempting to obstruct the emergence of a multipolar world have become reality.

Humanity stands at a crossroads today. The historic era that could be called the post-Cold War order has come to an end. Its main result, as we see it, was the complete failure of the Cold War institutions to adapt to new realities. The world has become neither ‘Western-centric’, nor a safer and more stable place. This is evident in the results of ‘democratisation’ in the Middle East and North Africa, and in other places too.

NATO expansion has created a level of tension in Europe unseen in the last thirty years. Yet this year marks the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Russia-NATO Founding Act in Paris, and 15 years since the Rome Declaration on a new quality of Russia-NATO relations was adopted. These documents’ basic premise was that Russia and the West took on a joint commitment to guarantee security on the basis of respect for each other’s interests, to strengthen mutual trust, prevent a Euro-Atlantic split and erase dividing lines. This did not happen, above all because NATO remained a Cold War institution. It is said that wars start in people’s heads, but according to this logic, it is also in people’s heads that they should end. This is not the case yet with the Cold War. Some statements by politicians in Europe and the United States seem to confirm this particularly clearly, including statements made here yesterday and today during this conference.

….What kind of relationship do we want to establish with the United States? We want relations based on pragmatism, mutual respect, and understanding of our special responsibility for global stability. Our two countries have never been in direct confrontation with each other. Our history is steeped in friendliness more than confrontation. Russia did a lot to support the independence of the United States as it proceeded to become a united powerful state. Constructive Russia-US relations are in our common interest. Moreover, America is our close neighbour, just like the European Union. We are divided by just 4 km of the Bering Strait. The potential of our cooperation in politics, the economy, and the humanitarian sphere is enormous. But, of course, it has to be tapped. We are willing to go ahead and do so inasmuch as the United States is prepared to do so on its part.

….Today, more than ever, we need a dialogue on all complex issues in order to find mutually acceptable compromises. Actions based on confrontation and the zero-sum-game approach will not cut any ice. Russia is not looking for conflicts with anyone, but it will always be in a position to uphold its interests.

Read the full speech and the Q&A that followed at:

http://www.mid.ru/en_GB/press_service/minister_speeches/-/asset_publisher/7OvQR5KJWVmR/content/id/2648249

Russia’s second most well known diplomat, UN envoy Vitaly Churkin, passed away suddenly on Monday from what many are speculating was a heart attack.  Reuters reports:

Russia’s combative ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, died suddenly in New York on Monday after being taken ill at work, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

The ministry gave no details on the circumstances of his death but offered condolences to his relatives and said the diplomat had died one day before his 65th birthday.

It declined to comment on reports that Churkin had been taken to a hospital shortly before his death.

A U.S. government official, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the case, said that Churkin had died of an apparent heart attack.

A federal law enforcement official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said that there appeared to be nothing unusual about the ambassador’s death.

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An article has recently appeared in Foreign Policy magazine reporting on the illicit use by Washington of depleted uranium in airstrikes against ISIS in Syria.

Officials have confirmed that the U.S. military, despite vowing not to use depleted uranium weapons on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria, fired thousands of rounds of the munitions during two high-profile raids on oil trucks in Islamic State-controlled Syria in late 2015. The air assaults mark the first confirmed use of this armament since the 2003 Iraq invasion, when it was used hundreds of thousands of times, setting off outrage among local communities, which alleged that its toxic material caused cancer and birth defects.

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) spokesman Maj. Josh Jacques told Airwars and Foreign Policy that 5,265 armor-piercing 30 mm rounds containing depleted uranium (DU) were shot from Air Force A-10 fixed-wing aircraft on Nov. 16 and Nov. 22, 2015, destroying about 350 vehicles* in the country’s eastern desert.

Earlier in the campaign, both coalition and U.S. officials said the ammunition had not and would not be used in anti-Islamic State operations. In March 2015, coalition spokesman John Moore said, “U.S. and coalition aircraft have not been and will not be using depleted uranium munitions in Iraq or Syria during Operation Inherent Resolve.” Later that month, a Pentagon representative told War is Boring that A-10s deployed in the region would not have access to armor-piercing ammunition containing DU because the Islamic State didn’t possess the tanks it is designed to penetrate.

It remains unclear if the November 2015 strikes occurred near populated areas….

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According to a February 20th AP report, Defense Secretary Mattis admitted that the U.S. will likely be in Iraq for quite a while still:

BAGHDAD (AP) — U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Monday he believes U.S. forces will be in Iraq and in the fight against Islamic State militants for a while, despite some rocky times between the two nations.

Speaking at the end of a day of meetings in Baghdad with military commanders and Iraqi political leaders, Mattis said he is open to any request from his military commanders to aid the battle to retake Mosul and launch a major battle to oust IS from the base of its so-called caliphate in Raqqa, Syria. He would not provide details.

….”I imagine we’ll be in this fight for a while and we’ll stand by each other,” Mattis said.

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I keep hoping that the hysterical claims against Russia and its purported inappropriate relationship with the Trump administration will die down so I will have less material to sift through.  Now that the election hacking story has lost some steam due to no evidence being presented, a storm has erupted about Michael Flynn’s phone conversation with the Russian ambassador prior to Trump’s inauguration but after Flynn’s designation as his National Security Adviser.  The best analysis I’ve seen on this brouhaha is by Daniel Lazare over at Consortium News.  I highly recommend that you follow the link and read the whole article, but here are some key excerpts:

High-level wrongdoing! Colluding with the enemy! Shock and incredulity! It’s enough to make a concerned citizen reach for the nearest bottle of 151-proof rum. But it’s all nonsense. Liberals are working themselves into a crisis mode on the basis of zero evidence. 

Let’s begin with what The Nation’s Joan Walsh regards as the key issue: what do we know and when did we know it?

Well, we know that on Thursday, Dec. 29, Barack Obama expelled 35 suspected Russian intelligence operatives for allegedly interfering with the presidential election and imposed sanctions on Russia’s two leading intelligence services. We also know that Flynn had called the Russian ambassador a day earlier to discuss sanctions in general and that although he “never made explicit promises of sanctions relief,” according to unnamed government officials cited by the Times, he “appeared to leave the impression it would be possible.”

In Times-speak, “appeared to leave the impression” means that the paper is unable to pin down anything that Flynn did that was specifically wrong, but still believes that the conversation was somehow unseemly.

According to The Washington Post, the key phone call came after Obama’s Dec. 29 decision to expel the Russian diplomats when Kislyak reached Flynn by phone while the national security advisor-designate and his wife were vacationing at a beachside resort in the Dominican Republic.  “As a veteran intelligence officer,” The Post said, “…Flynn must have known that a call with a Russian official in Washington would be intercepted by the U.S. government, pored over by FBI analysts and possibly even shared with the White House.”

In any event, whatever he told Kislyak must have been reassuring since Vladimir Putin announced later that day that he would not engage in a tit-for-tat retaliation by expelling U.S. diplomats.

Getting Payback

Irritated by such maturity, the American “state security organs,” as the KGB and other Soviet intelligence services were once called, pounced. Having intercepted the Russian ambassador’s phone call, the FBI relayed the contents to Obama’s Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, who authorized it to interrogate Flynn about the conversation. Flynn may have lied or not given a complete account or forgotten some of the details about what he and Kislyak discussed. He also may have given a similarly incomplete account to Vice President Mike Pence, which apparently upset Pence and led to Flynn being tossed overboard.

But if Trump and his team thought that would satisfy the sharks, they were wrong. The press went into a feeding frenzy. But the substance of the complaint against Flynn adds up to very little.

As Obama administration holdovers in the Justice Department searched for a legal justification with which to accuse Flynn of wrongdoing, the only thing they could come up with was the Logan Act of 1799 forbidding private citizens from negotiating with a foreign government that is in dispute with the United States. Adopted during the presidency of John Adams, the law was prompted by Dr. George Logan’s unauthorized negotiations with France, contacts that were praised by the Jeffersonians but anathema to the Federalists.

But invoking the Logan Act in any instance is a stretch, much less this one. It has never been used to prosecute anyone; it has never been tested in a court of law; and its constitutionality couldn’t be more questionable. Moreover, if the law is dubious when used to threaten a private citizen engaged in unauthorized diplomacy, then using it to go after a designated official of an incoming presidential administration that has been duly elected is many times more so.

As journalist Robert Parry points out, the Logan Act has mainly been “exploited in a McCarthyistic fashion to bait or discredit peace advocates” such as Jesse Jackson for visiting Cuba or House Speaker Jim Wright for trying to end the Contra war in Nicaragua. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Trump Caves on Flynn’s Resignation.”]

Of course, the Obama holdovers at Justice also said that Flynn might be vulnerable to Russian blackmail. But if Flynn assumed that the U.S. intelligence was listening in, then the Russians probably did also, which means that both sides knew that there was no secret dirt to be used against him.

In other words, there’s no there there. Yet anti-Trump liberals are trying to convince the public that it’s all “worse than Watergate.”

….But whether Flynn is a criminal is another matter. As Ronn Blitzer observed in a smart article at Lawnewz.com: “Between the details of the communications being unclear and the complete lack of historical guidance for prosecutors to work off of, chances are slim that he’ll face any legal repercussions.”

Lying to the FBI is another matter, of course. But grilling someone about whether he violated a moldy old law that should have been repealed centuries ago is the equivalent of giving someone the third degree over whether he washed his hands after using a public restroom. It raises questions about civil liberties and prosecutorial abuse that used to concern liberals – before, that is, they went bonkers over Russia.

Moreover, taking a call from the Russian ambassador is not only legal but, with the inauguration only three weeks away, precisely what one would expect a newly designated national security advisor to do. If the call indeed happened while Flynn was on vacation – and hence without the usual staff support – it’s not that surprising that he might not have had total recall of what was discussed. For FBI agents to question him weeks later and test his memory against their transcript of the conversation seems closer to entrapment than a fair-minded inquiry.

The whole area is a gray zone regarding what is and isn’t proper for a candidate or an incoming administration to do. Eight years earlier, Barack Obama reached out to foreign leaders to discuss policy changes before he was even elected.

In July 2008, candidate Obama visited Paris to confer with then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy about Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan and NATO. In late November – after the election, that is, but before the oath of office – he telephoned Afghan President Hamid Karzai to discuss how his country might achieve greater stability.

Yet as Robert Charles notes at the conservative Townhall.com website, no one thought to mention the Logan Act or accuse Obama of overstepping his bounds by engaging in private diplomacy.

Russia Will Not Sell Out Iran for Washington, Suggests Possibility of Returning to Iranian Airbase; Ukrainian Media & Gov’t Sources Admit Kiev Re-ignited Recent Fighting in Donbass; Dennis Kucinich Speaks Out on Syria Trip with Tulsi Gabbard; Patrick Armstrong on Strengths of Russian Economy; What Do Average Americans Really Think of Russia?

Russian long range bomber taking off from a base in Iran, August 16, 2016

Russian long range bomber taking off from a base in Iran, August 16, 2016; © Russian Defense Ministry Press Service Photo via AP

Over the past week, the Russian government has dropped some subtle and not so subtle hints that it is unwilling to sell out it’s strategic economic and military relationship with Iran for promises of playing nice from Washington.   Alexander Mercouris has detailed Russia’s initial moves conveying this message:

First off was President Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who made clear Moscow’s disagreement with Donald Trump’s description of Iran as “the world’s number one terrorist state”

We disagree with this postulate.  You all know that Russia has good relations of partnership with Iran and we cooperate with that country on a number of issues. We appreciate our relations in the trading and economic sphere and we hope for their further development
Peskov was followed by Foreign Minister Lavrov, who not only did not agree with Trump’s assessment of Iran as a “terrorist state”, but who on the contrary made clear his belief that Iran should be a party to any anti-ISIS coalition

Iran has never been found linked to Islamic State or Jabhat al-Nusra.  Moreover, Iran makes its own contribution to the struggle against the Islamic State.  We have long pressed for creating a genuinely universal front of struggle against terrorism. I am certain that if we make an unbiased approach to the potential members of such a coalition, Iran must be part of our common efforts

This came after Russia also made known its disagreement with the latest sanctions the US has imposed on Iran.

Within the past couple of days, the Russian ambassador to Iran, Levan Dzhagaryan, spoke publicly about the possibility of Russia working out of Iran’s air base near Hamadan, which they pulled out of months ago after briefly using it to run bombing missions into Syria.  He also highlighted other aspects of the military and technical partnership between the two countries.

In an interview with the Russian news agency TASS, Dzhagaryan said the following:

“If the leadership of the two countries will consider it necessary to use the Iranian military infrastructure to combat terrorism in Syria or elsewhere, such steps will be taken,” the diplomat said.

….By now, Moscow has fully closed a contract for the delivery of S-300 complexes to Iran, the Russian diplomat said.

