U.S. Attack on Syria

The sky erupts with missile fire as the U.S., U.K. and France launched an attack on parts of Damascus, the capital of Syria, early Saturday in retaliation for Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons last weekend. (Photo: Hassan Ammar / AP)

 

A team from the OPCW was due to arrive in Syria to investigate the alleged chemical weapons attacks in Douma on Saturday, April 14th.  However, that is the morning on which Washington, in coordination with France and the UK, decided to launch around 100 missiles into Syria.  Russia analyst and former British military officer, Paul Robinson had a good summary and analysis of the strikes at his blog :

What stands out for me is the choice of weapons in this attack: long-range missiles. The Brits, for instance, fired their missiles from close to their airbase on Cyprus. They didn’t come close to Syria. It seems that they were afraid of Syrian and Russian air defences, and they weren’t prepared to go to the effort of suppressing them, which would have required a long and costly campaign and would have run the danger of getting them into a war with the Russians. The Russian Ministry of Defence says that its own air defences didn’t get involved but that those of the Syrian army shot down 71 of the 103 missiles fired. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (not normally noted for promoting pro-Assad propaganda) claims that 65 were shot down. The Americans are currently denying this. The truth is hard to determine. It may be that the Western allies are right to be fearful of the Syrian/Russian air defence system. Or maybe not. What is clear, though, is that they don’t seem to be willing to take the chance. They also don’t want to get too deeply involved. So, they have limited themselves to firing a few missiles in an utterly pointless manner, while making some wild claims that this would ‘set back Syrian chemical weapons programme for years.’

This is playing at war. Unfortunately, it is symptomatic of how the Americans and the Brits wage war nowadays. They can’t resist getting involved, but the outcome doesn’t matter to them enough for them to commit the resources, and make the sacrifices, required for a successful outcome. So, in Afghanistan they committed themselves enough to stir up the locals, to flood the country with money which boosted corruption and filled the coffers of the Taliban, and generally to make everything worse, but not enough to win (which would  have required a simply enormous amount of resources). In Libya, they did just enough to push the country into chaos, but not enough to put it back together again. In Syria, they’ve pumped in enough weapons and money to thoroughly mess the place up (and in the process supply a whole bunch of people who really aren’t their friends), but not enough to overthrow Assad. And so on.

Now, to be fair, it’s a sign of some intelligence that they haven’t gone any further than they have. It would have been completely disproportionate to have done so. We must welcome the fact that in attacking Syria, they limited themselves to a symbolic gesture and stayed well clear of Russian targets. As I said in my last post, achieving the objective of regime change would require enormous destruction. It’s a good thing that our leaders aren’t prepared to go that far. The problem is, though, is that if they want to succeed that’s how far they have to go. If they’re not prepared to do so, they shouldn’t get involved at all in the first place. Unfortunately, they just can’t stop themselves. Consequently, they end up playing at war, failing time after time, while causing a lot of death and destruction in the process.

Robinson makes an excellent point.  These actions seem to just be an excuse to waste huge amounts of money on arms and to destroy countries whose leaders don’t comply with our wishes or are in the way of our geopolitical and economic desires.   There is certainly no will to stabilize or install a functioning government because, as Robinson points out, it would require too much investment in terms of human resources, which would also risk major casualties.

However, the bad will and distrust that builds as a result of these repeated actions and the propaganda that leads up to them has created a dangerous atmosphere between nuclear superpowers whose military personnel are in close proximity.  What if there is a slip-up in the “choreography” of these launches supposedly designed to avoid hitting any Russian targets?   What if Russians dial up the hotline to find out what’s going on and are put on hold for nearly a half hour as the Russian military claimed happened in 2016 when the Syrian army was hit in Deir Ezzor?   Why do we want to take it that far?  And why does our leadership keep saying and doing reckless things that the Russians have to allegedly provide a face-saving out for?

As for Russia’s response to this illegal attack on its ally without even waiting for the results of an investigation that might actually substantiate the allegations against the Syrian government, Russia analyst Gilbert Doctorow wrote the following:

For the Russians there could only be outrage. They were on the receiving end of what was a publicly administered slap in the face to President Vladimir Putin, who was named and supposedly shamed in Trump’s speech for providing support to the “animal” Assad. Putin had been calling upon the U.S. and its allies to show restraint and wait for the conclusion of the OPCW investigation in Duma.

Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, repeated after the attacks Moscow’s prior warning that there would be “grave consequences” for the U.S. and its allies. These were not spelled out. But given Putin’s record of caution, it would be surprising if Moscow did anything to exacerbate the situation.

That caution left the U.S. exposed as an aggressor and violator of international law. Since we are in a New Cold War, habits from the first Cold War are resurfacing. But the roles are reversed today. Whereas in the past, it was Washington that complained to high heaven about the Soviet military intervention in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, today it is Russia that will go on the offensive to sound off about US aggression.

But is that all we may expect? I think not. Putin has a well-earned reputation as a master strategist who takes his time with every move. He also knows the old saying that revenge is a dish best served cold. He has frequently advocated “asymmetric” responses to Western moves against Russian interests. The question of counter moves had already been on his mind since the U.S. Treasury introduced new and potentially harsh economic sanctions on Russia with effect from April 6.

In fact, Russian legislators were busy preparing to introduce in the Duma on Monday a bill empowering the Russian president to issue counter-sanctions. These include an embargo on the sale of critical components to the U.S. aircraft industry which is 40 percent dependent on Russian-sourced titanium for production of both military and civilian planes. There is also the proposed cancellation of bilateral cooperation in space where the Russians supply rocket engines used for U.S. commercial and other satellite launches, as well as a total embargo on sales of U.S. wines, spirits and tobacco in the Russian Federation.

Aside from the withdrawal of titanium sales, these and other enumerated measures pale in significance to the damage done by the U.S. sanctions on the Rusal corporation, the world’s second largest producer and marketer of aluminum, which lost $12 billion in share value on the first day of sanctions. But that is to be expected, given that the United States is the world’s largest economy, measuring more than 10 times Russia’s. Accordingly its ability to cause economic damage to Russia far exceeds the ability of Russia to inflict damage in return.

The only logical outcome of further escalations of U.S. economic measures would be for Russia to respond in the one area where it has something approaching full equality with the United States: its force of arms. That is to say, at a certain point in time purely economic warfare could well become kinetic. This is a danger the U.S. political leadership should not underestimate.

Considering the just inflicted U.S. insult to Russia by its attack in Syria, Moscow may well choose to respond by hitting U.S. interests in a very different location, where it enjoys logistical superiority and also where the counter-strike may be less likely to escalate to direct crossing of swords and the unthinkable—possible nuclear war.

A number of places come to mind, starting in Ukraine where, in an extreme reaction, Russia has the option of removing the regime in Kiev within a 3-day campaign, putting in place a caretaker government until new elections were held. That would likely lead to armed resistance, however, and a Russian occupation, which Moscow neither wants nor can afford.

Speaking of the restraint showed by Putin, I keep making the point that many pundits and politicians keep accusing Putin of being aggressive, yet they are constantly banking on Putin’s restraint in the face of a never-ending series of provocations.  Is there not some irony here?

Our corporate mainstream media did its usual despicable job of largely egging on the militarism.  Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) provides the gory details here and here.  Doctorow, in another article, followed the European media on the Syria attack and reported more variety of coverage and viewpoint, especially in Germany (which declined to participate in the attack) and Euronews:

The Die Welt online edition today discusses how the United States and Europe used the mission to test the battleground effectiveness of some of their latest weaponry.

Frankfurter Allgemeine has two feature articles, neither of which follow the American media agenda and might be said to show some independence of thought.  One article presents and defends the notion that the weekend attacks showed the Pentagon is “the last bastion of Sense” in the Trump administration. What they think of the President is self evident.  Meanwhile the other article tells us that despite the attacks Syrian President Bashar Assad will not give in and is holding to his chosen course, while the Russians are said to be counting on opening a strategic dialogue with the USA over arms control.

….To be sure, the most remarkable departure from the US media track that I note in Europe yesterday and today is on the television, specifically on Euronews.  The company’s motto is “Euronews. All Views.”  Nice sounding and usually irrelevant, but not this weekend. To be sure, the US, UK, French government accounts of what they achieved are given full coverage in each hourly news bulletin.  But at the same time, the Russians are given what appears to be equal time to set out their totally diametrically opposed positions: on whether any chemical attacks at all occurred in Douma, Eastern Goutha, on the violation of international law and of the UN Charter that the Allied attack on Syria represented, on its being “aggression,” on its link to the Skripal case.

In fact, on Saturday Euronews exceptionally gave nearly complete live coverage to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as he spoke in Moscow to the 26th Assembly of the Council of Foreign and Defense Policy. During this talk, Lavrov divulged the findings of the Swiss laboratory which had examined samples of the chemicals gathered in Salisbury in relation to the Skripal poisonings, findings which he said pointed not to Novichok, as was reported by Boris Johnson, but to a nerve agent developed by the United States and produced also in Britain.  Lavrov likened the faked attack in Salisbury to the faked chemical attack in Douma.

Letting the Russians deliver extensively their views on what happened in Syria without commentary by their own journalists might be considered extraordinary by Euronews or any other European broadcaster’s standards, for which the public can only be grateful.

My mentor, Sharon Tennison, was in Washington DC in the lead-up to the strike on Syria.  Here is the atmosphere she reported:

Mood in Washington, April 8 – 13: The immediate possibility of war between Syria and Russia was on TV screens in hotel lobbies and congressional waiting rooms and tensions were felt behind closed doors in nearly every meeting. It felt like our capital was completely “locked down.” No one wanted to mention their positions on current issues. I’d never before experienced our capital like this.

Simultaneously, young families visiting Washington were innocently enjoying historic monuments, etc. In impromptu inquiries, I asked if they were paying attention to politics and got nonchalant answers back. Apparently they were unaware of the current situation. How could they not be aware? Maybe they view TV news as hyped up fictional TV programs? What a disconnect!

 

 

Russians Meet Mainstream Americans (RMMA) in Walnut Creek, California

RussianVisitorsWithAnnWright2

Photo courtesy of Center for Citizen Initiatives

“No, I will not tell you about war.  It is disgusting and should never happen,” Lena recalled her father telling her when she was a child and would ask him to tell her tales of his experience in the Great Patriotic War – as WWII is known in Russia, which took the lives of 27 million Soviets.  Lena, a wife, mother, and teacher of English and German, who is originally from Western Ukraine and lives in Yekaterinburg in the Ural Mountain Region of the Russian Federation, was the first of four ladies from Russia to speak at the RMMA event in Walnut Creek, California on April 5th.

In her opening remarks, she explained the reason for her involvement in the program.  it was her father’s words that had inspired Lena to work for peace and the prevention of war.

Prior to Lena’s comments, Sharon Tennison of the Center for Citizen Initiatives introduced the evening’s 4 visitors from Russia and the history of the program that had brought them there.

Sharon introducing the RMMA event in Walnut Creek, CA on April 5, 2018

Tennison’s earlier program in the 1980’s, during the first Cold War, brought groups of non-Communist Party Soviet citizens to visit Americans across the United States.  The Soviet visitors stayed in the homes of volunteer Americans for several days during their stay in a particular city.  During their visit, the Soviet citizens would meet community leaders, members of the media, business people and average Americans – who could all see for themselves that, in most important ways,  these were just people like them.  Groups of Americans had already visited the Soviet Union for the same people-to-people outreach, which had enabled Tennison to network with Soviet citizens.

With tensions between the West and Russia at an all time high in the post-Soviet era, Sharon has resurrected the idea.  After visiting Atlanta and two cities in Texas, the four Russian ladies were now touring the San Francisco Bay Area.

The second lady was Tatyana, who has lived in Crimea all of her life, the daughter of a Ukrainian mother and a Russian father.  She teaches English and history.  I met Tatyana during my trip to Crimea in October of 2015 .  For her opening, she spoke of the monument that was just erected in Yalta to FDR.  Yalta was, of course, the location of the famous conference of the “Big Three” (FDR, Stalin and Churchill) as WWII was winding down in 1945.  She wanted to remind others of the wisdom of FDR, who as U.S. president during WWII, was allied with the Soviet Union and treated the country and its leadership with respect, and hoped to work toward a peaceful post-war coexistence, despite ideological differences.

The third lady was Natasha from Krasnodar, a mother and business woman with experience in the agricultural industry.   I had also met Natasha on my October 2015 trip.

Natasha Ivanova of Krasnodar, Russia, speaks at RMMA event in Walnut Creek, CA on April 5, 2018

The fourth speaker was Ilyana, a wife, mother and hydro-engineer from St. Petersburg.

Lena, Tatyana, Natasha and Ilyana all took over an hour’s worth of questions from the audience, which filled the conference room, with probably 60 or so in attendance.  The most heated topics seemed to be the Crimea issue and internal Russian politics – particularly gay issues, media/propaganda and Putin.

When Tatyana attempted to provide a local, on-the-ground experience of what happened in Crimea during and after the Maidan protests and the illegal deposing of the democratically elected president of Ukraine at the time (Yanukovich) – which did not comport with the mainstream western media depiction – one woman in the front row shook her head and made it clear that she was not very open to Tatyana’s narrative.

When the subject of the recent presidential elections in Russia in which Putin won ~76% of the vote, an even better showing than was expected, a couple of audience members suggested that the elections were not free and fair.

Lena explained that there were 7 parties in Russia and that Putin ran as an independent.  All four ladies attempted to provide the audience with an explanation of why Putin is so genuinely popular in contemporary Russia, describing the chaos, criminality and massive poverty of the 1990’s (referred to by many Russians as “the crazy 90’s”) and the stability, lack of external debt, economic resurgence, decline in street crime, and renewed pride that the Putin era had brought.  One of the ladies, who admitted she did not vote for Putin, agreed that there was not yet a credible alternative to the current Russian leader.

In response to more questions about the allegedly poor state of human rights in Russia, Lena explained that each region of Russia had an advocate for human rights and children’s rights that citizens could appeal to.  The advocate would investigate the cases and serious issues were brought straight to the attention of the Russian president.

One member of the audience asked about the political opponents of Putin who seemed to mysteriously end up dead.  All of the ladies expressed skepticism at the claims of Putin being behind the deaths and cited the lack of evidence provided to substantiate the claims.  After pointing out that Russia was a very wealthy country with abundant natural resources, Ilyana asked the audience, “Who has an interest in portraying Putin this way?”

Ilyana of St. Petersburg, Russia, speaks at the RMMA event in Walnut Creek, CA on 4/5/18

Naturally, the issue of media and propaganda came up with suggestions by one audience member that the Russians were subjected to propaganda.  The ladies explained that there was a diversity in the Russian print media and that Russians had access to international media, including American, via satellite and internet.  Ilyana asked the audience to consider the following:  “Who owns your media?  Do these owners have interests?  What are their interests?”

In response to another question on this, Tatyana explained that the New York Times Moscow bureau would periodically come to Crimea to report.  But they would talk only to a few people who represented about 5% of the viewpoint in Crimea, but they portrayed it as though it represented 100%.  “You see, they did not lie, but they distorted.”

One audience member pointed out that our revered NYT had promoted on its front pages what amounted to government-sourced gossip about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that led to a million deaths and the destabilization of an entire region.  He also added a cautionary note about believing unsubstantiated claims of political murders in far-away foreign countries.  “What if someone from another country believed the rumors and gossip about the Clintons being behind the death of Vince Foster and Seth Rich without evidence presented?”

Lena from Yekaterinburg, Russia, speaks at the RMMA event in Walnut Creek, CA on 4/5/18

On the topic of propaganda, Lena stated:  “I don’t think I’m brainwashed.  I live in Russia [and know what it is like there].  I don’t want to leave my country.  But I also have a son here in the U.S. and a grandson and a lovely daughter-in-law.  My heart is with you [America], but it is also with Russia.”

 

Alleged Douma Chemical Attack; Trump’s Threat of Action in Syria Within 24-48 Hours; U.S. Sends 2nd Missile Destroyer to Coast of Syria; Russia Places Military on High Alert

 

This is not the article I originally intended to post today, which had to do with four Russian women visiting a city in the Bay Area and having an exchange with a local audience on Russia and U.S.-Russia relations.  That post will be moved to later in the week.  Due to the grave nature of possible escalations between the U.S. and Russia over an incident that supposedly occurred in the town of Douma in Syria this past weekend, I feel compelled to provide information and analysis on that.

Off-Guardian has provided a good time-line of the alleged chemical attack and contextual events surrounding it, which I excerpt below:

 

  • February-April 2018: The Syrian Arab Army has been making quick, decisive gains on the ground in recent weeks. Eastern Ghouta has all but fallen. Barring foreign intervention, the Syrian government’s victory is now all but assured.

  • March 13th 2018 Russian military command claims US is aiming to strike Damascus on an “invented pretext”. Advises them against it.

  • March 13th 2018 Syrian forces reported finding caches of chemical weapons in labs around liberated areas of Ghouta.

  • March 19th 2018 Russian and Syrian military figures reported they feared the rebels would stage a “false flag” chemical attack in order to drag US/NATO into action in Syria.

  • March 30th 2018 Donald Trump told a crowd at a speech in Ohio – and later repeated in a tweet – that the USA would be pulling out of Syria “very soon.” This is met with consternation in the capital and across the media.

  • April 6th 2018 UNSC meeting convened – at Russian request – to discuss the alleged attack in Salisbury, UK. Every member of the UNSC who spoke was categorical in their condemnation of any use of chemical weapons.

  • Night of April 7th/morning of April 8th…a chemical attack is reported by the US/UK funded “White Helmets”. The US blames Syrian govt. and holds Russia “responsible”.

