The U.S. President Now Has Access to “Usable” Nukes – What Could Go Wrong?; Russian FM Says U.S. F-35’s Detected Near Iranian Border on Night of Tehran’s Missile Attack on U.S. Bases in Iraq; U.S. Military to Send 20,000 Troops to Europe in February

William Arkin has written a disturbing report for Newsweek detailing how 2019 legislation passed has now allowed for “usable” nukes to be rolled off the assembly line. He explains how 10 days before Trump took office, the U.S. military had run an exercise in which a conflict erupted between Iran and the U.S.. The war games culminated in a decision by the president of whether to use a mini nuke after Iran had used chemical weapons against U.S. Marines.

Though the United States has never made any public or explicit nuclear threat against Iran, in the past year, it has deployed a new nuclear weapon which increases the prospects for nuclear war. The new nuclear weapon, called the W76-2, is a “low yield” missile warhead intended for exactly the type of Iran scenario that played out in the last days of the Obama administration. Military sources directly involved in nuclear war planning say there has been no formal change in war plans with regard to Iran under the Trump administration, but the deployment of what they say is this “more usable” weapon, changes the nuclear calculus.

In exclusive reporting for Newsweek, four senior military officers say they doubt that the now six-month standoff with Iran could escalate to nuclear war. But they each note the deployment of the new Trident II missile warhead explicitly intended to make the threat of such an attack more credible, and point it out as a little understood or noticed change that increases the very danger. They argue that the new capability should give Tehran pause before it contemplates any major attack on the United States or its forces. But all four also add, very reluctantly, that there is a “Donald Trump” factor involved: that there is something about this president and the new weapons that makes contemplating crossing the nuclear threshold a unique danger.

Read the full article here.

Last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that Russia had detected the presence of 6 American warplanes near the western Iranian border right after Iran fired ballistic missiles at the American base in Iraq.

Citing Lavrov’s statement, the aviation publication Avia.Pro reported that the Russian Foreign Minister claimed his country’s armed forces were able to track the presence of the F-35 jets because of their air defense systems in the Middle East region….

…According to Avia.Pro, if Lavrov’s claims are in fact true, that would mean the U.S. warplanes were likely on the western border of Iran….

…“The fact that U.S. stealth fighters found Russian air defense systems means that Russia has complete control over the F-35, even outside the Middle East ,” a specialist told Avia.Pro.

The U.S. military has decided that it’s latest display of weenie-waving will begin in February when it will move 20,000 troops to Europe for the largest military exercises since the end of the Cold War. The Hill reported lasted month that troops will be in Germany and Poland, among other areas, in May:

U.S. Maj. Gen. Barre Seguin said the exercises, centered in Germany, will underscore the U.S. commitment to NATO, according to the news service.

“This really demonstrates transatlantic unity and the U.S. commitment to NATO,” said Seguin, who serves as deputy chief of staff for strategic employment, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe.

As part of the exercises, the U.S. Army will assess its preparedness to move soldiers overseas to the Netherlands and Belgium and then east through Germany and Poland. After joining U.S. personnel stationed throughout Europe and 18 other NATO allies’ military forces constituting around 37,000 troops in all, the U.S. forces will return to the U.S.

But more recently, a representative of the U.S. military stated the troop movements from the U.S. to Europe will begin in February

Bulletin of Atomic Scientists Moves Doomsday Clock to 100 Seconds to Midnight

The Doomsday Clock
 BULLETIN OF THE ATOMIC SCIENTISTS

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists today moved its infamous Doomsday Clock – representing the dangers of nuclear war and climate change to humanity – from 2 minutes to midnight to 100 seconds to midnight. Below are excerpts from the statement the Bulletin released explaining the decision. I have focused on the parts of the statement relating to the danger of nuclear weapons:

Humanity continues to face two simultaneous existential dangers—nuclear war and climate change—that are compounded by a threat multiplier, cyber-enabled information warfare, that undercuts society’s ability to respond. The international security situation is dire, not just because these threats exist, but because world leaders have allowed the international political infrastructure for managing them to erode.

In the nuclear realm, national leaders have ended or undermined several major arms control treaties and negotiations during the last year, creating an environment conducive to a renewed nuclear arms race, to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and to lowered barriers to nuclear war. Political conflicts regarding nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea remain unresolved and are, if anything, worsening. US-Russia cooperation on arms control and disarmament is all but nonexistent….

