Russian President Putin warned this past week of the potentially dangerous consequences if Washington and Moscow do not negotiate an extension to the New Start Treaty, which limits the total number of deployed warheads, missiles and bombers in both countries. It expires at the end of 2021. Democracy Now! reported a quote from Putin on the matter:
President Vladimir Putin: “No one has spoken with us. No formal process of talks is taking place. And it will all end in 2022.”
As discussed in my last blog post, the head of the DIA last month publicly accused Russia of conducting low-yield nuclear weapons tests in violation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. No evidence was provided to substantiate the allegation and representatives of a watchdog group subsequently refuted the accusation.
The accusations seem designed to provide justification for the U.S. to work on its own low-yield usable nuke. In related news, a revised version of the defense policy bill was introduced at the beginning of June that would prevent funding of such a nuke. Antiwar.comreported the following details:
The usability factor is why the developments are so controversial. Many are concerned that these developments would greatly lower the threshold for a US nuclear strike, and in the long run might make attacks involving nuclear weapons more commonplace worldwide.
The bill would also ban the system known as Conventional Prompt Global Strike Weapon, which would allow the U.S. to strike anywhere in the world in less than an hour.
The Atlantic recently reviewed a new documentary in which veterans of the atomic bomb tests during the Cold War era break their long government-decreed silence on the trauma and illness their experiences caused. The film is called “The Atomic Soldiers” and is directed by Morgan Knibbe.
From 1946 to 1992, the U.S. government conducted more than 1,000 nuclear tests, during which unwitting troops were exposed to vast amounts of ionizing radiation. For protection, they wore utility jackets, helmets, and gas masks. They were told to cover their face with their arms.
After the tests, the soldiers, many of whom were traumatized, were sworn to an oath of secrecy. Breaking it even to talk among themselves was considered treason, punishable by a $10,000 fine and 10 or more years in prison.
In Knibbe’s film, some of these atomic veterans break the forced silence to tell their story for the very first time. They describe how the blast knocked them to the ground; how they could see the bones and blood vessels in their hands, like viewing an X-ray. They recount the terror in their officers’ faces and the tears and panic that followed the blasts. They talk about how they’ve been haunted—by nightmares, PTSD, and various health afflictions, including cancer. Knibbe’s spare filmmaking approach foregrounds details and emotion. There’s no need for archival footage; the story is writ large in the faces of the veterans, who struggle to find the right words to express the horror of what they saw during the tests and what they struggled with in the decades after.
Knibbe discusses how he got interested in the topic and how he came to make the film, including seeking out veterans to interview. There were several disturbing discoveries along the way, including the fact that the soldiers were apparently used as guinea pigs to find out the psychological and physical effects of atomic weaponry on humans, but he describes what struck him as the most shocking:
What appalled Knibbe the most was how the U.S. government failed the veterans. “Until this day, a lot of what has happened—and the radiation-related diseases the veterans have contracted and passed on to the generations after them—is still being covered up,” Knibbe said. “The veterans are consistently denied compensation.”
Julian Assange’s health has rapidly deteriorated since his imprisonment at the infamous Belmarsh in the UK. Reports indicate that he has lost a significant amount of weight in recent weeks and was unable to converse with his attorney before a scheduled hearing over a week ago. The UN’s Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, visited Assange recently, along with two medical specialists on torture. His conclusion is that Assange exhibits many of the hallmark signs of having suffered from prolonged psychological torture and that he should be released immediately. Below is an interview with Melzer on Democracy Now!:
In other news, almost 400 members of Congress, from both chambers and both parties, have signed a letter to President Trump demanding that the U.S. escalate the war in Syria, which is winding down, in order to pressure perceived U.S. adversaries Russia and Iran. Ben Norton at the Grayzone Projectreports the following:
Top Democratic Party leaders have joined hawkish Republicans in a bipartisan demand that the far-right president “address threats in Syria” and “demonstrate American leadership in resolving the prolonged conflict.”
They hope to do this through more US intervention, implementing a three-pronged “Syria strategy”: one, “augment our support” for Israel and maintain its “qualitative military edge”; two, “increase pressure on Iran and Russia”; and, three, “increase pressure on Hezbollah.”
