Russia Officially Exits Recession, Inflation Rate Close to Targeted Low; Russian Budget Sees Major Cuts to Defense; Medvedev Corruption Scandal, Will Patrushev Be Next P.M.?; Kremlin Says Hillary’s Team Also Met with Ambassador; Ex-CIA Head & Hillary Supporter Says Claims Against Russia Unsubstantiated; Podesta Group Hired by Russian Bank to Lobby Against Sanctions (!)

St. Basil’s Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow

According to Bloomberg News, Russia has officially come out of its longest recession in many years, having registered growth for several quarters in a row.  Ironically, Bloomberg states that part of the growth is due to increased military spending, but the new budget figures, released by the Russian Federal Treasury, call for the most significant decrease in military spending since the 1990’s.

Additionally, higher oil prices, a stronger ruble, increased consumer demand and lower inflation were cited.

The Duran is reporting that, according to Russia’s state statistical agency (Rosstat), annualized inflation has reached a low of 4.5%.  The target set by the Russian Central Bank is 4%, which is expected to be reached by mid-year.  Once that target is hit, it means that there is no official excuse not to lower interest rates to allow more lending and a  further increase in GDP.

Suffice to say that less than a year ago the Russian Central Bank was predicting that inflation in Russia would not fall to 5% before April and would finally hit the 4% target at the end of the year.  Inflation has instead fallen to 4.5% less than midway through March, with some forecasts now predicting it will hit the 4% target by mid-year.  Indeed there is now a serious possibility that inflation for the whole year could significantly over-shoot the Central Bank’s target and fall significantly below 4%.

This plunge in inflation is crucial for the economy’s future.  As I have repeatedly pointed out, it is the sky high interest rates (currently 10%) the Central Bank has been imposing to achieve the 4% inflation target which caused Russian economic growth to slow from mid 2012.  Far more than low oil prices it is these high interest rates which are continuing to hold the economy back.  There is a direct historic correlation between the rise of Russian interest rates since the Central Bank began serious inflation targeting in 2012, the decline in inflation in Russia, and the fall in Russia’s GDP growth rate, even if most commentators are blind to it and even if the Central Bank itself downplays it.  I have discussed all this in detail previously here.

So perhaps the Kremlin does not believe that it has to rely on increases to the military budget for economic investment.  Moreover, with the presidential election coming up in 2018, it would behoove Putin and his United Russia Party to find other areas of the budget to invest in, particularly social spending.

Speaking of election politics, there is speculation on what significance to attach to reports that current prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, owns multi-million dollar real estate and has a wealth of assets.

Gordon Hahn has written a detailed article on the expose of Medvedev’s “assets”:

On March 2 the FBK published an article and video detailing a large empire of foundations. One is a supposed philanthropic foundation ‘Dar’ or ‘Giving’. It appears to stand at the center of the empire’s acquisitions around which others such as ‘SotsGosProekt’ and ‘Gradislav.’ Through Dar’s and the others’ accounts investments are made by Kremlin-tied oligarchs, and various properties, including wineries, yachts, and luxurious residences are held and de facto ‘owned’ indirectly by Russian Prime Minister and former Russian president Dmitrii Medvedev. Navalnyi’s estimation is that the sum of the properties can be valued at R70 billion – approximately $1.2 billion (http://dimon.navalny.com).

Some believe that this information was published with the tacit approval of the Kremlin – or the faction of the Kremlin that opposes the Neoliberal policies that Medvedev has been associated with. There have been rumors for years that there has been a battle in the Kremlin between the “Eurasianists” who advocate a more nationalist economic policy and an economic and geopolitical turn toward the East (China’s One Belt One Road program, SCO, BRICS, and a strengthening/expansion of EEU) and the “Atlantic Integrationists” supposedly embodied by Medvedev which supports a Neoliberal economic model and playing a subordinate geopolitical role to Washington and the various organizations it controls (NATO, WTO, World Bank, etc.).  It has been thought that Putin has been playing a balancing act with the two factions and both sides have been trying to win him more strongly over to their side.

While there are some who believe that the person behind the report, Kremlin nemesis Alexei Navalny, worked with western intelligence to obtain the information on Medvedev in order to give Russia another scandal, others wonder if Putin is finally throwing Medvedev under the bus in time for the elections next year.   Russia analyst, The Saker, predicted this would happen back in November after the arrest of then Economic Minister Alexei Uliukaev, who was considered to be an ally and philosophical fellow traveler of Medvedev:

The way Uliukaev was detained was carefully choreographed to instill the strongest sense of fear possible in all the other 5th columnists still in power because in so many ways Uliukaev was a symbol for all the the “Atlantic Integrationists” (those in the Kremlin who want to integrate Russia into the US controlled international security system): Uliukaev was a known liberal, just like Nikita Belykh, governor of Kirov Region, who was detained in a high-publicity arrest in June for taking a 400,000 Euros bribe. I would even say that Uliukaev could be considered the ultimate symbol of the Atlantic Integrationists and a faithful member of the Russian “liberal” (meaning the “Washington consensus” type) sect who, in the past had worked with Egor Gaidar and Alexei Kudrin and who now has been brought down by the Russian “siloviki”, the top officials of the so-called “power ministries” (defense, state security, intelligence). This was immediately recognized by everybody and the main headline of the popular website Gazeta.ru could not be clearer, it read: “The Siloviki brought down Uliukaev” and featured a photo of the key actors of this drama, including the tough-looking man thought to have brought Uliukaev down, Sergei Korolev, the Head of the Economic Security service of the FSB (shown on photo here).

….The list of potential ‘candidates’ to be purged next is still long and includes names like the Deputy Prime Minister Arkadii Dvorkovich, the First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, the Governor of the Russian Central Bank Elvira Nabiullina, the Minister of Finance Anton Siluanov and, of course, Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev. Uliukaev was only one amongst many more. Still, he was definitely a top-level target and the manner in which he was arrested must have sent a chill down the spine of all the other 5th columnists in the Kremlin. Just the fact that his phone was tapped for so long is quite unthinkable and clearly points to the fact that nobody is safe from Putin’s purges. And that, by itself, is truly a most welcome change: every member of the Medvedev government now has been put on notice that his/her life is now spent under the close scrutiny of the FSB.

Among others speculating about a purge after Uliukaev’s downfall was Newsbud‘s Russia expert, Filip Kovacevic, who wrote an article about the potential for Medvedev to be replaced by Nikolai Patrushev.

First, Kovacevic defines what a Liberal is in Russia:

We first need to define what it means to be a liberal in the Russian government today. The designation does not refer to political positions (like in the U.S.) as much as it highlights the approach to the economy. Liberals in Russia are those who believe that the role of the state should be minimized and that private, corporate ownership is the best way to run the economy. They are also advocates of Russia’s full-fledged participation in the international economic system dominated by the so-called Bretton Woods institutions, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization. Obviously, this means a commitment to the so-called free trade and opposition to any policy of tariffs and import substitution.