….The world is sleepwalking its way through a newly unstable nuclear landscape. The arms control boundaries that have helped prevent nuclear catastrophe for the last half century are being steadily dismantled.

In several areas, a bad situation continues to worsen. Throughout 2019, Iran increased its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, increased its uranium enrichment levels, and added new and improved centrifuges—all to express its frustration that the United States had withdrawn from the Iran nuclear deal (formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA), re-imposed economic sanctions on Iran, and pressured other parties to the Iran nuclear agreement to stop their compliance with the agreement. Early this year, amid high US-Iranian tensions, the US military conducted a drone air strike that killed a prominent Iranian general in Iraq. Iranian leaders vowed to exact “severe revenge” on US military forces, and the Iranian government announced it would no longer observe limits, imposed by the JCPOA, on the number of centrifuges that it uses to enrich uranium.

Although Iran has not formally exited the nuclear deal, its actions appear likely to reduce the “breakout time” it would need to build a nuclear weapon, to less than the 12 months envisioned by parties to the JCPOA. At that point, other parties to the nuclear agreement—including the European Union and possibly Russia and China—may be compelled to acknowledge that Iran is not complying. What little is left of the agreement could crumble, reducing constraints on the Iranian nuclear program and increasing the likelihood of military conflict with the United States.

The demise of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty became official in 2019, and, as predicted, the United States and Russia have begun a new competition to develop and deploy weapons the treaty had long banned. Meanwhile, the United States continues to suggest that it will not extend New START, the agreement that limits US and Russian deployed strategic nuclear weapons and delivery systems, and that it may withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, which provides aerial overflights to build confidence and transparency around the world. Russia, meanwhile, continues to support an extension of New START.

The assault on arms control is exacerbated by the decay of great power relations. Despite declaring its intent to bring China into an arms control agreement, the United States has adopted a bullying and derisive tone toward its Chinese and Russian competitors. The three countries disagree on whether to pursue negotiations on outer space, missile defenses, and cyberwarfare. One of the few issues they do agree on: They all oppose the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which opened for signature in 2017. As an alternative, the United States has promoted, within the context of the review conference process of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), an initiative called “Creating the Environment for Nuclear Disarmament.” The success of this initiative may depend on its reception at the 2020 NPT Review Conference—a landmark 50th anniversary of the treaty.

US efforts to reach agreement with North Korea made little progress in 2019, despite an early summit in Hanoi and subsequent working-level meetings. After a North Korean deadline for end-of-year progress passed, Kim Jong Un announced he would demonstrate a new “strategic weapon” and indicated that North Korea would forge ahead without sanctions relief. Until now, the willingness of both sides to continue a dialogue was positive, but Chairman Kim seems to have lost faith in President Trump’s willingness to come to an agreement.

Without conscious efforts to reinvigorate arms control, the world is headed into an unregulated nuclear environment. Such an outcome could reproduce the intense arms race that was the hallmark of the early decades of the nuclear age. Both the United States and Russia have massive stockpiles of warheads and fissile material in reserve from which to draw, if they choose. Should China decide to build up to US and Russian arsenal levels—a development previously dismissed as unlikely but now being debated—deterrence calculations could become more complicated, making the situation more dangerous. An unconstrained North Korea, coupled with a more assertive China, could further destabilize Northeast Asian security.

As we wrote last year and re-emphasize now, any belief that the threat of nuclear war has been vanquished is a mirage.

Read the full statement here.

Founded in 1945 by University of Chicago scientists who had helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the Doomsday Clock two years later, using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the planet. The decision to move (or to leave in place) the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is made every year by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 13 Nobel laureates. The Clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and disruptive technologies in other domains.


Kiev Government Tells Israel to Sit Down & Shut Up About Glorification of Nazis in Ukraine

The Times of Israel has reported that Ukraine’s ambassador to Israel told the Israeli government recently to “butt out of the debate about honoring of Nazi collaborators.”

The Ukrainian ambassador was reacting to criticisms of the post-coup government’s toleration of a segment of influential Neo-Nazis, having gotten streets named after Ukrainian Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera, who was responsible for the massacre of thousands of Jews and Poles during WWII. Monuments have also been erected to Bandera and his fellow traveler Andryi Melnyk. The Times of Israel provided the following details:

Last week, Israel’s ambassador to Ukraine, Joel Lion, and his Polish counterpart Bartosz Cichocki wrote officials an open letter condemning the government-sponsored honoring of Stepan Bandera and Andryi Melnyk, two collaborators with the Third Reich.