 

Off-Guardian then proposes some questions that readers should be asking in light of the above time-line.   Read it here:

Douma Chemical Attack: Timeline of facts so far

CommonDreams posted a subsequent article summarizing the Russian government’s publicly stated position about the alleged chemical attack in Douma and its possible use as a casus belli for a U.S./NATO attack on Damascus in the near future which, would threaten Russian personnel stationed there.

Staking out its position ahead of an emergency UN Security Council meeting later in the day, Russian government officials early on Monday are warning the U.S. government and President Donald Trump from direct retaliation or further intervention in Syria following an alleged weekend gas attack outside Damascus that has caused heartbreak and uproar inside the war-torn nation, across the region, and beyond.

While Trump declared Sunday there would be a “big price to pay” for whoever was responsible for Saturday’s attack in the city of Douma—where local aid groups said at least 49 people were killed and footage emerged of people, including young children, who appeared to be victims of a chemical weapon or agent—the Russian foreign ministry responded by warning of “most serious consequences” if the U.S. took military action against the Syrian government of President Bashar Al-Assad before all the facts are known.

In the midst of what foreign policy analyst Phyllis Bennis described to Common Dreams as an “extremely perilous moment” in the region and for global conflict between major powers, the foreign ministry in Moscow said in a statement that elements of the chemical attack were “fabricated”—suggesting it was a false flag operation perpetrated by rebel militant forces within Syria—and designed to provoke further intervention or a retaliatory strike against Assad’s forces.

“It is necessary to warn again that military intervention under invented and fabricated pretexts in Syria, where at the request of the lawful government there are Russian military personnel, is absolutely unacceptable and can lead to the most serious consequences,” read the statement. “The aim of these false speculations, that have no basis, is to shield the terrorists and the irreconcilable radical opposition, who reject a political solution, at the same time while trying to justify possible armed strikes from outside.”

At a Monday morning press conference, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the Russian and Syrian government have been trying to warn the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which has been investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria, that such an event was likely coming.

“We already had a chance to comment on the current situation before this current situation became reality,” Lavrov told reporters. “Our servicemen staying in the Syrian Arab Republic, ‘on soil,’ repeatedly warned—and the Syrian government also said about it—that a serious provocation is being prepared, aimed at blaming Damascus for the use of a chemical poisoning agent against civilians.”

U.S. ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley threatened unilateral action by Washington if the UN Security Council did not act against the Assad government for the unproven accusations against it.

Russia analyst Gilbert Doctorow detailed the response of the Russian ambassador to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya,  in a recent article :

To anyone watching the UN Security Council “debate” last night it is crystal clear we are in the last days before all hell breaks out. The wall of mutual contempt between Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya and US Ambassador Nikki Haley was on full display. Nebenzya took to pieces the entire argumentation of the US side regarding Douma and the ‘chemical attack.’ He detailed the rebel caches of chemical weapons and equipment for their manufacture that Russian troops have found in recently liberated territory of Eastern Ghouta and elsewhere. He spoke about the past provocations of faked chemical attacks including the one used to justify the US cruise missile launches on the Syrian air base at Sheirat a year ago. He linked the US training and support for terrorists in fabrication of chemical arms to the faked nerve agent attack on the Skripals in the UK, which he described as a vaudeville act. He heaped scorn on Haley for her denying Russia the status of “friend,”  saying that the US has no friends, only sycophants, whereas Russia has genuine friends, and seeks nothing more in relations with the United States than civilized discourse.  In response to this unprecedented denunciation of the USA and its policies of global hegemony, we heard from Nikki Haley the familiar story of how the UN Security Council could now either adopt a US resolution condemning the Assad regime, in effect, or admit its total irrelevance while the US continued on its own unilateral path to resolving the Syrian question.

In the meantime, there are reports of Russia successfully jamming U.S. drones in Syria and Washington sending a second missile destroyer to the Syrian coast to meet up with the USS Donald Cook, which is already there:

The next few days may see already a second US Navy destroyer entering the Mediterranean Sea, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing sources at the Pentagon.

“The US already has one guided-missile destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, in the eastern Mediterranean, where it could take part in any strike on Syria, according to US defense officials. A second, the USS Porter could get there in a few days,” the newspaper wrote.

The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet wrote that Russian warplanes had allegedly buzzed the Donald Cook at least four times, but the report was later denied by the Pentagon.

Newsweek is now reporting that, in response to Washington’s threats, Russia has placed its military on high alert:

 The Russian military has reportedly gone on high alert in anticipation of a potential U.S. attack on the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a Moscow ally accused of using chemical weapons in a seven-year civil war.

Leading Russian politicians and military officials reacted to President Donald Trump’s promise Monday to respond “forcefully” within “the next 24 to 48 hours” to the Syrian military’s alleged use of toxic gas earlier this week in rebel-held Douma, a suburb of Damascus.

 

Vladimir Shamanov, head of the lower parliamentary house’s defense committee and a former airborne troops commander, said Russia had an obligation to protect its ally. Syria has denied the chemical weapons charges and has called for the U.S. to withdraw from the country.

….ABC News reported Tuesday that the Syrian military deployed missile defense systems near Assad’s presidential palace in Damascus and that the U.S. destroyer was in striking distance of the country. Russian Beriev A-50 early-warning aircraft were deployed to the coast, according to Iran’s semiofficial Fars News Agency. The elite Black Sea Fleet has declared a state of alert, according to Al Jazeera.

 

30 Questions Journalists Should Be Asking About the Skirpal Poisoning; Scott Ritter Explains Why Putin Isn’t Bluffing re Nuclear Weapons Capability; 4 Senators Call for Nuclear Negotiations with Russia, Trump Says He’ll Meet Putin Soon; Update on Ukraine

Police officers stand outside a branch of the Italian restaurant Zizzi where an ex-Russian spy and his daughter had dined before becoming ill. Picture: Getty Images

Police officers stand outside a branch of the Italian restaurant Zizzi where an ex-Russian spy and his daughter had dined before becoming ill. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images

By now you’ve probably all heard the most recent provocative news story that is causing the latest psychotic episode for the West with respect to Russia.  Former Russian spy Sergei Skirpal and his daughter, Yulia, having been seriously poisoned in Salisbury, England earlier this month.   Of course, the British government led by PM Theresa May immediately blamed the Russian government before a thorough and independent investigation could have been completed.  And FM Boris Johnson has been publicly running with the accusations like a bull in a china shop, claiming inside information that the government has solid proof of the poisoning agent and its origins.

We’ve all been down this road before – laying the blame for an event at the doorstep of an adversary or the latest country/leader out of favor with the U.S. elite – before anyone could possibly know with certainty who the guilty party is.  Pretty convenient, eh?

Of course, I’ve seen plenty of articles propagating the British government’s line on the matter, along with plenty of skeptics putting forth good points on why we should not jump to conclusions about Russian government guilt.  But perhaps the best write-up I’ve seen in the latter category is by Rob Shane over at the Blogmire.com, called 30 Questions that Journalists Should Be Asking About the Skirpal Case:

[T]ere are a number of oddities in the official narrative, which do demand answers and clarifications. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist or a defender of the Russian state to see this. You just need a healthy scepticism, “of a type developed by all inquiring minds!”

Below are 30 of the most important questions regarding the case and the British Government’s response, which are currently either wholly unanswered, or which require clarification.

1. Why have there been no updates on the condition of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in the public domain since the first week of the investigation?

2. Are they still alive?

3. If so, what is their current condition and what symptoms are they displaying?

4. In a recent letter to The Times, Stephen Davies, Consultant in Emergency Medicine at Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust, wrote the following:

“Sir, Further to your report (“Poison exposure leaves almost 40 needing treatment”, Mar 14) may I clarify that no patients have experienced nerve agent poisoning in Salisbury and there have only ever been three patients with significant poisoning.”

His claim that “no patients have experienced nerve agent poisoning in Salisbury” is remarkably odd, as it appears to flatly contradict the official narrative. Was this a slip of the pen, or was it his intention to communicate precisely this — that no patients have been poisoned by a nerve agent in Salisbury?

5. It has been said that the Skripals and Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey were poisoned by “a military grade nerve agent”. According to some claims, the type referred to could be anywhere between five and eight times more toxic than VX nerve agent. Given that just 10mg of VX is reckoned to be the median lethal dose, it seems likely that the particular type mentioned in the Skripal case should have killed them instantly. Is there an explanation as to how or why this did not happen?

6. Although reports suggested the involvement of some sort of nerve agent fairly soon after the incident, it was almost a week before Public Health England issued advice to those who had visited The Mill pub or the Zizzi restaurant in Salisbury on the day that the Skripals fell ill. Why the delay and did this pose a danger to the public?

7. In their advice, Public Health England stated that people who had visited those places, where traces of a military grade nerve agent had apparently been found, should wash their clothes and:

“Wipe personal items such as phones, handbags and other electronic items with cleansing or baby wipes and dispose of the wipes in the bin (ordinary domestic waste disposal).”

Are baby wipes acknowledged to be an effective and safe method of dealing with objects that may potentially have been contaminated with “military grade nerve agent”, especially of a type 5-8 times more deadly than VX?

8. Initial reports suggested that Detective Sergeant Bailey became ill after coming into contact with the substance after attending the Skripals on the bench they were seated on in The Maltings in Salisbury. Subsequent claims, however, first aired by former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Lord Ian Blair on 9th March, said that he came into contact with the substance at Sergei Skripal’s house in Christie Miller Road. Reports since then have been highly ambiguous about what should be an easily verifiable fact. Which is the correct account?

9. The government have claimed that the poison used was “a military grade nerve agent of a typedeveloped by Russia”. The phrase “of a type developed by Russia” says nothing whatsoever about whether the substance used in the Salisbury case was produced or manufactured in Russia. Can the government confirm that its scientists at Porton Down have established that the substance that poisoned the Skripals and DS Bailey was actually produced or manufactured in Russia?

10. The former ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, has claimed that sources within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) have told him that scientists at Porton Down would not agree to a statement about the place of origin of the substance, because they were not able to establish this. According to Mr Murray, only under much pressure from the Government did they end up agreeing to the compromise wording, “of a type developed by Russia”, which has subsequently been used in all official statements on the matter. Can the FCO, in plain and unambiguous English, categorically refute Mr Murray’s claims that pressure was put on Porton Down scientists to agree to a form of words and that in the end a much-diluted version was agreed?

I strongly encourage readers to read the rest of the post with the remaining 20 questions here

Craig Murray has been following the story from the beginning and has been providing great feedback with an insider’s perspective.  A recent post from him points out that a judge’s ruling within the past couple of days has proven that Boris Johnson and the British government’s pronouncements of certainty about the specific type of poison used and its origins are false:

…due to the judgement at the High Court case which gave permission for new blood samples to be taken from the Skripals for use by the OPCW. Justice Williams included in his judgement a summary of the evidence which tells us, directly for the first time, what Porton Down have actually said:

The Evidence
16. The evidence in support of the application is contained within the applications themselves (in particular the Forms COP 3) and the witness statements.

17. I consider the following to be the relevant parts of the evidence. I shall identify the witnesses only by their role and shall summarise the essential elements of their evidence.

i) CC: Porton Down Chemical and Biological Analyst

Blood samples from Sergei Skripal and Yulia Skripal were analysed and the findings indicated exposure to a nerve agent or related compound. The samples tested positive for the presence of a Novichok class nerve agent OR CLOSELY RELATED AGENT.

The emphasis is mine. This sworn Court evidence direct from Porton Down is utterly incompatible with what Boris Johnson has been saying. The truth is that Porton Down have not even positively identified this as a “Novichok”, as opposed to “a closely related agent”. Even if it were a “Novichok” that would not prove manufacture in Russia, and a “closely related agent” could be manufactured by literally scores of state and non-state actors.

This constitutes irrefutable evidence that the government have been straight out lying – to Parliament, to the EU, to NATO, to the United Nations, and above all to the people – about their degree of certainty of the origin of the attack. It might well be an attack originating in Russia, but there are indeed other possibilities and investigation is needed.

The Russian government has, of course, denied the attack with Putin stating that if the Russian government had pulled off such an assassination attempt with such a deadly type of agent, it would have been successful and the Skirpals would be dead.  He also reiterated that Russia’s chemical weapons stockpiles had been destroyed under the oversight of the OPCW.   Indeed, readers can go here to see the announcement last October by the OPCW that the destruction process had been completed.

In sum, we need to see more actual evidence of such a serious accusation against a foreign government, especially when unsubstantiated claims have already been made, turning said government into a bogeyman (e.g. Russiagate).   It’s not like the U.S. and UK governments wouldn’t lie to us about grave matters involving life and death regarding foreign governments.   Remember Iraq and Libya.

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Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter has written an article providing his expertise on the claims made by Putin in his recent Address to the Federal Assembly regarding nuclear weapons and defense capabilities.  As I stated in a blog post about this issue, it would be foolish for people to assume that Putin is bluffing.  Ritter comes to the same conclusion and questions the reaction of our highest-ranking defense officials:

The intellectual stasis displayed by both Mattis and Pompeo is disturbing. These are not so-called “experts” drummed up by the New York Times to further the anti-Putin narrative that has become the centerpiece of the Times’s coverage over the years, but rather serious professionals who hold the security of the United States in their hands. Putin’s pronouncements during his State of the Nation address weren’t a spur-of-the-moment articulation of fantasy, but rather, as he made quite clear, the byproduct of more than a decade of focused intent to counter the threat posed to Russian national security by America’s ballistic missile defense programs. Not only had Russia not masked its intentions in this regard, it had gone out of its way to make sure that the United States was aware of what it was doing and why. In 2007, Russia purposely leaked details about the RS-28 “Sarmat” heavy missile that featured prominently in Putin’s 2018 State of the Nation address to the CIA in a futile effort to get the United States to seriously engage in arms control negotiations.

The RS-28 is a direct descendant of the R-36 heavy ballistic missile, better known by its NATO reporting name, the SS-18 “Satan,” which over the course of its nearly 45 years in service has been an acknowledged game changer in terms of American-Russian strategic balance. The R-36’s large throw-weight (almost 20,000 pounds) allowed it to carry either a single extremely large warhead of 20 megatons or 10 independently targetable warheads of 500 to 750 kilotons each (by way of comparison, the American atomic bombs used to destroy the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima at the end of the Second World War possessed yields of 21 and 15 kilotons, respectively). When the R-36 became operational, it gave the Soviets a genuine first-strike capability, able to eliminate over 60 percent of American missile launch control facilities and missile silos while retaining the capability to launch another 1,000 warheads as a second strike, should the United States choose to retaliate.

From its inception, the United States considered the R-36 the single most destabilizing strategic weapon in the Soviet arsenal and eliminating and/or limiting it became a focal point of American arms control efforts. The START I Treaty saw the number of R-36 missiles deployed reduced from 308 to 154, and the entire R-36 arsenal was scheduled to be eliminated under the terms of the START II Treaty. The decision by the United States to withdraw from the ABM Treaty in 2002, however, resulted in Russia withdrawing from the START II Treaty in response, and as such maintaining its fleet of R-36 missiles. Russia had planned on allowing the R-36 missile to be retired through obsolescence with no intended replacement; this was the intent behind its START II negotiating position.

Read the full article here

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On March 8th, a week after Putin’s announcement of Russia’s capabilities, 4 U.S. Senators broke ranks with the strident and overwhelming anti-Russia sentiment in Washington and wrote a letter to then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson,  encouraging him to enter into new arms control negotiations with the Russians.   As a reminder of how bad the state of our mainstream media has become, the letter by Senators Bernie Sanders, Dianne Feinstein, Jeff Merkley, and Edward J. Markey got little to no major press coverage.   The full text of the letter is reproduced below:

As posted on the website of Senator Merkley 

March 8, 2018

The Honorable Rex W. Tillerson
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC

Dear Secretary Tillerson:

We write to urge the State Department to convene the next U.S.-Russia Strategic Dialogue as soon as possible.

A U.S.-Russia Strategic Dialogue is more urgent following President Putin’s public address on March 1st when he referred to several new nuclear weapons Russia is reportedly developing including a cruise missile and a nuclear underwater drone, which are not currently limited by the New START treaty, and would be destabilizing if deployed.   There is no doubt we have significant disagreements with Russia, including Russia’s brazen interference in the 2016 U.S. elections; continued violation of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF); invasion of Ukraine and illegal annexation of Crimea; and destabilizing actions in Syria. However, it is due to these policy rifts, not in spite of them, that the United States should urgently engage with Russia to avoid miscalculation and reduce the likelihood of conflict.

First, we encourage the administration to propose alternative solutions to address Russia’s violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).  Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov admitted to the existence of this ground launched cruise missile (GLCM), but contended that the system was INF Treaty compliant.

Senior officials from the United States and Russia have said that the INF Treaty plays an “important role in the existing system of international security.” As such, we urge the State Department to resolve Russia’s violation through existing INF Treaty provisions or new mutually acceptable means.

Second, we urge the United States to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).  The Trump administration’s own 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) references Russia’s robust nuclear modernization program as a main justification behind the U.S. need to recapitalize its three legs of the nuclear triad.  An extension of New START would verifiably lock-in the Treaty’s Central Limits – and with it – the reductions in strategic forces Russia has made.

The New START Treaty, which entered into force in 2011, provides transparency and predictability into the size and location of Russia’s strategic nuclear delivery systems, warheads, and facilities. New START’s robust verification architecture involves thousands of data exchanges and regular on-site inspections.The United States confirmed in February that Russia met New START’s Central Treaty Limits and it stated that “implementation of the New START Treaty enhances the safety and security of the United States.” These same Central Treaty Limits could also govern two of the new types of nuclear weapons referenced by President Putin on March 1st – a case the United States can argue through the Treaty’s Biannual Consultative Commission (BCC).

