The US has long dismissed Russian concerns over the deployment of the Aegis Ashore missile defense system on European soil. This week’s test of the SM-3 Block IIA interceptor against an ICBM has proven Russian concerns correct.
On Tuesday [of last week], the US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) announced it conducted a test of an Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) System-equipped Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, the USS John Finn, against what was termed a “threat-representative Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) target” using a Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA interceptor. The test object was launched from Kwajalein Atoll, in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, toward an area of the Pacific Ocean northeast of Hawaii. According to the MDA, the SM-3 Block IIA missile successfully intercepted its target.
The successful test is but the latest in a series intended to prepare the SM-3 Block IIA missile and its associated systems–the Aegis Baseline-9 Weapons System and Command and Control Battle Management Communications (C2BMC) network–for operational duty as America’s frontline missile defense capability.
Previously, the Aegis weapons system had been advertised by the US as being limited against short- and intermediate-range missile threats. This reasoning was cited by both US and NATO officials as a counter to long-standing Russian concerns that the Aegis Ashore missile defense systems installed in Romania and Poland represented a threat to Russian strategic missile capabilities. The shooting down of an ICBM-like target by the Aegis BMD System has shown that Russia’s concerns were, in fact, well grounded.
It hasn’t taken long for president-elect Joe Biden to show his true colors – which basically means giving the finger to those the Democratic Party establishment (yet again) bullied into voting for their candidate, with admonishments that to vote any other way was tantamount to being a psychopath and “hey, we can push Biden left” and “make him” do what’s right and just once he gets in. Those of us concerned about our militarist foreign policy were among the first to get spit on by the Biden team as I brought out in my last post. Earlier this week, those who care about the environment were shown Biden’s backside, and now it’s those who care about civil liberties like free speech who can take their turn at being viewed with contempt now that the Democratic Party has manipulated everyone into voting them in.
It has been announced that Richard Stengel will be part of Biden’s transition team as the top “state media appointee.” Stengel is the former editor of Time Magazine and served in Obama’s State Department where he started the Global Engagement Center. As readers may recall, Obama signed off on dismantling the historical legal prohibition on the U.S. government engaging in propaganda aimed at a domestic audience.
During the Trump era, Stengel was a prominent proponent in the establishment media pushing the Russiagate narrative and thus providing justification for various censorial methods to combat it. Ben Norton has written an in-depth article about Stengel for The Grayzone and why we should be concerned about Stengel’s position in a Biden administration. Here is an excerpt:
At the State Department under President Barack Obama, Stengel boasted that he “started the only entity in government, non-classified entity, that combated Russian disinformation.” That institution was known as the Global Engagement Center, and it amounted to a massive vehicle for advancing US government propaganda around the world.
A committed crusader in what he openly describes as a global “information war,” Stengel has proudly proclaimed his dedication to the careful management of the public’s access to information.
Stengel outlined his worldview in a book he published this June, entitled “Information Wars: How We Lost the Global Battle Against Disinformation and What We Can Do About It.”
Stengel has proposed “rethinking” the First Amendment that guarantees the freedom of speech and press. In 2018, he stated, “Having once been almost a First Amendment absolutist, I have really moved my position on it, because I just think for practical reasons in society, we have to kind of rethink some of those things.
The Biden transition team’s selection of a censorial infowarrior for its top state media position comes as a concerted suppression campaign takes hold on social media. The wave of online censorship has been overseen by US intelligence agencies, the State Department, and Silicon Valley corporations that maintain multibillion-dollar contracts with the US government.
Days before Norton’s article was posted, Glenn Greenwald discussed the dangerous implications of what has transpired over the past four years and how the worst aspects may be cemented further by a Biden administration, including in the area of censorship of free speech: “Fueled by an overarching indifference on the part of the media, on the part of citizen activism, on the part of the courts, and the other sectors that have been highly active over the last four years and are now likely to take a nap no matter what happens.”
This was stated by Greenwald in a video in which he discusses the three main threats that a Biden/Harris administration poses to the American people: militarism, corporatism and censorship. The video is available to subscribers of Greenwald’s substack site, where he has been publishing his work since leaving The Intercept.
According to a recent poll, a majority of Ukrainians still don’t want to join NATO:
Maybe we shouldn’t have helped stir up the hornet’s nest that resulted in the Maidan coup of 2014. Not only does a majority of the Ukrainian population still not want NATO membership, it is the second poorest country in Europe per capita and is still beset with a lot of corruption.