The two have written on the subject before. In 2018, Lion wrote that he was shocked at an earlier act of veneration for Bandera, saying: “I cannot understand how the glorification of those directly involved in horrible anti-Semitic crimes helps fight anti-Semitism and xenophobia.”

Ukrainian diplomats had previously refrained from commenting publicly about Lion’s protests.

The veneration of Nazi collaborators, including killers of Jews, is a growing phenomenon in Eastern Europe, where many consider such individuals as heroes because they fought against Russian domination.

In a previous post, I quoted the Russian independent journalist, Yasha Levine, regarding a monument in connection with WWII he saw in Kiev during a trip in late 2018. At first glance, Levine thought some of the symbols looked dubious. When he got close enough to read the actual inscription, he saw that the monument – just a short distance away from Maidan Square – was glorifying members of the OUN/UPA who had collaborated with the Nazis during the war and took part in massacres of thousands of Jews and Poles. These war criminals were being heralded as heroes on behalf of Ukrainian independence.

From a distance, the exhibit looked unremarkable — one of those harmless national heritage displays you can find in any European historic city center. But as I got within reading distance, I saw that there was nothing harmless about it. The exhibit wasn’t just showcasing historical Ukrainian symbols, it was celebrating and promoting one of the bloodiest fascist movements in Eastern Europe: the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and its paramilitary offshoot, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (OUN/UPA) — groups that had played a central role in the genocide of over a million Ukrainian Jews during World War II.

These groups were notorious for their savagery. Their goal was to create a racially pure, fascist state that was free from Poles, Jews, and Russians. To achieve their aims, their leaders pledged allegiance to Adolf Hitler and received training from Nazi Germany. Many of their members had volunteered for the Ukrainian Waffen-SS division, joined Nazi auxiliary police battalions, and helped the Nazis administer occupied Ukraine. Aside from killing Jews, the OUN/UPA organized the slaughter entire Polish villages. Survivors of their atrocities told gut-wrenching tales. They cut babies from wombs, smashed children against walls in front of their mothers, hacked people to death with scythes, flayed their victims, and burned entire villages alive….

….Naturally, all this dark and bloody history was left out of the exhibit. Instead it spun a superficial revisionist tale, presenting Nazi collaborators and mass murderers as heroes and liberators. A big component of the whole thing was a series of agitprop woodcuts that glorified the struggle of OUN/UPA soldiers against both the Nazis and the Reds and pushed the fiction that these groups were not bent on genocide but were involved in liberating all the peoples of the Soviet Union from totalitarian oppression. They were multicultural! Tolerant!

I stood looking at the exhibit in shock.

This was more than just whitewashing. This was straight up Nazi collabo glorification and Holocaust revisionism — an extreme reinterpretation of Ukrainian history that has long been pushed by the country’s fascist movements and the influential Ukrainian nationalist diaspora in the United States and Canada.

But even more disturbing was who was included on the list of official sponsors of the exhibit: Radio Liberty.

For those who may not recall from the Cold War days, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty (now consolidated and known as RFE/RL) were U.S. government funded media targeting the Soviet/Russian population. Levine continues:

As I leaned in for a closer look, I saw that it was produced by the Ukrainian government. Specifically: the Institute of National Memory, a state-funded organization closely linked to country’s top spy agency, the Security Service of Ukraine. What’s more: it had the backing of the United States. An info panel running along the bottom of one of the large displays proudly listed Radio Liberty — the U.S. government’s Ukrainian-language propaganda outlet — as a “media partner.”

Holocaust revisionism? Glorification of mass murderers and Nazi collaborators? Right out in the open in the center of Kiev? And endorsed by our very own government? What the hell was going on?

It’s not like the fascist and genocidal history of the OUN/UPA is open to interpretation. In the last decade, a huge body of amazing historical research has come out on the topic. Groups like the Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Simon Wiesenthal Center both consider the OUN/UPA to be being major players in the genocide of Jews in Ukraine and have consistently criticized Ukraine’s attempts to erase and deny this history.

So why is a major federal agency funded by Congress helping push this revisionist Nazi bile on the Ukrainian people?

Nazis and Neo-Nazis have openly paraded around the streets of Ukraine since the overthrow of Yanukovich in 2014. Here are a few examples that can be found on YouTube:

Here is one in Mairupol from December, 2015:

Another one from April, 2016 in Ivano-Frankivsk:

And another from October, 2017 in Kiev:

The Nazi Azov battalion – leading all of these marches – was a battalion that fought against the Donbas rebels in the east of Ukraine. They were mobilized and used in the early fighting to compensate for the fact that most of the Ukrainian army draftees did not have the stomach to attack their fellow Ukrainians. The Azov battalion has since been officially incorporated into the Ukrainian national guard and has even received U.S. military aid and training.