“Last year, Russia finished completely the fulfillment of its obligations for the delivery of S-300 air defense systems to Iran,” the ambassador said.

….”Cooperation between Russia and Iran proceeds in many fields, including the military-technical sphere,” the diplomat said. “The two countries’ defense ministries are currently in talks at different levels on many projects of interest to Iran.”

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Mark Nicholas at Russia Insider has pointed out how the Ukrainian media, quoting Ukrainian intelligence officials, has admitted that Kiev was the initiator of recent intensified conflict in the Donbass:

Take for example the reporting of the popular local news portal the Ukrainian Pravda:

Escalation in Avdiyivka Sunday January 29 began after the collision of ATO’s [‘Anti-Terrorist Operation’] reconnaissance and sabotage unit with the militants.

This was revealed to Ukrainian Pravda by the source in the intelligence structures familiar with the situation.

The source said the fighters of the intelligence garthering unit encountered DPR militants nearby.

“The battle began. Militants requested artillery support. Therefore, to save soldiers, Commander (23-year-old captain, deputy commander of a mechanized battalion of the Cornel Andrew Ombre 72 -red.) was forced to lead men forward and play a role as fighters,” said the UP source.

According to the UP source the militants are now trying to regain from ATO a strategic position (the position of the militants called “Diamond 2” – Ed.), since it fully controlls the roads Donetsk, Lugansk and Donetsk, Gorlovka. [emphasis in original]

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Former congressional Representative Dennis Kucinich, who recently accompanied Rep. Tulsi Gabbard on her fact-finding mission to Syria, has spoken out on his Facebook page about the cheap attacks against Gabbard by certain government officials and members of the media who don’t want to hear the truth that Gabbard speaks:

I have dedicated my life to peace. As a member of Congress I led efforts to avert conflict and end wars in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Syria and Iran. And yet those of us who work for peace are put under false scrutiny to protect Washington’s war machine. Those who undermine our national security by promoting military attacks and destroying other nations are held up as national leaders to admire.

Recently Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and I took a Congressional Ethics-approved fact finding trip to Lebanon and Syria, where we visited Aleppo and refugee camps, and met with religious leaders, governmental leaders and people from all sides of the conflict, including political opposition to the Syrian government.

Since that time we have been under constant attack on false grounds. The media and the war establishment are desperate to keep hold of their false narrative for world-wide war, interventionism and regime change, which is a profitable business for Washington insiders and which impoverishes our own country.

Today, Rep. Gabbard came under attack yet again by the Washington Post’s Josh Rogin who has been on a tear trying to ruin the reputations of the people and the organization who sponsored our humanitarian, fact-finding mission of peace to the Middle East. Rogin just claimed in a tweet that as community organization I have been associated with for twenty years does not exist.

The organization is in my neighborhood. Here’s photos I took yesterday of AACCESS-Ohio’s marquee. It clearly exists, despite the base, condescending assertions of Mr. Rogin.

Enough of this dangerous pettiness. Let’s dig in to what is really going on, inside Syria, in the State Department, the CIA and the Pentagon. In the words of President Eisenhower, let’s beware (and scrutinize) the military-industrial-complex. It is time to be vigilant for our democracy.

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Patrick Armstrong, Russia expert and former adviser on Russia issues to the Canadian government, provided the following critique of Wikipedia’s claims that Canada and Germany have a bigger GDP than Russia and what this does not take into account in terms of the Russian economy:

RUSSIA INC.  Summarising three recent authorities, Wikipedia says Canada’s GDP is greater than Russia’s and Germany’s is about two and a half times greater. There’s something deeply misleading and, in fact, quite worthless about these GDP comparisons. Russia has a full-service space industry including the only other operating global satellite navigation system. Neither Canada nor Germany does. It has an across the board sophisticated military industry which may be the world leader in electronic warfare, air defence systems, silent submarines and armoured vehicles. Neither Canada nor Germany does. It has a developed nuclear power industry with a wide range of products. Ditto. It builds and maintains a fleet of SSBNs – some of the most complicated machinery that exists. Ditto. Its aviation industry makes everything from competitive fighter planes through innovative helicopters to passenger aircraft. Ditto. It has a full automotive industry ranging from some of the world’s most powerful heavy trucks to ordinary passenger cars. It has all the engineering and technical capacity necessary to build complex bridges, dams, roads, railways, subway stations, power stations, hospitals and everything else. It is a major and growing food producer and is probably self-sufficient in food today. Its food export capacity is growing and it has for several years been the leading wheat exporter. It has enormous energy reserves and is a leading exporter of oil and gas. Its pharmaceutical industry is growing rapidly. It is intellectually highly competitive in STEM disciplines – a world leader in some cases. Its computer programmers are widely respected. (Yes, there is a Russian cell phone.) It’s true that many projects involve Western partners – the Sukhoy Superjet for example – but it’s nonetheless the case that the manufacturing and know-how is now in Russia. Germany or Canada has some of these capabilities but few – very few – countries have all of them. In fact, counting the EU as one, Russia is one of only four. Therefore in Russia’s case, GDP rankings are not only meaningless, but laughably so. While Russians individually are not as wealthy as Canadians or Germans, the foundations of wealth are being laid and deepened every day in Russia. What of the future? Well there’s a simple answer to that question – compare Russia in 2000 with Russia in 2017: all curves are up. Of course Russians support their government – why wouldn’t they? It’s doing what they hired it to do; we others can only dream of such governments. For what it’s worth, PwC predicts Russia will be first in Europe in 2050, but, even so, I think it misses the real point: Indonesia and Brazil ahead of Russia? No way: it’s not GDP/PPP that matters, it’s full service. Russia is a full-service power and it won’t become any less so in the next 30 years. Autarky. Very few aren’t there? And… in that little group of four autarkies on the planet, who’s going up and who’s going down? A big – fatal even – mistake to count Russia out.

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And, finally, some heartening news on the Russia front.  Russia scholar Pietro Shakarian went to several cities in Ohio and interviewed a cross-section of average Americans – on the streets, in bars and coffee shops, etc. – to get their views on Russia, U.S.-Russia relations and what they think about the recent allegations of the Russian government having hacked the U.S. presidential election.

Before I get to an excerpt and link to the results, here is a little more background on Shakarian:

Pietro A. Shakarian, a PhD Candidate in Russian History at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.  He earned his MA in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, his MLIS at Kent State University, and his BA in History at John Carroll University in Cleveland.  In addition to Reconsidering Russia, he has written about developments in Russia and the former Soviet space for The Nation, Hetq Online, and Russia Direct and he has appeared on The John Batchelor Show and the podcast for Sean’s Russia Blog.

Here is an except of what Americans in Cleveland told Shakarian:

My first stop in Cleveland was the Clevelander Bar & Grill in the city’s downtown on 27 December 2016. After ordering a beer, I asked the people behind the bar about the Russians.

“Can we get along with them?” I inquired.

“Look, if there was a war or something, I would want Russia on my side,” said the bartender, “They’re big and tough, man. Who was the guy who led them during the war? You know, with the mustache?”

“You mean Stalin?”

“Yeah. He was tough, man.”

“What do you think?” I asked the barmaid.

“Of course, we should have them as our allies,” she said. “We need to have a dialogue with them, but I don’t trust them. You know what they say: keep your friends close, but your enemies closer. Still, I don’t trust Russia. It’s a very scary country.”

“Why do you think Russia is scary?” I asked.

“I dunno. That’s what the media says,” she responded. “However, I don’t think the people are bad. Our neighbor is a Russian. He’s married to a Serbian woman. We have no problems with them. In general, I think that people can get along. The governments can’t. That’s the problem.”

Later, I walked down the street to a Subway restaurant. After ordering a sandwich, I casually began a conversation about the Russians with the owner and his assistant, both middle-aged, round and jovial African-American men.

“The Russians are tough,” said one of the men. “They mean business. You don’t wanna mess with them, man.”

“Do you think that US-Russian relations can improve?”

“Not while Donald Trump is in the White House,” he chuckled heartily. “That man’s crazy! He can’t even keep his Twitter under control! How can we expect him to deal with the Russians?”

Walking back, I traveled to the old beaux arts Leader Building on Superior Avenue. The building is under construction, being converted into condos. This was a perfect place to continue inquiries about the Russians. I found a group of affable construction workers on their break. The men were middle-aged. Three were white, one was black.

“Can we get along with the Russians?” I asked.

“Why not?” said the black construction worker, smiling easily. “We need them.”

“We do need them,” said another construction worker smoking a cigarette, “I mean, look how big their country is! They’re a lot of people. We need as many people to be our friends as possible. We don’t need anymore enemies. You know, my neighbors are Russian immigrants. I have no problems with them. Honestly, I think conflict now between the two governments is basically one big pissing match. If you just bring the people together and leave the politicians out of it, then we’d be fine.”

“I know the authors Dostoevsky and Bulgakov,” interjected another worker. “Crime and Punishment and The Master and the Margarita are among my favorite novels. If Russians can write such great novels, then they must not be bad people. We can work with them.”

Read the full article here

 

Kiev Attacks Donbass, Russian Foreign Ministry Responds, German Newspaper Reports Berlin Believes Kiev is Trying to Provoke & Sabotage US-Russia Detente; Russia Reveals Draft Constitution for Syria After Astana Talks, Includes Autonomy for Kurds; Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s Trip to Syria; Is Saudi Arabia Giving Up on Armed Rebels in Syria?; Trump & Putin Have Their First Official Telephone Conversation

(House in Donetsk region damaged by Ukrainian Shelling, Jan. 2017; https://www.newcoldwar.org/kyiv-forces-lose-27-killed-dozens-wounded-two-attempts-break-donetsk-republic-defences/)

The Donetsk News Agency (DAN) is reporting 27 dead and dozens wounded resulting from two different attempts by Kiev forces to break through the DPR’s defense lines in recent days.   The dead and wounded were from Kiev’s forces.

As they retreated to initial positions, Ukrainian forces left their fatalities and wounded in the battlefield. However, that did not stop Kyiv. A second attempt to break through DPR defences was made which failed as well.

….Earlier reports said two DPR militiamen were killed and six others were wounded by Ukrainian forces shelling on Tuesday.

In another report, DAN discussed a joint statement by the leaders of the Lugansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic:

“We ask you to stop Ukraine and compel Poroshenko to cease criminal actions against Donbass people. Make Poroshenko stop shooting at civilians and lift the economic blockade. It must be done before it is too late. Prevent great trouble before an environmental and humanitarian disaster occurs in our land,” reads the statement received by Donetsk News Agency.

The statement noted that the Ukrainian military has targeted industrial facilities and infrastructure, thus creating the danger of environmental and humanitarian disaster both in Donbass and adjacent Ukrainian regions.

The Russian Foreign Ministry subsequently issued an official statement on the latest actions by Kiev:

The situation in Donbass has deteriorated sharply in recent days. Ukrainian troops continue to conduct offensive operations to seize positions held by self-defence forces, including in the suburbs of Donetsk. Heavy weapons, including heavy artillery and multiple launch rocket systems, are being actively used to shell residential areas. According to Minsk Package of Measures of February 12, 2015, such weapons should long since have been withdrawn from the contact line. There are casualties and wounded among the civilian population. As a result of the shelling by Ukrainian troops, the Donetsk Filtration Station and the Avdeyevka Coke Chemical Plant have lost power. The lives of miners working in the mines are under threat.

We see southeastern Ukraine, which is already suffering from the economic blockade imposed by Kiev, again on the verge of a real humanitarian and environmental disaster.

All of this is a direct outcome of ongoing violations by Ukraine of its obligations under the Minsk agreements, which no one in Kiev intends to act on. Instead of efforts to achieve sustainable peace, the Ukrainian authorities are trying hard to achieve a military solution to the conflict. Everyone should remember what kind of outcome this kind of reckless behaviour has led to on previous occasions.

Read the complete statement at the link above.

It is being reported by Russian news outlet RIA Novosti that the German media is reporting that Berlin believes Kiev’s actions to be a provocation to sabotage possible conciliatory actions between Moscow and the new administration in Washington.

MOSCOW – Berlin is increasingly concerned about the deteriorating situation in the east of Ukraine because they understand that the blame for what is happening in many ways lies with Kiev, writes Süddeutsche Zeitung , citing its own sources in the German government.

According to available data from Germany, partly based on the reports of the OSCE mission, the Ukrainian military is trying to move the front line in eastern Ukraine in its favor. The newspaper notes that German government circles believe that Kyiv is deliberately trying to increase tensions in the hope that an escalation of the conflict will help derail any plans by U.S. President Donald Trump plans to mitigate anti-Russian actions.

“In Berlin, they understand that Petro Poroshenko would do anything to prevent the lifting of sanctions against Russia”, the author writes.