Lastly, as the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review notes, Russia maintains a numerical advantage to the United States in the number of non-strategic nuclear weapons. The Senate, in its Resolution of Ratification on New START in 2010, took stock of this imbalance and called upon the United States to commence negotiations that would “secure and reduce tactical nuclear weapons in a verifiable manner.” Attempts by the Obama administration to negotiate an agreement on this class of weapons met resistance from Russia.  However, even absent the political space for a formal agreement or binding treaty with Russia, we urge the State Department to discuss ways to enhance transparency on non-strategic nuclear weapons.

Extending New START, resolving Russia’s INF violation, and enhancing transparency measures relating to non-strategic nuclear weapons will also help quiet growing calls from many countries that the United States is not upholding its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations.  The Treaty’s three mutually reinforcing pillars: non-proliferation, peaceful uses of the atom, and disarmament can only be advanced through U.S. leadership on all three.

There is no guarantee that we can make progress with Russia on these issues.  However, even at the height of Cold War tensions, the United States and the Soviet Union were able to engage on matters of strategic stability.  Leaders from both countries believed, as we should today, that the incredible destructive force of nuclear weapons is reason enough to make any and all efforts to lessen the chance that they can never be used again.

Sincerely,

Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont)

After Putin won re-election on March 18th, President Trump called him to congratulate him on his victory, reportedly against the advice of his national security staff.  Commenting on the call afterward, Trump stated publicly that he would probably be meeting soon with Putin to discuss the “arms race that is getting out of control.”

Sputnik News reported that the Kremlin characterized the conversation between the two presidents as “constructive and focused on addressing the problems in Russia-US relations.”

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Conditions in Ukraine generally continue to deteriorate economically and in terms of human rights, but it’s also difficult to keep up with the general crazy twists and turns among the political class.  Granted, Ukraine has been a nation with significant divisions ever since its’ independence in the early 1990’s, mostly due to the fact that it’s western areas were historically under the control and influence of either the Poles or the Austro-Hungarian empire and the south eastern parts under the control and influence of the Russian empire.   It has not been uncommon to see corruption and fistfights in the Parliament throughout Ukraine’s post-Soviet history.   But since the Maidan and its reliance upon muscle from the far-right (e.g. Pravy Sektor,  Svboda and later the Azov battalion and the like), things are even more unstable.

For instance, Nadia Savchenko, once considered a hero of the Ukrainian nationalist movement who was convicted and jailed in Russia for her role in directing deadly military fire onto two Russian journalists and later released in a prisoner exchange, became a member of the Rada (Ukrainian parliament) and subsequently stated publicly that the far right groups on the Maidan were responsible for the murder of security agents and protesters.  She has now been stripped of her immunity as a parliamentarian and arrested for planning a terrorist attack against the government.  The Irish Times reported the following details:

Less than two years after Nadezhda Savchenko returned from a Russian prison to a hero’s welcome, the ex-military pilot dubbed “Ukraine’s Joan of Arc” is now accused of plotting to blow up Kiev’s parliament and massacre its deputies.The latest extraordinary claims from Ukrainian prosecutor general Yuri Lutsenko – who recently accused former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili of planning a coup in Ukraine – are stoking a febrile political atmosphere that bodes ill for Ukraine’s stability ahead of major elections in 2019.

“The investigation has irrefutable evidence that Nadezhda Savchenko, a deputy of Ukraine, personally planned [and] personally gave instructions on how to commit a terrorist act here in this hall,” Mr Lutsenko told parliament.

He said that after using grenades and mortars to destroy much of the main chamber and the glass dome of the building in central Kiev, she intended to “use automatic rifles to finish off anyone who survived”.

Within days, it was reported by the Russian news agency Tass, that Savchenko had in fact been stripped of her parliamentary immunity and arrested:

KIEV, March 22. /TASS/. Ukrainian MP Nadezhda Savchenko has been detained in Kiev. Earlier in the day the Ukrainian parliament has upheld three requests from Prosecutor-General Yuri Lutsenko for the indictment of parliament member Nadezhda Savchenko and for her detention and arrest.

The decision to strip Savchenko of immunity was carried by a 291 majority vote. Her detention was supported by 277 legislators, with 11 opposing it; 268 voted for her arrest, and six, against.

….In her final statement Savchenko said that Ukraine should reform its political system and give voters a chance to revoke legislators and hold referendums. 

“Ukraine does have a way out without terrorist attacks and other problems that may ruin it. There is a simple and legal way – a reform of the political system,” she said.

Last month, Ukrainian president Poroshenko said he expected US arms shipments to arrive within weeks.  It was also reported by  Defense News that DARPA, the Pentagon’s “hi-tech office” has been operating in Ukraine to help Kiev with its “hybrid” warfare against the Donbas.  Neither of these actions bodes well for the prospects of peace in Ukraine.

As my fellow blogger and geopolitical writer, Greg Maybury pointed in a recent article at Consortium News, a confluence of factors make an escalation by Kiev in the Ukrainian civil war more likely:

Earlier this year, Gilbert Doctorow reported that a new draft law adopted by the Ukrainian Parliament and awaiting president Petro Poroshenko’s signature, threatens to escalate the Ukrainian conflict into a full-blown war, pitting nuclear-armed Russia against the United States and NATO. “Due to dire economic conditions,” Doctorow says, “Poroshenko and other government officials in Kiev have become deeply unpopular, and with diminished chances for electoral success may see war as politically advantageous.”

As history indelibly reminds us, this is an all too frequently recurring scenario in the conduct of international affairs. In a statement that undercuts much of the furor over the Russia-gate imbroglio, Doctorow observes that in contrast to the image of Trump administration policies being dictated by Moscow as portrayed by proponents of Russia-gate conspiracy theories, “the United States is moving towards deeper confrontation with the Kremlin in the geopolitical hotspot of Ukraine. For its part, the Kremlin has very little to gain and a great deal to lose economically and diplomatically from a campaign now against Kiev. If successful, as likely would be the case given the vast disparity in military potential of the two sides, it could easily become a Pyrrhic victory.” [My emphasis]

Read the full article here

Acceptable Bigotry and the Scapegoating of Russia

Church on Spilled Blood, Built at site of reformist Czar Alexandaer II’s 1881 assassination. St. Petersburg, Russia; Photo by Natylie S. Baldwin, 2015

The scapegoating of Russia has taken on an air of bigotry and ugliness, based largely on Cold War-era stereotypes. In this article, Natylie Baldwin counters this intolerance with some of her positive impressions having traveled the country extensively.

By Natylie Baldwin

Over the last year and a half, Americans have been bombarded with the Gish Gallop claims of Russiagate. In that time, the most reckless comments have been made against the Russians in service of using that country as a scapegoat for problems in the United States that were coming to a head, which were the real reasons for Donald Trump’s upset victory in 2016.  It has even gotten to the point where irrational hatred against Russia is becoming normalized, with the usual organizations that like to warn of the pernicious consequences of bigotry silent.

The first time I realized how low things would likely get was when Ruth Marcus, deputy editor of the Washington Post, sent out the following tweet in March of 2017, squealing with delight at the thought of a new Cold War with the world’s other nuclear superpower: “So excited to be watching The Americans, throwback to a simpler time when everyone considered Russia the enemy. Even the president.”

Not only did Marcus’s comment imply that it was great for the U.S. to have an enemy, but it specifically implied that there was something particularly great about that enemy being Russia.

Since then, the public discourse has only gotten nastier. Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper – who notoriously perjured himself before Congress about warrantless spying on Americans – stated on Meet the Press last May that Russians were uniquely and “genetically” predisposed toward manipulative political activities.  If Clapper or anyone else in the public eye had made such a statement about Muslims, Arabs, Iranians, Jews, Israelis, Chinese or just about any other group, there would have been some push-back about the prejudice that it reflected and how it didn’t correspond with enlightened liberal values. But Clapper’s comment passed with hardly a peep of protest.

More recently, John Sipher, a retired CIA station chief who reportedly spent years in Russia – although at what point in time is unclear – was interviewed in Jane Mayer’s recent New Yorker piece trying to spin the Steele Dossier as somehow legitimate. On March 6, Sipher took to Twitter with the following comment: “How can one not be a Russophobe? Russia soft power is political warfare. Hard power is invading neighbors, hiding the death of civilians with chemical weapons and threatening with doomsday nuclear weapons. And they kill the opposition at home. Name something positive.”

In fairness to Sipher, he did backpedal somewhat after being challenged; however, the fact that his unfiltered blabbering reveals such a deep antipathy toward Russians (“How can one not be a Russophobe?”) and an initial assumption that he could get away with saying it publicly is troubling.

Glenn Greenwald re-tweeted with a comment asking if Russians would soon acceptably be referred to as “rats and roaches.”  Another person replied with: “Because they are rats and roaches. What’s the problem?”

This is just a small sampling of the anti-Russian comments and attitudes that pass, largely unremarked upon, in our media landscape.

There are, of course, the larger institutional influencers of culture doing their part to push anti-Russian bigotry in this already contentious atmosphere. Red Sparrow, both the book and the movie, detail the escapades of a female Russian spy. The story propagates the continued fetishization of Russian women based on the stereotype that they’re all hot and frisky. Furthermore, all those who work in Russian intelligence are evil and backwards rather than possibly being motivated by some kind of patriotism, while all the American intel agents are paragons of virtue and seem like they just stepped out of an ad for Nick at Nite’s How to be Swell.

The recent Academy Awards continued their politically motivated trend of awarding Oscars for best documentary to films on topics that just happen to coalesce nicely with Washington’s latest adversarial policy. Last year it was the White Helmets film to support the regime change meme in Syria. This year it’s Icarus about the doping scandal in Russia.

Similarly, Loveless, the new film by Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev (director of Leviathan) is being reviewed – as Catherine Brown points out – by writers from the mainstream American media in a predictably biased fashion. The film focuses on the disintegration of a married Moscow couple’s relationship and the complicated web of factors involved which have tragic ramifications for the couple’s 12-year old son.

American reviewers manage to paint the factors detailed in the film that are prevalent in most modern capitalist cities (e.g. being self-centered, materialistic and preoccupied with technological gadgets) as somehow uniquely Russian sins. They also ignore a prominent character in the film that defies their negativity about modern Russia – a character that represents altruism and the growth of civil society in the country.

A common theme in all this is that Russia is a bad country and Russians can’t help but be a bunch of good-for-nothings at best and dangerous deviants at worst. Indeed, according to media depictions, sometimes they manage to be both at the same time. But what they don’t manage to be is positive, constructive or even complicated. Sipher knows that the average American has been deluged with this anti-Russian prejudice, as reflected in his challenge at the end of his initial tweet about the largest country, geographically at least, in the world: Name something positive.

Countering the Negative

Most people know, at least in the abstract, that few individuals or groups are purely good or bad. Most are a complex combination of both. But many – including those who normally consider themselves to be open-minded liberals – have allowed their lizard brains to be triggered by the constant demonization of Russia in the hopes of taking down Trump whom they deem to be a disproportionate threat to everything they hold dear. So as a counterweight to all the negative constantly pumped out about Russia and to take Sipher up on his challenge, I will list some positive things about Russia and the contribution of the country and its people to the world.

Continue reading the article here

What Putin Said During His Address to the Federal Assembly

Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, photo courtesy of the Kremlin website

There is much hoopla surrounding what Putin said about defense and nuclear weapons in his recent Address to the Federal Assembly, which is the equivalent of our State of the Union.  Of course, we are greeted with the usual distortion and misrepresentation in most of the western corporate media in its coverage of the speech.

Ironically, the majority of Putin’s speech (given in the run-up to the presidential election) – 2/3 – was about an ambitious program of domestic development meant to build on the progress of the last 17 years of Russia digging itself out of the collapse of the 1990’s and catapulting itself into a modern, stable country with a high standard of living.   Putin and the average Russian know that the only way they can proceed with this program of development is to be left in peace to do so by those in the world with an interest in maintaining  hegemony in a zero-sum game.  We won’t mention any names just yet.

The speech certainly raised an eyebrow but it did not shock me that Putin, while publicly pursuing negotiations with Washington for years – and rebuffed by both parties – would also ensure behind the scenes that the means would be developed to adequately defend Russia if no deal could be made.  It’s like the old adage:  hope (and push) for the best, but prepare for the worst.   Putin is no fool and for those MSM pundits who want to soothe their imperial egos, Putin is not a bluffer and he especially wouldn’t bluff about something like Russia’s security and survival.  It would go against his personality and his credibility.  Those who want to believe otherwise are making a very dangerous assumption.

There have been a few excellent write-ups on Putin’s speech in the independent media.  (See here, here and here).  The one I will mention is by Gilbert Doctorow (third link above).  As Doctorow notes, Americans who ought to be the ones paying attention to these kinds of things (e.g. military and intelligence leaders) have been caught flat-footed again and again by Putin’s counter-moves that have effectively blocked Washington’s imperial plans:  Ukraine/Crimea, Syria, and now missile defense.

It is due to this combination of ignorance, self-delusion and hubris – a belief in their own exceptionalism – that the idea of them not being able to successfully control everything and impose their will and ways on all is impossible to even consider.  They, therefore, not only believe that they have no need to listen to anyone who doesn’t reflect back their own views, but they have no need to even truly know anyone else.  Hence their incompetent advisers, eschewing of diplomacy, sloppy and deceptive intelligence, pulling the same schemes over and over regardless of the disastrous consequences, and the prostituted media that enables them.  This is why they’ve been outsmarted each time by a determined and resourceful man who – whatever his faults may be – will do whatever it takes to defend and develop his country.

The question now is can the collection of arrogant mediocrities in Washington humble themselves enough to learn the much-needed lessons to avoid WWIII?

Without further ado, here is the last 1/3 of Putin’s speech which comprises the entire section dealing with foreign policy and security:

The operation in Syria has proved the increased capabilities of the Russian Armed Forces. In recent years, a great deal has been done to improve the Army and the Navy. The Armed Forces now have 3.7 times more modern weapons. Over 300 new units of equipment were put into service. The strategic missile troops received 80 new intercontinental ballistic missiles, 102 submarine-launched ballistic missiles and three Borei nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. Twelve missile regiments have received the new Yarsintercontinental ballistic missile. The number of long-range high-precision weapons carriers has increased by 12 times, while the number of guided cruise missiles increased by over 30 times. The Army, the Aerospace Forces and the Navy have grown significant stronger as well.

Both Russia and the entire world know the names of our newest planes, submarines, anti-aircraft weapons, as well as land-based, airborne and sea-based guided missile systems. All of them are cutting-edge, high-tech weapons. A solid radar field to warn of a missile attack was created along Russia’s perimeter (it is very important). Huge holes appeared after the USSR disintegrated. All of them were repaired.

A leap forward was made in the development of unmanned aircraft; the National Defence Control Centre was established; and the operational command of the far maritime zone was formed. The number of professional service members has increased by 2.4 times, and the availability of equipment in the Armed Forces grew from 70 percent to 95–100 percent. The years-long queue for permanent housing was eliminated, and the waiting period was cut by 83 percent.

Now, on to the most important defence issue.

I will speak about the newest systems of Russian strategic weapons that we are creating in response to the unilateral withdrawal of the United States of America from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the practical deployment of their missile defence systems both in the US and beyond their national borders.

I would like to make a short journey into the recent past.

Back in 2000, the US announced its withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Russia was categorically against this. We saw the Soviet-US ABM Treaty signed in 1972 as the cornerstone of the international security system. Under this treaty, the parties had the right to deploy ballistic missile defence systems only in one of its regions. Russia deployed these systems around Moscow, and the US around its Grand Forks land-based ICBM base.

Together with the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the ABM Treaty not only created an atmosphere of trust but also prevented either party from recklessly using nuclear weapons, which would have endangered humankind, because the limited number of ballistic missile defence systems made the potential aggressor vulnerable to a response strike.

We did our best to dissuade the Americans from withdrawing from the treaty. All in vain. The US pulled out of the treaty in 2002. Even after that we tried to develop constructive dialogue with the Americans. We proposed working together in this area to ease concerns and maintain the atmosphere of trust. At one point, I thought that a compromise was possible, but this was not to be. All our proposals, absolutely all of them, were rejected. And then we said that we would have to improve our modern strike systems to protect our security. In reply, the US said that it is not creating a global BMD system against Russia, which is free to do as it pleases, and that the US will presume that our actions are not spearheaded against the US.

The reasons behind this position are obvious. After the collapse of the USSR, Russia, which was known as the Soviet Union or Soviet Russia abroad, lost 23.8 percent of its national territory, 48.5 percent of its population, 41 of the GDP, 39.4 percent of its industrial potential (nearly half of our potential, I would underscore), as well as 44.6 percent of its military capability due to the division of the Soviet Armed Forces among the former Soviet republics. The military equipment of the Russian army was becoming obsolete, and the Armed Forces were in a sorry state. A civil war was raging in the Caucasus, and US inspectors oversaw the operation of our leading uranium enrichment plants.

For a certain time, the question was not whether we would be able to develop a strategic weapon system – some wondered if our country would even be able to safely store and maintain the nuclear weapons that we inherited after the collapse of the USSR. Russia had outstanding debts, its economy could not function without loans from the IMF and the World Bank; the social sphere was impossible to sustain.