Remember this next time someone tries to tell you that the Kiev government represents the good guys who must be given American weapons. Beware of national security state propagandists testifying before congress, comparing the Ukrainian government to the American revolutionaries.

Personally, I find this to be a total denigration of the memory of our WWII veterans, including both of my grandfathers, who were fighting against this disgusting and dangerous ideology (along with Japanese imperialism). At least, that’s the narrative we’ve all been given, right?

But then again, it wouldn’t be the first time that the U.S. government buddied up to Nazis after WWII. Look into Operation Paperclip.

Putin Proposes Changes to Constitution at Address to Federal Assembly; Medvedev Resigns, Head of Russia’s Tax Service Named New Prime Minister – What’s Going On?

Russian President Vladimir Putin Preparing to Address the Federal Assembly, January 2020.

There’s been a major shakeup this week in domestic Russian politics. It kicked off with Putin’s annual address to the Federal Assembly earlier this week, which usually happens in the spring, not in January. Among other topics, Putin announced changes he wanted made to the Russian constitution, which he had telegraphed during his December Q&A. This was followed by prime minister Dmitry Medvedev’s resignation (along with his cabinet) and the appointment of Mikhail Mishustin as his replacement.

However, before we delve into the details of this turn of events, it’s important to review what Putin’s priorities have been for Russia since he came to power, which will help to place these latest events into a larger context.

As I’ve discussed many times before, Russia was on the verge of being a failed state in 2000 when Putin took the helm. There were crises in every major area of state governance: the military was in shambles, the economy had collapsed, crime was rampant, massive poverty pervaded the country, and Russians were experiencing the worst mortality crisis since World War II.

Having studied Putin’s governance and how Russia has fared over the two decades in which he has ruled, it’s clear that he’s had three main priorities for Russia in the following order:

  1. Ensuring Russia’s national security and sovereignty as an independent nation. In previous writings, I’ve explained the importance of national security to Russians as a result of their history and geography;
  2. Improving the economy and living standards for Russians; and,
  3. The gradual democratization of the country.

These three priorities are reflected in this week’s Address to the Federal Assembly, the equivalent of the U.S. president’s annual state of the union. Putin reiterated to his audience that the first priority of national security and state sovereignty had been secured:

For the first time ever – I want to emphasise this – for the first time in the history of nuclear missile weapons, including the Soviet period and modern times, we are not catching up with anyone, but, on the contrary, other leading states have yet to create the weapons that Russia already possesses.

The country’s defence capability is ensured for decades to come, but we cannot rest on our laurels and do nothing. We must keep moving forward, carefully observing and analysing the developments in this area across the world, and create next-generation combat systems and complexes. This is what we are doing today.

Putin goes on to emphasize that success on this first priority enables Russia to focus even more seriously on the second priority:

Reliable security creates the basis for Russia’s progressive and peaceful development and allows us to do much more to overcome the most pressing internal challenges, to focus on the economic and social growth of all our regions in the interest of the people, because Russia’s greatness is inseparable from dignified life of its every citizen. I see this harmony of a strong power and well-being of the people as a foundation of our future.

In light of the abysmal living conditions that Putin inherited in 2000, he did a remarkable job over the next decade of cutting poverty, improving infrastructure, restoring regular pension payments as well as increasing the amount, raising wages, etc. Russians, whether they agree with everything Putin does or not, no matter how frustrated they may get with him regarding particular issues, are generally grateful to him for this turnaround in their country. This progress on his second priority has underpinned his approval ratings, which have never dipped below the 60’s.

But his comments during his address reflected mixed success currently as economic conditions for Russians have stagnated over the past few years. One contributing factor has been the sanctions imposed by the west in response to Russia’s reunification with Crimea as a result of the 2014 coup in Ukraine. Putin has done a respectable job of cushioning the Russian economy from the worst effects of the sanctions and even using them to advantage with respect to import substitution in the agricultural and industrial sectors. However, polls of the population have consistently shown over the past 2-3 years that Russians are losing patience with the lack of improvement in living standards.