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With respect to Syria, although the Astana talks did not end in any concrete resolution of the Syrian war, it marked the first time that representatives of (any of ) the armed opposition negotiated with the Syrian government and is recognized as an important “stepping stone” toward further resolution of the war.  The Turkish newspaper Al-Monitor, in an in-depth analysis, explained ongoing efforts, led by Russia, including the unveiling of a new draft constitution:

Russia’s diplomatic blitz did not end in Astana, however. On Jan. 27, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with Syrian opposition parties in Moscow for further discussion of a Russian draft of a new Syrian Constitution that had been offered in Astana. While representatives of the Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee of the Syrian opposition and the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces refused to attend, the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which Turkey had excluded from the Astana talks, participated in the Moscow meeting.

Maxim Suchkov reports that the draft constitution includes restrictions on the power of the Syrian presidency, with most powers deferred to the parliament and a newly created “Assembly of Regions.” Under the draft, the president would serve for seven years with no option for a second consecutive term.

Most controversial in the draft may be the decentralization of government authorities and the empowerment of local councils. “One issue that has stirred debate,” Suchkov writes, “is a provision allowing for ‘autonomy of Kurdish regions,’ which Russia sees as an adequate compromise for the country’s federalization. A provision stipulating equal rights for Kurds and Arabs on Kurdish territories is also remarkable. Moreover, under the proposed draft, every region in the country should be given the right to legalize the use of a language of the region’s majority — in addition to the state language and in accordance with the law.”

Not surprisingly, Suchkov continues, the draft elicited strong reactions from the parties to the conflict. “So far,” he writes, “the Kurdish issue is the most controversial. Turkey, Damascus and the Arab opposition forces all have their own caveats about the proposed autonomy — and it doesn’t please the Kurds, either, as they want more.”

Lavrov later elaborated on the intent behind Russia’s work on the draft constitution:

“The draft Constitution attempts to bring together and find shared points in those approaches that were outlined to us both by representatives of the government and representatives of the opposition, including all those present here, over the past several years,” Lavrov said.

“Some of the oppositionists said the other day that the Constitution should be written by the Syrians themselves and compared this draft to the Constitution, which the United States had imposed on Iraq. This is a very incorrect position because in Iraq the talk was about occupants who had written the Constitution and it was imposed on the Iraqi people as an uncompromising text. In this case, the talk is about the proposals that have been transferred for consideration by the Syrian sides themselves,” the Russian foreign minister said.

Russia is not imposing its draft Constitution on anyone and the talk is about the proposals called upon to stimulate a discussion on this issue in Geneva, the Russian foreign minister said.

“We are convinced that it is time to stop arguing round and round the subject and it is necessary to focus on discussing specific issues that were outlined in Resolution 2254, including the work on the Constitution,” the Russian foreign minister said.

“Moscow does not impose its own solutions, it just offers to speed up very complex work on drafting such a document,” the diplomat said. “No one is going to argue with the Syrians themselves about these sovereign issues for Syria.”.

UN-sponsored talks are set to take place in Geneva for further negotiation of a settlement, but have reportedly been postponed.

U.S. representative from Hawaii, Tulsi Gabbard, spoke about her recent fact-finding trip to Syria in a series of media interviews. Below is an article she wrote for The Medium about the trip:

As much of Washington prepared for the inauguration of President Donald Trump, I spent last week on a fact-finding mission in Syria and Lebanon to see and hear directly from the Syrian people. Their lives have been consumed by a horrific war that has killed hundreds of thousands of Syrians and forced millions to flee their homeland in search of peace.

I traveled throughout Damascus and Aleppo, listening to Syrians from different parts of the country. I met with displaced families from the eastern part of Aleppo, Raqqah, Zabadani, Latakia, and the outskirts of Damascus. I met Syrian opposition leaders who led protests in 2011, widows and children of men fighting for the government and widows of those fighting against the government. I met Lebanon’s newly-elected President Aoun and Prime Minister Hariri, U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth Richard, Syrian President Assad, Grand Mufti Hassoun, Archbishop Denys Antoine Chahda of Syrian Catholic Church of Aleppo, Muslim and Christian religious leaders, humanitarian workers, academics, college students, small business owners, and more.

Their message to the American people was powerful and consistent: There is no difference between “moderate” rebels and al-Qaeda (al-Nusra) or ISIS — they are all the same. This is a war between terrorists under the command of groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda and the Syrian government. They cry out for the U.S. and other countries to stop supporting those who are destroying Syria and her people.

I heard this message over and over again from those who have suffered and survived unspeakable horrors. They asked that I share their voice with the world; frustrated voices which have not been heard due to the false, one-sided biased reports pushing a narrative that supports this regime change war at the expense of Syrian lives.

I heard testimony about how peaceful protests against the government that began in 2011 were quickly overtaken by Wahhabi jihadist groups like al-Qaeda (al-Nusra) who were funded and supported by Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, the United States, and others. They exploited the peaceful protesters, occupied their communities, and killed and tortured Syrians who would not cooperate with them in their fight to overthrow the government.

Read the full article at the link above.

Academic expert on the Middle East, Vijay Prashad, stated in a recent interview with The Real News Network that it appears that both Turkey and Saudi Arabia are giving up the ghost on supporting regime change in Syria:

[S]omehow it feels to me, and I’m generally not overly optimistic about many of these initiatives, but this feels to me as something different.

Well, it took place in Kazakhstan and that’s important because Kazakhstan has close relationships with Russia but also a close relationship on cultural grounds with Turkey. Now, why is this important?

Well, for over the last six years, Turkey and Russia were on separate sides of this conflict and over the course of the last eight months or so, these two countries have begun to harmonize their view of the conflict. In other words, they claim to be on the so-called “peace camp” side of things.

So, the fact that they picked Kazakhstan to have this meeting is important. It’s territory where both Turkey and Russia feel, in a sense, comfortable. So, they’ve shifted the center of gravity from a city, which the United Nations has made its preferred location for peace talks – that’s Geneva – out into the center of Asia.

At this meeting, the three main regional powers that were there were Iran, Russia and Turkey. The purpose of the meeting really, in my opinion, was to cement the ties between Iran, Russia and Turkey, which had been greatly strained over the war in Syria. And indeed, that seems to have been the case because the final communiqué was really about Russia, Turkey and Iran helping to create a cease-fire mechanism inside Syria.

But this was also the first meeting in six years of the Syrian government on the one side and the armed Syrian opposition on the other. This is very significant because a section of the armed Syrian opposition has now decided that the peace route is more important than continuing the battle inside Syria, and to some extent I think what one needs to read here is that the external supporters of, at least this part of the armed Syrian opposition, has decided that this war can now wind down.

And by that, I mean, on the one side there’s Turkey, which obviously has decided that the war should wind down. It is, after all, joined with Russia and Iran in this process.

But also, very significantly, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the Emirates, etc., were not at the table – they were not interested. And nonetheless, despite the fact that they were not at the table, it’s important to understand that the leader of the armed Syrian opposition, the person who led that delegation at the meeting, was Mohammad al-Alloush, whose group, Jaysh al-Islam, is essentially the proxy of Saudi Arabia. In other words, Saudi Arabia didn’t insist on a seat at the table, which it has had at previous peace discussions, but it allowed its proxy to lead the armed Syrian opposition to the table.

And a great deal was accomplished at this meeting. I think people generally like to understand peace talks or cease-fires as a one-off thing: either you do it or you don’t do it. But peace is a confidence-building process. So, I think there was a part opened up around the question of a cease-fire mechanism and I think around the fact that they just sat at the table for the first time despite the posturing on all sides, which is important because everybody has a constituency that they need to deal with.

….The fact that the Saudis were not there and they, let’s say, allowed their proxy to lead the armed Syrian opposition, suggests to me that Saudi Arabia has basically thrown in the towel in Syria. It is stuck in a quagmire in Yemen, where it has not been able to make any gains. It has its own internal economic problems. And I think the Saudis have read the tea leaves fairly clearly, which is that it’s unlikely that the Trump administration is going to put any resources towards overthrowing Bashar al-Assad. So, I think this indicates that the Saudis have thrown the towel in.

Let’s hope he is right.

This past Saturday, President Trump and President Putin had their first telephone conversation, which lasted around 45 minutes.  According to RT:

In their telephone conversation, the two leaders agreed that they share a common view on “uniting efforts in the fight with the common enemy number one – international terrorism and extremism,” the Kremlin said in a statement published on its website late Monday. The Kremlin added that Putin and Trump also discussed ways to settle the Syria crisis.

Putin and Trump paid special attention to the importance of establishing a stable basis for bilateral relations by developing trade and economic ties between the two countries and working toward “constructive cooperation,” the Kremlin said.

The president and the president-elect agreed to keep in contact by telephone and have discussed the idea of meeting in person.

 

Latest on Syria & Peace Talks; RT Joins Official UN News Sources; Russian Economic News

Syria peace talks

 

A number of Russian dignitaries and media professionals gathered in Midtown Manhattan at the United Nations headquarters on Tuesday evening to mark the occasion. Speaking at the official ceremony in the UN Conference Room 4 were Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin, UN Under-Secretary-General Cristina Gallach, and RT Director General Alexey Nikolov.

RT’s hashtag #QuestionMore could be seen on all of the UN member states’ digital desktop name displays throughout the auditorium.

Under-Secretary-General Gallach welcomed RT’s addition to the UN’s in-house network, “The UN in-house television network is viewed by UN staff members, delegates and visiting officials. It is home to a diverse range of news broadcasting networks from around the world and in different languages, and today welcome the newest member to the network.”

In an earlier press statement, RT head Alexey Nikolov said, “Today, in the era of sweeping, global political changes, it is more important than ever to consider different points of view – to compare them, to draw independent conclusions.  In just 11 years, RT has won worldwide acclaim as a go-to source for alternative perspectives on current events. The diversity of views and stories that we represent is the embodiment of the fundamental principles of the Organization. We are pleased that the voice of RT will now be heard at UN level”.

“People must have the right to know different news coming from different sources – and then make their own judgment,” said Nikolov, in conclusion to a very moving personal speech about his own family’s experience of propaganda during the mid 20th-century Soviet era.

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In economic news, Alexander Mercouris discusses the Russian Central Banker’s designation by (British) Banker magazine as central banker of the year.   He also points out that Russia’s GDP may grow better than predicted, based on the results of the last quarter in 2016:

On the question of GDP growth, early indications are that it might be higher this year than earlier forecasts had predicted, with evidence in the final quarter of 2016 that the economy was recovering more strongly than expected.  Former Finance Minister Kudrin, a consistent pessimist about the Russian economy from within the government who is however also [central banker] Nabiullina’s strong ally, is now predicting GDP growth to rise to 3.5% by 2019, reaching the target rate of 4% by 2021.

Meanwhile,  The Duran reports that “According to a new report released by the Austrian Institute of Economic Research (WIFO), losses from EU anti-Russian sanctions and Russian counter sanctions have been calculated at 17,6 billion euros in 2015, and have cost Europe 400 thousand jobs.”

 “In compact Austria the job loss figure stands at 7000, while in Germany nearly 100,000 jobs are believed to have been affected.”
So it looks like the EU policy on Russia – pushed by Washington – has backfired on them.  Russia has shown admirable stamina since 2014 and appears to be headed for a rally, while the EU’s economy is stumbling with nothing positive to show from all this.

Update on Syria; Latest Government Report on “Russian Hacking” Still Woefully Lacking on Evidence; The Intercept Exposes Navy Seal Team 6’s War Atrocities

(Syrians fill water containers at roadside in Damascus; AP Screenshot of Damascus-based media outlet)

AFP reported on January 7th that repair teams were set to enter the area affected by damage to the water mains and infrastructure in Wadi Barada region northwest of Damascus.

Clashes continued there overnight and into Saturday morning, killing seven Syrian government soldiers and two civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. But by late morning, state media said maintenance teams had arrived in the area 15 kilometres northwest of Damascus and were “prepared to enter” to begin repair work.

A source close to the regime said a temporary ceasefire had been agreed to allow the repair crews to enter, though it could take days before the mains supply is restored.

Fighting has raged in Wadi Barada for several weeks, despite the December 30 start of a ceasefire brokered by regime ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey. The truce has held across much of the country, though it does not apply to the Daesh terror group or former Al Qaeda affiliate Al Nusra Front, now known as Fateh Al Sham Front.

On Monday, Democracy Now! reported dozens of deaths as a result of a fuel truck explosion in front of a courthouse in rebel-held Azaz in northern Syria.  No group had yet claimed responsibility.  It was also reported that airstrikes had resumed on Sunday in a rebel-held area near Damascus after the failure of negotiations with the Syrian government.