The liberals were politically dominant in Russia during Boris Yeltsin’s two-term presidency in the 1990s. Those who brought Putin to power in the late 1990s (the intelligence and military networks) made an uneasy compromise with the liberals, which lasted throughout Putin’s first two presidential terms (2000-2008). The liberals even seemed in ascendance after Medvedev replaced Putin at the helm.

As regular readers of this blog know by now, Yeltsin is the least popular leader of the last 100 years in Russia.  His economic policies are associated with the collapse of Russians’s standard of living in the 1990’s:  massive poverty, loss of life savings, sky-high inflation, food deprivation and the worst mortality crisis since WWII.  Hence, Liberals have no support among the Russian public, with Liberal politicians typically achieving single digit approval ratings and Liberal “activists” and their agenda being spurned more often than not.

Kovacevic next explains the downfall of Medvedev and his policies:

However, soon afterwards, in August 2008, a surprise military attack by the Georgian troops, heavily assisted by NATO and the U.S., on the rebellious enclave of South Ossetia defended by the Russian “peace-keepers” took place. Consequently, the Russian military directly intervened and the Georgians were pushed back. That was the first time since the end of the Cold War that the Russian military crossed the borders of Russia. This created a pattern that will later be repeated in Ukraine, Syria, and no doubt in other places in the future. The genie was out of the bottle.

This was the beginning of the end for the Russian liberals who counted on honest and friendly relations with the West and believed in the existence of a fair playing field for Russia in the global economy. It became clear that the West would allow nothing of the sort. No wonder then that Putin, who initially was ambivalent about running again, returned as the president in 2012.

He goes on to detail how the Ukraine crisis of 2014 only reinforced the distrust of the west and the ideas of Medvedev and his political allies.   He then explains how and why the purge will take place, why Patrushev is in a good position to be Medvedev’s replacement and the likely response of the Russian people:

The ordinary Russian people have no pity for the liberals because they know well the extent to which liberal politicians and their business cronies got rich abusing governmental power for private gain. The recently arrested Ulyukaev is the case in point. Most liberal politicians can easily move to the West – their apartments, yachts, and bank accounts are waiting for them. This is why the majority of the population will support Putin’s purge, even though the purge will be far from democratic and may at times turn violent.

Putin will replace the purged liberals by his trusted allies from the intelligence and military structures. One of them Sergey Naryshkin, the former president of the Russian Parliament, has been appointed to the position of the chief of the Russian external intelligence agency (SVR) immediately after the elections results were in. I have discussed Naryshkin’s appointment in detail in an earlier article,[3] but what is important to keep in mind here is that by appointing a long-time friend and fellow intelligence operative, Putin has cut off any possibility of the liberal insiders at the top leaking national security information to the West. In other words, Putin has built up another layer of protection around the future Russian military and intelligence agenda. In my opinion, he demonstrated that he had no trust left in the West and that he was getting the country ready for a possible military confrontation.

….This is why I think that, parallel with his efforts to develop a detente relations with the U.S. under Trump, Putin will bring in more personal loyalists into the highest offices of the Russian government. Considering the power of the U.S./NATO lobby working against it, the chances of an authentic detente (unfortunately) do not look very good and Putin knows that he must not make a misstep. He may not have another chance.

….Patrushev is one of the top members of the so-called KGB aristocracy of whose mission to lead Russia he himself spoke in an interview more than 15 years ago at the time when Russia was in the midst of the Chechnya crisis that dangerously threatened its very foundations.[6] Such an early mention of this powerful group, which later came to yield tremendous power in the Russian political life, shows that Patrushev was one of its main driving forces.

Over the years, Nikolai Patrushev has been even closer to Putin than Naryshkin. They are almost the same age and their friendship goes back to the 1970s KGB days in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). In the late 1990s, Patrushev’s rise closely followed Putin’s. It is very significant that it was Patrushev who succeeded Putin as the head of the FSB and held this position for nine years (1999-2008), which is longer than anybody since the Communist Yuri Andropov who was the KGB head from 1967 until 1982 and then became the leader of the Soviet Union (that is, the general secretary of the central committee of the Soviet Communist party).

This analogy may not be accidental. After all, in 2006, there was some speculation that Patrushev would succeed Putin.[7] However, the position went to Medvedev, a member of the liberal camp and not a KGB aristocrat. I believe that now the political tide has turned.

In his interviews with various Russian newspapers, Patrushev, who has a doctorate in law, reveals himself as a serious scholar of the post-WWII global politics. He is a strong critic of the U.S. foreign policy claiming that the U.S. involvement in the world is bent on regime change and state fragmentation.[8] He blames the U.S. for the break-up of Yugoslavia, the numerous so-called color revolutions, the putsch in Ukraine, and the carnage in the Middle East. In fact, he asserts that the wars of the Yugoslav succession were nothing else but the testing ground for the ongoing efforts to break up the former Soviet Republics, including Russia itself.[9] In all of this, he discerns a malicious Western anti-Russian prejudice that is grounded in the historical push for the control of the Eastern territories and resources. This puts Patrushev firmly in the tradition of the Russian Eurasianists. As a result, if chosen by Putin to be the next prime minister, he can be expected to formulate and oversee a very hawkish foreign and national security policy.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out over the next few months.

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Turning to American politics, as recently reported by the UK Telegraph, the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, announced that members of Hillary Clinton’s team also had contact with the Russian ambassador during the campaign.  So far, nobody seems up in arms about this allegation.  Hmmm.

And in a still stranger and more cynical turn of events, the Podesta Group (the lobbying business of Clinton manager John Podesta) has been hired by Russia’s largest bank to lobby for the end of sanctions. So much for all the sanctimonious shrieking by the Clinton campaign of Trump being Putin’s stooge and being too soft on Russia.

And before we leave the topic of Hillary Clinton and her presidential campaign, it should be noted that one of her biggest and most ardently anti-Russia allies, ex-CIA chief Michael Morell, admitted in a recent presentation to a group of intelligence professionals that there was no evidence to support the allegations of collusion between Trump and the Russians or that the allegations in the Trump “dossier” had any validity:

On the question of the Trump campaign conspiring with the Russians here, there is smoke, but there is no fire, at all.  There’s no little campfire, there’s no little candle, there’s no spark. And there’s a lot of people looking for it….