Another problem that is limiting economic progress is the pattern of local bureaucrats not implementing Putin’s edicts. For example, in his 2018 and 2019 addresses, Putin laid out an expensive plan for economic improvement based on infrastructure projects throughout the country as well as improving health and education. Budget allocations were made for these projects and the funds released, but many have only been partially realized. Confirming what has been reported in some quarters, Putin complained about the deficiencies in the roll-out of these policies during his address.

I believe this is connected to the subsequent resignation of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev who will now step into the newly created role of Deputy Chairman of the Security Council, while his cabinet remains in a caretaker capacity until a new government is formed. Medvedev has not been particularly effective as prime minister and has been very unpopular over the past several years as suspicions of corruption have swirled around him. He is also problematic ideologically as he has always embraced neoliberal economic policy which has no traction with most of the Russian people due to the experience of the 1990’s when neoliberal capitalists ran amok. He also lacks the charisma and creative problem-solving skills of Putin.

But in all fairness, no prime minister will have an easy job in Russia if significant changes are needed or a transition is still in progress. Throughout Russia’s history, whenever leaders wanted to reform the system, they’ve always encountered the problem of implementation in terms of the bureaucracy. Whether out of malevolence, fear of losing perceived benefits, inertia, or incompetence, bureaucrats lower down the chain don’t always put the reforms effectively or consistently in place. Putin has complained at various times of local bureaucrats’ intransigence and its negative effects on average citizens whom they are supposed to be serving.

Not much is known about Medvedev’s immediate replacement, Mikhail Mishustin, except that he is a former businessman and has served as head of Russia’s Tax Service since 2010. In his capacity leading the tax agency, he is held in positive regard, credited with modernizing and streamlining the historically onerous tax collection system.

The third priority of Putin has been gradual democratization of the country. Putin is often characterized in the west as an autocrat and a dictator. However, as I’ve written before, there are many democratic reforms that have been implemented under Putin’s rule that are often ignored by western media and analysts. It is not that democracy has not been a priority for Putin, it’s that it was to be subordinated to the other two priorities. Putin, as well as many other Russians, have been nervous about possible instability. With their history of constant upheaval over the past 120 years – two revolutions, two world wars, numerous famines, the Great Terror, and a national collapse – this is understandable.

Putin inherited a system of governance that featured a strong president and a weak parliamentary system as reflected in the 1993 constitution ushered in by Yeltsin – the origins of which are explained here. Putin has used this system effectively throughout his 20 years in power – 16 of them as president – to try to solve the various crises mentioned earlier. Such strong, centralized power is necessary when a state is dealing with multiple existential emergencies.

At this point, I think Putin realizes that Russia, though it still has significant problems to be addressed, is no longer in a state of emergency. Therefore, it is no longer necessary to keep quite the same level of power concentrated in the office of the presidency, which is open to abuse by future occupants. Here is what Putin said about this:

Russian society is becoming more mature, responsible and demanding. Despite the differences in the ways to address their tasks, the main political forces speak from the position of patriotism and reflect the interests of their followers and voters.

The constitutional reforms Putin goes on to discuss include giving the parliament the right to appoint the prime minister and his/her cabinet, no foreign citizenship or residency of major office holders at the federal level (president, prime minister, cabinet members, parliamentarians, national security agents, judges, etc.), expanding the authority of local governmental bodies, and strengthening the Constitutional Court and the independence of judges. He also mentioned codifying certain aspects of socioeconomic justice into the constitution:

And lastly, the state must honour its social responsibility under any conditions throughout the country. Therefore, I believe that the Constitution should include a provision that the minimum wage in Russia must not be below the subsistence minimum of the economically active people. We have a law on this, but we should formalise this requirement in the Constitution along with the principles of decent pensions, which implies a regular adjustment of pensions according to inflation.

In other words, Putin realizes that the system as it is currently constructed has outlived its usefulness and some modest changes are needed to keep the country moving forward. Despite the constant nonsense that passes for news and analysis of Russia in the west, civil society is alive and well in Russia. Putin is aware of the citizen-led initiatives that have been occurring throughout the country to improve local communities and it appears that he is ready to allow more space for this new participation of average Russians to solve problems for which the official bureaucracy seems to be stuck:

Our society is clearly calling for change. People want development, and they strive to move forward in their careers and knowledge, in achieving prosperity, and they are ready to assume responsibility for specific work. Quite often, they have better knowledge of what, how and when should be changed where they live and work, that is, in cities, districts, villages and all across the nation.

The pace of change must be expedited every year and produce tangible results in attaining worthy living standards that would be clearly perceived by the people. And, I repeat, they must be actively involved in this process.

