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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Putin’s public comment regarding the policy was:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s a lot of ifs.

***

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

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

Anti-NATO protest rally in Munich
Sputnik Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, back to reality….

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

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

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

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

Let’s hope so. But…

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

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

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

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

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

Julian Assange

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full article here.

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

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

Read Ehrlich’s complete article here.

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

Letters to Julian

As Julians life is at risk he requests you send:

A SHORT personal NOTE

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

Thank you for respecting his wishes

Julian Assange

HMP Belmarsh

Western Way

Thamesmead

London SE280EB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more trip details please email us. Many thanks!

Click here to see CCI’s official trip flyer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edward Snowden responded on Twitter with the following comment:

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

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

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

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


Lenin in July 1920. Photo by Pavel Zhukov.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

Poll: Majority of Americans Accept Mueller Conclusion of No Collusion with Russia, Think Dems Should Move On; NATO Secretary General Addresses Congress in PR Blitz on Eve of Alliance’s 70th Anniversary

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

According to a Harvard/Harris poll, a majority (64%) of Americans accept the conclusion of the Mueller report that the Trump campaign/administration did not collude with Russia to interfere with the 2016 election. 68% of respondents think the Democrats should also accept the conclusion and move on. Amen.

Meanwhile, in celebration of NATO’s 70th anniversary this year, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was invited to address a joint session of the House and Senate today.

Stoltenberg spoke for 40 minutes (video embedded below). He started his speech by stating that the founders of NATO had lived through two devastating world wars. This is ironic because in researching WWI for my work-in-progress, it stands out how – even though all the major players who went to war in 1917 had long-standing tensions – it was the entanglement of alliances that prompted the greatest death and destruction then known to man (16 million deaths) after an assassination in a small nation provided the spark.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg address a joint session of Congress on April 3, 2019.

With 29 members, including many small nations who were formerly part of the Soviet Union and have varying degrees of historical axes to grind with Russia, NATO has turned itself from an alliance meant to prevent the now-dead Soviet Union from exercising any expansionist ambitions its leaders may or may not have had in the rest of Europe into an alliance that could precipitate a similar conflict as we saw in WWI.

With Article V obligating all members of NATO to fight if any member is attacked, could a provocative act in, say, Lithuania be the spark that starts another world war? In an age of nuclear weapons, might NATO’s continued expansion right up to Russia’s borders and courting of nations whose political elites have an interest in continuing to use Russophobia as a diversion for their lack of implementing solutions to the many domestic problems they face be unwise? Might it even provoke the very thing its supporters claim it exists to prevent, a devastating war?

He goes on to claim that NATO has been a force for peace. He clearly hasn’t asked the citizens of Serbia, Afghanistan, and Libya what they think of this assertion.

He also didn’t hesitate to repeat debunked or unproven allegations against Russia: use of a nerve agent in the UK, that it had attacked power grids and interfered in elections in Europe (France and Germany’s own governments came out and refuted these accusations).

Stoltenberg also claims that NATO has been striving to have a better relationship with Russia. But he doesn’t give a single example of NATO doing this. Probably because there isn’t one.

He also repeats the allegation that Russia was violating the INF Treaty before Washington abrogated it, though this was never proven. He also fails to mention some important context to the controversy over INF Treaty violations as the U.S./NATO has had Aegis-ashore missile systems in Romania since 2016 and has had plans to place them in Poland for years, which effectively violates the treaty as MIT professor Theodore Postol has explained. It has also been recently reported that the U.S. has been designing other missiles that would be in violation of the treaty since 2017. So Washington and NATO are not the innocent victims in the INF Treaty controversy that they are claiming to be.

The congressional speech was just the last leg of the Secretary General’s big PR blitz over the past couple of weeks leading up to NATO’s 70th anniversary tomorrow.

On March 25th, Stoltenberg reiterated on a visit to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, inaugurating a joint military exercise between Georgia and NATO, that the country would eventually become a full-fledged member of the military alliance. Stoltenberg dismissed Russia’s concerns as reported by RFERL:

Speaking alongside Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze, he said that the 29 NATO member states had “clearly stated that Georgia will become a member of NATO.”

“We will continue working together to prepare for Georgia’s NATO membership,” Stoltenberg said, adding that no country has the right to influence NATO’s open-door policy.

“We are not accepting that Russia or any other power can decide what members can do,” he said.

Stoltenberg followed up with a tweet later that day singing Georgia’s praises and extolling the virtues of the country’s partnership with NATO:

Delighted to observe the joint NATO-Georgia exercise with PM
& honoured to meet veterans & serving soldiers. Georgia is a unique partner for #NATO & we are stepping up our cooperation.

In spite of the reverence with which the alliance is often treated by Washington, the media establishment and the political elites of various nations near Russia that think NATO represents the cat’s pajamas in terms of security, there are some indications that perhaps NATO isn’t all that.