While the letter stops short of openly requesting more American troops inside Syria, it clearly states that the US should take more aggressive actions. It also expressly calls on the Trump White House to punish Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah with crippling sanctions.
Among the signatories are 2020 Democratic presidential candidates Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Cory Booker. (The full list follows at the bottom of this [original] article.)
The letter was notably not signed by Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Tulsi Gabbard, both 2020 Democratic presidential candidates who are running left-wing, anti-war campaigns.
The Congressional call does not even feign concern for the humanitarian situation of Syrians, or make any pretense of supporting the “Syrian people.” Rather, it is entirely framed within a chauvinistic perspective of expanding American power, protecting Israel, and weakening “US adversaries.”
On May 29th Robert Ashley, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), told an audience at the Hudson Institute in Washington DC that the U.S. suspects that Russia is not abiding by its treaty obligations on low-yield nuclear tests. RFE/RLreported:
Lieutenant General Robert Ashley said in a speech on May 29 that Russia could be doing tests that go “beyond what is believed necessary, beyond zero yield.”
The problem, he said, was that Russia “has not been willing to affirm” they are adhering to the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
“The United States believes that Russia probably is not adhering to its nuclear testing moratorium in a manner consistent with the ‘zero-yield’ standard,” said Ashley, who is director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Defense Department’s main in-house intelligence organization.
“Zero-yield” refers to a nuclear test where there is no explosive chain reaction of the sort caused by an atomic bomb nuclear warhead.
Asked specifically whether U.S. intelligence agencies had concluded Russia was conducting such tests in violation of the treaty, Ashley said, “They’ve not affirmed the language of zero yield.”
Interestingly, the treaty in question – the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1996 – was never even ratified by the U.S., so it takes some crust for the U.S. to say anything about it. But such hypocrisy and double standards is par for the course these days.
The UK Guardian is reporting that the head of the nuclear organization tasked with overseeing the treaty that is allegedly being violated by Russia said their investigation does not support U.S. claims:
Lassina Zerbo, the executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO), said the agency had already investigated the claim made on Wednesday by the head of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, Lt Gen Robert Ashley, that Russia had “probably” violated the moratorium on tests of any yield….
….Zerbo said the agency had conducted a test of its global network of sensors on Wednesday to estimate what size of nuclear blast it would be able to detect at Novaya Zemlya.
The test found that its monitoring system would have picked up a blast of 3.1 on the Richter scale, which would be roughly equivalent, in that area, to a nuclear detonation of 100 tons – tiny in comparison to the yield of most nuclear warheads, which are normally measured in thousands of tons. The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were 15 and 20 kilotons, respectively….
….“If now we talk about a hundred tons that is detectable in that zone, it means that we’re going pretty low,” Zerbo told the Guardian in a telephone interview from Seoul. “If you go that low, what value added does it bring to a country with nuclear weapons? That’s a question that one should ask. And that could lead to a clear answer immediately.
Russian officials did not waste any time reiterating that any such violation would have been detected by global monitoring systems. Jason Ditz at Antiwar.com quoted a Russian parliamentarian:
There is a global system that would immediately detect a nuclear test, which led Russian MP Vladimir Shamanov to mock the US military for “failing professionalism” as he noted that nuclear tests cannot be carried out secretly.
Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. dismissed the allegations as a further attack on the global system of arms control that had been built up over decades:
“The U.S. allegations… look like a well-planned and directed attack not only and not so much on Russia as on the arms control regime, and on the entire architecture for strategic stability,” Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s ambassador, was quoted as saying by Vesti TV.
An agreement was reached in mid-May at the Council of Europe for Russia to return to the organization, with full restoration of voting rights, after it was suspended in 2014 following the Crimean reunification. According to reporting by Reuters:
The agreement follows efforts by France and Germany to find a compromise among the 47-nation group and means Russia will likely take part in a meeting of the council’s parliamentary assembly in June, when key new appointments will be made.
Russia has indicated it will resume payment of its membership dues as a result. It stopped payment nearly two years ago after its voting rights in the council were suspended over its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
Ukraine, supported by five other countries, tried unsuccessfully to block the agreement, which was approved by a qualified majority, diplomats said.
….Diplomats said that Georgia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Armenia joined Ukraine in opposing the agreement, while 39 countries backed it.