Democracy Now! reported on Tuesday that the Pentagon had acknowledged launching an air raid into Eastern Syria over this past weekend:

Unnamed U.S. officials said the raid was carried out by the Expeditionary Task Force and was aimed at capturing top ISIS militants. The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 25 people were killed in the operation. The website Deir Ezzor 24 quoted witnesses who said the U.S. troops landed by helicopter and then left an hour and a half later carrying prisoners and bodies.

Meanwhile, according to Reuters, the Syrian truce hammered out by Russia and Turkey was showing signs of strain as president Assad publicly stated his willingness to negotiate everything at the (as yet undated) peace summit in Kazakhstan:

In comments to French media [full text below], Assad also said his government was ready to negotiate on “everything” at peace talks his Russian allies hope to convene in Astana, Kazakhstan, including his own position within the framework of the Syrian constitution.

But he indicated any new constitution must be put to a referendum and it was up to Syrians to elect their president….

….Russia, Turkey and Iran, the three foreign powers involved in the latest peace drive, plan to divide Syria into informal zones of influence under an outline deal they reached, sources told Reuters in Moscow last month. But such a deal would still need buy-in from Assad, his opponents and, eventually, the Gulf states and Washington.

Rebel groups fighting under the “Free Syrian Army” banner have already frozen any discussion of their possible participation in the Astana talks.

The Syrian government dismisses opposition groups backed by Assad’s enemies as foreign creations. In his comments to the French media, Assad asked: “Who will be (in Astana) from the other side? We do not yet know. Will it be a real Syrian opposition?”

It should be interesting to see how these settlement negotiations actually play out.

*************************

And yet another government report, this one put out by the Director of National Intelligence, seeking to persuade the public that Russia hacked the US presidential election is found just as embarrassingly wanting as the last one.  Below I will provide the reactions of a few noteworthy people, starting with one of the targets of this accusation, Wikileaks’ Julian Assange, who stated in a press conference that it was not an intelligence report but an embarrassment and was a press release for political effect:

“It [the report] is clearly designed for political effect.  And US intelligence services have been politicized by the Obama administration in the production of this report and on a number of other things.”

Glenn Greenwald, appearing on CNN’s Reliable Sources explains that what has been provided by Washington so far with respect to Russian hacking constitutes not “inadequate or weak evidence, but no evidence.”  Assertions repeated over and over with the admonition by intelligence agencies to “trust us” also do not constitute evidence.  He goes on to explain why the history of the last 60 years of US foreign policy provides an excellent basis for not automatically trusting these very agencies when it comes to war and peace issues.  Watch the 4 minute and 40 second interview here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xU4mRKwlMeI

John McAfee, the founder of the anti-virus software company, also pokes numerous technical and logical holes in the case presented by Washington and subsequently lapped up by the American corporate media on this matter.  Watch his 4 and a half minute interview with RT’s Ed Schulz:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=djDu3ygXY9A

Investigative reporter Robert Parry does his deconstruction of the latest report over at Consortium News.  The following excerpt will give you a good synopsis of the quality of the report’s evidence:

Repeating an accusation over and over again is not evidence that the accused is guilty, no matter how much “confidence” the accuser asserts about the conclusion. Nor is it evidence just to suggest that someone has a motive for doing something. Many conspiracy theories are built on the notion of “cui bono” – who benefits – without following up the supposed motive with facts.

But that is essentially what the U.S. intelligence community has done regarding the dangerous accusation that Russian President Vladimir Putin orchestrated a covert information campaign to influence the outcome of the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election in favor of Republican Donald Trump.

Just a day after Director of National Intelligence James Clapper vowed to go to the greatest possible lengths to supply the public with the evidence behind the accusations, his office released a 25-page report that contained no direct evidence that Russia delivered hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta to WikiLeaks.

The DNI report amounted to a compendium of reasons to suspect that Russia was the source of the information – built largely on the argument that Russia had a motive for doing so because of its disdain for Democratic nominee Clinton and the potential for friendlier relations with Republican nominee Trump.

But the case, as presented, is one-sided and lacks any actual proof. Further, the continued use of the word “assesses” – as in the U.S. intelligence community “assesses” that Russia is guilty – suggests that the underlying classified information also may be less than conclusive because, in intelligence-world-speak, “assesses” often means “guesses.”

The DNI report admits as much, saying, “Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact. Assessments are based on collected information, which is often incomplete or fragmentary, as well as logic, argumentation, and precedents.”

But the report’s assessment is more than just a reasonable judgment based on a body of incomplete information. It is tendentious in that it only lays out the case for believing in Russia’s guilt, not reasons for doubting that guilt.

Read the complete piece here.

And last but not least, military blogger Moon of Alabama has pointed out that even members of the usual crowd of “let’s hate evil Russia” pundits have admitted the paltriness of the report’s substance, including Julia Ioffe who tweeted:

It’s hard to tell if the thinness of the report is because the proof is qualified, or because the proof doesn’t exist.

As Moon of Alabama comments:

 

When you lost even Julia Ioffe on your anti-Russian issue …

Clapper as DNI and Brennan as CIA chief should have been fired years ago. They will both be gone by January 20. The Intelligence Community will remember them as the chief-authors of this devastating failure.

 ****************************
Amy Goodman interviewed Matthew Cole, The Intercept‘s national security reporter, about his recent expose of the elite SEAL Team 6’s atrocities in Afghanistan.  This is the team that reportedly killed Osama bin Laden:
A stunning new exposé published today in The Intercept about the elite military unit SEAL Team 6 reveals a darker side of the group best known for killing Osama bin Laden. National security reporter Matthew Cole spent two years investigating accounts of ghastly atrocities committed by members of the unit, including mutilating corpses, skinnings and attempted beheadings. According to sources, senior command staff were aware of the misconduct but did little to stop it—and often helped to cover it up.
Warning:  a strong stomach is required to watch this interview or read the transcript.

 

Syria: UN Security Council Approves Turkish-Russian Resolution, Truce Largely Holding, Water Mains Damaged in Damascus; Deconstructing the Latest “Evidence” for Russia Hacking

(Precious water of the Wadi Barada River flowing into Damascus; https://www.newcoldwar.org/damascus-water-source-remains-cut-and-threatened-by-further-damage/)

At the end of December, the UN Security Council passed a resolution drafted by Russia and Turkey for a ceasefire in Syria – meaning that Washington did not exercise its veto, despite the fact that it did not participate at all in the drafting of the resolution.   As of December 30th, the ceasefire was reportedly holding, although it is unclear if all of the rebel groups, outside of ISIS and Al Qaeda/Al Nusra which are not included, have agreed to participate.  There are reports that Al Nusra has taken control of areas in which the water mains serving Damascus are located and is attempting to get other rebel groups to not participate in the ceasefire by arguing that the Syrian government had attacked the area.

The destruction of the water mains, which Al Nusra claims were attacked by the Syrian government and Syrian/Russian sources say were intentionally poisoned by Al Nusra-affiliated “rebels,” has created a crisis in which residents of Damascus are forced to buy overpriced bottled water or resort to water reserves.  Reuters reported on December 29th:

Water supplies from the Wadi Barada and Ain al-Fija springs which serve 70 per cent of Damascus and its surroundings had been cut, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.

OCHA said in a statement that supplies had been cut because “infrastructure was deliberately targeted and damaged”, without saying who was responsible.

The Wadi Barada valley is a rebel-held pocket of territory northwest of Damascus that the Syrian army and its allies have been trying to recapture in an offensive that started last week.

The Associated Press reported further on December 30th:

A resident and rebels in the area said air strikes had damaged a water pumping station. The government accused rebels of polluting the springs with diesel, forcing authorities to cut the supplies on Friday and use reserves instead.

A Damascus resident said each neighborhood only gets water for about two hours a day and bottled water prices had increased dramatically on the open market to more than double the cost at state-subsidised grocery stores.

“The UN is concerned the water cut could lead to diseases transmitted through dirty water, especially in children, in addition to the extra financial burden for families,” OCHA said.

“(People) are having to purchase water from private vendors, where prices and water quality are unregulated,” it said.

Press TV added that:

The terrorists in Wadi Barada have cut water supplies several times in the past to prevent the Syrian army from recapturing the area.

Last week, the Ministry of Water Resources and the Ministry of Local Administration ordered authorities in the provinces of Rif Dimashq and Damascus to start using water reserves until the problem was resolved.

Military analyst blogger, Moon of Alabama, describes the water crisis in Damascus in more detail, pointing out that ISIS and Al Nusra have been using the tactic of destroying or cutting utility supplies rather frequently:

On December 22 al-Qaeda aligned Takfiris in the Wadi Barada valley shut down the main water supply for the Syrian capital Damascus. Since then the city and some 5-6 million living in and around it have to survive on emergency water distributions by the Syrian government. That is barely enough for people to drink – no washing, no showers and no water dependent production is possible.

This shut down is part of a wider, seemingly coordinated strategy to deprive all government held areas of utility supplies. Two days ago the Islamic State shut down a major water intake for Aleppo from the Euphrates. High voltage electricity masts on lines feeding Damascus have been destroyed and repair teams, unlike before, denied access. Gas supplies to parts of Damascus are also cut. A similar tactic was used by the Zionist terrorists of the Haganah who in 1947/48 poisoned and blew up the water mains and oil pipelines to Palestinian Haifa.

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On December 29th, New York Times published a “report” (known as the Grizzly Steppe report) put out by the Obama administration (FBI and DHS more specifically) that was supposed to provide more evidence to support hysterical claims of Russia having hacked into DNC emails as well as those of John Podesta, giving them to Wikileaks for publication so as to tilt the election to Donald Trump by airing the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party’s dirty laundry.   The report was also intended to justify applying new sanctions on Russia.

I looked at the report and found that the majority of the 13 pages described how to prevent and/or mitigate a hack.

Common Dreams quoted cyber-expert, Robert M. Lee’s critique on this point last Friday,

“the FBI/DHS report “is intended to help network defenders; it is not the technical evidence of attribution.”

As such, Lee argued, it is likely to “confuse readers” who are seeking such evidence.”

Now why would the Obama administration want to confuse readers looking for the evidence that the administration claims to be providing?

The few pages that dealt with the actual alleged hack provided no substantive evidence that any hack occurred in relation to these particular emails and were connected to the Russian government.  It is a lot of obfuscation illustrated with some meaningless diagrams.

Common Dreams spoke to Jeffrey Carr, another cyber-expert who stated:

If the White House had unclassified evidence that tied officials in the Russian government to the DNC attack, they would have presented it by now. The fact that they didn’t means either that the evidence doesn’t exist or that it is classified.

If it’s classified, an independent commission should review it because this entire assignment of blame against the Russian government is looking more and more like a domestic political operation run by the White House that relied heavily on questionable intelligence generated by a for-profit cybersecurity firm with a vested interest in selling “attribution-as-a-service.

The most detailed deconstruction of this report is by an academic who specializes in web design and security named David Spring.  Some of the points he makes include:

The government press release written by DHS-FBI did not mention Wikileaks in its report. Nor did the report provide any evidence of Russian hacking in the US elections. Instead, the press release stated that “technical indicators” of Russian hacking were in the “CSV file and XML file attached with the PDF.” However, there was no CSV or XML file or link attached with the PDF. I was eventually able to find these two files at this link.
https://www.us-cert.gov/security-publications/GRIZZLY-STEPPE-Russian-Malicious-Cyber-Activity

To see the evidence of Russian hacking first hand, I downloaded the CSV file and converted it into a spreadsheet. The CSV file and the XML file both contained the same data. Here is the XML link to this data which can be viewed online in a web browser.
https://www.us-cert.gov/sites/default/files/publications/JAR-16-20296.xml

Both files provide a list of 895 “indicators” of Russian Hacking. Unfortunately, nearly all of these indicators are simply IP addresses. In other words, it is a list of 895 servers from from more than 40 countries around the world. But the list also includes a few website domain names. (Domain names are simply the name of the website such as Youtube.com). I looked up these website domain names with the the following tool which tells us who owns the domain names and where they are located:
https://www.whois.net/

My review of these domain names confirmed that none of these domain names have any relationship to Russian government hackers. Here are the results for four of the domain names provided by the DHS and the FBI as evidence of Russian hacking:

ritsoperrol.ru is not in use. It is registered to a private person. The named server hosting the domain is nserver: ns0.xtremeweb.de. This is a German web hosting and consulting company whose address and phone number are publicly listed on their website. It is highly unlikely that Russian hackers would use a public German web host to register and host their domain names.

littlejohnwilhap.ru is not in use and is available to be purchased. It is unlikely that Russian hackers would use a domain name like this to launch a cyber attack on the US.

wilcarobbe.com is taken and is not in use. It is registered to Arsen Ramanov in Groznenskaya Russia. His address, phone number and email address are all publicly listed. It is highly unlikely that Russian hackers would use a domain name that was publicly listed. Hackers are not idiots.

one2shoppee.com is taken and is registered with GoDaddy.com. It is not currently in use. But it is highly unlikely that Russian Hackers would register their domain names with GoDaddy – which is a US server. In fact, it is very unlikely that Russian hackers would ever use any US servers. They would only use their own servers.