Apparently, our partners got the impression that it was impossible in the foreseeable historical perspective for our country to revive its economy, industry, defence industry and Armed Forces to levels supporting the necessary strategic potential. And if that is the case, there is no point in reckoning with Russia’s opinion, it is necessary to further pursue ultimate unilateral military advantage in order to dictate the terms in every sphere in the future.

Basically, this position, this logic, judging from the realities of that period, is understandable, and we ourselves are to blame. All these years, the entire 15 years since the withdrawal of the United States from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, we have consistently tried to reengage the American side in serious discussions, in reaching agreements in the sphere of strategic stability.

We managed to accomplish some of these goals. In 2010, Russia and the US signed the New START treaty, containing measures for the further reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms. However, in light of the plans to build a global anti-ballistic missile system, which are still being carried out today, all agreements signed within the framework of New START are now gradually being devaluated, because while the number of carriers and weapons is being reduced, one of the parties, namely, the US, is permitting constant, uncontrolled growth of the number of anti-ballistic missiles, improving their quality, and creating new missile launching areas. If we do not do something, eventually this will result in the complete devaluation of Russia’s nuclear potential. Meaning that all of our missiles could simply be intercepted.

Despite our numerous protests and pleas, the American machine has been set into motion, the conveyer belt is moving forward. There are new missile defence systems installed in Alaska and California; as a result of NATO’s expansion to the east, two new missile defence areas were created in Western Europe: one has already been created in Romania, while the deployment of the system in Poland is now almost complete. Their range will keep increasing; new launching areas are to be created in Japan and South Korea. The US global missile defence system also includes five cruisers and 30 destroyers, which, as far as we know, have been deployed to regions in close proximity to Russia’s borders. I am not exaggerating in the least; and this work proceeds apace.

So, what have we done, apart from protesting and warning? How will Russia respond to this challenge? This is how.

During all these years since the unilateral US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, we have been working intensively on advanced equipment and arms, which allowed us to make a breakthrough in developing new models of strategic weapons.

Let me recall that the United States is creating a global missile defence system primarily for countering strategic arms that follow ballistic trajectories. These weapons form the backbone of our nuclear deterrence forces, just as of other members of the nuclear club.

As such, Russia has developed, and works continuously to perfect, highly effective but modestly priced systems to overcome missile defence. They are installed on all of our intercontinental ballistic missile complexes.

In addition, we have embarked on the development of the next generation of missiles. For example, the Defence Ministry and enterprises of the missile and aerospace industry are in the active phase of testing a new missile system with a heavy intercontinental missile. We called it Sarmat.

Sarmat will replace the Voevoda system made in the USSR. Its immense power was universally recognized. Our foreign colleagues even gave it a fairly threatening name.

That said, the capabilities of the Sarmat missile are much higher. Weighing over 200 tonnes, it has a short boost phase, which makes it more difficult to intercept for missile defence systems. The range of the new heavy missile, the number and power of its combat blocs is bigger than Voevoda’s. Sarmat will be equipped with a broad range of powerful nuclear warheads, including hypersonic, and the most modern means of evading missile defence. The high degree of protection of missile launchers and significant energy capabilities the system offers will make it possible to use it in any conditions.

Could you please show the video.

(Video plays.)

Voevoda’s range is 11,000 km while Sarmat has practically no range restrictions.

As the video clips show, it can attack targets both via the North and South poles.

Sarmat is a formidable missile and, owing to its characteristics, is untroubled by even the most advanced missile defence systems.

But we did not stop at that. We started to develop new types of strategic arms that do not use ballistic trajectories at all when moving toward a target and, therefore, missile defence systems are useless against them, absolutely pointless.

Allow me to elaborate on these weapons.

Russia’s advanced arms are based on the cutting-edge, unique achievements of our scientists, designers and engineers. One of them is a small-scale heavy-duty nuclear energy unit that can be installed in a missile like our latest X-101 air-launched missile or the American Tomahawk missile – a similar type but with a range dozens of times longer, dozens, basically an unlimited range. It is a low-flying stealth missile carrying a nuclear warhead, with almost an unlimited range, unpredictable trajectory and ability to bypass interception boundaries. It is invincible against all existing and prospective missile defence and counter-air defence systems. I will repeat this several times today.

In late 2017, Russia successfully launched its latest nuclear-powered missile at the Central training ground. During its flight, the nuclear-powered engine reached its design capacity and provided the necessary propulsion.

Now that the missile launch and ground tests were successful, we can begin developing a completely new type of weapon, a strategic nuclear weapons system with a nuclear-powered missile.

Roll the video, please.

(Video plays.)

You can see how the missile bypasses interceptors. As the range is unlimited, the missile can manoeuvre for as long as necessary.

As you no doubt understand, no other country has developed anything like this. There will be something similar one day but by that time our guys will have come up with something even better.

Now, we all know that the design and development of unmanned weapon systems is another common trend in the world. As concerns Russia, we have developed unmanned submersible vehicles that can move at great depths (I would say extreme depths) intercontinentally, at a speed multiple times higher than the speed of submarines, cutting-edge torpedoes and all kinds of surface vessels, including some of the fastest. It is really fantastic. They are quiet, highly manoeuvrable and have hardly any vulnerabilities for the enemy to exploit. There is simply nothing in the world capable of withstanding them.

Unmanned underwater vehicles can carry either conventional or nuclear warheads, which enables them to engage various targets, including aircraft groups, coastal fortifications and infrastructure.

In December 2017, an innovative nuclear power unit for this unmanned underwater vehicle completed a test cycle that lasted many years. The nuclear power unit is unique for its small size while offering an amazing power-weight ratio. It is a hundred times smaller than the units that power modern submarines, but is still more powerful and can switch into combat mode, that is to say, reach maximum capacity, 200 times faster.

The tests that were conducted enabled us to begin developing a new type of strategic weapon that would carry massive nuclear ordnance.

Please play the video.

(Video plays.)

By the way, we have yet to choose names for these two new strategic weapons, the global-range cruise missile and the unmanned underwater vehicle. We are waiting for suggestions from the Defence Ministry.

Countries with high research potential and advanced technology are known to be actively developing so-called hypersonic weapons. The speed of sound is usually measured in Mach numbers in honour of Austrian scientist Ernst Mach who is known for his research in this field. One Mach is equal to 1,062 kilometres per hour at an altitude of 11 kilometres. The speed of sound is Mach 1, speeds between Mach 1 and Mach 5 is called supersonic, and hypersonic is above Mach 5. Of course, this kind of weapon provides substantial advantages in an armed conflict. Military experts believe that it would be extremely powerful, and that its speed makes it invulnerable to current missile and air defence systems, since interceptor missiles are, simply put, not fast enough. In this regard, it is quite understandable why the leading armies of the world seek to possess such an ideal weapon.

Friends, Russia already has such a weapon.

The most important stage in the development of modern weapons systems was the creation of a high-precision hypersonic aircraft missile system; as you already know for sure, it is the only one of its kind in the world. Its tests have been successfully completed, and, moreover, on December 1 of last year, these systems began their trial service at the airfields of the Southern Military District.

The unique flight characteristics of the high-speed carrier aircraft allow the missile to be delivered to the point of discharge within minutes. The missile flying at a hypersonic speed, 10 times faster than the speed of sound, can also manoeuvre at all phases of its flight trajectory, which also allows it to overcome all existing and, I think, prospective anti-aircraft and anti-missile defence systems, delivering nuclear and conventional warheads in a range of over 2,000 kilometres. We called this system Kinzhal (Dagger).

Video, please.

(Video plays.)

But this is not all I have to say.

A real technological breakthrough is the development of a strategic missile system with fundamentally new combat equipment – a gliding wing unit, which has also been successfully tested.

I will say once again what we have repeatedly told our American and European partners who are NATO members: we will make the necessary efforts to neutralise the threats posed by the deployment of the US global missile defence system. We mentioned this during talks, and even said it publicly. Back in 2004, after the exercises of the strategic nuclear forces when the system was tested for the first time, I said the following at a meeting with the press (It is embarrassing to quote myself, but it is the right thing to say here):

So, I said: “As other countries increase the number and quality of their arms and military potential, Russia will also need to ensure it has new generation weapons and technology.

In this respect, I am pleased to inform you that successfully completed experiments during these exercises enable us to confirm that in the near future, the Russian Armed Forces, the Strategic Missile Forces, will receive new hypersonic-speed, high-precision new weapons systems that can hit targets at inter-continental distance and can adjust their altitude and course as they travel. This is a very significant statement because no country in the world as of now has such arms in their military arsenal.” End of quote.

Of course, every word has a meaning because we are talking about the possibility of bypassing interception boundaries. Why did we do all this? Why did we talk about it? As you can see, we made no secret of our plans and spoke openly about them, primarily to encourage our partners to hold talks. Let me repeat, this was in 2004. It is actually surprising that despite all the problems with the economy, finances and the defence industry, Russia has remained a major nuclear power. No, nobody really wanted to talk to us about the core of the problem, and nobody wanted to listen to us. So listen now.

Unlike existing types of combat equipment, this system is capable of intercontinental flight at supersonic speeds in excess of Mach 20.

As I said in 2004, in moving to its target, the missile’s gliding cruise bloc engages in intensive manoeuvring – both lateral (by several thousand km) and vertical. This is what makes it absolutely invulnerable to any air or missile defence system. The use of new composite materials has made it possible to enable the gliding cruise bloc to make a long-distance guided flight practically in conditions of plasma formation. It flies to its target like a meteorite, like a ball of fire. The temperature on its surface reaches 1,600–2,000 degrees Celsius but the cruise bloc is reliably guided.

Play the video, please.

(Video plays).

For obvious reasons we cannot show the outer appearance of this system here. This is still very important. I hope everyone understands this. But let me assure you that we have all this and it is working well. Moreover, Russian industrial enterprises have embarked on the development of another new type of strategic weapon. We called it the Avangard.

We are well aware that a number of other countries are developing advanced weapons with new physical properties. We have every reason to believe that we are one step ahead there as well – at any rate, in the most essential areas.

We have achieved significant progress in laser weapons. It is not just a concept or a plan any more. It is not even in the early production stages. Since last year, our troops have been armed with laser weapons.

I do not want to reveal more details. It is not the time yet. But experts will understand that with such weaponry, Russia’s defence capacity has multiplied.

Here is another short video.

(Video plays.)

Those interested in military equipment are welcome to suggest a name for this new weaponry, this cutting-edge system.

Of course, we will be refining this state-of-the-art technology. Obviously, there is far more in development than I have mentioned today. But this is enough for now.

I want to specifically emphasise that the newly developed strategic arms – in fact, new types of strategic weapons – are not the result of something left over from the Soviet Union. Of course, we relied on some ideas from our ingenious predecessors. But everything I have described today is the result of the last several years, the product of dozens of research organisations, design bureaus and institutes.

Thousands, literally thousands of our experts, outstanding scientists, designers, engineers, passionate and talented workers have been working for years, quietly, humbly, selflessly, with total dedication. There are many young professionals among them. They are our true heroes, along with our military personnel who demonstrated the best qualities of the Russian army in combat. I want to address each of them right now and say that there will absolutely be awards, prizes and honorary titles but, because I have met many of you in person many times, I know you are not after awards. The most important thing is to reliably ensure the security of our country and our people. As President and on behalf of the Russian people, I want to say thank you very much for your hard work and its results. Our country needs them so much.

As I have already said, all future military products are based on remarkable advances that can, should and will be used in high-technology civilian sectors. I would like to stress that only a country with the highest level of fundamental research and education, developed research, technology, industrial infrastructure and human resources can successfully develop unique and complex weapons of this kind. You can see that Russia has all these resources.

We will expand this potential and focus on delivering on the ambitious goals our country has set itself in terms of economic, social and infrastructure development. Effective defence will serve as a guarantee of Russia’s long-term development.

Let me reiterate that each of the armament systems I referred to is uniquely important. Even more importantly, taken together all these advances enable the Defence Ministry and General Staff to develop a comprehensive defence system, in which every piece of new military equipment will be assigned a proper role. On top of strategic weapons that are currently on combat alert and benefit from regular updates, Russia will have a defence capability that would guarantee its security in the long term.

Of course, there are many things that we have to do in terms of military construction, but one thing is already clear: Russia possesses a modern, high-technology army that is quite compact given the size of the territory, centred on the officer corps, who are dedicated to their country and are ready to sacrifice anything for its people. Sooner or later, other armies will also have the technology, the weapons, even the most advanced ones. But this does not worry us, since we already have it and will have even better armaments in the future. What matters is that they will never have people or officers like the Russian pilot Major Roman Filipov.

I hope that everything that was said today would make any potential aggressor think twice, since unfriendly steps against Russia such as deploying missile defences and bringing NATO infrastructure closer to the Russian border become ineffective in military terms and entail unjustified costs, making them useless for those promoting these initiatives.

It was our duty to inform our partners of what I said here today under the international commitments Russia had subscribed to. When the time comes, foreign and defence ministry experts will have many opportunities to discuss all these matters with them, if of course our partners so desire.

For my part, I should note that we have conducted the work to reinforce Russia’s defence capability within the current arms control agreements; we are not violating anything. I should specifically say that Russia’s growing military strength is not a threat to anyone; we have never had any plans to use this potential for offensive, let alone aggressive goals.

We are not threatening anyone, not going to attack anyone or take away anything from anyone with the threat of weapons. We do not need anything. Just the opposite. I deem it necessary to emphasise (and it is very important) that Russia’s growing military power is a solid guarantee of global peace as this power preserves and will preserve strategic parity and the balance of forces in the world, which, as is known, have been and remain a key factor of international security after WWII and up to the present day.

And to those who in the past 15 years have tried to accelerate an arms race and seek unilateral advantage against Russia, have introduced restrictions and sanctions that are illegal from the standpoint of international law aiming to restrain our nation’s development, including in the military area, I will say this: everything you have tried to prevent through such a policy has already happened. No one has managed to restrain Russia.

Now we have to be aware of this reality and be sure that everything I have said today is not a bluff ‒ and it is not a bluff, believe me ‒ and to give it a thought and dismiss those who live in the past and are unable to look into the future, to stop rocking the boat we are all in and which is called the Earth.

In this connection, I would like to note the following. We are greatly concerned by certain provisions of the revised nuclear posture review, which expand the opportunities for reducing and reduce the threshold for the use of nuclear arms. Behind closed doors, one may say anything to calm down anyone, but we read what is written. And what is written is that this strategy can be put into action in response to conventional arms attacks and even to a cyber-threat.

I should note that our military doctrine says Russia reserves the right to use nuclear weapons solely in response to a nuclear attack, or an attack with other weapons of mass destruction against the country or its allies, or an act of aggression against us with the use of conventional weapons that threaten the very existence of the state. This all is very clear and specific.

As such, I see it is my duty to announce the following. Any use of nuclear weapons against Russia or its allies, weapons of short, medium or any range at all, will be considered as a nuclear attack on this country. Retaliation will be immediate, with all the attendant consequences.

There should be no doubt about this whatsoever. There is no need to create more threats to the world. Instead, let us sit down at the negotiating table and devise together a new and relevant system of international security and sustainable development for human civilisation. We have been saying this all along. All these proposals are still valid. Russia is ready for this.

Our policies will never be based on claims to exceptionalism. We protect our interests and respect the interests of other countries. We observe international law and believe in the inviolable central role of the UN. These are the principles and approaches that allow us to build strong, friendly and equal relations with the absolute majority of countries.

Our comprehensive strategic partnership with the People’s Republic of China is one example. Russia and India also enjoy a special privileged strategic relationship. Our relations with many other countries in the world are entering a new dynamic stage.

Russia is widely involved in international organisations. With our partners, we are advancing such associations and groups as the CSTO, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and BRICS. We are promoting a positive agenda at the UN, G20 and APEC. We are interested in normal and constructive cooperation with the United States and the European Union. We hope that common sense will prevail and our partners will opt for honest and equal work together.

Even if our views clash on some issues, we still remain partners because we must work together to respond to the most complex challenges, ensure global security, and build the future world, which is becoming increasingly interconnected, with more and more dynamic integration processes.

Russia and its partners in the Eurasian Economic Union seek to make it a globally competitive integration group. The EAEU’s agenda includes building a common market for electricity, oil, petroleum products and gas, harmonising financial markets, and linking our customs authorities. We will also continue to work on a greater Eurasian partnership.

Colleagues, this is a turning period for the entire world and those who are willing and able to change, those who are taking action and moving forward will take the lead. Russia and its people have expressed this will at every defining moment in our history. In just 30 years, we have undergone changes that took centuries in other countries.

We will continue to confidently chart our own course, just as we always have. We will stick together, as we always have. Our unity is the most durable foundation for future progress. In the coming years, it is our goal to further strengthen this unity so that we are one team that understands that change is necessary and is ready to devote its energy, knowledge, experience and talent to achieving common goals.

Challenges and big goals give special meaning to our lives. We must be bold in our plans and actions, take responsibility and initiative, and grow stronger, which means being of use to our families, children, the whole country; changing the world and our country for the better; and creating the Russia that we all dream about. Only then will the next decade and the entire 21st century undoubtedly be an age of outstanding triumphs for Russia and our shared success. I believe it will be so.

Thank you.

 

Review – Roosevelt & Stalin: Portrait of a Partnership

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Academic Susan Butler’s Roosevelt and Stalin:  Portrait of a Partnership is dense, covering a lot of historical background on how the Allies worked together and prevailed in WWII, the groundwork laid for the United Nations, and the origins of the Cold War and how it possibly could have been avoided had FDR lived another year or longer.  But it’s also a compelling read – I often had trouble putting it down and often found myself wanting to quickly pick it back up to find out what came next.