Moldova did not participate in the vote and Russia abstained. Britain and Poland — despite supporting Ukraine’s position in the committee of ministers — approved the text, sources said.
With respect to the EU sanctions that were instituted against Russia around the same time in response to the Crimea brouhaha, during a recent meeting in Milan of 11 rightist leaders in Europe, Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, declared in an interview with Russian media that the sanctions were harmful to its economic interests and should be ended. RTquoted Salvini as telling Sputnik news:
“I continue to believe that we don’t need sanctions. The issue of their removal unites all decent people,” Salvini told Sputnik new agency after holding a major rally that included leaders of 11 right-wing European parties in Milan on Saturday [May 19th].
Of course, this isn’t the first time there have been rumblings of complaint about the Russia sanctions from the Mediterranean countries of Europe that have been suffering economically, like Italy, Greece and Spain. But none of these governments have ever had the temerity to actually follow through on voting against the sanctions which have to be renewed by all EU members each year. In recognition of this fact, Salvini spoke of the necessity of changing the political alignment of the European parliament:
Salvini stressed that much would depend on the outcome of the upcoming elections, including whether it would be possible to repeal the anti-Russia restrictions.
On May 21st, Renata Dwan, the UN’s Director of the Institute for Disarmament Research declared the risk of nuclear of nuclear conflict to be urgent and at its highest rate of danger since WWII, citing advances in nuclear weapons technology and the breakdown of arms control treaties as two of the main problems:
With disarmament talks stalemated for the past two decades, 122 countries have signed a treaty to ban nuclear weapons, partly out of frustration and partly out of a recognition of the risks, she said.
“I think that it’s genuinely a call to recognize – and this has been somewhat missing in the media coverage of the issues – that the risks of nuclear war are particularly high now, and the risks of the use of nuclear weapons, for some of the factors I pointed out, are higher now than at any time since World War Two.”
Meanwhile, according to Hans Kristensen of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, the Pentagon has taken the opportunity in its most recent Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) to exaggerate the number of Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons in order to justify production of its own low-yield nuclear warheads. Kristensen writes in a May 7th article for Forbes:
But is Russia actually increasing the number of its non-strategic nuclear weapons? In stark contrast with the NPR claim, I hear there’s no significant increase in the total numbers. On the contrary, there has been a significant reduction over the past ten years – the very period the NPR uses as the basis for its threat assessment. … [I]n February 2018, the Trump administration’s NPR reported that Russia had ‘an active stockpile of up to 2,000 non-strategic nuclear weapons…’ That’s is close to the estimate we have made here at FAS for the past several years.
[T]hat is not an increase but a significant reduction of more than 1,000-3,000 tactical warheads over ten years. … This discrepancy between the significant reduction of Russian tactical nuclear warheads over the past ten years and the NPR’s alarming portrayal of a dangerous increase is deeply disturbing. Not only does it apparently mischaracterize what Russia is actually doing … it seems to distort what the U.S. intelligence community knows, for the apparent purpose of creating political support in Congress to pay for new nuclear weapons.
Just prior to winning election as the new president of Ukraine, Zelensky stated that accession to NATO should be voted on by referendum, acknowledging that the country is divided on the issue. Recent polling indicates that approximately 1/3 of Ukrainians oppose NATO membership, with a majority opposing in the eastern part of the country and a plurality opposing in the southern area.
Meanwhile, the disgraced former president, Poroshenko, has had criminal charges filed against him at the State Bureau of Investigation for treason with regard to last November’s Kerch Strait incident. The allegation, by lawyer Andrey Portnov – who served as deputy head of Maidan-deposed president Yanukovich’s administration – is that Poroshenko illegally fostered and then used the crisis to declare martial law in an abuse of power. Watch the segment below from Vesti News for details:
The campaign to help fund the publication of my forthcoming book “The View from Moscow: Understanding Russia and U.S.-Russia Relations” is ongoing. Thank you to Larry Sloan for being the first contributor with a $100 donation.
All donations, large or small, are greatly appreciated in helping me get this book out to the world. Thank you.
Russia is the world’s other nuclear superpower – the only country that has the ability to destroy the United States within 30 minutes. It is also the planet’s largest country and 6th largest in terms of purchasing power parity.