How did these four domain names get on a list of Russian hackers? It is possible that some unknown agents took over these domain names and may have used them for some kind of hacking activity. However, the agents could have just as easily been from the US as from Russia. In fact, it is not likely that these domain names were taken over by Russian hackers for the simple reason that Russian hackers are way to smart to be using these silly tactics.

None of the 885 IP addresses have any confirmed relationship to Russian Government Hackers
An IP address is simply a numerical designation for a server. The 885 IP addresses listed in the DHS – FBI CSV file were even more interesting. The IP addresses were located on servers from the US and more than 40 nations around the world including more than 30 IP addresses supposedly located in China. Here are a few of the IP addresses

167.114.35.70

185.12.46.178

46.102.152.132

178.20.55.16

I looked up several of these IP addresses using the following tool:
http://whatismyipaddress.com/ip-lookup

Here are a four examples of IP addresses in the DHS-FBI report:

167.114.35.70 is a Canadian Corporate server specializing in the promotion of Bitcoin. They are within a few miles of the US border.

185.12.46.178 is a Swiss corporate server associated with the domain name leavesorus.com. The domain name leavesorus.com is currently available to be purchased. This indicates that this is a fake domain name and likely a fake corporation.

46.102.152.132 is another Swiss corporate server this one specializing in emails and associated with the domain name maxsultan.xyz which is a fake domain name. This also indicates that this is another fake corporation.

178.20.55.16 is a proxy server with no known location but has been used as a TOR router exit node. A proxy server is another name for a mirror or server used to bounce information from one server to another in order to hide the true location of the original server. This proxy server is associated with the domain name nos-oignons.net. This domain name was registered on December 31 2012 and is valid until December 31 2017. In other words, whoever got this domain name paid for its use for 5 years. But they did registered the domain name anonymously. The website associated with this server appears to be a group in France promoting the TOR router. They became an association in May 2013 – 5 months after getting the domain name. The group currently has 5 members and it costs one Euro to join this group. Their website was reported 9 days ago as having been infected with the Zues virus. This infection does not leave tracks on server logs. So it is difficult to tell where it came from. Removal of this virus requires a complete rebuild of the server. In short, some agency decided to take out this server and then use it to make a cyber attack on some US government agency and thus have the IP address listed on the DHS-FBI list as one of 895 indicators of Russian hacking.

Many of the IP addresses yielded the same dead end or otherwise highly suspicious result – meaning that some very large agency is using hundreds of servers in various countries around the world as a front for hacking attacks. I recently researched a series of attacks on my personal websites from hundreds of IP addresses using hundreds of servers that were supposedly located in the Ukraine. I was able to confirm the exact location in the Ukraine that was supposedly being used to launch literally thousands of attacks on my websites. However, it is not credible that anyone in the Ukraine has the millions of dollars needed to be running hundreds of servers in a remote Ukrainian location. Nor is it likely that anyone in rural Ukraine would even have the knowledge to take care of hundreds of servers even if they did have the millions of dollars needed to plow into buying these servers. Nor are they likely to have the knowledge needed to be running very complex cyber attacks. Ukraine is just not a good location for servers. This experience convinced me that attacks were being launched from other locations and were merely being routed through Ukraine in order to mislead people about where the attacks were really coming from.

Next, the CSV file provided by DHS-FBI listed the physical location of all 885 IP addresses. What is most ironic is that, only two of the 885 IP addresses were from servers in Russia. The most common location of the hacking servers was the United States. Over 30 of the servers were supposedly located in China. But it is known that the NSA has the ability to use satellite mirrors to hide the locations of their servers – making folks believe that the attacks are coming from China (or Ukraine or Mongolia) when in fact they are coming from servers located in the US.

Read the complete article here

Robert Parry points out some additional problems:

The tip-off to how little proof was being offered came in the report’s statement that “The U.S. government assesses that information was leaked to the press and publicly disclosed.” When you read a phrase like “the U.S. government assesses,” it really means the U.S. government is guessing – and the report notably uses a passive tense that doesn’t even assert that the Russians did the leaking.

A well-placed intelligence source told me that there’s little doubt that elements of Russian intelligence penetrated the emails of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, but the Russians were far from alone. Indeed, placing various forms of malware on computers is a common practice, as average folks who periodically take their laptops to an I.T. professional can attest. There’s always some kind of “spyware” or other malicious code to be discovered.

FBI whistleblower Colleen Rowley stated the following in a discussion at the Real News Network:

As far as the new “Grissly Steppe” report, the consensus of my retired intelligence colleagues is that there is the same vague wording indicating conjecture but nothing new in it by way of actual evidence.

And in light of this morning’s news that Putin (wisely) did not take the bait and retaliate tit for tat, which makes Russia appear to be above the fray and thus superior in this stupid propaganda war, I would also add that the U.S. has to be losing respect in the eyes of the rest of the world for its half-baked, unjustified over-reactions.

Here is the official statement by the Russian president on December 30th about the sanctions and the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats from the U.S. and Russia’s response:

We regard the recent unfriendly steps taken by the outgoing US administration as provocative and aimed at further weakening the Russia-US relationship. This runs contrary to the fundamental interests of both the Russian and American people. Considering the global security responsibilities of Russia and the United States, this is also damaging to international relations as a whole.

As it proceeds from international practice, Russia has reasons to respond in kind. Although we have the right to retaliate, we will not resort to irresponsible ‘kitchen’ diplomacy but will plan our further steps to restore Russian-US relations based on the policies of the Trump Administration.

The diplomats who are returning to Russia will spend the New Year’s holidays with their families and friends. We will not create any problems for US diplomats. We will not expel anyone. We will not prevent their families and children from using their traditional leisure sites during the New Year’s holidays. Moreover, I invite all children of US diplomats accredited in Russia to the New Year and Christmas children’s parties in the Kremlin.

It is regrettable that the Obama Administration is ending its term in this manner. Nevertheless, I offer my New Year greetings to President Obama and his family.

My season’s greetings also to President-elect Donald Trump and the American people.

I wish all of you happiness and prosperity.

It appears that Putin is taking the high road here and is going to just allow Obama to show his bare butt on his way out the White House door.

Analysis of Turkish-American FBI Whistleblower Sibel Edmonds on Russian Ambassador’s Assassination; Time for Washington Policymakers to Stop Believing Their Own Propaganda on Syria and Acknowledge Their Incompetence as Russia-Iran-Turkey Plan Settlement

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJyvHzrfIKQ&list=TLGGLf6tSKWbpHIyNDEyMjAxNg

“In this edition of Newsbud Spotlight, Sibel Edmonds covers the recent assassination of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey in Ankara.  Discussion includes the critical timing of the hit, the known facts, the motives and who benefits from this assassination as well as other questionable deaths of high ranking officials on both sides. ”

This was an intriguing and in-depth analysis.  It is interesting to note what Edmonds had to say about the fact that Al Qaeda/Al Nusra has reportedly claimed responsibility (I believe she may have misspoken and said ISIS) for the assassination in retaliation for Russia’s actions in Syria.

Speaking of Russia’s actions in Syria, an official inquiry requested by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, has determined that Russia was not responsible for the air attack on an aid convoy in Aleppo this past September, despite the immediate and baseless claims of various Washington officials – reminiscent of the immediate hysterical accusations, without any possible evidence yet gathered, against the Syrian government for the 2013 Ghouta chemical attack and against the Russian government and Donbass rebels for the 2014 downing of the MH17 airplane.  Similar to this incident, later investigations and evidence did not support those initial accusations. According to the analysis of international law expert, Alexander Mercouris:

At the time of the attack I pointed out that this rush to condemn the Russians was made before any investigation of the incident had taken place, before any attempt had been made to secure the place where the attack happened, and in the absence of any inspection of the area….I was also openly skeptical about the chances of any inquiry into the incident being set up….

….On the last point it turns out I was wrong, because on 21st October 2016 – more than a month after the attack on the convoy had taken place and with minimal publicity – UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon did set up a Board of Inquiry.

That Board of Inquiry has now reported, though its report too is being barely reported.  Ban Ki-moon has however provided a summary of its report, and it can be found here.

In brief, the reason the Inquiry and its report are receiving minimal publicity is because its results satisfy do not satisfy certain powerful governments.

It says the convoy was destroyed as the result of an air attack.  It completely exonerates the US and the other Western powers.  It also completely exonerates the Jihadis of staging the incident. However it also indirectly but nonetheless clearly exonerates the Russians.

Whilst it puts the blame for the attack – though only indirectly – on the Syrians, it makes it clear that it believes they attacked the convoy unintentionally and in error.

It also confirms that Western governments pressured the Board of Inquiry to try to get it to implicate the Russians in the attack on the convoy, which however the Inquiry refused to do.

The Board of Inquiry’s findings are open to challenge.  This is because of the delay in setting up the inquiry and the failure to secure the crime scene.  As a result the Board of Inquiry was unable to carry out a physical inspection of the crime scene.  Here is what the report says about this

The Board was not allowed to visit the scene of the incident in Urem al-Kubra, the [Syrian] Government stating that it was unable to ensure the safety of the Board, given the ongoing military operations at that location. In this regard, the Board noted that 11 weeks had already elapsed by then since the date of the incident, by which time damaged vehicles had been removed and some destroyed structures had been repaired or rebuilt. Subsequent actions had therefore adversely affected the integrity of the site of the incident and consequently the availability of physical evidence. A visit to the site might therefore not have yielded commensurate results.  The Board accordingly developed alternative methods of evidence collection.

All this is true but it is also deeply regrettable.  As I said in my article of 26th September 2016 (see above) securing the crime scene immediately following the attack ought to have been the immediate priority.  Realistically that would have required cooperation by all the Great Powers (including the US, Russia, Syria and Turkey) and probably a Resolution of the UN Security Council.  The way the Western powers politicised the incident and sought to make political capital out of it made all that impossible, which is why an inspection of the crime scene has never happened.

Unfortunately without a proper inspection of the crime scene the Inquiry report is incomplete, and its findings open to challenge.

The Board of Inquiry has set out how in the absence of an inspection of the crime scene it undertook its investigation

The Board was not allowed to visit the scene of the incident in Urem al-Kubra, the Government stating that it was unable to ensure the safety of the Board, given the ongoing military operations at that location. In this regard, the Board noted that 11 weeks had already elapsed by then since the date of the incident, by which time damaged vehicles had been removed and some destroyed structures had been repaired or rebuilt. Subsequent actions had therefore adversely affected the integrity of the site of the incident and consequently the availability of physical evidence. A visit to the site might therefore not have yielded commensurate results.  The Board accordingly developed alternative methods of evidence collection.

 The Board was only able to travel to the Syrian Arab Republic from 5 to 9 December 2016, as the issuance of visas by the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic was only confirmed on 28 November 2016.  The Board travelled to Damascus, where the Board met with the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic, including the High Relief Committee, SARC Damascus and the United Nations Country Team.  At the Russian Embassy in Damascus, the Board also met military officers from the Russian Military airbase in Hmeimim.  In West Aleppo City, the Board met the Governor of Aleppo, members of the local relief committee and the Commanding General of the Russian Reconciliation Centre, Hmeimem. The Board also interviewed primary witnesses in West Aleppo.

The Board also met with the members of the High Negotiations Committee for the Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces (HNC) and the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces (SOC). Furthermore, the Board met with representatives of armed opposition groups. It interviewed primary witnesses (eye witnesses) in Gaziantep and Reyhanli.

The Board also collaborated with UNITAR-UNOSAT, which provided technical capabilities to analyse satellite imagery and ground photography.

The Board used the following materials and methods to arrive at its findings: (i) satellite images; (ii) over 370 photographs and videos; (iii) interviews conducted by the Board of a total of 16 persons who were either eye witnesses to the incident or who were in the vicinity of Urem al-Kubra on the evening of 19 September 2016; (iv) interviews conducted by the Board of a total of 19 secondary witnesses, including United Nations personnel and  representatives of armed opposition groups; (v) information from Member States, including information on their air assets; (vi) air tracks shared with it by the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic; (vii) an oral briefing by the Syrian Government regarding their national investigation into the incident, which was still on-going, together with copies of autopsy reports;  (viii) information from the SARC.; (ix) documents from the United Nations Country Team for Syria; and (x) open-source information.

The Board declined to accept physical evidence, such as munitions remnants that were alleged to be from the site of the incident, as the chain of custody for these items could not be established.