How these changes will actually be instituted and what the results will be is, of course, unknown at this time. Putin suggested that the eventual package of constitutional amendments will be voted on by the Russian people. It also appears that Putin will indeed step down at the end of his presidential term in 2024, but it is still very likely that he will remain in an active advisory role.

Unlike the knee-jerk malign motives that are automatically attributed to anything Putin does by the western political class, I see this as a calculated risk that Putin is ready to take to make further progress on his second and third priorities for Russia.

Retired Weapons Inspector Scott Ritter: Pompeo “Lying Through His Teeth” on Iran

This is Aaron Mate’s interview this past weekend with Scott Ritter about the recent tensions with Iran. Keep in mind that Ritter is a Republican and a retired Marine Corp. intelligence officer. He’s not a “fringe lefty.” I’ll be cross-posting an interview with a more lefty Iran expert next week.

From the archive:

But he’d never lie about Iran, now, would he? Nah, only deranged left-wing conspiracy theorists would even suggest that.

Putin, Merkel & Macron All Agree Iran Nuclear Deal Should be Preserved, Call for Restraint on All Sides Moving Forward

On Saturday, the Russian president had a lengthy meeting with German chancellor Angela Merkel regarding Nordstream II and several issues pertaining to the Middle East, particularly the recent events involving Iran, Iraq and the U.S.

RT reported on the meeting and subsequent joint press conference by Putin and Merkel:

President Vladimir Putin and Chancellor Angela Merkel have agreed that preserving the Iran nuclear deal is a matter of “tremendous importance” stressing that the agreement should be kept by all means necessary.

Both leaders believe that the 2015agreement, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), still can and should be preserved, despite the latest spike in tensions sparked by the US assassination of a top Iranian general.

Speaking to journalists in Moscow following her meeting with Putin, Merkel said that “everything must be done to keep the JCPOA going” and vowed to use “all the diplomatic tools to help this agreement.”

Putin also described the deal as “tremendously important” and said that both Moscow and Berlin agree that all parties need to “come back to the deal.”

…Putin further expressed hope that a special-purpose vehicle called INSTEX Europe, created to facilitate trade with Iran and circumvent US sanctions, would soon “be up and running” and that European nations “would deliver on their promise to create an independent mechanism free of the dollar influence.”

So far, Europe’s endeavors in this area have not been particularly successful. The mechanism was originally created in early 2019, but was apparently limited to what the European nations called high-priority “humanitarian goods,” such as food and medical supplies. Meanwhile, European companies have been in no rush to trade with Iran, out of fear of losing the American market as a result of possible sanctions.

This follows agreement between Putin and French president Macron that all steps should be taken to preserve the Iran nuclear deal as China, Russia and Europe are all guarantors of the agreement.

Merkel and Putin also agreed that the latest sanctions from Washington on the Nordstream II gas pipeline carrying Russian natural gas to Germany will result in a delay of a few months, but will not block the finalization of the project. They further called for a ceasefire in Libya and peace talks in Berlin, buttressing such calls recently announced by Putin and Turkish president Erdogan.

Watch the full press conference here:

Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin hold joint press conference after meeting this past Saturday.

Putin & Erdogan Officially Launch Turkstream Gas Pipeline, Jointly Condemn Soleimani Assassination, Call for Ceasefire in Libya; Merkel Makes Urgent Diplomatic Trip to Moscow Over Iran

“The presidents of Russia and Turkey commented on the situation. The two leaders’ joint declaration, signed following the talks in Istanbul, states that the U.S.’s operation against General Soleimani undermined security in the region and the use of force by any party doesn’t facilitate finding solutions to complex problems. After a 1.5-hour meeting, the presidents of Russia and Turkey officially put the TurkStream pipeline into operation.”

In the immediate aftermath of the latest escalations between the U.S. and Iran, Putin invited German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Moscow for a meeting, which will take place Saturday. German newspaper DW reported the following in anticipation of the meeting:

Conflict between Iran and the US will top the meeting’s agenda and Merkel and Putin will also discuss Libya, Syria and Ukraine, spokespeople for both leaders said. Germany and Russia have traditionally had deep economic ties and, among NATO and European leaders, Merkel has been a welcome guest in Moscow…

…Merkel and Putin may have been pushed apart by the Ukraine crisis but they are being brought closer “by the one-sidedness and unpredictability of US actions,” Baunov told DW, pointing to US sanctions leveled at the Russian-German gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 last year, and US President Donald Trump’s recent decision to kill Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.