Recent studies indicate a majority of Americans now view Russia as a threat to U.S. interests. But surveys also indicate a desire among Americans for improving relations, which means embarking on effective diplomacy.
Unfortunately, our corporate media – and even some of our alternative media – has left a gaping hole in its journalistic duty to inform Americans and provide contextual understanding of this critical issue. That includes providing Russia’s perspective.
What is the Russian view and what has shaped it? In my forthcoming self-published book, “The View from Moscow: Understanding Russia and U.S.-Russia Relations,” I will help you understand Russia’s unique history, geography and culture and how it influences current Russian policy. I also discuss the interests in Washington that are obstacles to détente and why.
I am an independent journalist and writer with over 5 years experience delving into the history of Russia and U.S.-Russia relations, including 2 trips to 6 different cities in the Russian Federation and interviews with a cross-section of Russians about their views of Putin, the Russian economy, the Yeltsin era, U.S.-Russia relations, the Russian Revolution and more. I’ve had numerous articles published on these topics at Consortium News.
The projected publication date of my book is July of 2019. I currently have funds to finance the book cover design, conversion and distribution, but need help with paying $1,700 for a professional copy editor.
Each person who donates $100 will receive an autographed hard copy of the book (with mailing address provided).
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All donations, large or small, are greatly appreciated in helping me get this book out to the world. Thank you.
As previously discussed, Washington seems to be hell-bent on ratcheting up tensions with Iran as far as possible and hoping to provoke a reaction that can then be used as a casus belli.
But before Washington continues with its reckless actions, if there are any clear heads left anywhere near the White House, they might want to consider two things.
The first is the fact that the version of the S300 system that Iran received from Russia in 2016, may have been effectively an S400 but without official acknowledgment. As reported by Military Watch Magazine last year:
In April 2016 Russia began delivery of the S-300 system to Iran, and delivery was confirmed by both parties to be complete in October of that year. What was notable about the delivery was that Iran received a heavily customised variant of the missile system with unknown capabilities. While Russia and Iran both confirmed the fulfilment of a contract to deliver the S-300 to Iran, no further details were given regarding the variant Iran had acquired or the weapons system’s capabilities. What was delivered to Iran could well have had capabilities comparable to the more advanced S-400, in some respects an S-400 in all but name, and such a delivery would have served both Iranian and Russian strategic interests. For an indication as to how this could be achieved, an analysis of the S-400 and its differences from the S-300 system is invaluable.
Over 20 variants of the S-300 have been produced by Russia since the system’s first induction into service in 1978. These have fallen into three main categories, the S-300P family of conventional land based systems, the S-300F family which were developed for naval use, and the S-300V family which feature enhanced anti ballistic and anti cruise missile capabilities and superior mobility. While Iran is known to have acquired a missile system from the S-300P family, all of which are near identical in their external appearance, which system was acquired remains a mystery. The S-300PMU-2 entered service in 1997 as the most advanced variant of the missile system at the time, and was set to be superseded by the S-300PMU-3 in 2007. To improve the weapons system’s export sales and distinguish it from previous variants however, the PMU-3 variant of the S-300 was given the designation S-400. Thus the S-400 is in fact a more advanced member of the S-300PMU family of systems, and should Russia have sold Iran a missile system dubbed ’S-300PMU-2 advanced’ or ’S-300PMU-3’ its capabilities could well be highly similar to those of the S-400. Russia could in this way have provided Iran’s armed forces with an air defence system with far more sophisticated capabilities than the basic S-300PMU-2 design widely suspected to have been transferred. One indication of this are the reports that Iran’s air defence batteries are equipped with surface to air missiles with a 250km range – the range of the 48N6DM/48N6E3 hypersonic surface to air missile. While the basic S-300PMU-2 is usually restricted to a 200km engagement range using the shorter ranged 48N6E2, the 48N6E3 was for a long time the longest ranged missile deployed by the S-400 system – until the later introduction of the heavier 40N6E with a 400km range. The fact that Iran’s customised S-300 variant is equipped with these missiles is a strong indication of capabilities above those of a standard S-300PMU-2 system.
This theory, as the author points out, is also buttressed by the fact that Iran has not requested the S400 system even though adversaries in its neighborhood (e.g. Saudi Arabia) have pursued purchase of it.