This speaks of a proper and thorough investigation, with the opinions of all parties carefully sought and all the right questions asked.  However it cannot fully make up for the failure to examine the crime scene.

Continue reading Mercouris’s  analysis here

Last Tuesday, representatives from Iran and Turkey met in Moscow to try to lay the groundwork for a settlement of the Syrian proxy war, excluding both the US and the UN.  RT reported the following details on the meeting:

The text of a Moscow declaration on immediate steps in resolving the Syrian crisis is being prepared. Russia, Turkey and Iran are ready to be guarantors of its implementation, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu has announced.

“Today, experts are working on the text of the Moscow declaration on immediate steps toward resolving the Syrian crisis. This is a thorough, extremely necessary document,” Shoigu said at the meeting with his Iranian counterpart Hossein Dehghan.

According to Shoigu, all previous “attempts to agree on joint efforts undertaken by the US or their partners were doomed.”

“None of them exerted real influence on the situation on the ground,” he said.

The approval of the declaration at the level of defense and foreign ministers shows a willingness to “act as guarantors and jointly resolve the urgent issues of the Syrian crisis,” Shoigu said. “That’s why we support the adoption of this declaration.”

Shoigu also met with the minister of National Defense of Turkey, Fikri Isik, who praised the operation on liberating eastern Aleppo. “Now we are observing a very successful operation to liberate eastern Aleppo from fighters, the evacuation of the families of the opposition from Aleppo,” Isik said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu is currently in Moscow for talks with Russia’s Sergey Lavrov and Iran’s Mohammad Javad Zarif. He said that the trilateral cooperation has proven its effectiveness in eastern Aleppo and called for it to spread to other parts of Syria. “A political solution is the best solution, this is what we believe,” Çavusoglu said. He added that the ceasefire should be implements in all parts of Syria, adding that the truce doesn’t concern Islamic State or Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly known as Al-Nusra Front).

On that same day, Press TV reported that the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs announced that the Syrian government authorized the sending of more UN staff to monitor the ongoing evacuations from E. Aleppo:

In another development on Tuesday, Jens Laerke, the spokesman of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said the Syrian government had authorized the world body to send an additional 20 staff to eastern Aleppo, where they will monitor evacuations from the formerly militant-held region. The new deployment would “almost triple” the number of international staffers” in Aleppo, Laerke told a news briefing in the Swiss city of Geneva, adding, “The task is to monitor and observe the evacuations.”

On Monday, the UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution urging the quick deployment of monitors.

The evacuations are part of the fragile Aleppo ceasefire deal, brokered by Turkey and Russia, that also includes the evacuation of the residents of the villages of Foua and Kefraya in Idlib Province, which have been under terrorists’ siege. Some 750 people have been taken out of the two villages so far, where 20 buses headed to early on Tuesday morning, he noted.

In recent days, the Russian Defense Ministry has announced that mass graves have been discovered in liberated E. Aleppo, containing the tortured bodies of civilians:

Mass graves with dozens of bodies of civilians subjected to brutal torture have been discovered in Aleppo neighborhoods left by militants, the Russian Defense Ministry said Monday.

 

Many of the corpses were found with missing body parts, and most had gunshot wounds to the head, according to a statement by Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov.

“The completion of a uniquely large-scale humanitarian operation by the Russian Center for Reconciliation in Aleppo will destroy many of the myths that have been fed to the world by Western politicians,” Konashenkov said in a statement. “The results of only an initial survey of Aleppo neighborhoods abandoned by the so-called ‘opposition’ will shock many.”

In addition to the massacres on militant-held territory, the area had been extensively mined: streets, cars, the entrances to buildings and even children’s toys had been booby-trapped.

In one small area, three tanks, two cannons, two multiple rocket launchers and numerous homemade mortars were found.

So, more evidence of what people who have been paying attention have known for a while – that the “rebels” Washington was supporting were not simply some democracy-loving, guitar-strumming hippies but mostly ruthless Islamic jihadists, many of whom were not even Syrian.
But those of us who have tried to speak out about the false narrative that government officials and their corporate media lackeys were feeding people about the Syrian war (among other issues) – and the dangerous potential consequences – have largely been verbally intimidated in subtle and not so subtle ways to sit down and shut up.
Writer and academic Louis Allday has written an excellent piece, posted over at MRZine (Monthly Review), detailing how this propaganda trick is utilized by its adherents:

 

One of many truths lost within this discourse is the reality that the creation of a no-fly zone would, in the words of the most senior general in the U.S. Armed Forces, mean the U.S. going to war “against Syria and Russia”. I wish to be clear from the outset that I write this as someone who has previously lived in Syria and cherishes deeply the memories of my time there. I remain in touch with many Syrian friends, most of whom are now refugees outside of the country. So it is particularly difficult for me to swallow accusations of callousness towards the plight of Syrians and their country: nothing could be further from the truth.

In the current environment, to express even a mildly dissenting opinion, point out basic but unwelcome facts such as the presence of significant public support for the government in Syria, or highlight the frequently brutal acts of rebel groups, has seen many people ridiculed and attacked on social media. These attacks are rarely, if ever, reasoned critiques of opposing views; instead they frequently descend into personal, often hysterical, insults and baseless, vitriolic allegations. Generally, a set of core arguments are used to denounce those who question the dominant narrative: they include the notion that it is somehow Islamophobic to criticise the actions of rebel groups or to label them as extremists, and that to highlight the central role of U.S. imperialism in the conflict is Orientalist as it denies Syrians their ‘agency’. Often, legitimate criticism is simply dismissed outright as ‘fascist’, ‘Stalinist’, ‘Putinist’ or all three. The policing of acceptable opinion in this way has a simple and practical function: to foster a climate in which people feel too intimidated to speak out, thus allowing the dominant narrative to remain unquestioned so that, crucially, it can continue to be utilised to generate public support for further Western intervention in Syria.

Of course, this is a strategy with a well-established precedent; the treatment given to many opponents of NATO’s assault on Libya in 2011 and the U.S./UK invasion of Iraq in 2003 are obvious recent examples. Unfortunately, it remains an effective means to stifle dissent and establish the acceptable parameters of mainstream debate. Its success has meant that those in favour of greater Western intervention in Syria have virtually monopolised the popular debate and control the narrative. I know several people who have admitted to me that they are too intimidated to write or speak honestly about Syria in public and so either limit what they say or, if possible, do not broach the topic at all. I am certain that many reading this will have noticed a glaring difference between private conservations they have with friends and acquaintances that work on Syria in some capacity, and the statements that they make in public.

Allday also corrects the factual record in relation to the myths reinforced by the mainstream propaganda narrative on Syria. Read the complete piece here

An even more in-depth breakdown of the myths about the Syrian war, “The Revolutionary Distemper That Wasn’t,” can be found over at Stephan Gowans’ blog.  This is long but well worth the read.  The information is taken from a forthcoming book by Gowans on this topic – which I’ve already pre-ordered.

Forthcoming April 2017 from Baraka Books.

Investigative reporter, Gareth Porter, who specializes in the Middle East and has done some great work on Syria, published an article today with information provided by a former Obama administration insider who confirmed what I have suspected for the past few years watching the administration’s policies with respect to Syria and Russia:  Obama’s foreign policy advisers are utterly incompetent:

The former official revealed that when Obama made the first move toward supporting the arming of Syrian opposition forces, the president failed to foresee the risk of a direct Iranian or Russian intervention on behalf of the Syrian regime in response to an externally armed opposition – because his advisors had failed to take this likelihood into account themselves.

The story of this policy failure begins after military resistance to the Assad regime began in spring and summer 2011.

In August 2011, national security officials began urging Obama to call on Assad to step down, according to the former official.

Obama did make a statement suggesting that Assad should step aside, but he made it clear privately that he had no intention of doing anything about it. “He viewed it as simply a suggestion, not a hard policy,” the ex-official said.

But soon after that, a bigger issue arose for the administration’s policy: how to respond to pressure from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar for a US commitment to help overthrow Assad.

In September 2011, the Saudis and Turks not only wanted the US to provide arms to the opposition. “They wanted the US to provide anti-aircraft missiles and anti-tank missiles,” recalled the ex-official.

Turkey even offered to send troops into Syria to overthrow Assad, but only if US and NATO agreed to create a “no-fly zone” to protect them.

But Obama refused to provide US arms to the Syrian rebels and also opposed the Sunni foes of Assad providing such heavy weapons. “He wasn’t willing to go along with anything except small arms,” said the former official.

Apparently to assuage the dissatisfaction of the Sunni allies, then-director of the CIA David Petraeus devised a plan, which Obama approved, to help move the small arms from Libyan government stocks in Benghazi to Turkey.

Confirming the 2014 story by Seymour Hersh, the ex- official, recalled, “It was highly secret but officials involved in the Middle East learned of the programme by word of mouth.”

The combination of those two policy decisions committed Obama – albeit half-heartedly- to the armed overthrow of the Assad regime.

More importantly, when Obama was making crucial Syria policy decisions in September 2011, no one on his national security team warned him that Iran had a very major national security interest in keeping the Assad regime in power that could draw the Iranians into the war, according to the former official.

Obama’s advisers assumed instead that neither Iran nor Russia would do more than offer token assistance to keep Assad in power, so there was no risk of an endless, bloody sectarian war.

Not one supposed expert out of this bunch advising (arguably) the most powerful person in the world had the most basic understanding of geography or the history and politics of the region? And none of the Russia experts (like, say, Celeste Wallander, who serves on Obama’s NSC) had gotten the memo that this was no longer the 1990’s and Russia was not just passed out drunk on the sidewalk anymore, but could now actually do something to protect its perceived interests?  Seriously?

 

Jan Oberg & Vanessa Beeley Report on the Ground from E. Aleppo; Patrick Cockburn on Propaganda as Opposed to Reporting Out of Syria; Putin’s Plan for Syria Peace Settlement; Robert Parry & Ray McGovern Counter Russian Hacking Claims; Russian Ambassador Gunned Down in Turkey

Eastern Aleppo in December 2016 (photo by Jan Oberg on Facebook)

Eastern Aleppo in December 2016 (photo by Jan Oberg on Facebook)

 

 

After battlefield pauses, failed ceasefires and the shelling by jihadists of Shia militia fighters leaving by bus per agreement, independent western reporters have made their way to east Aleppo to report on the situation.   Swedish journalist and peace advocate, Jan Oberg, filed the following on-the-ground report on December 15th:

Western media tell you about regime killings and mass murder, only bad things about the Syrian regime. But I saw another side today:

Syrian Arab Army soldiers participate in the humanitarian work at the Jibrin Reception Center in Aleppo that receives people from Eastern Aleppo. All with whom I talked today expressed their joy over their freedom from the four-year siege and for the assistance the government, army and also university student volunteers provide them – as many as 90,000 to 100,000 people.

I was free to talk with and photograph anyone I chose and I was there without any security, police or other protection. Kind and professional officials who thanked me for being in Aleppo exactly now and bringing their stories out. Not one declined to be photographed, many asked me to.

More from Oberg can be read here 

British journalist, Vanessa Beeley, who has reported numerous times from all over Syria, shared the following report from Aleppo on December 12th:

On the morning of the 12th December we headed for Sheikh Saeed in East Aleppo. This area had been the scene of very fierce fighting between the Syrian Arab Army and their allies, particularly Hezbollah and the terrorist factions that have brutally occupied East Aleppo for the last four years. Terrorist factions such as Nusra Front [Al Qaeda], Nour al Din Zinki [child beheaders] Ahrar Al Sham [ethnic cleansers of all minorities in areas they occupy] and other lesser militants, all funded and armed by NATO and Gulf states and focused upon wholesale destruction of Syrian infrastructure and the abuse, imprisonment & massacre of the Syrian people.

The whole area had only been fully liberated the day before. There was still a large degree of tension on the ground and Syrian and Russian jets were still flying overhead, gunshot and mortar fire can be heard in the video. The destruction was shocking.

We were taken up on to a rooftop for the Syrian military press briefing. While the commander was talking to the press, a young Syrian Army soldier came to speak to me…

Do these young men, fighting for their country, their families and their people, really look as if they are capable of then executing, raping and murdering the people they would give their lives to save from their incarceration under a NATO and Gulf state imposed terrorist regime? [View video, two and a half minutes, at weblink here.]

Veteran middle east journalist for the Independent of London, Patrick Cockburn, has written about the clever (and successful) policy by the jihadists who controlled E. Aleppo of killing and/or intimidating journalists so as to deter them from having a presence in the areas they occupy, thereby creating a vacuum of information that can be filled by those who are either supporters or appeasers of the jihadists:

The foreign media has allowed – through naivety or self-interest – people who could only operate with the permission of al-Qaeda-type groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham to dominate the news agenda.