On March 25th, Professor Walter Russell Mead published an oped (behind a paywall) in the Wall Street Journal asking if “NATO is Dying?” Mead thinks the alliance may very well be on its last legs. Some facts he cites to support his argument include the German government’s recent decision to maintain 1.25% of its GDP as an annual contribution to the alliance for the next five years rather than the Washington-mandated 2%, and Turkey’s decision to purchase the S-400 defense system from Russia regardless of protestations from Washington that included threats to withhold sale of the F-35 fighter jet. Mead states:

NATO members are less committed to the alliance than they used to be because most worry less about conventional military attacks from Russia. … Countries with the misfortune to be neighbors of Russia are still enthusiastic about NATO. But the anti-Russian zeal of Poland and the Baltic states is something of an embarrassment for Germans eager to cut Nord Stream 2-type deals with Moscow over the heads of their mostly small, poor and importunate eastern neighbors.

He goes on to point out that Russia and China are taking note of these developments and will be waiting to parlay any disillusionment by members of the alliance to their geopolitical advantage.

Veteran investigative journalist Gareth Porter pours his own bucket of cold water on NATO with his recent article in Al Jazeera. Porter reports that the alliance – looking for a purpose so it could stay alive after the Cold War ended – persuaded the Bush II administration to let it take the lead in the Afghan war, believing it could show its continued worth while expanding its geographical mandate. But the move backfired.

The Supreme Allied Commander for Europe at the time, James Jones, pitched the idea to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld between 2003 and 2005 as the solution to the administration’s desire to focus their military action on Iraq.

“Jones sold [Defence Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld on turning Afghanistan over to NATO,” said the officer, adding that he did so with the full support of Pentagon officials with responsibilities for NATO. “You have to understand that the NATO lobbyists are very prominent in the Pentagon – both in the Office of the Secretary of Defence and on the Joint Staff,” said the officer.

Jones admitted in an October 2005 interview with American Forces Press Service that NATO had struggled to avoid becoming irrelevant after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. “NATO was in limbo for a bit,” he said.

But the 9/11 attacks had offered a new opportunity for NATO to demonstrate its relevance.

In order to address the concerns of NATO members whose populations were opposed to an actual combat mission in Afghanistan, Jones convinced them that only “mop up” and nation-building operations would be needed as the Taliban were no longer a significant military threat – even though US intelligence realized that the Taliban was rallying and troops would likely be facing a new insurgency in the south.

Of course, it didn’t take long for the NATO members who agreed to this to realize they were being hornswoggled.

But conflicts immediately arose between the US and NATO member countries over the NATO mission in Afghanistan. Britain, Germany, Canada and the Netherlands had all sold the NATO mission to their publics as “peacekeeping” or “reconstruction” as distinct from counterinsurgency war.

When the Bush administration sought to merge the US and NATO commands in Afghanistan, key allies pushed back, arguing the two commands had different missions. The French, meanwhile, were convinced the Bush administration was using NATO troops to fill the gap left by shifting US troops from Afghanistan to Iraq – a war they strongly opposed.

Eventually, NATO member countries laid down limitations on their participation as the Taliban increased their attacks and improved their position. Later, General Karl Eikenberry – commander of US troops in Afghanistan in 2005 – and then-ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald E. Neumann admitted that NATO’s involvement in the war was to prop up the alliance.

Eikenberry stated in testimony to Congress in 2007 that “The long view of the Afghanistan campaign is that it is a means to continue the transformation of the alliance.”

One former commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, Canadian Rick Hillier, stated that NATO’s performance in the country was “abysmal” and lacked strategy. As a result, he claims, the alliance has lost credibility among many of its members.

So if NATO’s military performance against a technologically unsophisticated foe like the Taliban leaves something to be desired, how effective would it be in facing a far larger and more advanced opponent like Russia?

One is left to wonder if NATO serves any meaningful purpose other than being a self-perpetuating bureaucracy that keeps the profits rolling in for the merchants of death while allowing its members to puff themselves up. Simultaneously it is also a dangerous irritant or even a provocation for the nuclear-armed countries which it is aimed at – countries that various NATO members already have long and complicated tensions with.

While Stoltenberg pays lip service to the death and destruction of WWI – which laid the groundwork for the even more devastating WWII – it is clear that he and his ideological fellow travelers, including members of congress who clap like trained seals at every self-serving platitude uttered by a military leader on their team, have learned nothing from it.

More analysis and commentary on NATO in general and Stoltenberg’s speech in particular can be heard from Peter Kuznick and Pietro Shakarian on the Real News Network:

Sharmini Peries Interviews Peter Kuznick and Pietro Shakarian on the Real News Network.
https://therealnews.com/stories/obscene-bipartisan-applause-for-nato-in-congress