In further signs that a Biden administration will mark a return to the Neocon-Liberal Interventionist war orgy of the Bush-Obama years, many of the members of the Biden transition team come from think tanks funded by war profiteers and fossil fuel companies. According to a report compiled by Antiwar.com:
On Tuesday, Joe Biden released a list of transition teams for the various departments in his future White House. The Pentagon transition team for Biden consists of 23 people, many of whom hail from hawkish think tanks.
These think tanks include Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Center for a New American Security (CNAS), and RAND Corporation.
A report from In These Times found at least eight out of the 23 [transition] team members come from organizations that receive funding from US weapons makers (not including RAND). Besides the CSIS and CNAS employees listed above, In These Times includes Sharon Burke, who works for New America, Shawn Skelly, from CACI International, and Victor Garcia, from Rebellion Defense.
Jimmy Dore goes into more detail in the video below.
House representatives Barbara Lee of California and Mark Pocan of Wisconsin have sent a letter to Biden asking that whoever is nominated for Secretary of Defense not come from the defense industry. The Hillreported last week:
As House members, Pocan and Lee will not get a vote on Biden’s eventual nominee. But the letter signals the progressive position on the woman widely seen as Biden’s likely choice, Michèle Flournoy [though she was not mentioned by name in the letter].
Flournoy, who was under secretary of Defense for policy in the Obama administration, co-founded consultant group WestExec Advisors, which counts defense contractors among its clients. She is also on the board of defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton.
While I commend this gesture from Lee and Pocan, I will not hold my breath that it will make a bit of difference.
In the year following his election, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky’s approval has fallen from 73 percent to a new low in the latest local elections. Although several run-off elections have yet to be held, it is already clear that the president’s party, “Servant of the People,” suffered a major defeat, being unable to win a single mayoral race or even a majority in any regional parliament or city council.
Such a precipitous fall from electoral grace can be attributed in part to professional incompetence and failure to keep his campaign promises, but in even greater measure it stems from Zelensky’s betrayal of his core electorate, which lies in the predominantly Russian-speaking East and South. Since Petro Poroshenko had run on an arch-nationalist agenda, proclaiming “It’s Poroshenko or Putin,” Zelensky’s appeal, stemmed largely from the fact that he was running as the anti-Poroshenko. Ukrainians were tired of the previous president’s efforts to divide the nation along the lines of his campaign slogan-“Army, Language, Faith”-and handed Poroshenko a resounding defeat in every region of Ukraine, except Lviv.
Now, Zelensky seems to think that he has found a way to return to center stage by declaring Ukraine’s entire Constitutional Court a threat to national security. “In a matter of hours,” the president told his party faction in the parliament, “the judges of the Constitutional Court have set the country on the edge of catastrophe. It will either be pulled into bloody chaos, or the state as a system of transparent rules and agreements will cease to exist.”
What did the Constitutional Court, the nation’s final authority in constitutional matters, do that was so awful?
After Azerbaijan forces took Shushi (aka Shusha by Azeris) on Monday – the second largest city in Nagorno-Karabakh – and were said to be close to taking the capital of Stepanakert, the Armenian Prime Minister announced that he had agreed to an armistice. According to Antiwar.com:
[Armenian PM Nikol] Pashiyan said he signed the deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. “I have signed a statement on the termination of the Karabakh war with Russian and Azerbaijani presidents from 01.00 pm,” Pashiyan said on Facebook.…
Pashiyan said the statement “is unbelievably painful for me and our people,” meaning he likely agreed to cede territory to Azerbaijan.
At the time of that report, details had not yet been made public. A later report from RT stated the following:
According to the text of the agreement that appeared in Russian media around midnight Moscow time – when the armistice was to take effect – Russia will deploy almost 2,000 peacekeepers along the line of contact and the “Lachin corridor,” the road connection between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia proper.
These peacekeepers will move in as the Armenian armed forces withdraw, and will stay for five years, according to the draft. An automatic five-year extension of their mandate is envisioned, unless any of the parties objects six months before its expiration.
Neither Armenian nor Azerbaijani forces are supposed to advance beyond their current positions. This leaves the remaining territory of the Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous region somewhat surrounded, with only a 5-kilometer-wide corridor to Armenia proper, under protection of the Russian peacekeepers.