The precedent set in Aleppo means that participants in any future conflict will have an interest in deterring foreign journalists who might report objectively. By kidnapping and killing them, it is easy to create a vacuum of information that is in great demand and will, in future, be supplied by informants sympathetic to or at the mercy of the very same people (in this case the jihadi rulers of east Aleppo) who have kept out the foreign journalists. Killing or abducting the latter turns out to have been a smart move by the jihadis because it enabled them to establish substantial control of news reaching the outside world. This is bad news for any independent journalist entering their territory and threatening their monopoly of information.

Meanwhile, Putin, who was just named Forbes‘ most powerful person in the world for the fourth year straight, is reportedly planning to organize a meeting in Kazakhstan in which Iran, Turkey, Russia, the Syrian government and the non-jihadi opposition will negotiate a settlement of the Syrian conflict, leaving Washington and the EU out in the cold.
I will keep an eye on developments relating to this story.
********************
Ray McGovern, former 30-year veteran CIA analyst specializing in the Soviet Union and now a member of the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) gave a 17 minute interview to WHDT‘s Mark Maxwell in which he explains how the corporate media and Washington politicians’ narrative of Russia having hacked the DNC and Podesta emails to tilt the election toward Donald Trump does not stand up to technical scrutiny and is still bereft of evidence.   Watch the interview here:
Investigative journalist Robert Parry, who has kept on this story, among others, with the diligence and skepticism required of a real reporter, had this to say about the possible motivation for the leaks – as explained in a recent Scott Horton interview with diplomat Craig Murry – as well as the motivation for pinning them on a Russian hacking conspiracy:

 

At the center of this controversy is the question of who leaked or hacked the DNC and Podesta emails. The CIA has planted the story in The Washington Post, The New York Times and other mainstream outlets that it was Russia that hacked both the DNC and Podesta emails and slipped the material to WikiLeaks with the goal of assisting the Trump campaign. The suggestion is that Trump is Putin’s “puppet,” just as Hillary Clinton alleged during the third presidential debate.

But WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has publicly denied that Russia was the source of the leaks and one of his associates, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray, has suggested that the DNC leak came from a “disgruntled” Democrat upset with the DNC’s sandbagging of the Sanders campaign and that the Podesta leak came from the U.S. intelligence community.

Although Assange recently has sought to muzzle Murray’s public comments – out of apparent concern for protecting the identity of sources – Murray offered possibly his most expansive account of the sourcing during a podcast interview with Scott Horton on Dec. 13.

Murray, who became a whistleblower himself when he protested Britain’s tolerance of human rights abuses in Uzbekistan, explained that he consults with Assange and cooperates with WikiLeaks “without being a formal member of the structure.”

But he appears to have undertaken a mission for WikiLeaks to contact one of the sources (or a representative) during a Sept. 25 visit to Washington where he says he met with a person in a wooded area of American University. At the time, Murray was at American University participating in an awards ceremony for former CIA officer John Kiriakou who was being honored by a group of former Western intelligence officials, the Sam Adams Associates, named for the late Vietnam War-era CIA analyst and whistleblower Sam Adams.

Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, a founder of the Sam Adams group, told me that Murray was “m-c-ing” the event but then slipped away, skipping a reception that followed the award ceremony.

Reading Between LInes

Though Murray has declined to say exactly what the meeting in the woods was about, he may have been passing along messages about ways to protect the source from possible retaliation, maybe even an extraction plan if the source was in some legal or physical danger.

Murray has disputed a report in London’s Daily Mail that he was receiving a batch of the leaked Democratic emails. “The material, I think, was already safely with WikiLeaks before I got there in September,” Murray said in the interview with Scott Horton. “I had a small role to play.”

Murray also suggested that the DNC leak and the Podesta leak came from two different sources, neither of them the Russian government.

“The Podesta emails and the DNC emails are, of course, two separate things and we shouldn’t conclude that they both have the same source,” Murray said. “In both cases we’re talking of a leak, not a hack, in that the person who was responsible for getting that information out had legal access to that information.”

Reading between the lines of the interview, one could interpret Murray’s comments as suggesting that the DNC leak came from a Democratic source and that the Podesta leak came from someone inside the U.S. intelligence community, which may have been monitoring John Podesta’s emails because the Podesta Group, which he founded with his brother Tony, served as a registered “foreign agent” for Saudi Arabia.

“John Podesta was a paid lobbyist for the Saudi government,” Murray noted. “If the American security services were not watching the communications of the Saudi government’s paid lobbyist in Washington, then the American security services would not be doing their job. … His communications are going to be of interest to a great number of other security services as well.”

….In reference to the leak of the DNC emails, Murray noted that “Julian Assange took very close interest in the death of Seth Rich, the Democratic staff member” who had worked for the DNC on voter databases and was shot and killed on July 10 near his Washington, D.C., home.

Murray continued, “WikiLeaks offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to the capture of his killers. So, obviously there are suspicions there about what’s happening and things are somewhat murky. I’m not saying – don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that he was the source of the [DNC] leaks. What I’m saying is that it’s probably not an unfair indication to draw that WikiLeaks believes that he may have been killed by someone who thought he was the source of the leaks … whether correctly or incorrectly.”

Though acknowledging that such killings can become grist for conspiracy buffs, Murray added: “But people do die over this sort of stuff. There were billions of dollars – literally billions of dollars – behind Hillary Clinton’s election campaign and those people have lost their money.

“You have also to remember that there’s a big financial interest – particularly in the armaments industry – in a bad American relationship with Russia and the worse the relationship with Russia is the larger contracts the armaments industry can expect especially in the most high-tech high-profit side of fighter jets and missiles and that kind of thing.

“And Trump has actually already indicated he’s looking to make savings on the defense budget particularly in things like fighter [jet] projects. So, there are people standing to lose billions of dollars and anybody who thinks in that situation bad things don’t happen to people is very naïve.”

….There’s another possibility in play here: that the U.S. intelligence community is felling a number of birds with one stone. If indeed U.S. intelligence bigwigs deemed both Clinton and Trump unfit to serve as President – albeit for different reasons – they could have become involved in leaking at least the Podesta emails to weaken Clinton’s campaign, setting the candidate up for the more severe blow from FBI Director Comey in the last week of the campaign.

Then, by blaming the leaks on Russian President Putin, the U.S. intelligence leadership could set the stage for Trump’s defeat in the Electoral College, opening the door to the elevation of a more traditional Republican. However, even if that unlikely event – defeating Trump in the Electoral College – proves impossible, Trump would at least be weakened as he enters the White House and thus might not be able to move very aggressively toward a détente with Russia.

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In Ankara earlier today, the Russian ambassador to Turkey was shot dead during a public appearance by a member of the Turkish police.  The gunman reportedly shouted comments in regard to the war in Syria.  According to an early report by the New York Times:

ISTANBUL — Russia’s ambassador to Turkey was assassinated at an Ankara art exhibit on Monday evening by a lone Turkish gunman shouting “God is great!” and “don’t forget Aleppo, don’t forget Syria!” in what the leaders of Turkey and Russia called a provocative terrorist attack.

The gunman, described by Turkish officials as a 22-year-old off-duty police officer, also wounded at least three others in the assault on the envoy, Andrey G. Karlov, which was captured on video. Turkish officials said the assailant was killed by other officers in a shootout.

The assassination, an embarrassing security failure in the Turkish capital, forced Turkey and Russia to confront a new crisis tied directly to the Syrian conflict, now in its sixth year.

A subsequent report by the Washington Post had the first public reaction from both Putin and Erdogan:

The leaders of Turkey and Russia say the killing of the Russian ambassador in Turkey has been intended to ruin Russia-Turkey ties.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking in televised remarks during a meeting with senior officials, said that the killing of Ambassador Andrei Karlov was a “provocation aimed at derailing Russia-Turkey ties and the peace process in Syria.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a video message being shown on several Turkish TV channels, says that “this is a provocation to damage the normalization process of Turkish-Russian relations. But both the Russian and Turkish administrations have the determination not to fall for this provocation.”

Both leaders said that Russian investigators will be part of the official probe into the assassination of Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov in Ankara.

The Washington Post also reported on Washington’s reaction to the assassination:

The White House is strongly condemning the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, saying “this heinous attack on a member of the diplomatic corps is unacceptable.”

National Security Council spokesman Ned Price says the United States government’s thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of Karlov and the other victims.

Price says “we offer our condolences to the Russian people and government.”

Price also says the U.S. government stands united with Russia and Turkey in its determination to confront terrorism in all of its forms.

Jihadists Admit Defeat as Syrian Government Takes Effective Control of All Aleppo & Over 50,000 Civilians Evacuate East; Still No Evidence of Russian Interference in Election But Lots of Hot Air; Netherlands Likely to Thwart EU-Ukraine Association Agreement

People gather to leave Al-Salhen neighborhood in eastern Aleppo on Dec 8, 2016 (European Pressphoto Agency-EPA)

(People gather to leave Al-Salhen neighborhood in eastern Aleppo on Dec 8, 2016 (European Pressphoto Agency-EPA))

Starting around December 8th, approximately 50,000 civilians fled eastern Aleppo via humanitarian corridors set up by the Syrian and Russian government forces as over 1200 “rebel” fighters laid down arms.  RT reported what the representative of the Russian Defense Ministry stated on this, in addition to some comments in which the spokesman vented his spleen in response to recent criticisms by the EU foreign policy chief about the Syrian and Russian government operations in the country:

Over the past 48 hours, up to 50,000 people have been evacuated from eastern Aleppo, Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson Major General Igor Konashenkov has reported. “More than 20,000 residents left eastern Aleppo in the first part of Saturday, and 1,217 militants laid down their weapons,” Konashenkov said.

“The Russian Center for Reconciliation, through humanitarian corridors near Karim El-Hun and Mahayar, has organized the evacuation of civilians from the eastern parts of Aleppo to the safe areas of the city,” Konashenkov added. “We warn terrorists and militants of the so-called ‘moderate opposition,’ and also their patrons: Do not attempt any provocations, especially attacks on civilians leaving through humanitarian corridors,” the Russian Defense Ministry statement says.

Konashenkov also addressed those who, over the past few months, have declared their readiness to send humanitarian aid to Aleppo. “Representatives of the US, UK, France, Canada, the European Union, and international organizations: Over the past two days, nearly 50,000 civilians have been evacuated by the Russian Reconciliation Center from the eastern parts of Aleppo. They are in need of the humanitarian assistance you promised. It is time to check the validity of your intentions.”

The statement added that the Syrian government now controls 93 percent of Aleppo, and the civilians who exited eastern Aleppo have been placed in special humanitarian centers where they are provided with hot food and medical help.

The Russian Reconciliation Center is monitoring the evacuation of civilians from the blocked districts round-the-clock with the use of drones.

Earlier this week, Moscow slammed a statement by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who said the EU was the only party providing aid to Syria. “It’s outrageous twisting of facts which ignores what Russia has been doing for a long time,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said on Thursday.

The Russian Foreign Ministry noted that Russia, “unlike other international players, has been actively supplying thousands of tons of humanitarian aid to various regions across Syria, including the liberated areas in eastern Aleppo, at the risk of Russian military lives.

“If the high representative [Mogherini] means providing assistance to terrorists and extremists, then we don’t participate in this, indeed,” the statement added.

Further reports in the past 48 hours indicate that the jihadists are now confined to an area of eastern Aleppo that is less than a mile wide and are themselves admitting defeat.  Alexander Mercouris provides the following details:

Reports from the Jihadis themselves say that they are now confined to an area less than a mile wide between the River Aleppo and the Salaheddin district near the main sports stadium.  Even they now admit that their resistance is almost entirely at an end.  The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, a monitoring group that has consistently sided with the Jihadis throughout the Syrian conflict, is reporting it in this way

“The battle of Aleppo has reached its end. It is just a matter of a small period of time . . . it’s a total collapse.”

If the Syrian authorities have indeed at this eleventh hour refused to let the Jihadis leave Aleppo, then this is a reflection of the bankruptcy of US diplomacy.  Earlier in the day Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov made the following withering statement about US diplomatic actions 

“The problem is very simple.  We say – let us first of all agree on what corridors will be provided to militants, given the previous experience when gunmen used any pause for regrouping, receiving replenishment from abroad and terrorising the civilian population even more furiously.

We can coordinate this with Americans very quickly. We undertake commitments to guarantee that these corridors won’t be attacked by Syrian armed forces, while Americans undertake commitments together with their regional allies to get militants’ consent to leave eastern Aleppo via these safe corridors.

….As the “Great Battle of Aleppo’ approaches its end – which will probably come tomorrow – there could not be a sharper contrast between the way in which the news of the Syrian army’s victory is being celebrated in Syria, and the gloom and anger with which it is being received in the West.