The Russian Foreign Ministry condemned US actions against Soleimani as “reckless,” while German Foreign Ministry spokesperson Rainer Breul said Berlin has not been privy to “information that would allow us to see that the US attack was based on international law.”

Russian analysts have said that following US actions, Merkel and Putin now share the goal of preventing a further escalation of fighting in the Middle East.

“Russia is interested in making sure that what is happening in the Middle East doesn’t have wider, bloodier consequences,” Middle East expert Andrei Ontikov said, adding that Germany and the rest of Europe can play a positive role in de-escalating the situation in the Middle East. “So, of course, Russia needs to coordinate its policies, including with Europe.”

Read the full article here.

Putin Responds to EU Resolution Blaming Start of WWII on Both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union

Front Left of Monument to Siege of Leningrad, which lasted 900 days and killed 800,000 Russians. St. Petersburg; photo by Natylie Baldwin, May 2017

This past September, in commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the start of World War II, the EU passed a resolution stating that the war was the result of the non-aggression pact signed by Germany and the Soviet Union, also known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939. Here is an excerpt of some of the language of the resolution:

C. whereas, as a direct consequence of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, followed by the Nazi-Soviet Boundary and Friendship Treaty of 28 September 1939, the Polish Republic was invaded first by Hitler and two weeks later by Stalin – which stripped the country of its independence and was an unprecedented tragedy for the Polish people – the communist Soviet Union started an aggressive war against Finland on 30 November 1939, and in June 1940 it occupied and annexed parts of Romania – territories that were never returned – and annexed the independent republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia;

D. whereas the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact directly violated a number of international norms, treaties and agreements – including the 1928 Paris Treaty, the 1932 Non-Aggression Treaty between Poland and the USSR, and the 1934 Declaration of Non-Aggression between Poland and Germany – and condemned the international peace established by the Versailles Treaty to failure; whereas the consequences of this treaty between two of the most brutal dictators in modern history demonstrates the importance of historical events for contemporary politics;

E. whereas the West’s desire to appease totalitarian regimes meant that decisions were taken without consulting the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, as was the case in Locarno and Munich, which demonstrated the weakness of the West in the face of these regimes; whereas this paved the way for the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, which in turn led to the outbreak of the Second World War;

F. whereas Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union cooperated politically, economically and militarily with the common goal of conquering Europe and dividing it into spheres of influence, as envisaged in the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact;

In this way, the EU is effectively blaming both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany equally for starting the war and having essentially the same goals. This would have been a surprise to many decades of WWII historians.

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Cartoon of Hitler and Stalin each with a foot in the same boot

In a previous post, I detailed the journey of how the Soviet Union came to enter into the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. It was a Plan B intended to buy time and Stalin embarked on it only after numerous attempts to forge an anti-fascist alliance with Britain and France. I will excerpt some important parts below:

By 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt and some of his advisers had recognized the serious threat to world peace that Hitler’s Germany posed.  They also realized why Stalin signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact with the Nazis, though FDR made a personal last-minute appeal to Stalin not to (Butler 2015).

Stalin was well aware of Hitler’s anti-Slavic views as reflected in Mein Kampf and subsequent speeches by the German leader.  Along with Jews, Slavs were considered sub-human.  Shortly after taking power in Germany, Hitler’s Nazi party implemented an anti-Soviet propaganda campaign and physically attacked Soviet diplomatic personnel and trade representatives in Germany (Carley 2019). 

Stalin knew that it was just a matter of time before Hitler would come gunning for the Soviet Union on behalf of Lebensraum (“living space” for Aryans) and resources. Consequently, he hoped to establish trade with the U.S. in order to obtain materials that might be useful in a war with Germany. But however sympathetic FDR might have been on the matter, he faced domestic obstacles that included strong isolationist sentiment and possible accusations of being a communist sympathizer.

The desire of the Bolshevik leadership for trade and cordial relations with the U.S. to balance out anti-Russian dynamics in Europe and in the Pacific started with Lenin as early as 1919, despite Wilson’s sending U.S. troops to assist the counterrevolutionary cause.  Lenin still advocated for such a policy in 1921 (Butler 2015).  After his death in 1924, Stalin proceeded to seek official recognition of the Soviet government and only succeeded after Roosevelt took office in 1933.