A new road is supposed to be built through the Lachin area over the next three years, to connect Armenia with Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh. In parallel, another road will be built through Armenia to connect Azerbaijan with its enclave of Nakhichevan in the southwest. Until then, Russian border troops will supervise the existing road traffic through Armenia to Nakhichevan.
The agreement also allows for the exchange of prisoners and return of the bodies of soldiers killed. The return of refugees displaced by the recent fighting will be overseen by the UN’s agency for refugees.
An earlier report by Asia Times stated that the deal was hammered out personally by Putin and Turkish president Erdogan and that the peace-keeping mission would be conducted jointly by Russian and Turkish troops. Furthermore, it was pointed out that there are still outstanding concerns for Russia:
If Putin and Erdogan made a deal as reported, there are still tensions between the two that have to be sorted. The most significant is the presence of Syrian radical Islamic fighters imported into Azerbaijan for the Nagorno-Karabakh battle.
Both Putin and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have warned about the presence of the Syrian radicals and made clear they want them out.
Russia also has a black eye because its modern equipment, especially it’s air defense systems situated at bases in Armenia, failed to stop Azerbaijan’s drone assault. Many of Russia’s air defenses were knocked out, including its S-300, by both Turkish Baraktar drones and Israeli Harop suicide loitering munitions.
Thousands of angry Armenians went out in the streets of the capital Yerevan today with reports of government buildings being stormed. Meanwhile, there were scenes of jubilation in Azerbaijan.
According to Democracy Now!: “It is estimated the conflict has killed at least 1,000 people and displaced over 100,000, though some say the death toll is much higher.”
*Update 1: Professor Paul Robinson has done a good write-up here as well.
*Update 2: Russia has denied that Turkey will be part of a joint peacekeeping mission in Nagorno-Karabakh. However, Erdogan has publicly stated, following a telephone conversation with Putin, that Turkey will be helping to monitor the situation from a joint center – the location of which is to be determined by Azerbaijan:
Presidents of Russia and Turkey Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan conducted a phone conversation on Tuesday discussing the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh and Syria, the Directorate of Communications of the Turkish President told journalists.
“President Erdogan during the talks noted that yesterday a step in the right direction was made on the path to the permanent settlement in Nagorno-Karabakh. President Erdogan stated that Turkey together with Russia will also conduct observing and monitoring activity over ceasefire using a joint center which will be created in a region determined by Azerbaijan in a territory liberated from Armenian occupation,” the communique made public after the conversation said.
Putin has been busy submitting bills that would indicate that he is setting the practical groundwork for an eventual transition of power. The first was a bill in connection with the State Council. Before going into what this bill does, let’s review what the State Council is and what the recent constitutional amendments would change.
The State Council was created in 2000 and is currently an advisory body to the president to coordinate different parts of government and advise on critical issues. As reflected in the new constitutional amendments, It is now to become an official executive body. Rather than being a ceremonial advisory body, it will now have the power to set the direction of both domestic and foreign policy, with a focus on socio-economic development.
The constitutional amendments, while granting the president the power to create the body, provided no details about how the president would go about creating the body or filling positions on it. TASSreported the following on the October 14th bill submitted by Putin:
The State Council will be headed by the Russian president. It will serve as an advisory body to the head of state. The State Council will include the Russian Prime Minister, the Federation Council [upper house of parliament] speaker, the State Duma [lower house of parliament speaker, the president’s chief of staff, and regional heads. Besides, representatives of political parties that have formed factions at the Russian State Duma, representatives of local governance bodies and others can be included on the Council if the president makes the corresponding decision.
The bill forbids people that have a foreign citizenship or a residence permit from forming part of the State Council, as well as those with accounts held at foreign banks.
In order to deal with the agenda of the council, the presidium of the State Council will be established. Its composition will be determined by the chairman. Besides, special commissions and working groups will be created in order to organize activity in specific spheres. Representatives of federal and regional government bodies, other state bodies, local governance bodies and organizations can form part of the commissions. Members of specific commissions do not have to form part of the State Council. The chairman and members of the State Council take part in its activity on a voluntary basis.