….[With respect to the dossier] Unless you know the sources, and unless you know how a particular source acquired a particular piece of information, you can’t judge the information — you just can’t.  [The dossier] doesn’t take you anywhere, I don’t think.  I had two questions when I first read it. One was, How did Chris (Christopher Steele, the former MI6 who compiled it – AM) talk to these sources?  I have subsequently learned that he used intermediaries.  And then I asked myself, why did these guys provide this information, what was their motivation? And I subsequently learned that he paid them. That the intermediaries paid the sources and the intermediaries got the money from Chris. And that kind of worries me a little bit because if you’re paying somebody, particularly former FSB officers, they are going to tell you truth and innuendo and rumor, and they’re going to call you up and say, ‘hey, let’s have another meeting, I have more information for you [because they want to get paid some more].  I think you’ve got to take all that into consideration when you consider the dossier.

 

 

 

Just When You Thought Corporate Media Couldn’t Get Any Lower; Putin Cautiously Optimistic on Syria Settlement; Back Channel Communication Line Between Trump & Putin?; Kiev Breaks Transport Ties with Donbass, Poroshenko Sidelined?; North Korea FUBAR

(Photograph of large Soviet hatch ship Poltava on its way to Cuba, September 15, 1962, leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis; photo courtesy of National Security Archive)

Just when you thought the corporate media couldn’t get any lower with its shenanigans, along comes Ruth Marcus, the deputy editor of the Washington Post, who recently tweeted the following:

So excited to be watching The Americans, throwback to a simpler time when everyone considered Russia the enemy. Even the president.

So, according to Ms. Marcus, we should all be waxing nostalgic for those good old days when fall-out shelters were a thing and we all were scared shitless of scenarios like those portrayed in Fail-Safe or The Day After.   Instead of spending her days heavily medicated and weaving baskets at the nearest mental institution, this woman is the deputy editor of the second most widely read newspaper in America – and no one at the paper bats an eye at such moral and intellectual bankruptcy displayed publicly by one of its own.

Political comedian Jimmy Dore (a much edgier version of Jon Stewart) deconstructs the tweet, Ms. Marcus and some of the reaction to it by the likes of Glenn Greenwald and others  here.

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

Meanwhile, Putin – during a March 10th joint press conference with Turkish president Erdogan – announced that he was cautiously optimistic about a political settlement of the Syrian war.   RT provided the following details:

“As for the prospects [of the settlement in Syria], we must say frankly that the situation remains complicated. There are a lot of uncertainties; a lot of contradictions in the region and in the country itself – in Syria,” Putin said after the talks with Erdogan in the Russian capital on Friday. “Therefore, I want to express cautious optimism that by joining efforts with other solid players, including the US, we will be able to effectively contribute to the strengthening of the ceasefire regime and, on its basis, to move towards a full-fledged political settlement,” he said.

The Russian leader stressed that peace in Syria and the whole region can only be achieved if Syrian territorial integrity is restored. “For peace and calm to remain in the region and the rebuilding of Syria to begin, the principle of the territorial integrity of states must be respected, and in this sense the restoration of the territorial integrity of Syria is – in our view – a paramount condition for a full-fledged settlement in this country,” he said.

Erdogan echoed Putin’s words by saying that “both in Syria and in Iraq, the territorial integrity of the countries is our main goal. We can’t tolerate the division of these territories.”

The Russian leader has praised the level of cooperation between the Russian and Turkish militaries and intelligence agencies in Syria. “Mainly due to the active role of Russia and Turkey, it became possible not only to achieve cessation of hostilities between the government forces and the opposition, but to start direct, concrete negotiations between the warring sides in Astana,” he said. “Because of the coordinated actions by Russia, Turkey and Iran, the ceasefire in Syria is generally being observed. The level of violence has decreased,” Putin added.

Erdogan also called the meetings in Astana, Kazakhstan where the Syrian ceasefire was agreed earlier this year “an additional factor, making the process launched in Geneva more effective.”

The Turkish president said that both Ankara and Moscow “want to cooperate with the (US-led) coalition on liberating the city of Manbij” in northern Syria on the River Euphrates.

However, the Russians, Turks, Iranians and (above all) the Syrians, may end up regretting the suggestion of cooperation with Washington in Syria.  Pentagon sources have acknowledged that Washington is considering sending 1,000 more ground troops to Syria in the coming weeks.  This follows its alleged bombing of a Syrian mosque during evening prayers, killing dozens and wounding many more, just outside of Aleppo.

In an interesting article from Russia expert Gilbert Doctorow, it is speculated that there could be a back channel line of communication being developed between Trump and Putin in response to the fact that Trump is encountering too many political obstacles to any plan for detente between the world’s nuclear superpowers:

From the Sunday CNN interview of Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, we got a sense of how the Kremlin views the anti-Trump feeding frenzy now going on in the U.S. media and especially the attempt to portray Russian “meddling” as the reason that Trump won. Peskov called these assertions the “demonizing of Russia,” a situation to which Russians cannot be indifferent.

But the sentiment was much less negative on some of the leading news programs in Moscow, including channel Rossiya 1’s weekly news wrap-up delivered by Dmitry Kiselyov, who heads the news services on all Russian state radio and television channels, and Vladimir Solovyev’s political talk show, which brought together some of the country’s top legislators and leaders of key policy think tanks.

General to General

Both the Kiselyov news program and the Solovyov talk show drew attention to a development that was covered in the U.S. and Western press but with little or no interpretation so that it was easily missed: the meeting in the southern Turkish resort of Antalya of senior military officers of Turkey, the United States and Russia to discuss coordination of their military actions in northern Syria, where they are operating in close proximity and often at cross purposes. The meeting involved the Turkish Chief of Staff Hulusi Akar, U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford and Russian Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov.

From the Russian standpoint as revealed by Solovyov’s guests, the meeting went very well and the only glum participant leaving the meeting was the Turkish general. The Americans and Russians seem to have been in agreement over how to keep the U.S.-sponsored Kurdish fighters — so resented by the Turks — in the forefront of the assault on the ISIS “capital” at Raqqa, and, as a corollary, how to sideline Turkish ambitions of capturing a sphere of influence in northern Syria using Turkish troops and local Turkmen proxies.

Elsewhere in the Solovyov program, panelists hinted that there also are ongoing talks between Trump’s people and various Russian institutions. But the Antalya military contact — involving top generals for the first time since the deep slide in U.S.-Russian relations in 2014 over the Ukraine crisis — bears more attention.

Trump appears to have concluded that the way forward in relations between the U.S. and Russia is to make progress out of sight of the media. Whereas bringing Russia into the U.S.-run anti-Islamic State coalition meeting in Washington would have invited the U.S. media’s brickbats, a summit of generals in a provincial coastal town of Turkey could be far more productive and produce much less controversy. It is not for nothing that the press is now complaining that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is inaccessible. That follows the desires of the Oval Office, which prefers a “just get it done” approach.