The overriding theme of the book is Roosevelt’s deliberate and painstaking efforts to win Stalin’s trust in order to not only achieve victory in the war but to implement his vision of a post-war world order in which the UN would mediate international conflicts to prevent war and eventually facilitate disarmament.

Roosevelt was under no illusions that Stalin or the Soviet Union would become the U.S.’s friends, but that the world’s other emerging superpower needed incentive to cooperate with his post-war vision in which all nations could be reined in.

In order to achieve his goals, however, FDR would have to navigate a potential minefield of distrust between Britain and Russia as historic imperial rivals, as well as the personal dislike between their leaders.  FDR was confident in his ability to serve as a mediator between the two and his confidence turned out to be well-placed.

According to observers, FDR was by turns charming, audacious and used subterfuge in order to gain Stalin’s trust and keep Churchill at bay:

“FDR was a master manipulator of people.  He instinctively knew how to keep Stalin and Churchill working together…Roosevelt was brilliant at sizing people up.  He could intuit other people’s views of reality and appeal to them.  He could lay out a path that made sense from where other people stood; in the process of understanding, he could lead them forward to accept his goals as theirs.” (p. 324)

Roosevelt began working his diplomatic skills with Stalin at the Tehran Conference in 1943 and through the Yalta Conference of 1945, including many direct and indirect communications in between.  Consequently, Stalin developed a deep respect for the American president, eventually finding him to be fair and trustworthy.  Roosevelt was aware that the British had a habit of not keeping their word with Russia and that he could, in contrast, obtain the trust and backing of the Soviet leader with honorable behavior.

Stalin had reportedly never heaped as much praise on anyone, with the exception of Lenin, as he did on Roosevelt.  The two leaders developed a genuine personal rapport.  Stalin expressed sympathy for FDR’s disabilities after chatting with him at his bedside during a health setback at Yalta, commenting to his ambassador:  “Why did nature have to punish him so?  Is he any worse than other people?” (p. 370)

As a reflection of the respect and fondness for Roosevelt felt by both Stalin and the Soviet people, the USSR mourned his passing in April of 1945:

“Virtually the entire Soviet nation, people at every level of society, reacted as if they had lost a real friend.  It was “suggested” by the all-powerful Council of People’s Commissars that all government agencies hang flags of mourning from their buildings, which of course they did.  Not just flags flew black borders, but the front pages of all Soviet newspapers announcing the president’s death were bordered in black as well: his death dominated the news for days.  The front page of Izvestia on April 13 featured Stalin’s condolence letter to Eleanor Roosevelt, in which he called the president “the great organizer of the struggle of freedom-loving nations against the common enemy…the leader of the cause ensuring security world over.”” (p. 466)

By 1939, FDR and some of his advisers had recognized the serious threat to world peace that Hitler’s Germany posed.  They also realized why Stalin signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact with the Nazis, though FDR made a personal appeal to Stalin not to.

Origins of the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 1939

Stalin was well aware of Hitler’s anti-Slavic views as reflected in Mein Kampf.  Along with Jews, Slavs were considered sub-human.  Through trade with the U.S., Stalin hoped to obtain materials that might be useful in the event of war with Germany.

But however sympathetic FDR might have been on the matter, he faced domestic obstacles that included strong isolationist sentiment and possible accusations of being a communist sympathizer.

The desire of the Bolshevik leadership for trade and cordial relations with the U.S. to balance out anti-Russian dynamics in Europe and in the Pacific started with Lenin as early as 1919:

“It is only the United States of America that may help the Soviet Government since they need friendship with the Republican Russia in the interests of their domestic and foreign politics.  They need: first, markets for the products of their industry; second, opportunities for profitable investment of their capitals; third to weaken English influence in Europe…The relations between the United States and Japan are not sincere…The war between them is inevitable….Entering into relationship with the United States is the issue of paramount national importance and the fate of Soviet Russia depends on its successful resolution.” [emphasis in the original] (pp. 149-50)

Lenin still advocated for such a policy in 1921.  After his death in 1924, Stalin proceeded to seek official recognition of the Soviet government but didn’t succeed until after Roosevelt took office in 1933.

Moreover, after Hitler had taken Austria, Czechoslovakia, and the Sudetenland, Stalin vigorously sought a security pact with Britain and France to counter any potential German aggression.  But Prime Minister Chamberlain continually rebuffed such offers.  The fact that the British and French elites tended to be fearful of communism and even sympathetic to fascism didn’t help matters.  It was also a problem that, in terms of defending border countries, the Polish leadership would not agree to Soviet troops on its soil even in the event of a German invasion.

Finally, at the end of July of 1939, diplomats from France and Britain were sent to the Soviet Union, but Chamberlain had them placed on a slow freighter instead of quicker transport that was available.  Upon arrival, a further delay occurred when it was realized that the British diplomat did not have documents authorizing him to officially negotiate.  When Soviet officials were finally told that Britain had minimal divisions available for potential military operations, revealing serious weakness, the Soviets concluded that Britain was not acting in good faith.

It is believed by some that the British leadership didn’t foresee any potential for a pact between Germany and the Soviet Union and felt that the approaching autumn/winter weather would preclude any possibility of a German attack.  Thus, the mere appearance of negotiations between Britain and the Soviet Union were thought to be a sufficient deterrent.

Meanwhile, FDR saw the decision of Britain and France to not ally with the Soviet Union to counter Germany as a grave miscalculation and thought a war was inevitable.  Consequently, he “quietly” signed orders creating military infrastructure that could be utilized for action in the future. He also attempted to persuade key senators to repeal the American Neutrality Act so as to allow transfer of weapons to vulnerable European nations based on diplomatic information from Belgium that such a move would make Hitler think twice about further aggression. But he was unsuccessful in those efforts.

Sensing the futility of his attempts to ally with Britain and France, Stalin fired the pro-British Maxim Litvinov as Foreign Minister and appointed Molotov who was more sympathetic to Germany.  Stalin also knew that as the Soviet official who was by far the closest to him, he would get more detailed reports of negotiations from Molotov. Talks on trade with Germany were eventually begun and those on political issues soon followed.

When Stalin signed the pact with Germany on August 24, 1939, he believed that he was buying time to prepare for any invasion.  He clung to the delusion that Germany would seek to take out Britain first and Hitler intentionally gave that impression.

Operation Barbarossa: The German Invasion of the Soviet Union

Stalin’s denial in the face of continual warnings of an imminent German attack from his own generals and multiple intelligence and diplomatic sources, including information passed on to the Soviet Ambassador from the U.S. State Department, which had surreptitiously obtained a copy of Hitler’s Directive for Operation Barbarossa, is simply mind-boggling.

Due to pressure from General Georgi Zhukov and Semyon Timoshenko, Stalin agreed to some modest defensive preparations.  But he was so convinced that Germany would not yet attack the Soviet Union that he even granted a German request to search for bodies of German soldiers who’d died in WWI in Russia. Zhukov and Timoshenko were flabbergasted at this blatant attempt to survey Russian military positions and troop levels.  Stalin’s justification was that he was appeasing Germany to avoid giving it a pretext for an early attack.

The books’ description of Germany’s vicious assault on the Soviet Union as it began in early summer, and its devastation to the western part of the country in short order, is one of the most sobering accounts I’ve read of these events:

“Beginning at 3:15 on the morning of June 22 three million German soldiers, plus another half million Romanian, Finnish, Hungarian, Italian and Croat troops, coordinating their attack from the Finnish border to the Black Sea, equipped with 700,000 field guns –some marching on foot, some riding in one of 3,600 tanks or one of the 600,000 motor vehicles, some mounted on one of the 600,000 horses – spilled over the Soviet western border.  Over their heads flew 500 bombers, 270 dive-bombers, and 480 fighters.

“Because the Germans, using various pretexts, had been allowed to fly reconnaissance missions over the Russian border and had checked out the airfields, army bases, and command centers for the better part of a year, the Luftwaffe easily and quickly found its targets; the immediate devastation was huge:  twelve hundred Soviet planes were lost the first day. The commander of the western front’s air forces was so stunned he committed suicide….

“In three days the Wehrmacht advanced 150 miles.  Within a week the Germans had captured 400,000 soldiers, damaged more than four thousand planes beyond repair, and penetrated 300 miles into Russia, capturing Minsk.  Another 200,000 soldiers were captured the second week.” (p. 191)

It took several days for the profound error in judgment he’d made to sink into Stalin, during which he retreated to his dacha, drank heavily, and reportedly suffered a nervous breakdown.  Molotov was forced to give the first post-invasion speech to the Soviet population.  When finally Molotov, Beria – the head of the NKVD (precursor to the KGB) – and another Soviet official entered his dacha, Stalin feared they had come to arrest him.  Upon realizing that they had not come to depose him but expected him to assume his duties as the Soviet leader, he managed to pull himself together.

Stalin proceeded to put in 18-hour days and got himself quickly up to speed on all relevant military and logistical matters. He immediately made efforts to reach out to the U.S. and Britain for an alliance.

By mid-September, however, Kiev had been captured and over 400,000 Soviet soldiers taken prisoner after which they were held in open air fields where they were shot or allowed to starve or die from exposure.

Everyone has heard of the infamous Siege of Leningrad.  However, in September of 1941, the siege of Moscow began and would kill 926,000 before ending.

“By October 5 three German fronts were close to encircling the city.  Zhukov, ordered by Stalin to return to Moscow, arrived on October 8.  On that day 600,000 Muscovites were mobilized to mine the main bridges and tunnels, build barricades, create obstacles, dig trenches, and destroy all remaining industrial sites.  In all, 498 companies and 210,000 workers were packed up, put on rails, and transported to the east.” (p. 213)

By the middle of the month, Stalin was forced to order the evacuation of the city.

“October 16 was a day of terror in Moscow.  The Moscow police had been sent to the front. The city closed down:  there were no buses, no trolleys; the metro stopped running.  The streets were jammed with panicked people – families, possessions, baggage – all trying to move out of the city, amid a rain of soot swirling overhead as office workers set their files on fire.” (p. 216)

In early November the anniversary of the 1917 revolution was coming up, which was normally commemorated with an elaborate celebration in the capital.  Stalin decided to hold the traditional march in Red Square with a military parade. Molotov and Beria were incredulous at the idea.

But Stalin ordered a fighter “umbrella” to protect the city from German bombers.  Stalin then gave a 30 minute speech broadcast all over the Soviet Union.  A reporter for Overseas Press, Ralph Parker, relayed the impact of the speech on heretofore despondent Muscovites:

“The war is won,” a Red Army colonel said to him as they stood at a railway station east of Moscow….

All around him, Parker noticed, “people stood transfixed by their leader’s voice and turned rapt faces towards Moscow whence it came.”

By November 23rd things were looking extremely grim as German soldiers were close enough to see the highest points of the capital city and Russian officials had asked British diplomats for help in destroying the oil wells in the Caucasus.  Then something fateful happened:  the temperature dropped to -4 F.  German soldiers weren’t prepared for the Russian winter, their leaders assuming they would have captured Moscow well before then.  At this point, General Zhukov was finally able to mount a successful counter-attack and go on the offensive.  Moscow then handed the Wehrmacht its first major defeat.

FDR’s Response to German Invasion of Soviet Union

“Roosevelt knew that if Hitler emerged victorious from the Soviet Union, with the oil of the Caucasus, the grain of the Ukraine, and the manpower of Russia at his fingertips, with Hirohito and Mussolini as his allies, he would not rule just Western Europe but the world.  Therefore, the Soviet Union had to be helped.” (p. 194)

Though Roosevelt understood the grave implications if Hitler succeeded in his conquest of the Soviet Union, he had to deal with the deep anti-Russian sentiment that permeated much of the State Department.  Indeed the prejudice interfered with the foreign service staff’s ability to perform its duties competently.  Comprised mostly of “conservative, wealthy socially prominent eastern establishment families that were bitterly anti-New Deal,” the staff’s assessment of Stalin’s proclivities on foreign affairs and willingness to cooperate with the U.S. turned out to be dead wrong.  (p. 113)

FDR appointed Sumner Welles as Under Secretary of State to lead a reorganization of the department’s staff.  But the results were less than successful and FDR was forced to find ways to circumvent the stonewalling he encountered within the State Department and other agencies when trying to implement policies to assist the Soviet Union.

For the time being, FDR had to work with Harry Hopkins to expand the Lend-Lease program to provide direct assistance as quickly as possible to the Soviet defense.  Hopkins convinced FDR to let him go to Moscow as soon as possible for a direct meeting with Soviet officials.  Hopkins subsequently had a 2-hour meeting with Stalin to coordinate assistance.  During this meeting the Soviet leader said he would allow American troops to operate in any part of Russia under American command if they were willing to do so.

Roosevelt still encountered attempts to sabotage his robust efforts to supply the Soviet Union lower down the chain of his administration.  Nevertheless, by the fall, the Lend-Lease program and the “Moscow Protocol” were providing “massive” supplies to Russia in the fight against Germany.

“The list of goods that Roosevelt committed to send to the Soviet Union was astounding.  It included shipments every month of 400 planes, 500 tanks, 5,000 cars, 10,000 trucks, and huge quantities of antitank guns, anti-aircraft guns, diesel generators, field telephones, radios, motorcycles, wheat, flour, sugar, 200,000 pairs of boots, a million yards of woolen overcoat cloth, as well as 500,000 pairs of surgical gloves and 15,000 amputation saws.  Shipments began virtually immediately.  By the end of October ships carrying 100 bombers, 100 fighter planes, and 166 tanks – all with spare parts and ammunition – plus, 5,500 trucks were on the high seas.” (p. 210)

Later at the Tehran Conference, Stalin would acknowledge the critical contribution of Lend-Lease to the Soviet defense:

“I want to tell you, from the Russian point of view, what the President and the United States have done to win the war.  The most important things in this war are machines.  The United States has proven that it can turn out from 8,000 to 10,000 airplanes per month.  Russia can only turn out, at most, 3,000 airplanes a month.  England turns out 3,000 to 3,500, which are principally heavy bombers.  The United States, therefore, is a country of machines.  Without the use of these machines, through Lend-Lease, we would lose this war.” (p. 117)

FDR also felt he had to come up with ways to prevent any senior military officials from working to oppose his plans.  For example, the Map Room was set up for important diplomatic messages to be passed and military information to be tracked via charts and maps displayed on the walls.  Only FDR, Hopkins and Admiral Leahy were allowed access to this room outside of the staff of code officers and 6 watch officers – 3 from the army and 3 from the navy.  To prevent any military officials from knowing his complete correspondence with Churchill, Stalin and Chiang Kai-Shek, incoming messages were relayed through the War Department and outgoing messages through the Navy Department.

The U.S. Officially Enters the War

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Roosevelt administration faced few domestic political obstacles to any military assistance against the axis powers.  In early 1942, discussions were underway for a cross-channel attack on Germany the following year, opening up a western front in Europe.  The plan was known as Operation Overlord and was supported by most of the American military leadership, including Secretary of War Stimson, General Marshall and Eisenhower who was then a colonel/brigadier-general.  Eisenhower drafted the plan for spring of 1943.  However, British cooperation was necessary and Churchill argued for delay of the plan as the Joint Chiefs of Staff knew he would.

Churchill’s main delaying tactic was to argue for a diversion of troops to capture islands in the Mediterranean, a further push into Italy, and increasing supplies to “partisans” in the Balkans in the hope of provoking a Balkans split from Germany thereby pushing Turkey into the war. None of the other allied political or military leaders were convinced of the feasibility of Churchill’s plan, but his opposition to Overlord prevented its implementation at that time.  It was only at the Tehran Conference at the end of 1943 that Churchill begrudgingly agreed to the operation.

After being talked out of opening the second front in Europe in 1942, FDR went into North Africa.

Though Stalin was hoping for a second front to take the pressure off of the Soviet Union in the east, Molotov reportedly later admitted that he knew the second front plan was not viable for the U.S. at the time but public acknowledgment that they were planning to do so served an important political purpose: “I remained calm and realized this was a completely impossible operation for them.  But our demand was politically necessary…I don’t doubt that Stalin too believed they would not carry it out.” (p. 246)

By the time of the Tehran Conference in December of 1943, indirect communications were being conducted regularly between FDR and Stalin via diplomatic personnel and cables back and forth.  The nature of these contacts made Stalin realize that the Soviet Union was being viewed as an equal.  As a result of concerns communicated that would smooth the way for productive negotiations at Tehran and the basis for a quid pro quo relationship, Stalin began to allow for some freedom of religion in the Soviet Union and he dissolved the Comintern.

The concession on religion came about due to FDR’s suggestion that to do so would quell domestic criticism about assisting the Soviet Union.  Furthermore, Stalin was already inclined to dissolve the Comintern due to a belief that each nation should have its own communist party and it was not the Soviet Union’s responsibility to export revolution.  In addition, some of the duties of the Comintern could be reassigned to other Soviet agencies.

FDR turned down Churchill’s offer to let him stay at the British embassy in Tehran for the conference, instead he “charmed” Stalin into inviting him to stay at the Russian embassy.  On the day of his arrival, FDR had the first of three meetings with Stalin without Churchill.  FDR, of course, was deliberately keeping Churchill at arm’s length in order to begin his plan to gain Stalin’s trust and cooperation by building a rapport.  Naturally, Churchill resented such treatment by the American president.

The first meeting lasted around 40 minutes.  China, colonialism, mutual dislike of the French leadership, opening up a western front, and Stalin’s wish to become a post-war trading partner with the U.S. were all discussed to varying degrees.