According to an analysis by Chatham House, the recent bill submitted by Putin would allow:
the president to achieve at least three things at once: further de-institutionalize governance structures to give him more flexibility and appointment powers; step back from day-to-day governance while still retaining control; and structure decision-making between his subordinates on national priorities across branches of power and layers of the federation.
These analysts point out that the State Council became particularly active around the National Projects program in 2018, an infrastructure development project critical to Putin’s plan to increase living standards and quality of life in Russia. Due to the pandemic, the National Project’s goals have been moderated.
The Chatham House analysts have a negative take on the changes which they see as potentially usurping the power of local mayors and officials.
On October 31st, Putin submitted another bill regarding the role of members of the upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, in which the Russian president would have the ability to appoint senators for life and for ex-presidents to apply for a senatorial seat within 3 months of leaving the office of the presidency. According to TASS:
The bill says that senators – representatives of the Russian Federation – are appointed for six years or for life by presidential decrees. The head of state can appoint no more than seven lifetime senators. The appointment of senators is a presidential prerogative, but not a duty, so the president can use it at any time.
Under the Russian Constitution, the citizens with outstanding merits in their state and public services to the country could be appointed lifetime members of the Federation Council. The submitted bill contains the same provision.
The requirements for former presidents are envisaged in a separate clause. A Russian president, who has ended their tenure after a presidential term has expired or in advance, will acquire the status of a senator since the moment of sending an application, with all the required documents attached, to the Federation Council. The application may be submitted once within three months after the president leaves office. Along with this, the president whose tenure has ended before the given bill is adopted may file this application within three months since the day the law enters into force.
Additionally, senators must be over the age of 30, have no residency abroad or citizenship outside of Russia, and have an “impeccable reputation.”
RTreported additional details on the makeup of the Federation Council pursuant to Putin’s proposed bill:
According to the draft law, “On the procedure for forming the Federation Council,” the body will include two representatives from each of the country’s 85 regions (one from the legislative and executive authorities), a former president of Russia after leaving his post, and no more than 30 representatives chosen by him or her, with up to seven appointed for life.
Last but not least in his package of bills, Putin proposed the granting of immunity to all former presidents, including for any crimes allegedly committed before taking office. RTreported last week:
According to the proposal, any former Russian head of state, as well as their family members, would not only be immune from prosecution, but they could not legally be arrested, imprisoned, searched, or interrogated. The law would also protect Dmitry Medvedev, the only other ex-president still alive.
If passed, the bill would stretch current presidential immunity back to before the person took office, meaning Putin could not be held responsible for anything before his first term in 2000. The protection would also apply to the time he served as prime minister, between 2008 and 2012…
….Under the current legislation, the ex-head of state cannot be held accountable for acts committed during their presidential term, but offenses committed outside of this timeframe are still prosecutable….
….The new law still leaves open the possibility of prosecution for more serious crimes, such as treason. For this to happen, charges would have to be confirmed by the country’s Supreme and Constitutional Courts, before being passed through the State Duma. The upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, would then vote on lifting the president’s immunity.
The day after Putin submitted that proposal, a British tabloid called The Sun, published a story asserting that Putin had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and would be leaving office in January. The story was picked up by other tabloids such as The Daily Mail.
When someone forwarded this story to me last Friday morning, my first thought was that anyone in a position to know accurately about any Putin health problem would not be leaking it to UK rag papers.
Turns out the story originated from Valery Solovey, a loony tune in Moscow who is notorious for his tall tales and lack of credibility, but nonetheless seems to get picked up by western “journalists.”
The western media apparently has to come up with a sensationalist explanation as to why Putin has submitted legislation indicating intent for eventual transfer of power since their narrative has been that Putin doesn’t intend to ever leave.
Early last week, there had been some hope raised that some kind of extension – at least for one year to provide space for further negotiation on a longer extension – of the New START Treaty, which is set to expire in February.
On Tuesday the 27th, Russia’s Deputy FM Sergei Ryabkov stated that the two sides were not close to an agreement and that Russia had not yet heard back on its latest offers:
“We’ve met the U.S. halfway twice over the past few weeks. We haven’t received a proper response. Strictly speaking, the Americans have confirmed the position which they’ve worked out thus far, setting up extra conditions around the treaty’s extension and the idea of freezing, in favor of which the Russian Foreign Ministry spoke on the 20th [of October],” Ryabkov told reporters in Moscow.