Trump can also expect the greatest loyalty in the U.S. government’s hierarchy from the military as well as fewer leaks from holdovers hostile to any rapprochement with Russia. Indeed, many senior U.S. officers had constructive relations with their Russian counterparts for years on crucial issues such as supplying U.S. troops in Afghanistan and in sharing intelligence on terrorism. That was disrupted by the coalition of neoconservatives and liberal interventionists dominating the State Department and holding top political jobs at the Pentagon. So Trump has removed many of President Obama’s political appointees and has turned more to the military high command.

A friend and fellow-Russia watcher – one who’s been at this for far longer than I have, keeps insisting in response to my many laments about our current president, that on this issue he’s being crazy like a fox.  Perhaps she will turn out to be correct.   Maybe Trump or Putin is taking a cue from Kennedy and Khrushchev who started a back channel correspondence in 1961.  Both leaders then knew that they had to do so quietly, out of the limelight and doing an end run around certain hawks in both of their respective camps who would have viewed such cooperation as alarming or even traitorous.

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In response to the Donbass leaders’ announcement that they had seized and nationalized certain industries in their territory, the Kiev government has announced the suspension of all transport links to Donbass.

Russia’s TASS news agency reported the following:

KYIV – Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council has decided to suspend all transport services with the territories of Donbass not controlled by Kiev, the council’s head, Alexander Turchinov, said at the meeting of the presidential administration.

….Turchinov said the ban will be in force until points 1 and 2 (ceasefire and withdrawal of weapons) of the February 2015 Minsk peace deal are implemented and the seized enterprises return to Ukraine’s jurisdiction,

Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, National Police, National Guard and Security Service have been ordered to halt all movement of cargos through the contact line by rail links and vehicles.

It was also recently announced by the Kiev government that the blockade by ultra-right nationalists of coal from the Donbass had now been officially sanctioned.  Analyst Alexander Mercouris observed that the latter announcement, along with another involving further sanctions against Russia, were not made by Poroshenko.

The decision to legalise the blockade of Donbass was announced by Alexander Turchinov (pictured), who is the head of Ukraine’s National Defence and Security Council, and who is a significant figure in Ukrainian politics in his own right, whilst the request to Ukraine’s Central Bank to propose sanctions on Russian banks operating on Ukrainian territory was also made by Turchinov on behalf of Ukraine’s National Defence and Security Council, which he heads.

It may be that Ukraine’s legal and constitutional system makes Ukraine’s National and Defence Council the appropriate body to make these sort of decisions, though Ukraine’s chaotic legal and administrative structure and the notorious indifference of Ukrainian leaders to legal and administrative rules makes that a less than convincing argument to make.

However even if that were the case a statement from Poroshenko – the country’s leader and the nation’s President – explaining to the Ukrainian people the reasons for these important decisions and justifying the hardship they will cause, whilst making it clear that the decisions originate with him and that they have his full support, is the least one would expect in the circumstances.

Indeed the correct thing would surely be for the actual announcement of these decisions to have been made by Poroshenko himself, at the very least through the publication of a public statement issued in his name, or (much better) by way of a televised address to the Ukrainian nation.

….It could be that Poroshenko did not make the announcement today because he is embarrassed by the weakness on his part that it shows, and because his own website shows that he was giving assurances only yesterday to an EU official that Ukraine was about to do something totally different.

If so then that reminds me of the way Ukraine’s previous President, Viktor Yanukovych, failed to announce his decision to delay implementation of Ukraine’s association agreement with the EU, leaving the announcement to his Prime Minister, Mykola Azarov.  At the time I thought this was a act of extraordinary weakness on Yanukovych’s part, and in fact it set the pattern for his pusillanimous behaviour during the subsequent Maidan protests, which eventually caused his overthrow.  If Poroshenko is now behaving in the same way, then it speaks extraordinarily poorly both of him and of his prospects as Ukraine’s President.

However there has also to be the further possibility that the reason Poroshenko did not announce the decisions today is because ultimately he didn’t make them.  Indeed his comments to the EU official might even suggest he was resisting the idea of a total blockade as recently as yesterday, possibly because of EU pressure.

If so then Turchinov’s announcements today suggest that Poroshenko has been shunted aside, and that key decisions such as the decision to legalise the blockade of the Donbass are now being made without him.

In that case then that would suggest that Poroshenko’s authority as Ukraine’s President is seeping away, and that he is no longer fully in control, just as the Russian military move on Pristina in June 1999  during the Kosovo conflict, made without any order from Boris Yeltsin, was a clear sign that his authority as Russia’s President was seeping away.

This comes a few days after reports appeared in the Russian media claiming that Yulia Tymoshenko, Poroshenko’s long time enemy and bitter political rival, is making another visit – this time in secret – to Washington where early in February she had a brief meeting with Donald Trump, which looked to me like a case of Trump sizing up his options, and considering her as a possible alternative to Poroshenko.  Suffice to say that I do not think it was a coincidence that on returning to Ukraine Tymoshenko immediately sought to oust Ukraine’s government by proposing a vote of no confidence in Ukraine’s parliament, a move which by using procedural devices the government however managed to block.

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(North Koran missile launch, March 6, 2017; https://consortiumnews.com/2017/03/08/north-korea-fears-regime-change-strike/)

In other foreign policy news, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced on March 17th that “all options are on the table” in response to North Korea’s recent firing of missiles, which is part of its continuous posturing and to show its progress toward the development of missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.  This follows a Chinese official’s warning recently, comparing the U.S. and North Korea to “accelerating trains coming toward each other.”

One of the U.S.’s foremost experts on North Korea is Bruce Cummings who was interviewed on Democracy Now!, along with Christine Ahn, a peace activist on the Korea issue.  An except follows:

CHRISTINE AHN: Well, I’m concerned that we have a situation in South Korea that is essentially a political vacuum until the next progressive president comes into power. And we have a Trump administration that has said that it’s, you know, undertaking a Korea policy review, which has ranged from he’s willing to sit down with Kim Jong-un and have a hamburger to preemptive strikes. And what really worries me is, while these military exercises may be routine, you know, the South Korean media just reported that the U.S. has deployed a team of Navy SEALs, that basically took out Osama bin Laden. You know, it includes unmanned aircraft that could basically completely destroy Pyongyang. That could be a signal. That’s one way, since there is no communication between the two countries. And—

AMY GOODMAN: Deployed where?

CHRISTINE AHN: To the Korean Peninsula as part of these regular exercises. And that’s all under this Operation Plan, you know, 5015, that includes decapitation of Pyongyang’s leader. And so, I think that there has been this perception—

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, includes decapitation of the leader?