First impressions of Stalin by American officials were largely positive, noting the Soviet leader’s patience and friendliness.  His intelligence was also observed:

“[Stalin] had the ability to grasp and retain certain information and had the additional gift of a photographic memory.  At meetings he worked “with no papers, no notes,” “missed nothing”; he had a “memory like a computer,” according to Andrei Gromyko, later to be Soviet ambassador to the United States.  Beria said that Stalin “dominated his entourage with his intelligence.” (p. 73)

Of course, Stalin had his match in FDR whom associates described as being a quick study even when it came to complicated matters, possessing remarkable listening skills, mastery of detail, and ability to switch gears from one issue to another.

During the second meeting without Churchill, FDR detailed his vision of the post-war world order and more specifically the United Nations.  He relayed his idea of the “4 Policemen” of the world, consisting of the U.S., Britain, China and the Soviet Union, overseeing the peace in their respective regions.  All four would become members of what would become the Security Council of the UN.  FDR had already described his UN vision with Molotov the year before, noting that initially the 4 Policemen would be the only nations allowed to have arms, with others possibly being allowed the privilege in the future if they’d demonstrated trustworthiness; the UN would conduct inspections and “if any nation menaced the peace, it could be blockaded and then if still recalcitrant bombed.”  (p. 236)

It became clear to FDR during their conversations that Stalin had to be convinced of any post-war order being able to block the resurgence of Germany, which Stalin believed would be able to rebuild within a generation unless prevented from doing so.  Stalin was not initially persuaded by FDR’s idea of the UN being able to accomplish this.  Moreover, Stalin was skeptical of China as one of the four policeman.

FDR, however, believed that China’s population alone meant that it would eventually become a serious power.  Additionally, he believed that a non-white nation must be represented on the Security Council and that China could balance out the Soviet Union’s power in Eurasia.

During the third meeting, the UN was discussed further as well as Poland and the Baltics.  Roosevelt was willing to accept Soviet control of Poland as long as it was “peaceful and its institutions preserved.” FDR and Harriman acknowledged that the UK-recognized Polish government-in-exile was problematic in terms of its leaders tendency to be strident and Russophobic in addition to expecting the U.S. and UK to “restore their position and their landed properties, which were extensive, and prop up the feudalistic system that had existed in Poland earlier in the century.”  (p. 124) Mindful of domestic politics in an upcoming election year, FDR did not discuss borders at the conference in order not to upset Polish-Americans.  He did, however, show openness to the idea of ceding Polish territory in the east to the Soviets and adding German territory in the west as compensation.

As far as the Baltics, FDR initially wanted them to be independent but eventually gave up that request.  Roosevelt got Stalin to agree to the UN as a universal global organization rather than having regional bodies in return for Soviet Control of Poland and the Baltics.

By the time of the Yalta Conference in February of 1945, the Polish question would be worked out in more detail.  By then, the Red Army had pushed the Germans out of Poland and Stalin had established the Polish Committee of National Liberation (PCNL) to govern.  At Yalta, Stalin and Churchill butted heads on the issue.

Not only had Stalin personally seen Russia’s vulnerability to attack and invasion during the Russo-Japanese war, WWI and WWII, he had a library containing more than 20,000 books on history and political theory, many of them with heavy personal annotation.  Protecting Russia’s future security with all the resources at his disposal was one of two top priorities for Stalin after the war ended.  This had everything to do with his attitude toward Poland.

Still supporting the Polish government-in-exile with its Russophobic elements, however, Churchill stated his vision of a post-war Poland under such leadership:

“The Poles have a home where they could organize their lives as they wished…that Poland be mistress in its own house and captain of its own soul…” (p. 375)

Stalin subsequently delivered a lengthy and impassioned rebuttal about Russia’s security:

“It was a question of strategic security…because throughout history Poland had been the corridor for attack on Russia…During the past thirty years Germany twice has passed through this corridor…Poland was weak.  Russia wants a strong, independent and democratic Poland…” (pp. 375-6)

Of course, “independent” and “democratic” meant a Poland that was friendly toward the Soviet Union and did not contain elements within its leadership who were members of the pre-1939 government which had harbored pro-German sympathies and actively spoke of “the next war against Russia.”  (p. 376)

FDR supported the removal of anti-Russian elements in any future Polish government and developed a rapport with the leader of the Polish Peasant Party who favored amiable relations with the Soviet Union as a possible solution.  But the leadership of the Polish Peasant Party was unable to secure significant support from the émigré community to agree to certain conditions.  Consequently, the Party was unable to successfully work with the Soviet-sponsored PCNL, cementing FDR’s resignation on Poland that it simply be allowed the outward trappings of “free and fair” elections.

Stalin’s other top priority was the reconstruction of the Soviet Union which had seen a third of its vast country destroyed by the war.  He sought a major loan from the U.S. to help with this, although it never came to fruition.  A peaceful post-war period was therefore in Stalin’s interest in order to rebuild.  He also believed it would facilitate Europe’s evolution toward communism as a superior economic system.  This may seem laughable to readers today, but at the time Stalin had good reason to think this was a very real possibility in light of all that he was able to achieve in terms of the Soviet Union’s industrial and social development within 10 short years:

“His belief was founded on the fact that he had eliminated unemployment in the Soviet Union, provided food, shelter, education, and health care where there had been minimal or none before.  He had presided over the top to bottom reorganization of Soviet society.  His five-year plans had produced remarkable results, although at great cost, little comprehended at the time.  The execution of these plans required great courage and utter ruthlessness, according to Joseph E. Davies.  Stalin had turned the Soviet Union, a backwards society, into an industrial state that had to be reckoned with.  Collectivizing the farms – involving the murder and deportation of millions of agricultural workers, the virtual extinction of the kulaks – in the end worked to change Russia forever.  In 1928, the Soviet Union had produced 4.3 million tons of steel; by 1938 that figure had risen to more than 18 million tons.  The production of trucks went from 700 per year to 182,000.  In the space of ten years Soviet Russia, an agricultural society, had become an industrial society.” (p. 261)

FDR’s main focus at Yalta, which despite his ailing health he was enthusiastic to attend, was the establishment of the UN and its potential for ushering in a new age of peace and stability.  Not only did FDR want to obtain Stalin’s buy-in for the UN and keep the other superpower in check, he also wanted to gradually push Churchill into relinquishing some of the British colonies.  Along with Stalin, FDR believed that the “pursuit and maintenance of colonial empires was a root cause of WWII.”  (p. 352)

FDR was also personally opposed to colonialism and the racism that undergirded it.  Moreover, he felt that maintaining colonial empire was against the unfolding direction of history.  Hopkins – whose views on the subject were considered to be in sync with Roosevelt’s – once told Ambassador John Winant, with respect to negotiations with the Soviet Union about the post-war future:  “The days of the policy of ‘the white man’s burden’ are over.  Vast masses of people simply are not going to tolerate it and for the life of me I can’t see why they should.” (p. 244)

However, Churchill was a virulent racist and believed whole-heartedly in the colonial system.

The most infamous example of this thinking by Churchill was his attitude toward and actions against the Indians whom he had once referred to as “pernicious vermin.” During the war, Churchill had knowingly set in motion policies that led to massive starvation in the Bengal region. As word got out of the genocidal levels of the enforced famine, offers of food aid were made by the U.S., the House of Commons voted to take steps to alleviate the starving, and appeals were made by the local viceroy and the Archbishop of Canterbury.  All of these were actively blocked and ignored by Churchill, leading to an ultimate death toll that reached into the millions.

Churchill’s cynicism about FDR’s motives were reflected in his belief that moral and practical opposition to colonialism/imperialism were not possible and that FDR merely wanted the colonies of Britain to be released so they could then become dependent politically and economically on the U.S.

FDR was ultimately able to get Churchill to allow India to sign on separately to the UN.

In preparation for the conference, FDR had his ambassador Averill Harriman communicate the issues he most wanted to discuss to FM Molotov and Soviet ambassador Maisky:  In addition to the future of international security (UN), FDR had wanted to resolve the issues surrounding Germany, namely reparations and partitioning.

Roosevelt had decided by early 1943 his policy of total surrender of the axis powers, which would obviate the need for a peace conference and give him the freedom he needed to implement his post-war plans.  But it was also for psychological reasons as he pointed out in an exchange with a journalist in 1944:  “Practically all Germans deny the fact they surrendered in the last war, but this time they are going to know it.” (p. 260)

Partition of post-war Germany into 4 or more sections was discussed, with the possibility of Britain and even France presiding over areas being entertained.  In the end, it was divided between the U.S.(later under a more general U.S.-led western/NATO umbrella) and the Soviet Union.

Japan

After the allied victory in Europe, FDR and Stalin began working out how the Soviet Union would contribute to the war against Japan.  U.S. military leaders were keen on getting Soviet assistance in order to decrease the number of American casualties in the planned invasion of Japan’s main islands.  Previous experience fighting the Japanese saw a 98% death rate for Japanese soldiers who would fight to the death rather than surrender.  In a series of memos from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to FDR on this subject, the JCOS suggested that Stalin be asked what steps should be taken to best facilitate quick and effective collaboration between the U.S. and Soviet Union and to provide feedback on any prior problems with the U.S. that had been observed by Soviet officials that could hamper such an effort.

The joint military action to take out Japan was expected to be relatively quick with Stalin offering the use of the largest army in the world.  Allied intelligence would, in fact, reveal that the entry of the Soviet Union into the war against Japan would push the latter to surrender.

In return, Stalin wanted the return of the Kurile Islands which it had lost to Japan in 1875 and territory lost in the 1905 war, as well as control of a couple of ports.  Return of the Kuriles was eventually agreed upon, along with the southern portion of Sakhalan and an internationalized free warm water port at Dairen, the use of which was to be shared with China.

The Atomic Bomb

By the time of the Yalta conference, there had been much discussion within the Roosevelt administration about the advantages and disadvantages of revealing to the Soviet Union the existence of the program to build the bomb.

By 1940, Soviet officials had already developed suspicions based on the sudden absence of any discussion of nuclear fission in American physics journals and the simultaneous disappearance of top physicists from academia.  The Soviet Union had started a program, but with the invasion of Germany, resources were diverted to other more immediate needs and it was not restarted until after the defeat of the Nazis.

After receiving a letter from Albert Einstein in 1939 about the dangers of Germany developing a nuclear weapon and the need for the U.S. to preempt it, along with advice from his economist friend Alexander Sachs, FDR ordered a team of scientists to work on the project, which would later become part of the war effort.  Ironically, the Manhattan Project would come to rely heavily on the expertise of émigré scientists forced out of Europe by Hitler.  At its peak, the Manhattan Project “employed 120,000 people and built and ran 37 installations, at a cost of $2 billion.” (p. 308)

Early on, FDR struggled with whether to share information with his Soviet ally.  The question was not only over whether to reveal the existence of the program but how much information to share.  After receiving feedback from relevant scientific and military leaders, there was majority opinion that the Soviet Union should be informed.  The reasoning that underscored this opinion was that the Soviet Union would likely be able to build their own such weapon within a matter of a few years and if no moves toward openness about the existence of such a weapon on the American side had been made, the anger and distrust would make a dangerous arms race inevitable.

Roosevelt was inclined to follow this advice, but Churchill was again the spoiler, persuading FDR in September of 1944 to hold off on revealing the program at that time.  With advisers suggesting that a successful detonation would not occur until spring, it is believed that FDR thought that a delay in sharing the information with the Soviet Union until then made sense.  By the time of the Yalta Conference, of course, this had not happened.  Even by the time of FDR’s death, it had not happened.

Unfortunately, Harry Truman did not have FDR’s understanding of the nuances of the international arena or the Soviet Union’s security concerns, much less his diplomatic skills. Truman ordered the leaders of the Manhattan Project to push the testing of the bomb up so he could use it as leverage at the Potsdam Conference.

He also refused counsel from many more knowledgeable and wiser individuals who had been part of the Roosevelt administration.  Instead, Truman was more comfortable taking advice from those who confirmed his own “gut” feelings on matters.  He therefore listened to more conservative and anti-Russian voices, like Leslie Groves.

Unfortunately, FDR did not live long enough to attend the UN Conference that April.  Some believe that he intended to step down as president after the war’s end and serve as the organization’s first Secretary General.

By the time of the conference, there were still a few issues to be ironed out between the two superpowers.  The first was the Soviet position on the scope of a veto as a Security Council member. The Soviets, who believed that as the only Communist member (Stalin did not view China’s communists as genuine) they could be ganged up on, wanted the veto to extend beyond actions to also cover discussion of particular issues.  This position was a non-starter for the U.S.

Furthermore, Truman had been dismissive of Molotov during his first meeting with the Soviet FM and made comments that seemed to indicate a backtracking of what had been agreed to at Yalta on the Polish issue.

During the UN conference, Hopkins had to fly to Moscow to assuage Stalin’s growing concerns about the attitude of the president after he ordered the immediate halt of Lend-Lease – an order he quickly reversed after being advised of its irresponsibility.

Stalin also wanted the Soviet republics of Belorussia and Ukraine to have separate votes in what would become the General Assembly.  Doing so, especially in the case of Ukraine, would give Stalin a domestic boost.

After a series of six meetings with Hopkins, Stalin finally relented on the veto issue and reiterated his promise to enter the war against Japan.  He also would later get agreement on the two Soviet republics.

Eventually, Stalin also signed on to the Declaration of Liberated Europe, which called for the formation of “interim government authorities broadly representative of all democratic elements in the population and pledged the earliest possible establishment through free elections of governments responsive to the will of the people” as well as facilitating such elections.  (pp. 430-1)

Supposedly Stalin signed the declaration in the belief that the Soviet Union’s influence on the governments of eastern Europe would be, at a minimum, tolerated due to the Red Army’s contribution to their liberation and the assumed success of communist parties in free elections.  Not to mention, Stalin wanted to maintain good relations with the U.S. in the hopes of economic assistance.

But under the Truman administration, relations continued to deteriorate and a “cold war” emerged.

 

 

 

 

North & South Korea Re-establish Direct Hotline, Diplomatic Meeting in Works

http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=20861

After months of off-and-on blusterous exchanges between President Trump and the North Korean leader, North Korea reached out directly to the South Korean president requesting direct diplomatic talks.  Subsequently, Kim Jong-un “ordered the reopening of a hotline with south Korea’s leaders – bringing the biggest thaw in relations between the two Koreas in years,” according to Democracy Now!

Arrangements are underway for a meeting between the two governments in Pyeongchang, South Korea, near the DMZ, on Tuesday January 9th.  Meanwhile, this past Thursday, the United States and South Korea agreed to delay military exercises in the area until after the Winter Olympics, which are being hosted by South Korea.

One of the foremost experts on North Korea, Bruce Cumings was interviewed by Amy Goodman and clarified what the North Korean leader and his government have actually said about its nuclear arsenal and why they may feel they’re in a good place to make a conciliatory gesture toward the South:

BRUCE CUMINGS: Well, it’s very important, and particularly the tone of Kim Jong-un’s statement, which was very conciliatory toward the South and was followed up by a high official who was even more conciliatory, talking about North Korea’s hopes for the South Korean Winter Olympics going well. And, of course, Kim Jong-un offered to send a delegation to the Olympics. This is in great contrast to, for example, the 1988 Olympics, which the North Koreans tried to disrupt with terrorist attacks. So, it’s a very good sign.

And I would add that Kim Jong-un did say he had a big button with a lot of nuclear weapons, but he very clearly said that North Korean nuclear weapons are for defensive purposes and would not be used unless North Korea was attacked. And secondly, he said something that North Korean officials have been saying for the last six months without a lot of attention. And that is words to the effect that their nuclear program is nearly completed, which would mean they don’t have to test so much. They tested a great deal in 2017, particularly missiles, and then a very large H-bomb test last September. So, I think, on all three counts, this was generally a welcome statement, a conciliatory statement.

While it is a good sign for the moment that North and South Korea have agreed to talks, no one should be naive enough to assume that Washington policymakers will simply allow peace to break out on the Korean peninsula, even if that is what all parties who live there want.  In response to these developments, Aaron Mate (who is doing excellent work) at the Real News Network  interviewed journalist Tim Shorrock, who has reported on the Koreas for decades and lived in the area, for his insight into these latest developments.  The following excerpt is insightful:

It’s a very good sign. It’s a very good sign that North and South Korea have opened this communication line and then on Tuesday, they’re going to talk because North Korea has, you know, that Kim Jong-un said in his January 1st speech, that North Korea would be interested in sending a delegation to the Olympics, which are going to happen in February in South Korea.

They’re going to talk about that and hopefully, it will lead to some other kinds of negotiations between the two sides. I think it’s very hopeful, but I don’t think the United States has much to do with it. If you read the official line on this in the New York Times and the mainstream press, and you read these quotes they bring up from Republican and Democratic foreign policy people, there’s a lot of disinterest in this. There’s a thinking that South Korea is sort of operating on its own, as if it’s not a real independent country. That’s a real danger here.

AARON MATÉ: Well, Tim, one of those quotes, I’m going to read to you is from Daniel Russel, speaking to the New York Times. He was a former assistant secretary of state in the Obama administration. He says, “It is fine for the South Koreans to take the lead, but if they don’t have the U.S. behind them, they won’t get far with North Korea. If the South Koreans are viewed as running off the leash, it will exacerbate tensions within the alliance.”

That’s not Trump’s Twitter account, that is a former Obama administration official, talking about South Koreans as “running off the leash.” What is he referring to there?

TIM SHORROCK: Well, he and most other national security people in Washington, whether they’re Republican or Democrat, basically see South Korea as an appendage of the United States. And South Korea is on a tight leash, the U.S. basically, controls South Korea. It’s a very illuminating comment I think. Extremely arrogant. It just underscores the arrogance of America towards both Koreas since 1945.