“We’re continuing the dialogue, but the prospects for this dialogue are rather problematic, and I’d rather not make any predictions about the result of this dialogue right now. But we’re certainly not on the verge of any kind of agreement whatsoever, as of today,” he said.
As of the end of last week, it appears that no deal will be agreed before tomorrow’s election.
Putin had also offered to allow NATO inspections for deployment of INF-banned missiles on both sides in an effort to revive arms control measures that have been undermined by the U.S.’s decision to destroy the INF Treaty. As Antiwar.comreported on October 26th:
…Putin offered access to sites in Kaliningrad, where the US has accused Russia of deploying 9M729 missiles. The US claims Russia’s 9M729 missiles are a violation of the INF, one of the reasons Washington cited to withdraw from the treaty, but Moscow insists the 9M729’s are a lower range than banned under the INF.
Still, Putin says Russia has not deployed the 9M729 in Europe. He is asking for access to US and NATO sites in Europe in exchange for Kaliningrad. Since the US withdrew from the INF, Washington has abstained from deploying INF-banned missiles to Europe but is seeking to deploy such missiles in Asia to face China.
Former weapons inspector Scott Ritter explained what he thought Putin’s reasoning was in an analysis, also published on October 26th:
In a bold new proposal, Russian President Vladimir Putin has expanded on his existing offer of a moratorium on the deployment of intermediate-range nuclear forces on European soil by suggesting that Russia and the US/NATO engage in so-called “verification measures” (a euphemism for on-site inspections) “regarding the Aegis Ashore systems equipped with Mk 41 launchers at US and NATO bases in Europe and the 9M729 missiles at Russian military facilities in the Kaliningrad Region.”…
….For its part, Russia long maintained that [the Poland and Romania-based] Mk 41 Aegis Ashore system was a violation of the INF Treaty, as it was designed to launch both SM-3 surface-to-air missiles and Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missiles from aboard US naval warships. The US claims that the Mk 41 Aegis Ashore is only intended to be used in an anti-ballistic missile role. However, Russia claimed that the US in effect turned a permitted weapon (the seal-launched cruise missile) into a prohibited one (a ground-launched cruise missile, banned by the INF Treaty.) While the US denied that the Mk 41 Aegis Ashore had this capability, the fact that a Mk 41 was used to launch a Tomahawk cruise missile only weeks after the expiration of the INF Treaty underscored the validity of Russia’s claims….
….While the US has, to date, eschewed the redeployment of INF weapons to Europe, the presence of two Mk 41 Aegis Ashore sites on NATO soil (one in Romania, the other in Poland) have raised concerns in Russia that both could be secretly armed with cruise missiles, thereby putting Russia’s strategic nuclear deterrence at risk of a preemptive US nuclear first strike.
Ritter points out that Washington, when leaving the treaty in 2019, cited the fact that China was not included as an additional reason for withdrawal along with Russia’s 9M729 missiles.
Here we find perhaps the most important part of Putin’s new proposal: “We are calling upon all parties concerned to explore ways of maintaining stability and preventing missile crises ‘in a world without the INF Treaty’ regarding the Asia-Pacific Region. We are open to joint work along these lines.” Putin appears to recognize the reality that there cannot be meaningful US-Russian nuclear arms control without factoring in China.
Later in the week, Washington’s lead arms control negotiator with Russia, Marshall Billingslea rejected this offer via his Twitter account. Furthermore, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien confirmed that the U.S. remains ready and willing to deploy intermediate range missiles in Europe if it believes them to be necessary to “deter Russia.”
Investigative reporter Gareth Porter has just written an expose on how the Pentagon allowed the defense industry and Taiwan hardliners to overtake US foreign policy on China:
When the United States finalized a set of seven arms sales packages to Taiwan in August, including 66 upgraded F-16 fighter planes and longer-range air-to-ground missiles that could hit sensitive targets on mainland China, it shifted US policy sharply toward a much more aggressive stance on the geo-strategic island at the heart of military tensions between the United States and China.
Branded “Fortress Taiwan” by the Pentagon, the ambitious arms deal was the engineered by Randall Schriver, a veteran pro-Taiwan activist and anti-China hardliner whose think tank had been financed by America’s biggest arms contractors and by the Taiwan government itself.
Since assuming the post of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs in early 2018, Schriver has focused primarily on granting his major arms company patrons the vaunted arms deals they had sought for years.