After Hitler had taken Austria, Czechoslovakia, and the Sudetenland, Stalin vigorously sought a security pact with Britain and France to counter any potential German aggression.  But Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain continually rebuffed such offers.  The fact that the British (Sykes 2017) and French elites tended to be fearful of communism and even sympathetic to fascism as a bulwark against it didn’t help matters (Carley 2016).  Britain, in particular, actually enabled the early stages of Germany’s aggression at several key points. 

When in 1936 Hitler marched into the Rhineland – a neutral territory established by the Versailles Treaty as a buffer between Germany and France – Britain made it clear that it would not assist France in repelling the German invasion.  Hitler admitted that Germany would have had to retreat if the French would have fought them in the Rhineland (Freeman 2019).  Britain again declined to help the French defend the Sudetenland as France was obligated to do by treaty with Czechoslovakia.  The Soviet Union was intentionally left out of the infamous Munich conference later in the year [1938] where Czechoslovakia was divided up (Freeman 2019).

In terms of the Soviets being able to defend border countries, it was also a problem that the Polish leadership would not agree to Soviet troops on its soil even in the event of a German invasion (Butler 2015).

Finally, at the end of July of 1939, diplomats from France and Britain were sent to the Soviet Union, but Chamberlain had them placed on a slow freighter instead of quicker transport that was available.  Upon arrival, a further delay occurred when it was realized that the British diplomat did not have documents authorizing him to officially negotiate.  When Soviet officials were finally told that Britain had minimal divisions available for potential military operations, the Soviets concluded that Britain was not acting in good faith (Butler 2015; Carley 2016). [Note: Sources detailed in original post]

So as one can see, the thrust of the EU resolution is fallacious and ignores or distorts significant historical context. But the basic idea of equating Hitler and Stalin has been ongoing in certain political circles within the west for years. And while there are a multitude of crimes that Stalin can rightly be condemned for, starting WWII is not one of them.

This is not to say that the Red Army soldiers endeared themselves to the people of Central and Eastern Europe. I have a Czech-American co-worker who told me about some of the stories relayed to her by her grandparents who experienced both German and Soviet occupation during the war. Red Army soldiers were not above raping women, taking provisions – such as food – with little regard for the well-being of the civilians living there, and committing other abuses.

But the Soviet Union did not go into other countries with genocidal intent as Hitler did, openly advocating for the physical annihilation of the Jews and other “undesirable” groups, such as Gypsies.

Professor Paul Robinson wrote an excellent piece last summer debunking the idea that the Soviet Union, even under Stalin, could be equated with Nazi Germany:

What then of the effort to equate communism and Nazism? Superficially, one can see the attraction. After all, both the Soviets and the Nazis engaged in acts of conquest in Eastern Europe, and their conquests were accompanied by widespread repression. But once you start looking at the matter more closely, you see that the comparison is devoid of merit. The Nazis came intending genocide; the Soviets did not. The Nazis sought to eliminate all the signs and institutions of statehood of the conquered peoples; the Soviets did not – while they absorbed the Baltic states and parts of Belarus and Ukraine, they preserved those states as autonomous entities within their Union, and likewise when they overran countries like Poland, Romania, and Hungary they maintained them as independent states. This was far removed from Nazi practice.

Furthermore, the Nazis came as colonizers. Not only did they aim to displace the existing population, but they were interested in their captured territories only in terms of extracting resources. By contrast, the Soviets invested heavily in developing the lands they occupied, creating industry, educating the population, and supporting cultural endeavours. It could well be argued that they didn’t do a very good job of it, but the difference in intent was enormous – the one overtly destructive; the other, at least in theory, constructive.

Russia has not been silent on the EU’s scurrilous attempt to re-write history in a way that is a slap in the face to the country that saw 27 million of its citizens perish as a result of the Nazi invasion, “tore the guts out of the Nazi war machine” at Stalingrad as Churchill admitted, and liberated Auschwitz:

On September 20, Russia’s Foreign Ministry labeled the European Parliament resolution as politicized revisionism.

The ministry complained that the text did not mention Western powers’ 1938 Munich Agreement that led to Nazi Germany’s invasion of Czechoslovakia.

“The European Parliament marked yet another outrageous attempt to equate Nazi Germany — the aggressor country — and the Soviet Union, whose peoples, at the cost of huge sacrifices, liberated Europe from fascism,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

This is the backdrop in which Putin recently announced that he is working with various archival documents and will write an article responding to the EU resolution and the historical inaccuracies that form its foundation. Below is a video based on a public appearance Putin made a few weeks ago in which he discussed some of the historical facts and documentation that will underpin his forthcoming article.