CHRISTINE AHN: Yeah, that’s basically taking out the North Korean leader. And I think that there is a perception in this country that—that regime collapse is imminent and that all it will take is a military action to conduct it. And when has regime change ever been successful? And what would be the likelihood for the millions of South Koreans right across the DMZ and the innocent civilians? But it would engulf the entire region into a very dangerous regional conflict—Russia, China, Japan, the United States. By being part of mutual defense treaties, it will engulf the entire region. Five of those—of the top 10 countries in terms of their military capacity and defense spending are in that region. It’s a tinderbox. And so, we really need to understand that the Korean conflict is at the root of that. And so we have to really seriously pressure our government. I mean, it’s obviously—how do we, you know, pressure the Trump administration, that seems to not have a clue about Korea? But we have to. I think it’s a very dangerous situation, and we have to be very vigilant.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Professor Bruce Cumings, what about this? You have the Chinese officials issuing this warning. You have people in the United States deeply concerned that when you have a very unpopular president, and they’re having—embroiled in trouble at home, that he might want to focus attention elsewhere, on an enemy outside, and the idea that North Korea could become that country, a country that the U.S. engages militarily. Do you think there’s any possibility of this?

BRUCE CUMINGS: I actually don’t think the Trump administration can get its act together to appoint high people in the State Department, high officials in the State Department and the Pentagon. I don’t know how they can start a war in Korea or decapitate Kim Jong-un. I think the situation is actually worse, in the sense that over the last year or so there’s been a bipartisan, inside-the-Beltway consensus that most of our methods for dealing with North Korea—sanctions, cap on their tests, talking with them—those things have not worked over the years. They’re still building their arsenal of nuclear weapons and missiles, and so some sort of force may be necessary, either to take out those missiles preemptively or to force an end to the Kim Jong-un regime. The Council on Foreign Relations, last October, published a paper on North Korea, where it came very close to saying the U.S. might have to use force to change the regime in North Korea. So we’re not talking about Donald Trump and a bunch of yahoos; we’re talking about a consensus in Washington.

Also, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s statement was very important, I think unprecedented. I’ve never heard a high Chinese official say that we’re moving toward a collision on the Korean Peninsula, that it’s like two trains rushing toward each other. Furthermore, over the weekend, William Perry, the former defense secretary and Bill Clinton’s roving ambassador for North Korea in the late ’90s, also said that he thought a train wreck was coming.

The simple way to handle this is the way Jimmy Carter did in 1994, when it looked like Bill Clinton was about to launch a preemptive attack on North Korea. And he just basically cut through all the bull in our relations with North Korea, going back decades, and flew to Pyongyang to talk to Kim Il-sung. And out of that came a complete freeze on North Korea’s plutonium facility for eight years. For eight years, they had no access to any bomb-making materials, 24/7 controls on that facility.

So, if Donald Trump wants to share a hamburger with Kim Jong-un, that’s a very good idea. But the idea of using force against North Korea, when even their artillery, 10,000 guns north of Seoul, conventional artillery, can take out a city that has a third of the South Korean population, you just really have no military option on the Korean Peninsula. But unfortunately, a lot of folks in Washington haven’t gotten that straight.

Jonathan Marshall also provided very important context in a recent article:

Mentioned only in passing — if at all — in most news stories was the context for the latest of Pyongyang’s seemingly random acts of aggressive militarism.

Korea experts had in fact long predicted that the North would — as it does every year — undertake “military provocations” to protest the start of the latest annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises on March 1. The same day those exercises began, the Wall Street Journal reported ominously that “an internal White House review of strategy on North Korea includes the possibility of military force or regime change to blunt the country’s nuclear-weapons threat.”

A North Korean diplomat condemned the latest joint exercises as “massive” and “unprecedented in size,” saying, “It will certainly jeopardize peace and stability in the region and drive the situation in the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war.”

His rhetoric had more than a little factual basis. South Korea’s defense minister confirmed that the exercises are similar in scale to those held last year. With more than 300,000 South Korea and 17,000 American troops, 2016’s war games were the largest in the region’s history.

Although officials in Washington and Seoul invariably characterize the maneuvers and simulations as “defensive” and “non-provocative,” last year’s exercises reportedly included“rehearsals of surgical strikes on North Korea’s main nuclear and missile facilities and ‘decapitation raids’ by special forces targeting the North’s leadership.”

Taking part in the exercises was a naval strike group led by the nuclear-powered supercarrier USS John C. Stennis, along with the nuclear-powered attack submarine USS North Carolina, stealth F-22 fighter aircraft, nuclear-capable B-52 and B-2 bombers, and Marine special forces who practiced amphibious landings.

Those forces represent exactly the capabilities that informed military analysts say would be used if Washington decided to unleash a preemptive, surprise “surgical strike” against North Korea’s nuclear forces and command and control centers.

Dangerous Precedents

Viewing that array of forces in the light of past “U.S. attacks on Libya and Iraq and Serbia,” leaders in Pyongyang last year understandably saw “the potential for a U.S. attack,” remarked Bruce Klinger, a Korea analyst for the conservative Heritage Foundation, at the time.

“They know the history of the Marine Corps,” he added, “so they would see a large presence of Marines on the peninsula as possibly a prelude to an attack or an invasion — especially when it’s coupled with the presence of B-52s and nuke-capable submarines.”

 

The New Nuclear Scare

nuclear bombs nuclear explosions j robert oppenheimer bhagavad gita atomic bomb 1920x1200 wallpa Art HD Wallpaper

Verse from the Bhagavad Gita that occurred to Robert Oppenheimer while witnessing the first successful nuclear test blast in 1945

(http://www.knowledgehi.com/Sciences/explosions/nuclear_bombs_nuclear_explosions_j_robert_oppenheimer_bhagavad_gita_atomic_bomb_1920x1200_wallpa_33597)

As some readers familiar with my past writings will already know, there were high-ranking individuals in the U.S. military who had advisory positions to the president and advocated a first-strike nuclear attack on the Soviet Union during the first Cold War.  These advisers even encouraged President Kennedy to escalate during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.  By then, Kennedy had learned of the madness with which he was dealing and had his meetings with his national security advisers secretly tape recorded during the crisis. The transcripts are available for reading in the form of a book.

I have also discussed, to some extent, the warped cultural and ideological thinking that can produce such individuals in both my review of JFK and the Unspeakable by James Douglass and this post.

John Marshall’s must-read article at Consortium News “Dreams of Winning Nuclear War on Russia” covers some of this background and discusses the findings of a new disturbing analysis put out by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists about the cutting edge new technologies that could make it even more tempting for such ideologues to consider a first-strike on Russia.   An excerpt is below:

In 1961, senior Pentagon consultants drafted a 33-page blueprint for initiating — and winning — a nuclear war against the Soviet Union. It was based on top-secret intelligence that Soviet nuclear forces were few in number and poorly defended — making them an easy target for a U.S. preemptive strike.

Convinced of U.S. superiority, the Joint Chiefs of Staff began advising President John F. Kennedy to risk nuclear war over Cuba and Vietnam — even though their own analysis conceded that if something went wrong, 75 percent of Americans might die. If JFK hadn’t rejected their advice, we might not be here today.