Daniel Russel, of course, he’s also the same guy who, during the Obama administration, said if Kim Jong-un obtains super weapons, he will die instantly. Obama and his people made similar threats against North Korea. They just didn’t do it quite as loudly, like on Twitter, that Trump has done.

That’s what I’m talking about. That’s sort of underscoring this … The U.S. thinks that, well, South Korea can only do what we tell them to do. Moon Jae-in has been very, very frustrated since he was elected president, last May, because he ran on a platform of trying to defuse the situation by having negotiations and having direct talks with North Korea.

He began his presidency by proposing military talks and also talks so divided families could meet. North Korea rebuffed him because North Korea feels that South Korea is too close to the United States, and is basically a pawn of the United States.

In that sense, I think, Kim Jong-un, reaching out to the Moon Jae-in government and saying, “Let’s have some discussion,” shows that maybe the two Koreas are going to, you know, can move in their own direction and try to defuse this situation.

By the way, the last talks between them were in 2005, so it’s actually a little bit longer than you said at the top of the show. The last talks were with the Park Geun-hye government, who was overthrown and was impeached. Those talks hardly went anywhere because the South Korean government at that time, had such a hard line against North Korea.

I think this, there’s real opportunity here, but there’s also danger that people like Daniel Russel and his equivalent, and the Trump administration, can really throw a cold water on this and turn it, and try to torpedo any kind of discussions that go on.

Speaking of North Korea and the larger context of U.S. imperialism, I had lunch with a friend a few weeks ago who, aware of my study and writing on foreign affairs, asked me why the U.S. government would want to be so aggressive on North Korea.  Unlike the Middle East, there were no resources to control and no ideological divide with another rival superpower like during the Cold War – i.e. nothing about dominoes.

I don’t think I gave a particularly articulate response at the time.  But when I thought about it more later, I realized that I would have had to explain the overall dynamics of power, what it does to those who get a taste of it, and find that they can wield it for decades with nothing and no one to provide a check on them.

Despite the dangerous myths that get propagated in U.S. culture about winning it, the Cold War ended because the leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, chose – in the face of major problems at home, a quagmire in Afghanistan, and a huge military burden – to peacefully dismantle the Soviet empire and call the troops home from Afghanistan and Eastern Europe.  As far as I’m aware, this is unprecedented in human history.  No empire in decline or crisis has ever chosen to gracefully relinquish it in order to focus their resources on domestic reform.  We can certainly debate how successful Gorbachev was in the long-run with domestic reform, but the fact that he handed the leaders of the other superpower, the U.S., with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to follow his lead and negotiate a peaceful international order – not to mention, an economic peace dividend that could have led to a more vibrant and equitable U.S. society – has significant implications.

The first is how the leadership of a supposedly sclerotic and authoritarian system like the Soviet Union could have allowed a humane reformer like Gorbachev to take power.  Yet, in the supposedly more open, democratic and free U.S. the most moderate proponent of reform, Bernie Sanders – who would never advocate for the U.S. to close all of its ~700 military bases around the world, completely withdraw from all of its current wars and focus on domestic reform, engineering a soft landing for its imperial decline – is blocked from even running for president.  This, despite the fact that the U.S. is also in crisis as approximately half of Americans are effectively poor while our military budget dwarfs the next half dozen or so nations combined and has continually increased under both Democratic and Republican administrations since the end of the Cold War – even though we’ve had no plausible threat to the homeland and no one seriously challenging our domination until very recently.

There is a quote by Chalmers Johnson in his book, The Sorrows of Empire, about the proliferation of America’s hundreds of military bases around the world since the end of WWII and how it didn’t stop with the end of the Cold War:

There is something else at work, which I believe is the post-Cold War discovery of our immense power, rationalized by the self-glorifying conclusion that because we have it, we deserve to have it. The only truly common elements in the totality of America’s foreign bases are imperialism and militarism – an impulse on the part of our elites to dominate other peoples largely because we have the power to do so, followed by the strategic reasoning that, in order to defend these newly acquired outposts and control the regions they are in, we must expand the areas under our control with still more bases.

To maintain its empire, the Pentagon must constantly invent new reasons for keeping in our hands as many bases as possible long after the wars and crises that led to their creation have evaporated. As the Senate Foreign Relations Committee observed as long ago as 1970: “Once an American overseas base is established it takes on a life of its own. Original missions may become outdated but new missions are developed, not only with the intention of keeping the facility going, but often to actually enlarge it.” (p. 152)

And this leads to an even greater implication – about the nature of unfettered power itself.  Those who are attracted to power in the first place tend to either have poor character or psychological pathologies.  When such a person then gets a taste of more and more power, it becomes like a drug – they want more and more.  It is never enough.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, those controlling policy in the U.S. no longer had another country or alliance of countries to serve as a check on them.  They could simply dictate to the rest of the world how things would be.  Any nation that did not want to agree to the U.S.’s dictates – even if it was justifiably perceived to be against its interests to go along with U.S. dictates – would be bombed or invaded (e.g. Hussein and Qaddafi, both of whom wanted to trade oil in currency other than dollars, among other dangerously independent policies, and had given up their WMD programs at the behest of the West) and the country destroyed.  Or, in the event that the nation in question has a nuclear arsenal or a military large enough to inflict significant casualties or damage on the U.S./NATO, then bogus sanctions are employed in an attempt to bleed the nation (e.g. Iran, North Korea and Russia).

The U.S., since the end of the Cold War, doesn’t know how to conduct diplomacy.  Firstly, when was the last time we had a Secretary of State (remember the Department of State is supposed to be the Department of Diplomacy) who talked like a diplomat?  Colin Powell’s craven performance at the UN peddling propaganda to enable Washington’s illegal invasion of Iraq?  Hillary Clinton leading the charge to bomb Libya and cackling gleefully at the torture and murder of Qaddafi on camera?  John Kerry at the podium in September of 2013 chomping at the bit to bomb Syria on what turned out to be dubious claims?

Secondly, there is the intolerance of the mainstream (corporate) media and among government officials (from whom they often take their lead) for attempts to understand a competitor nation’s perspective.  A good recent example is, of course, Russia.  In order to successfully conduct diplomacy, it is imperative that one have an understanding of one’s opponent or competitor’s worldview.  This doesn’t mean one has to agree with it, but understanding it allows officials to determine how that nation perceives its own interests and what it might be willing to sacrifice in order to protect those perceived interests.   None of that can be ascertained without having an understanding of the other nation’s history, culture and geography  – which all shapes its worldview.

In order to successfully conduct diplomacy then government officials must have genuine quality experts advising them on other nations.  As Gilbert Doctorow pointed out in a recent article, the post-Cold War crop of Russia experts is abysmal as reflected by mediocrities and ideologues like Celeste Wallander and Michael McFaul.  This has led to profound miscalculations about Russia’s motives and capabilities with respect to Syria  as well as Ukraine, and its resilience in the face of sanctions.

But then why conduct diplomacy or teach the skills needed to do so when you can instead bully what you want out of everyone because…well, because you can?  And, after a while, you have developed a sense of entitlement to do so.  It’s barely thought about any more than breathing.  It is simply the way things are done.  And when a whole military-industrial-complex exists to profit from it, there is even less incentive to ever end it.

So it should come as no surprise that the U.S. is acting aggressively and with profound ignorance about North Korea.  Trump and those he has surrounded himself with don’t bother with smooth pretenses like human rights or democracy promotion to justify the essential violence and hubris of imperial aggression they preside over.

As Jimmy Dore keeps saying, Trump is a symptom not the problem itself.  He has simply pulled the mask off for all the world to see the unvarnished truth of the systemic ugliness of Washington policy.

 

National Security Archive Releases Declassified Docs Proving Once & For All that Gorbachev Was Lied to About NATO Expansion; Russia Offers to Mediate Israel-Palestine Conflict After U.S. Declares Jerusalem Capital of Israel; U.S. Government to Send Arms to Ukraine While European Leaders Call for Dialogue; Iran Reportedly Close to Joining Russian-Led Eurasian Economic Union

Front Left of Monument to Siege of Leningrad, St. Petersburg; photo by Natylie Baldwin, May 2017

 

Declassified documents have now been published by the National Security Archive (a program of George Washington University) that evidence once and for all that Gorbachev was, in fact, lied to by Washington about NATO expansion during negotiations to allow reunification of Germany.

Here is an excerpt of the write-up that accompanied the publication:

The documents show that multiple national leaders were considering and rejecting Central and Eastern European membership in NATO as of early 1990 and through 1991, that discussions of NATO in the context of German unification negotiations in 1990 were not at all narrowly limited to the status of East German territory, and that subsequent Soviet and Russian complaints about being misled about NATO expansion were founded in written contemporaneous memcons and telcons at the highest levels.

The documents reinforce former CIA Director Robert Gates’s criticism of “pressing ahead with expansion of NATO eastward [in the 1990s], when Gorbachev and others were led to believe that wouldn’t happen.”[1] The key phrase, buttressed by the documents, is “led to believe.”

….The first concrete assurances by Western leaders on NATO began on January 31, 1990, when West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher opened the bidding with a major public speech at Tutzing, in Bavaria, on German unification. The U.S. Embassy in Bonn (see Document 1) informed Washington that Genscher made clear “that the changes in Eastern Europe and the German unification process must not lead to an ‘impairment of Soviet security interests.’ Therefore, NATO should rule out an ‘expansion of its territory towards the east, i.e. moving it closer to the Soviet borders.’” The Bonn cable also noted Genscher’s proposal to leave the East German territory out of NATO military structures even in a unified Germany in NATO.[3]

….Not once, but three times, Baker tried out the “not one inch eastward” formula with Gorbachev in the February 9, 1990, meeting. He agreed with Gorbachev’s statement in response to the assurances that “NATO expansion is unacceptable.” Baker assured Gorbachev that “neither the President nor I intend to extract any unilateral advantages from the processes that are taking place,” and that the Americans understood that “not only for the Soviet Union but for other European countries as well it is important to have guarantees that if the United States keeps its presence in Germany within the framework of NATO, not an inch of NATO’s present military jurisdiction will spread in an eastern direction.” (See Document 6)

I don’t think it gets much clearer than that.  Read the complete analysis and see the documents here.

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After the Trump administration received near-unanimous opprobrium from the UN General Assembly for officially declaring Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel, it seems to be no longer feasible to pretend that Washington is anything close to a credible mediator in the Israel-Palestine conflict.  Of course, in reality, they have not been for decades as one cannot be a neutral arbiter when arming one side to the tune of $3-4 billion a year, enabling that side to implement its brutal and illegal occupation of the other.

Into the void, Russia has stepped, with its deputy UN envoy declaring that Russia stands ready and willing to serve as a mediator of the seemingly intractable conflict, after a UN Security Council Resolution condemning Washington’s move and demanding its withdrawal was vetoed by the U.S.:

Moscow is ready to become a new mediator in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Russian deputy UN envoy Vladimir Safronkov said. He also added that Russia is ready to host direct talks between the two sides.

Russia is ready to become “an honest mediator” in the Middle Eastern peace process, Nebenzia said at the UN Security Council meeting, after a resolution on Jerusalem demanding the US decision recognizing it as the Israeli capital be withdrawn was vetoed by Washington.

In my opinion, Russia, China, the UN or some combination thereof would be more credible mediators.

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The Trump administration, on a roll with its dumb foreign policy moves, has agreed to send arms to the Ukrainian government, which will serve no purpose but to potentially inflame the situation in the Donbass.  Daniel Larison of The American Conservative summed it up best:

As I said last month, Trump would be a fool to arm Ukraine, so it comes as no surprise that this is what he has decided. While the U.S. isn’t giving Ukraine everything it was asking for, it is still recklessly throwing weapons at the problem. Russia will view this as a provocative act on our part, and it will respond with its own aggressive measures before long. When these weapons fail to have the desired effect, the drumbeat for sending more and more advanced weapons will start. Trump has already shown how easily he can be led by his advisers to endorse needlessly destructive measures. The U.S. will find itself caught in a fruitless and unnecessary competition with another major power that has far more at stake in the conflict. Because it has more at stake, Russia will always outmatch whatever support the U.S. provides, and so by adding more weapons to the mix the U.S. is simply fueling a conflict that it should be trying to resolve peacefully.

Meanwhile, there has been an increase in the fighting in the Donbass, which of course, motivated German Chancellor Merkel and French President Macron to reiterate that the Minsk 2 Agreement was the only solution to the problem (as opposed to armed conflict) but publicly put the pressure on Russia to stop it.  This is despite the fact that the Minsk 2 Agreement requires Kiev to take the next steps in resolving the crisis, which it has steadfastly refused to do for a long time.

As a goodwill gesture, both sides agreed to a prisoner release which took place on December 27th.  The OSCE Chairperson-in-office Karen Kneissl made the following statement:

“Allowing such a significant number of people, who have been held on both sides, to return home before the New Year and Orthodox Christmas is a very welcome development. Today’s exchange is not only a humanitarian act but also a helpful step in confidence-building. We encourage the sides to continue their efforts to improve the life of people directly affected by the conflict”, said Chairperson-in-Office Kneissl.

….Kneissl and Greminger stressed that today’s exchange of prisoners, together with the lower number of ceasefire violations during the last several days, represent a step forward.

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

Wrapping up this post, I wanted to share what international journalist Pepe Escobar reported recently at the Asia Times about Iran joining the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) as soon as February, with other countries possibly poised to follow suit:

….In a parallel development, Iran is bound to join the EAEU as early as February, according to Behrouz Hassanolfat, director of the Europe and Americas Department of Iran’s Trade Promotion Organization, as quoted by the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).

….As much as Beijing in relation to its BRI [One Belt, One Road Initiative], Moscow has been on a charm offensive to enlarge the EAEU. Turkey – already on board the BRI – is a possible EAEU candidate for the near future, as well as India and Pakistan.

Springtime in Russia (May 2017)

This is an unpublished travel essay about my trip to Russia this past May.  – Natylie

Me in Moscow,

 

The first thing one sees to their right as they begin the descent down into Moscow’s largest airport is the sun glistening off the Moscow River surrounded by lots of greenery.  It gave me the pick-up I needed after an exhausting 24 hours of minimal sleep, being crammed on several airplanes and literally running from one end of an airport to another because my first flight was almost 2 hours late and nearly made me miss my connection.

 

We were blessed with sunny weather in the Russian capital, which was a welcome change from the rain and dreariness at both New York and Paris.

 

After departing the airport, I had to snicker in the back seat of our cab as my travel companion, who had never been to Russia before, became frazzled over the high speeds and improvised lanes that one sees on some of the major roads in Moscow.  Our taxi driver, a young military veteran who works in the veterinary profession and drives for extra money on the weekends, kept getting an earful from my friend but took it in stride.

 

Having settled in later that evening, I heard music at various times out in the distance from our apartment, alternating between classical piano and a lady’s voice singing.  I couldn’t pinpoint exactly where it was emanating from, but it was pleasant nonetheless.

 

On Sunday morning, just before 10:00 am, as I was sitting in the kitchen drinking my tea, enjoying the breeze through the open window on another sunny day, I heard the lovely sound of church bells ringing followed by a beautiful piano sonata.

View from apartment on New Arbat Street, Moscow, Russia; photo by Natylie Baldwin

 

About a half hour later, I ventured out to the street where many spectators were standing along the sidewalk waiting for the procession to pass by in rehearsal for Tuesday’s Victory Day Parade.  Lots of families were out with little ones in tow and babies were being pushed in strollers as I made my way to a small grocery a couple of blocks down to buy a few necessities.

 

***********

 

By Tuesday, the weather was not holding up so well.  Part of the parade route included New Arbat which is the street our apartment was located on, so I headed outside about a half hour or so before the start time and braved the cold.  I was able to find a good vantage point to watch and take pictures, having decided that I wouldn’t walk all the way over to Red Square, reasoning that it would be too crowded and I likely wouldn’t be able to get in for a good view.  I later learned my intuition was correct and that only people who have permission can actually get into the square on Victory Day – probably officials, foreign dignitaries and special guests.

Victory Day, Moscow; photo by Natylie Baldwin, May 2017

 

More people came out to line the damp streets as the time drew near.  Lots of families, people with their phones out ready to snap pictures, and a smattering of individuals waving Russian flags thronged the edge of the modest barricades and tape that separated the spectators from the road.  In terms of security, the atmosphere was fairly low-key.  Police officers were stationed every 25-30 feet. At one point I spotted an officer on the roof of one of the buildings across the street surveying the scene.  When I looked up again a while later he was gone.

 

Many officers wore wind breakers and some had on rain coats.  City officers generally don’t carry guns. There was no riot gear.

 

As people waited, earnest Russian music spilled out of loudspeakers.  Then the music stopped and a brief announcement was made.  A short motorcade of military officers in their crisp uniforms drove by about 5 minutes before the rest of the procession of tanks and other military vehicles began their ride down the street.  Some soldiers in the procession waved to the cheering crowds as they rode by, sometimes honking their horns.

 

The holiday celebrations concluded with a fireworks display at 10:00 pm, which I watched from our kitchen window as the balcony was too crowded with other residents from our floor of the building.  Fireworks could actually be seen in different parts of the city, but the largest display lit up over Red Square and the Kremlin.