In Aleppo itself film shows joyful Syrians flooding onto the streets to celebrate the Syrian army’s victory and the coming end of the fighting in their city.  Here is one such video published by the Russian news agency Sputnik:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmS9c0AmL8Y

According to a report from the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) of yesterday, 3,000 more civilians fled eastern Aleppo:

ALEPPO – Three thousand civilians who had been besieged by terrorist organizations have got out from the eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo city through humanitarian corridors set by the Syrian Army in cooperation with the Russian side. A SANA reporter in Aleppo said that the civilians’ exit started today at dawn and is continuous, adding that army units and concerned authorities are transferring them to makeshift centers in Jibrin and providing them with the requirements of residence in the centers.

….The statement clarified that since the beginning of the military operations, 110,000 civilians, including 44367 children, have been evacuated from the eastern neighborhoods, while more than 7000 people returned to their houses in the areas restored by the Army.

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Hoopla about Russia interfering in the recent U.S. presidential election continues.  Robert Parry over at Consortium News clarifies what the media and Democratic Party operatives are really talking about when they accuse Russia of having interfered in our elections – it’s not having hacked voting machines or stuffed ballot boxes for Trump, it is the fact that information was released, via Wikileaks and others, that exposed Clinton’s dubious political and financial relationships, putting her at a supposed disadvantage to Trump .  He also points out the hypocrisy of those now jumping up and down about the election results after having jumped up and down when Trump said during a campaign debate that he would wait and see if he accepted the election results:

 

His [Trump’s] refusal to commit to accepting the results was front-page news for days with leading editorialists declaring that his failure to announce that he would abide by the outcome disqualified him from the presidency.

But now the defeated Democrats and some anti-Trump neoconservatives in the Republican Party are jumping up and down about how Russia supposedly tainted the election by revealing information about the Democrats and the Clinton campaign.

Though there appears to be no hard evidence that the Russians did any such thing, the Obama administration’s CIA has thrown its weight behind the suspicions, basing its conclusions on “circumstantial evidence,” according to a report in The New York Times.

The Times reported: “The C.I.A.’s conclusion does not appear to be the product of specific new intelligence obtained since the election, several American officials, including some who had read the agency’s briefing, said on Sunday. Rather, it was an analysis of what many believe is overwhelming circumstantial evidence — evidence that others feel does not support firm judgments — that the Russians put a thumb on the scale for Mr. Trump, and got their desired outcome.”

In other words, the CIA apparently lacks direct reporting from a source inside the Kremlin or an electronic intercept in which Russian President Vladimir Putin or another senior official orders Russian operatives to tilt the U.S. election in favor of Trump.

The absence of such hard evidence opens the door to what is called “confirmation bias” or analytical “group think” in which the CIA’s institutional animosity toward Russia and Trump could influence how analysts read otherwise innocent developments.

For instance, Russian news agencies RT or Sputnik reported critically at times about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, a complaint that has been raised repeatedly in U.S. press accounts arguing that Russia interfered in the U.S. election. But that charge assumes two things: that Clinton did not deserve critical coverage and that Americans – in any significant numbers – watch Russian networks.

Similarly, the yet-unproven charge that Russia organized the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails and the private email account of Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta assumes that the Russian government was responsible and that it then selectively leaked the material to WikiLeaks while withholding damaging information from hacked Republican accounts.

Here the suspicions also seem to extend far beyond what the CIA actually knows. First, the Republican National Committee denies that its email accounts were hacked, and even if they were hacked, there’s no evidence that they contained any information that was particularly newsworthy. Nor is there any evidence that – if the GOP accounts were hacked – they were hacked by the same group that hacked the Democratic Party emails, i.e., that the two hacks were part of the same operation.

That suspicion assumes a tightly controlled operation at the highest levels of the Russian government, but the CIA – with its intensive electronic surveillance of the Russian government and human sources inside the Kremlin – appears to lack any evidence of such a top-down operation.

Second, WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange directly denies that he received the Democratic leaked emails from the Russian government and one of his associates, former British Ambassador Craig Murray, told the U.K. Guardian that he knows who “leaked” the Democratic emails and that there never was a “hack,” i.e. an outside electronic penetration of an email account.

Murray said, “I’ve met the person who leaked them, and they are certainly not Russian and it’s an insider. It’s a leak, not a hack; the two are different things.”

But even if Assange did get the data from the Russians, it’s important to remember that nothing in the material has been identified as false. It all appears to be truthful and none of it represented an egregious violation of privacy with some salacious or sensational angle.

The only reason the emails were newsworthy at all was that the documents revealed information that the DNC and the Clinton campaign were trying to keep secret from the American voters.

….So, how does giving the American people truthful and relevant information undermine American democracy, which is the claim that is reverberating throughout the mainstream media and across Official Washington?

Presumably, the thinking is that it would have been better for the American people to have been kept in the dark about these secret maneuverings by the DNC and the Clinton campaign and, by keeping the public ignorant, that would have ensured Clinton’s election, the preferred outcome of the major U.S. news media.

There’s another double standard here. For instance, when a hack of — or a leak from — a Panamanian law firm exposed the personal finances of thousands of clients, including political figures in Iceland, Ukraine, Russia and other nations, there was widespread applause across the Western media for this example of journalism at its best.

The applause was deafening despite the fact that at least one of the principal “news agencies” involved was partly funded by the U.S. government. The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), a USAID-backed non-governmental organization, also was earlier involved in efforts to destabilize and delegitimize the elected Ukrainian government of President Viktor Yanukovych.

Read the complete article here

Glenn Greenwald contributed his own scathing analysis of what’s wrong with the Washington Post’s latest reporting of unsubstantiated claims by the CIA:

THE WASHINGTON POST late Friday night published an explosive story that, in many ways, is classic American journalism of the worst sort: The key claims are based exclusively on the unverified assertions of anonymous officials, who in turn are disseminating their own claims about what the CIA purportedly believes, all based on evidence that remains completely secret.

These unnamed sources told the Post that “the CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system.” The anonymous officials also claim that “intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails” from both the DNC and John Podesta’s email account. Critically, none of the actual evidence for these claims is disclosed; indeed, the CIA’s “secret assessment” itself remains concealed.

A second leak from last night, this one given to the New York Times, cites other anonymous officials as asserting that “the Russians hacked the Republican National Committee’s computer systems in addition to their attacks on Democratic organizations, but did not release whatever information they gleaned from the Republican networks.” But that NYT story says that “it is also far from clear that Russia’s original intent was to support Mr. Trump, and many intelligence officials — and former officials in Mrs. Clinton’s campaign — believe that the primary motive of the Russians was to simply disrupt the campaign and undercut confidence in the integrity of the vote.”

Needless to say, Democrats — still eager to make sense of their election loss and to find causes for it other than themselves — immediately declared these anonymous claims about what the CIA believes to be true, and, with a somewhat sweet, religious-type faith, treated these anonymous assertions as proof of what they wanted to believe all along: that Vladimir Putin was rooting for Donald Trump to win and Hillary Clinton to lose and used nefarious means to ensure that outcome. That Democrats are now venerating unverified, anonymous CIA leaks as sacred is par for the course for them this year, but it’s also a good indication of how confused and lost U.S. political culture has become in the wake of Trump’s victory.

Given the obvious significance of this story — it is certain to shape how people understand the 2016 election and probably foreign policy debates for months if not years to come — it is critical to keep in mind some basic facts about what is known and, more importantly, what is not known:

Read the rest of Greenwald’s breakdown here

Moreover, it is being reported in more than one major outlet that both the office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees all 17 intelligence agencies, and the FBI, have not endorsed the CIA’s assessment.  Additionally, VIPS (Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity) has now published its own memorandum challenging the reported claims of the CIA.  The VIPS memorandum is authored by, among others, William Binney who had served as the NSA’s technical director for years and is one of the foremost experts who could weigh in on this:

 

In what follows, we draw on decades of senior-level experience – with emphasis on cyber-intelligence and security – to cut through uninformed, largely partisan fog. Far from hiding behind anonymity, we are proud to speak out with the hope of gaining an audience appropriate to what we merit – given our long labors in government and other areas of technology. And corny though it may sound these days, our ethos as intelligence professionals remains, simply, to tell it like it is – without fear or favor.

We have gone through the various claims about hacking. For us, it is child’s play to dismiss them. The email disclosures in question are the result of a leak, not a hack. Here’s the difference between leaking and hacking:

Leak: When someone physically takes data out of an organization and gives it to some other person or organization, as Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning did.

Hack: When someone in a remote location electronically penetrates operating systems, firewalls or any other cyber-protection system and then extracts data.

All signs point to leaking, not hacking. If hacking were involved, the National Security Agency would know it – and know both sender and recipient.

In short, since leaking requires physically removing data – on a thumb drive, for example – the only way such data can be copied and removed, with no electronic trace of what has left the server, is via a physical storage device.

Again, NSA is able to identify both the sender and recipient when hacking is involved. Thanks largely to the material released by Edward Snowden, we can provide a full picture of NSA’s extensive domestic data-collection network including Upstream programs like FairviewStormbrew and Blarney. These include at least 30 companies in the U.S. operating the fiber networks that carry the Public Switched Telephone Network as well as the World Wide Web. This gives NSA unparalleled access to data flowing within the U.S. and data going out to the rest of the world, as well as data transiting the U.S.

In other words, any data that is passed from the servers of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) or of Hillary Rodham Clinton (HRC) – or any other server in the U.S. – is collected by the NSA.  These data transfers carry destination addresses in what are called packets, which enable the transfer to be traced and followed through the network.

….The bottom line is that the NSA would know where and how any “hacked” emails from the DNC, HRC or any other servers were routed through the network. This process can sometimes require a closer look into the routing to sort out intermediate clients, but in the end sender and recipient can be traced across the network.

The various ways in which usually anonymous spokespeople for U.S. intelligence agencies are equivocating – saying things like “our best guess” or “our opinion” or “our estimate” etc. – shows that the emails alleged to have been “hacked” cannot be traced across the network. Given NSA’s extensive trace capability, we conclude that DNC and HRC servers alleged to have been hacked were, in fact, not hacked.

The evidence that should be there is absent; otherwise, it would surely be brought forward, since this could be done without any danger to sources and methods. Thus, we conclude that the emails were leaked by an insider – as was the case with Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning. Such an insider could be anyone in a government department or agency with access to NSA databases, or perhaps someone within the DNC.

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The Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, is seeking assurances from the other EU members that Ukraine will not be granted EU membership or included in any security commitments, if he facilitates the override of the Dutch public vote against the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement earlier this year, through a parliamentary endorsement.  Reuters reports:

Rutte is trying to free himself from a political bind after Dutch voters, concerned about the costs, rejected the so-called association agreement in a referendum in April. If his demands are met, he plans to go back to his parliament to win an endorsement that would overwrite the negative vote.

The Dutch are therefore seeking a legally binding decision by the 28 EU leaders that the association agreement is “not a stepping stone” to EU membership for Kiev, one source said. This is not to the liking of Poland, a key supporter of Ukraine.

….A draft document for the EU leaders to approve, prepared by the Dutch and seen by Reuters, also rules out financial or security guarantees for Ukraine and spells out that Ukrainians are not being given the right to live and work in the bloc.

CCI: Détente Now: A New Call for Peace, Security, and Cooperation

Vladimir Putin and Jean-Claude Juncker

From the Center for Citizen Initiatives:

The Nation

Civic and religious leaders in Germany are spearheading a new initiative to avoid war between Russia and the West.

By Gilbert Doctorow, Ute Finckh-Krämer, Ludger Volmer, Rolf Ekéus and Noam Chomsky

transatlantic appeal for a new policy of détente with Russia has been launched. The declaration’s authors invite the general public to join leading political figures and social activists who have publicly rallied to support the call.

The initiative was born in Berlin several months ago in the days of deepest gloom engendered by confrontation with Russia over Ukraine, the Baltic countries, and Syria, with major war exercises held around Russia’s borders and bellicose language from both sides that suggested imminent hot war. As German Minister of Foreign Affairs Frank Walter Steinmeier (SPD) said in an interview with Bildnewspaper on October 8, present times are more dangerous even than during the Cold War that ended in 1990: “Previously, the world was divided, but Moscow and Washington knew each other’s red lines and respected them. In a world with many regional conflicts and dwindling influence of the great powers, the world becomes more unpredictable.”

The roll-out of the initiative called Détente Now aims at bringing civil society on two continents into play both to enforce and to support approaches to pursue dialogue and compromise with Russian counterparts, e.g., on confidence- and security-building measures between Russia and its neighbors. Détente Now will be a powerful voice for change of direction in foreign policy within Europe, and within Germany in particular….

….Starting this month, the declaration will be published on various homepages, and public collection of more signatures of support will start. A German version can be found here, with an English version here.

To read the rest of this post go here

 

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

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