President Trump may soon face a similar test. With almost no public awareness, the Pentagon’s nuclear program has achieved unprecedented capabilities that once again raise the possibility that a U.S. first strike could cripple Russia’s nuclear arsenal and “decapitate” its leadership. Such capabilities all but ensure that hawks will begin lobbying for more aggressive measures toward Russia, based its growing vulnerability to U.S. nuclear weapons.

A frightening new analysis for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists — by three eminent strategic arms experts at the Federation of American Scientists, Natural Resources Defense Council, and MIT — provides evidence that U.S. nuclear planners have “implemented revolutionary new technologies that will vastly increase the targeting capability of the US ballistic missile arsenal,” giving it for the first time in decades “the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war by disarming enemies with a surprise first strike.”

U.S. Navy’s ‘Super-Fuse’

The concept of nuclear superiority seemed to lose its relevance in the mid-1960s, when Moscow finally built a large enough nuclear arsenal to withstand attack. Subsequent arms control treaties, starting in the Nixon years, maintained reasonable parity between U.S. and Russian nuclear forces, discouraging either side from contemplating the use of atomic weapons for anything but deterring a nuclear attack.

With absolutely no fanfare, however, U.S. technology advances have once again called mutual deterrence into question. The secret is a “super-fuse” first implemented by the U.S. Navy in 2009 as part of its “life-extension” program for submarine-based nuclear missiles. By permitting more accurate timing of nuclear blasts, this flexible trigger gives America’s sub-launched missiles three times their former killing power — enough to take out even “hardened” Russian missile silos and command centers with a high probability of success.

The authors calculate that a mere 272 warheads could wipe out all of Russia’s intercontinental ballistic missiles housed in hardened silos — leaving in reserve more than 600 lethal warheads deployed on U.S. submarines, as well as hundreds more on U.S. land-based missiles.

Although U.S. war planners would still be challenged to target warheads on Russia’s submarines and mobile land-based missiles, the authors support claims by other scholars that “for the first time in almost 50 years, the United States stands on the verge of attaining nuclear primacy.” Russia’s vulnerability will likely increase over time, as the Pentagon’s implements its planned trillion-dollar nuclear “modernization” program over the next 30 years.

I highly recommend reading the full article here

A detaling of the level of actual damage that could be done by a nuclear attack in one large city is shown here

Here’s what would happen if the bomb targeted Times Square in New York City:

Courtesy of http://viableopposition.blogspot.ca/2017/02/nuclear-superpowers-and-impact-of.html

Here’s what would happen if the bomb targeted Red Square in Moscow:

Courtesy of http://viableopposition.blogspot.ca/2017/02/nuclear-superpowers-and-impact-of.html

For a primer on how easy it would be for an accidental nuclear war to be launched, due to either human or technological error, read Eric Schlosser’s “World War III, By Mistake” from a recent issue of The New Yorker:

The dangers of “launch-on-warning” have been recognized since the idea was first proposed, during the Eisenhower Administration. After the Cuban Missile Crisis, McNamara advised Kennedy that the United States should never use its nuclear weapons until a nuclear detonation had occurred on American soil, and could be attributed to an enemy attack. The first Minuteman missiles had already become a great source of stress for McNamara. The control system of the original model had a design flaw: small fluctuations in the electricity entering the command center could mimic the series of pulses required by the launch switch. An entire squadron of fifty missiles might be launched accidentally without anyone turning a key. “I was scared shitless,” an engineer who worked on the system later confessed. “The technology was not to be trusted.” McNamara insisted that the control system be redesigned, at great expense. The destruction of fifty Soviet cities because of a mechanical glitch, a classified history of the Minuteman program later noted, would be “an accident for which a later apology might be inadequate.”

Read the full article here

It should be noted that Russia has not been resting on its laurels when it comes to maintaining, and even improving, its nuclear defense capabilities.  Over the past year it has begun rolling out its S500 air defense system, which some geopolitical analysts suggest would be able to completely seal off Russian airspace to incoming missile attacks after its implementation all over the country.

What 2 Former U.S. Ambassadors Have to Say About Russian Ambassador’s Contacts with Senate Staff or Those Close to Incoming Administration; Veteran Investigative Journalist Provides His Experience with Political Investigations and When They are Warranted; Is Trump’s Russia Policy So Different from Obama’s?; Trump Reportedly May Be Backing Off Any Detente; Antiwar.com Unpacks Why Russia Has to Remain an Enemy

(http://jackmatlock.com/here-now/)

Jack Matlock served as the specialist on Soviet affairs on Reagan’s national security council and then served as the U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union/Russia under Bush I.  Although he served under Republican administrations, Matlock himself is not a Republican.  He started out as a Democrat and is now an independent.

In a recent blog post, Matlock provided some insight into the recent controversy over those close to Trump’s campaign or members of his incoming administration having communications with the Russian ambassador:

Our press seems to be in a feeding frenzy regarding contacts that President Trump’s supporters had with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak and with other Russian diplomats. The assumption seems to be that there was something sinister about these contacts, just because they were with Russian diplomats. As one who spent a 35-year diplomatic career working to open up the Soviet Union and to make communication between our diplomats and ordinary citizens a normal practice, I find the attitude of much of our political establishment and of some of our once respected media outlets quite incomprehensible. What in the world is wrong with consulting a foreign embassy about ways to improve relations? Anyone who aspires to advise an American president should do just that.

Yesterday I received four rather curious questions from Mariana Rambaldi of Univision Digital. I reproduce below the questions and the answers I have given….

….Ambassador Kislyak is a distinguished and very able diplomat. Anyone interested in improving relations with Russia and avoiding another nuclear arms race—which is a vital interest of the United States—should discuss current issues with him and members of his staff. To consider him “toxic” is ridiculous.

….If you want to understand the policy of another country, you need to consult that country’s representatives. It is quite common for foreign diplomats to cultivate candidates and their staffs. That is part of their job. If Americans plan to advise the president on policy issues, they would be wise to maintain contact with the foreign embassy in question to understand that country’s attitude toward the issues involved. Certainly, both Democrats and Republicans would contact Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin during the Cold War and discuss the issues with him. As the person in charge of our embassy in Moscow during several political campaigns, I would often set up meetings of candidates and their staffs with Soviet officials. Such contacts are certainly ethical so long as they do not involve disclosure of classified information or attempts to negotiate specific issues. In fact, I would say that any person who presumes to advise an incoming president on vital policy issues needs to understand the approach of the country in question and therefore is remiss if he or she does not consult with the embassy in question.