 

According to a recent survey by the independent Levada Center, 76 percent of Russians planned on celebrating Victory Day this year.  Interest and participation was relatively equal among Russians, regardless of age, education or income level, which is unsurprising given the effects of the Great Patriotic War – as WWII is known here – on the former Soviet Union.  The Soviets lost about 27 million people fighting off the Nazis – 17 million of them civilians – and one third of their country was destroyed in the process.  General Eisenhower wrote in his memoirs of what he saw when he went into the Soviet Union in 1945:

 

When we flew into Russia, in 1945, I did not see a house standing between the western borders of the country and the area around Moscow. Through this overrun region, Marshal Zhukov told me, so many numbers of women, children and old men had been killed that the Russian Government would never be able to estimate the total.

 

Although many Americans and Europeans have been bombarded with the America-centric rhetoric of the U.S. winning WWII in Europe, it was not controversial in the aftermath to acknowledge that the Soviet Union had, in fact, broken the Nazi Wehrmacht, likely saving many American lives by bearing the brunt of the fighting as one of FDR’s advisers had talked him into going into North Africa in late 1942, which significantly delayed the U.S. opening up a western front attack on Germany.

 

Russia solemnly commemorates Victory Day each year with elaborate parades in major cities, like Moscow and St. Petersburg.  The Russian president gives a speech before the Moscow parade and the parade is followed by the Immortal Regiment Rally in which Russians march through the streets carrying photos of family members who fought and/or died in the Great Patriotic War.

 

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I met my guide Natasha outside of the apartment at 10:00 am to begin our all-day tour of Moscow. We went around the corner to the bus stop across the street from the American Embassy.  The bus took us close to our first destination of the day.

 

The Gulag Museum is a large red rectangular building with numerous windows covered with closed wooden shutters.  This is the first unsettling clue of what awaits inside.

Entrance to Gulag Museum, Moscow, Russia; photo by Natylie Baldwin

 

The Museum, which was moved to this area from its former location closer to central Moscow a couple of years ago, is now open to individual visitors for self-guided tours, whereas before only group tours were accommodated.  Natasha explained to me that this new iteration of the Museum was more elaborate, having been designed by professionals for a more realist atmosphere and the addition of more artifacts from the actual prison camps.

 

In the first dimly-lit room was a large four-sided frame with about 8 to 10 actual doors from Gulag cells affixed to three of the four sides.  Each door included a card, in both Russian and English, stating which camp the door was from. The worn and pock-marked doors were made of wood, metal, or a combination of both. Most had a small square window that opened out in the middle, presumably for the passing of food.  All had sliding bars and heavy locks.  The fourth side of the frame was open and I could see the interior of the doors – the side the prisoners saw for hours, months or years – that is, when they weren’t toiling in the extreme cold.

 

Various artifacts from the Gulag prisons could be seen hanging on the walls of this same room, such as a prisoner’s shirt, a small lantern from a cell, metal beds and benches, and a pair of handcuffs.

 

On one wall was a schematic illustration of one of the gulag prison camps before it was constructed.

 

In the next room were several glass cases.  One displayed fragments of letters written by the prisoners on cloth, typically parts of clothing, as they were provided no paper. Another displayed pieces of wood with messages written on them by the prisoners, demonstrating their need to communicate with anyone who might see it.  One case had items that had been made by some female prisoners, such as a utility box and shoes, constructed from whatever materials they could get their hands on.

 

In another room was a long table with photos and biographies of prisoners who survived the camps and wrote about the experience.  A copy of some of the books written appeared in front of the author’s picture.  Of course, the most recognizable was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

 

The second to last room I was in had 3 video screen displays on one wall.  The middle screen had a continually scrolling list in white against a black background of the names of those who’d been executed directly during the Great Purge of 1936-38.  This would have been 700,000 to 750,000 people out of the 1.5 million that were arrested during that period.

 

The screen on the left had photos and a brief description of certain prisoners along with the dates of their arrest and execution.  These people were engineers, teachers, military officers and other average people – all of whom had been declared “enemies of the people.” I stopped to study the faces of a few of these individuals – one man in particular stood out to me because of his sad eyes.  I wondered if the photos were taken at the time of arrest (did he know his fate?) or if they were just everyday photos that may have been available.

 

The screen on the right had portions of actual lists of those to be arrested and executed projected on to it.

 

The last room I was in had a large television with video interviews playing of several elderly people who’d survived the prisons, discussing their ordeals, particularly their feelings about what life was like after they were released, including the process of becoming “rehabilitated.” Many mentioned being faced with possible ostracism for having once been imprisoned and the subsequent decision of whether to hide their past or not.  One woman recalled her apprehensiveness at telling her future husband, fearing rejection.  However, his respect for her only increased after learning of what she’d endured.  Another woman said that the legacy of her imprisonment was that she lived a life of fearlessness, “What could I possibly be afraid of after what I’d been through?”

 

After Stalin’s death in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin and gradually released all of the prisoners, shutting down the Gulags and implementing a program of re-integration.  Khrushchev later admitted that he’d had much blood on his hands from the Stalin era, but that he and many others knew that if they resisted they likely would have also been executed.

 

One of the explanatory panels in the exhibit had stated that Stalin’s goal was to “destroy the possibility of political opposition, to nip non-conformity in the bud.”

 

Natasha and I sat on the bench in front of the television talking about the video when a young man from Kazakhstan briefly joined in our discussion.  Upon realizing that I was American he politely asked me some things about the United States, including Guantanamo prison.  I answered his questions as best I could. He also mentioned that there were people in Kazakhstan – a part of the Soviet Union at the time – who lived in the old buildings there that had constituted some of the Gulag prisons.  When Natasha and I expressed surprise at this, he simply replied that the buildings were sturdy so people put them to use.

 

Exhausted, we finally left the museum and went over to the old Arbat street, a charming area that had been closed to auto traffic in the 1990’s and turned into a pedestrian thoroughfare with shops, gardens, restaurants and sculptures.  We passed by the Pushkin monument comprised of statues of the poet and his wife.

(Old) Arbat Street, Moscow; photo by Natylie Baldwin, May 2017

We stopped for lunch at a Russian buffet style restaurant and I asked Natasha her opinions about the Revolution, what alternatives (if any) might have prevented the Bolshevik coup in October of 1917 and the subsequent repressions, culminating in Stalin’s “concentration camps” and mass murder.  We discussed Nicholas II’s tragic incompetence and whether the February Revolution, led by social democrats, would have had potential if it had been allowed to run its course.

 

We also talked about the Monument to Victims of Repression, aka The Wall of Grief, which will commemorate Stalin’s victims.  I had originally requested to see this monument as part of the tour but was told that it would not open until October 13th, which is the officially designated day of remembrance for victims of repression in Russia.

 

Reportedly, Putin played a key role in getting this monument approved. Despite Western depictions of Putin as a dictator, he must arbitrate among different powerful factions when making his decisions.  I imagine there were some factions that weren’t too keen on this monument.

 

Most Russians, in fact, do not view Putin as a dictator since they know what real dictators look and act like.  A Levada Center poll from last year reveals that 66 percent of Russians consider themselves to be free and do not believe Russia will return to dictatorship.  Generally, the Russian president is seen as a strong and effective leader.  I remember speaking to a group of professionals in Krasnodar during my first visit who insisted that a strong leader was needed to get things done.  But they also insisted that the leader needed to be accountable to the people and their needs.  As reflected in Putin’s consistent approval rating above 80% – even according to independent polls – over the past few years, apparently most Russians believe he meets this criteria.  This is not to say that Russians are totally uncritical of Putin either or that they are afraid to express any criticism of him – that was not my experience during either of my visits.

 

Moreover, Russians are an educated people with just over half of the population holding a college degree – compared to about a third of Americans – and everyone I spoke to on both trips acknowledged that they have access to western media through satellite and the internet – though they were bemused by the west’s cartoonish portrayal of their country and their leader.  Simply writing Russians’ generally positive views of Putin and the progress Russia has made since the 1990’s off to government propaganda would be a mistake.

 

With regard to Stalin, Natasha mentioned that there is a segment of Russians who don’t want to talk about the repressions or want to downplay them.  In her view, this is explained by the fact that many average Russians participated in or enabled the repressions, including reporting other Russians, not because they suspected them of a real crime, but due to personal vendettas, jealousy, or the hope of acquiring someone’s property.  “Many Russians have someone in their family or circle who were victims and many have someone in their family or circle who were the enablers.  It’s the latter group that doesn’t want to condemn Stalin’s repressions.”

 

According to interviews I conducted in person and questionnaires answered by Russians I networked with during my visit, most credit Stalin with the industrial buildup and leadership necessary to save the Soviet Union from the Nazis, while acknowledging the brutality and excesses.

 

400 artists competed for the opportunity to design the Wall of Grief.  The winner, Georgy Frangulyan, has designed a bronze wall that will have the names and figures of the victims.  The Wall of Grief monument will cost around 400 million rubles and will be placed in the center of Moscow at the intersection of Sakharov Avenue (named after the famed Soviet dissident Andrey Sakharov) and the Garden Ring.

 

After lunch, we visited a park where the Elbe Monument was located.  Dedicated in April of last year, the Elbe Monument commemorates the meeting up of the US and Soviet armies on a broken bridge over the Elbe River near Torgau in Germany on April 25, 1945.

Elbe Monument, Moscow, Russia; photo by Natylie Baldwin

 

The monument was much smaller than I expected and was one of several sculptures by the same artist at this location.  Right next to the Elbe Monument is a sculpture of Abraham Lincoln shaking hands with his contemporary Alexander II.  Alexander II, the reformist Czar, freed the serfs in Russia in 1861 and Lincoln freed the slaves by 1865. Alexander II had also sent naval support to the Union during the Civil War.   Both were later assassinated.

 

Courtyard of Museum of Contemporary Russian History, Moscow, Russia; photo by Natylie Baldwin

 

We then took the Metro to another part of Moscow to go to the Museum of Contemporary Russian History which had a special exhibit on the Russian Revolution  A bright young man guided us through the exhibit while Natasha translated.  We concluded with an interesting conversation among the three of us about what might have averted the Revolution, Lenin’s motivations, what fueled his fanaticism, and whether he knowingly received assistance from the Germans for his journey from western Europe back to Russia in April of 1917 after which the Bolsheviks overthrew the Provisional Government.  Subsequently, the Bolsheviks signed a peace treaty with Germany under terms that were widely seen as humiliating to Russia.

 

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

The next day we took a 4-hour train ride to St. Petersburg.  The train was clean, modern and fast.  After settling in, I looked out the window to watch the scenery, which included a lot of open land, with birch forests and salt marshes.  There was a stretch where dachas dotted the landscape, some so diminutive and colorful they reminded me of dollhouses.

 

We originally planned to visit the Hermitage on our first full day in St. Petersburg but since the weather was nice we decided to go sightseeing instead.

 

My friend and liaison, Misha, a native of the city known as The Venice of the North, drove us around to some key landmarks.  One of these was a park that included the Immortal Flame, which commemorates the Great Patriotic War. The Immortal Flame was framed with an abundance of roses that had been recently laid down for Victory Day. An older man on a bike stopped for a moment to pay his respects, while a pair of young women quietly snapped photos with their phones.  I walked around with my camera and saw families on picnics and couples strolling by.

The eternal flame at memorial park in St. Petersburg, Russia; photo by Natylie Baldwin

 

After a short walk near the Aurora ship on the dock of the Neva river where an old man sat playing the accordion and a handful of Russians dressed in imperial era costumes milled about, we stopped for lunch at a Georgian restaurant at the request of my travel companion.  The restaurant was named after a Georgian painter of the primitivist school and the interior was elaborate, with a mural on one wall exemplifying his style, a fountain and fancy furniture.

The big finale for our day’s sightseeing was a river boat ride throughout the Neva, which is surrounded by numerous architectural delights, such as the Winter Palace (aka the Hermitage), the Peter and Paul Fortress where the remains of the last imperial family (who have been canonized by the Orthodox Church) are interred, the Admiralty building, and numerous other historical sites.  It was cold and windy, especially on the first leg of the ride, but well worth it to see the grand city that Peter the Great decided would be built on a marsh, a city intended to rival the finest of Europe in terms of art and architecture.   My travel companion, a retired journalist who has been all throughout Europe, including France and Italy, remarked:  “I just can’t get over this city.  I think Peter outdid them all.”

Peter & Paul Fortress as viewed from Neva River, St. Petersburg, Russia; photo by Natylie Baldwin

Like his 20th century counterpart, Stalin, Peter meant to drag what was perceived to be a lagging nation kicking and screaming into modernity.  The human toll of making this magnificent city a reality is estimated to be in the thousands.

 

I was tired from the day’s outing but had my first formal interview on the Russian Revolution scheduled with an 86-year old retired engineer who’d worked in the shipping industry. This was part of my project to interview a cross-section of Russians to get their views on the 1917 Revolutions since it was the centennial anniversary.

 

I had formulated a series of questions to ask my interview subjects:  were the Revolutions overall positive or negative for Russia and why, what did they think of Nicolas II, Lenin, Stalin, etc.

 

This gentleman had given interesting answers about the Revolutions, his assessment of Nicolas was typical – he was weak, incompetent and completely ill-equipped to deal with the historical moment he’d been faced with, and he offered some thought-provoking points about Lenin, though he clearly was not a fan of the Bolshevik leader.

 

However, he lingered a long time on the issue of Stalin, elaborating more on this question than any of the others.  At one point, his hands gripped the corners of the table.  I was debating whether to ask if anyone in his family had been affected by the mass repressions.  On the one hand, it is a legitimate question in terms of my research, but another part of me cringes when a question goes beyond discussing something in the abstract and crosses over into personal territory that will dredge up something painful.

 

My dilemma soon resolved itself as he began the story on his own about how his father had been taken away in the night when he was 7 years old.  His parents had decided not to wake him to say goodbye.  When he got up the next morning and went to his parents’ room, his father was simply gone and the bookshelves had been sealed off with wax.  The rest of the family was exiled to a city far away from Leningrad.  They were originally told that his father had been imprisoned incommunicado, but they found out years later that he’d actually been executed on the charge of conspiring against “Comrade Stalin.”

 

I was mystified by the sealing off of the bookshelves and asked if there was any explanation for this.  He explained that his father was a talented mathematician and geologist, had written several books and had a leadership role in several scientific societies.  When an individual was arrested, any items of particular value were confiscated.  Since his father was an intellectual and a writer, his books were taken and the bookshelves rendered unusable.

 

Before I realized it, 2 1/2 hours had gone by since we arrived at his apartment.  I recall one moment, after we’d gotten through the worst parts of the interview, looking out the window at the first signs of dusk.  The clock beside the window indicated it was 9:30 pm.

 

As we concluded our discussion, I expressed my condolences for what had happened to his family and my appreciation of his taking the time to talk with me about such a painful subject.  He admitted that it was painful but that it needed to be talked about.  He wanted to ask me a few questions as well.  I realize that many Russians have very few, if any, interactions with Americans and when they do encounter one they are often curious and inquisitive.  So I’m no longer surprised when this occurs. He asked me about certain aspects of what happened on 9/11 and what priority Americans currently placed on countering Islamic terrorism.

 

On the way back to the apartment, Misha and I discussed the interview and the difficult history of Russia in the 20th century.  He told me that many Russians expressed shock when the archives were opened up and the ugly truth of the Stalin era started to come out into the open.  But he said that he’d known about it because his grandfather had told him of the repressions when he was 15.  Misha lamented how crazy it was for the leadership of a country to kill and imprison the most intelligent, educated and talented members of society – the very ones who had the skills to contribute to the nation’s development.  The next day, after he’d thought about it some more, he told me: “We have a very complicated history and it becomes hard to love a country when you know about such bad things.  But it is still our country and we have to learn to do that.”

 

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

Our second day of sightseeing began with a pretty blue and white church called the St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral, located only a couple of blocks away from where we were staying.  It was often used by sailors and naval officers who would come to pray and receive blessings before embarking on a journey.  The main church was open only at certain times and was mainly for the seafaring folks.  Another smaller church building off to the side was open at all times and received anyone.

St. Nicholas Cathedral, smaller chapel, St. Petersburg, Russia; photo by Natylie Baldwin

 

The church is still in use and a section is cordoned off for tourists and sightseers in which they can view the magnificent interior of gold and artwork.  Only churchgoers are allowed to go beyond this point.  I watched Russians light candles and pray.  One woman kissed an icon as is customary in the Russian Orthodox religion.

 

We then made our way over to the Church on Spilled Blood, which I’d been anxious to visit so I could see the interior.  On my last visit I’d seen the splendid outer part of the church but didn’t have time to go inside.  I’d heard that the mosaic artwork on the inside was amazing and was determined to see it this time.

 

Since this was a Sunday and the weather was unusually gorgeous, the church was packed, so I kept my visit shorter than I normally would have as trying to maneuver my way within crowds tends to wear me out. But I was not disappointed by the church’s interior.  The rich imagery on the walls and ceiling was beautiful, along with the set of marble steps that led to the altar and the canopy that covered the actual spot where Czar Alexander II had fallen when he was assassinated in 1881.  The church was built as a memorial to him.

Church on Spilt Blood, Built at site of reformist Czar Alexandaer II’s 1881 assassination. St. Petersburg, Russia; Photo by Natylie S. Baldwin, 2015

 

Before being mortally wounded by a bomber from the terrorist revolutionary group Narodnaya Volya, the reformist czar had decided on a decree that would have set Russia on the road from an autocracy to a constitutional monarchy.  But the assassin got to the czar before the decree was issued and his son, Alexander III, made no pretense as to reform, so the idea languished until the 1905 revolution when Czar Nicholas II would cede some power to a parliament – if only on paper.

Palace Square in St. Petersburg where thousands of starving peasants gathered to petition the Czar and plead for justice but were gunned down by the Czar’s forces, known as Bloody Sunday, triggering the first Russian Revolution of 1905

 

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