A similar sentiment was expressed by Michael McFaul, a hardliner who served as U.S. ambassador to Russia during Obama’s first term.  Listen to his comments on this particular issue during a recent interview with MSNBC.  I would note that he says other things that I would characterize as inaccurate, such as his claim that he simply met with a member of the Russian opposition and ran into trouble with Moscow for this.  Actually, McFaul did more than just meet with members of the opposition – he also actively encouraged their actions against the sitting government, which is frowned upon in any country.   But his specific comments addressing the fact that the Russian ambassador was simply doing his job in seeking out members of the incoming administration to get an idea of its attitude toward certain relevant issues is not untoward.

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2017/03/03/former_us_ambassador_to_russia_michael_mcfaul_not_unusual_for_sergey_kislyak_to_meet_sessions.html

Veteran investigative journalist, Robert Parry provides his experience with various political investigations over scandals and non-scandals over the course of decades in response to the controversy over Trump administration contacts with Russia and Trump’s recent tapping accusations against Obama:

The intensifying hysteria over Russia has pushed Official Washington over the edge into outright madness. On one side of this asylum, you have the Democrats, neoconservatives and mainstream media, while on the other, you have the embattled Trump administration. Both sides have been making grave allegations with little or no evidence to support them.

The Democratic/neocon/MSM side has pushed the conspiracy theory that Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russians to put the real-estate mogul in the White House, but there is, as yet, no evidence that such a thing happened.

Even one of the top advocates feeding this Russia frenzy, New York Times correspondent Thomas L. Friedman, acknowledged on Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that “I agree, there is no evidence,” but then added: “which is why we need a special prosecutor or an independent commission to get to the bottom of it.”

But that is not how investigations are supposed to work. You’re supposed to have evidence of wrongdoing and then examine it in the investigative phase to see if the evidence withstands scrutiny. What Friedman is suggesting is more like a “fishing expedition” or a “witch hunt.”

The drip-drip of this investigative water torture finally got to President Trump last week as he flew down to his winter home at Mar-a-Lago. He joined the crazy melee early Saturday morning by sending out a flurry of tweets accusing President Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower in New York City in the weeks before the Nov. 8 election. Trump also offered no evidence while demanding an investigation to get to the bottom of this.

By contrast, in all the major investigations that I have handled as an investigative reporter, such as Oliver North’s secret White House paramilitary operation; the related Nicaraguan Contra drug trafficking scandalRichard Nixon interference with President Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam peace talks in 1968; and Ronald Reagan’s campaign sabotage of President Jimmy Carter’s Iranian-hostage negotiations in 1980 – there was substantial evidence from eyewitnesses and documents supporting the suspicions before the story was published.

At no point would I have argued that just because Oliver North met a Contra leader that it was time to investigate whether he and his Reagan administration superiors were breaking the law. I first found multiple insiders, including people in the U.S. government and the Contra movement, describing how North was running his back-channel war. In some of these investigative situations, we had two dozen or so sources describing detailed aspects of these operations before we made any allegations in print.

Now the argument is that because some people suspect something, even without evidence, major investigations are warranted. That is usually what a conspiracy theory sounds like. Someone claims not to understand how something could have happened a certain way and thus a full-scale inquiry is needed into some highly unlikely and speculative scenario.

Another one of my favorite analysts, Glenn Greenwald, also weighs in with some great points underscoring the politically motivated and hypocritical actions by the Democrats in the still embryonic Trump era:

This attempt to equate Trump’s opposition to arming Ukraine with some sort of treasonous allegiance to Putin masks a rather critical fact: namely, that the refusal to arm Ukraine with lethal weapons was one of Barack Obama’s most steadfastly held policies. The original Post article that reported the RNC platform change noted this explicitly:

Of course, Trump is not the only politician to oppose sending lethal weapons to Ukraine. President Obama decided not to authorize it, despite recommendations to do so from his top Europe officials in the State Department and the military.

Early media reports about this controversy from outlets such as NPR also noted the irony at the heart of this debate: namely, that arming Ukraine was the long-time desire of hawks in the GOP such as John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio, but the Obama White House categorically resisted those pressures:

Republicans in Congress have approved providing arms to the Ukrainian government but the White House has resisted, saying that it would only encourage more bloodshed.

It’s a rare Obama administration policy that the Trump campaign seems to agree with.

Indeed, the GOP ultimately joined with the hawkish wing of the Democratic Party to demand that Obama provide Ukraine with lethal weapons to fight Russia, but Obama steadfastly refused. As the New York Times reported in March, 2015, “President Obama is coming under increasing pressure from both parties and more officials inside his own government to send arms to the country. But he remains unconvinced that they would help.” When Obama kept refusing, leaders of the two parties threatened to enact legislation forcing Obama to arm Ukraine.

The general Russia approach that Democrats now routinely depict as treasonous – avoiding confrontation with and even accommodating Russian interests, not just in Ukraine but also in Syria – was one of the defining traits of Obama’s foreign policy. This fact shouldn’t be overstated: Obama engaged in provocative acts such as moves to further expand NATO, non-lethal aid to Ukraine, and deploying “missile defense” weaponry in Romania. But he rejected most calls to confront Russia. That is one of the primary reasons the “foreign policy elite” – which, recall, Obama came into office denouncing and vowing to repudiate – was so dissatisfied with his presidency.

A new, long article by Politico foreign affairs correspondent Susan Glasser – on the war being waged against Trump by Washington’s “foreign policy elite” – makes this point very potently. Say what you will about Politico, but one thing they are very adept at doing is giving voice to cowardly Washington insiders by accommodating their cowardice and thus routinely granting them anonymity to express themselves. As journalistically dubious as it is to shield the world’s most powerful people with anonymity, this practice sometimes ends up revealing what careerist denizens of Washington power really think but are too scared to say. Glasser’s article, which largely consists of conveying the views of anonymous high-level Obama officials, contains this remarkable passage:

In other words, Democrats are now waging war on, and are depicting as treasonous, one of Barack Obama’s central and most steadfastly held foreign policy positions, one that he clung to despite attacks from leading members of both parties as well as the DC National Security Community. That’s not Noam Chomsky drawing that comparison; it’s an Obama appointee.

As FBI whistleblower Colleen Rowley and others have noted, certain Democrats seem so consumed by their hatred for Trump that they are failing to see the forest for the trees in their approach of hitching their wagon to the anti-Russia meme because they think it will be the most expedient to get rid of Trump.  It doesn’t matter that there is an existential degree of folly in continuing to ramp up tensions with the world’s other nuclear superpower or that lack of evidence used to be a concern for those who cared about truth and due process.  This reminds me of the level of insanity and stupidity that those who hated Obama manifested with the accusations of no citizenship and being a Muslim, etc.

They also clearly haven’t thought through the consequences of having Mike Pence as president either.

In any event, perhaps all the pressure is finally getting to Trump. According to an AP article, he is ready to shelve his detente plans for Russia:

President Donald Trump is telling advisers and allies that he may shelve, at least temporarily, his plan to pursue a deal with Moscow on the Islamic State group and other national security matters, according to administration officials and Western diplomats.

In conversations with diplomats and other officials, Trump and his aides have ascribed the new thinking to Moscow’s recent provocations. But the reconsideration of a central tenet of his foreign policy underscores the growing political risks in forging closer relations with Russia, as long as the FBI investigates his campaign associates’ connections to Moscow and congressional committees step up their inquiries into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.

….Trump’s new skepticism about brokering a deal with Moscow also suggests the rising influence of a new set of advisers who have taken a tougher stance on Russia, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and new national security adviser H.R. McMaster. During his first meeting with National Security Council staff, McMaster described Russia — as well as China — as a country that wants to upend the current world order, according to an administration official who attended the meeting.

Michael McFaul, who served as President Barack Obama’s ambassador to Russia, said that while Trump has been open about wanting warmer relations with Russia, “he hasn’t picked people to the best of my knowledge at senior levels that share that view.”

European allies also have been pushing the Trump administration not to make any early concessions to Russia. To bolster their case, European officials have tailored their rhetoric to appeal to Trump’s business background, including emphasizing the risks of negotiating a bad deal, rather than more nuanced arguments, according to one Western diplomat. Given Trump’s “America First” mantra, foreign officials emphasize how U.S. standing in the world could be diminished by making concessions to Russia instead of focusing on the importance of the U.S. and Europe sticking together to counter Moscow.

Finally, Justin Raimondo of Antiwar.com, unpacks the reasons for why Russia must remain the enemy for much of the U.S. political and economic elite:

And so while the present quite extraordinary campaign to portray Russia as our Major Adversary has been given considerable impetus by the Democratic party elites, eager to explain away their humiliating defeat – and discredit the current occupant of the White House – there’s much more to it than that. We can break it down into four major reasons:

1) Inter-service rivalry in the military – In May of last year, I wrote about the war breaking out between the various components of the US military, a battle over budgets:

“In early April, a battalion of senior military officials appeared before a Senate panel and testified that the US Army is ‘outranged and outgunned,’ particularly in any future conflict with Russia. Arguing for a much bigger budget for the Army, they claimed that, absent a substantial increase in funding, the Russians would overtake us and, even scarier, ‘the army of the future will be too small to secure the nation.’

“The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming! And before you know it, Brooklyn will be renamed Putingrad.

“Of course it was pure coincidence that, shortly after these alarm bells were rung, a piece appeared in Politico magazine purportedly showing that the Russians were breathing down our necks: it revealed a ‘secret study’ – revealed for the first time! – that supposedly detailed Russia’s deadly new capabilities as demonstrated in Ukraine. Included in this potpourri of propaganda was the assertion by none other than Gen. Wesley Clark, former presidential candidate and well-known Russophobe, that Moscow had developed a tank that is for all intents and purposes ‘invulnerable.’”

The national debt is now at $20 trillion – a sum that the human mind can barely conceive. The reality is that we cannot afford the kind of money the military is now demanding. Indeed, the defense budget hike being advanced by the Trump administration is dead on arrival, and even if it were passed by Congress – an unlikely outcome – it would hardly satisfy the projected expansion of military spending envisioned by the generals. And so we are now witnessing a ramped up campaign to portray the Russians as ten feet tall. As a follow up piece in Politico by Mark Perry put it:

’This is the ‘Chicken-Little, sky-is-falling’ set in the Army,’ the senior Pentagon officer said. ‘These guys want us to believe the Russians are 10 feet tall. There’s a simpler explanation: The Army is looking for a purpose, and a bigger chunk of the budget. And the best way to get that is to paint the Russians as being able to land in our rear and on both of our flanks at the same time. What a crock.’”

A war with Russia would require land forces in huge numbers, more tanks, more artillery, and much more money for the Army. If the Russian Threat is what they say it is, then the Army will devour a glutton’s share of the military budget, leaving the Navy and the Air Force to starve. It would also require complementary upgrades for the militaries of all the NATO nations – a gold mine for the US weapons industry.

So one answer to the “Why Russia?” question is simple: follow the money.

And speaking of following the money, another big factor energizing the anti-Russian campaign is:

2) The Russian diaspora – When Putin came to power one of the first things he did was go after the infamous oligarchs who had backed – and manipulated – his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin. Under the drunken Yeltsin, these “entrepreneurs” had used the State apparatus to “privatize” (i.e. loot) what had previously been the State-owned economy, gobbling up entire sectors at unbelievably cheap prices. Putin moved to disassemble what was a competing power center, and the result was the flight of the oligarchs to the West. Having put their ill-gotten gains in Western banks and holding companies, they shacked up in London, New York, Switzerland, and the French Riviera, where they plotted Putin’s overthrow and their triumphant return.

There’s an awful lot of money sloshing around in these circles, and a good part of it is being used to buy up media properties that act as outlets for anti-Russian propaganda. Newspapers, think tanks, and various other vehicles for the molding of public opinion are financed by this Russian Diaspora, which acts as an intellectual Praetorian Guard for the politicians hoping to ride the wave of anti-Russia sentiment. They act as a lobby on behalf of the arms industry, and the political forces that stand to gain from the anti-Russian campaign – but they are not alone.

Read the complete article here

 

The Deep State

Product Details

The Deep State by Mike Lofgren, Penguin Books, Reprint 2016

With the term “deep state” getting a lot of mileage these days with respect to the take-down of Trump’s original National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, it seems like a good time to draw your attention to the  origins of the term.   Mike Lofgren, a former congressional staffer and defense analyst, wrote a book with that title a few years back.   Below is a link to a 26 minute interview that Bill Moyers conducted with him.

A synopsis of the interview:

Mike Lofgren, a congressional staff member for 28 years, joins Bill Moyers to talk about what he calls Washington’s “Deep State,” in which elected and unelected figures collude to protect and serve powerful vested interests. “It is how we had deregulation, financialization of the economy, the Wall Street bust, the erosion or our civil liberties and perpetual war,” Lofgren tells Moyers.

 As one of the YouTube commenters, tsbrownie, described it:
“It’s a conspiracy of common interests. The elite don’t have to hold meetings nor have secret handshakes. All they have to do is all work to the same goals with loose coordination via news media, and like a team of ants, bit by bit they can move our great country anywhere they want.”

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYS647HTgks

For those who’d rather read Lofgrens’ essay explaining the concept, go here:

http://billmoyers.com/2014/02/21/anatomy-of-the-deep-state/

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Executive Order will come into effect upon its signing.

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

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

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

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

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

Ladies and gentlemen,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting Payback

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You mean Stalin?”

“Yeah. He was tough, man.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full article here

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the complete statement at the link above.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full article at the link above.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s hope he is right.

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

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

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

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

 

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

Syria peace talks

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the complete piece here.

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

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

As Moon of Alabama comments:

 

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

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

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

 

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

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