If, in fact, Iran does have capabilities equivalent to the S400, this significantly changes the calculus of the effectiveness of a U.S. attack on Iran as the U.S. is heavily reliant on airpower in its military strategy. As the author sums up:
The U.S. military and civilian leadership upon the S-300’s delivery stressed that their ability to deploy advanced stealth aircraft, at the time including the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber and F-22 Raptor, would allow the U.S. Air Force to neutralise Iran’s air defences if required. Should Iran field a system as sophisticated as the S-400 with advanced anti stealth systems however such an operation would be considerably more difficult – effectively sealing off Iranian airspace to Western military aircraft and forcing the U.S. to resort to costly standoff attacks.
In my previous post, I also mentioned China’s interest in preventing or countering an attack on Iran. This leads to the second point that Washington may want to consider. As James Kennedy, an expert in rare earth materials and political consultant, has recently explained, the U.S. military machine is heavily dependent upon rare earth materials, metal and alloys. Having long ago gutted our own mining and industrial capacity to be self-reliant in this area, guess which country the U.S. is 100 percent dependent upon for these materials? China.
Having already stirred up bad blood economically by pursuing a trade war, China will be in a position to potentially grab Washington by the short hairs should it attack Iran. As Kennedy states:
A US war with Iran now will turn China’s already powerful rare earth trade-weapon into a terminal nuclear strike. Withholding these materials would not just neuter our military during a conflict, it would shut down every automobile and aircraft manufacturer in the US The shutdowns would extend to what remains of our electronics and green technology industries. It would be pink-slips from coast to coast. China would fill the global demand gap. In short, it would snuff out the few remaining embers of our already crippled economy.
If you are thinking that the US has “strategic stockpiles” of these materials – think again. The US sold off all of these materials in 1996. After repeated warnings Congress authorized the repurchase of a few rare earth oxides and dysprosium metal, none of which are directly useful to our defense industry. A 2016 Government Accounting Office report stated that these materials would need to pass through a value chain “outside the United States” before they could be utilized by our defense industry (read: China). In an earlier report the GAO estimated that it could take 15 years for the US to build a domestic rare earth value chain.
It appears to me that Russia and China’s strategy in dealing with Washington’s insanity involves the old adage, “Give them enough rope…”
Most of us remember Trump the presidential candidate as promising not to get us involved in a bunch of wars. However, since he’s been in office he’s surrounded himself with hawks and neocon architects of the very wars he criticized on the campaign trail. As president, he’s also used threats of war against North Korea, Venezuela, and Iran.
In recent weeks, in between threats by Bolton and Pompeo to install an unpopular puppet in Venezuela with “all options on the table” as to methods, Trump has allowed his Secretary of State and National Security Advisor to also stir up a potential armed conflict with Iran. Publicly, Trump himself alternates between blustering against Iran and acting like he’s not necessarily interested in a war.
Is this a prelude to an Iraq-style invasion or is Trump thinking that if he allows his mad-dog hawks like Bolton and Pompeo to snarl and even snap their jaws a few times that Iran will come begging for negotiations, willing to offer him whatever terms he wants to stop the pain and the possibility of a war?
Some political and legal analysts believe that members of the Trump administration are carefully setting up the use of the 2001 AUMF as legal cover for an attack on Iran, leaving Congress with little recourse to stop such an action. In a recent NBC Newsarticle, a legal expert discussed this possibility.
That could give Trump the justification he needs to fight Iran under the still-in-effect 2001 use-of-force resolution without congressional approval….
….That law gave the president the power to use force against “nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”….
….But former government lawyers familiar with the 2001 law and its applications say it’s obvious from those moves what the Trump administration is trying to do.
“The whole thing is building up to the notion that they don’t have to go to Congress for approval,” Yale University law professor Harold Koh, who served as the State Department’s top lawyer under Secretary Hillary Clinton, said in a telephone interview with NBC News.
Yet Koh said an attempt to shoehorn Iran into the 2001 AUMF is absurd and shouldn’t pass legal muster.
“The theory of war powers has to be that Congress doesn’t just sign off once,” he said. “The suggestion now that Iran attacked us on 9/11 is ridiculous.”
The original law essentially creates a two-part test for the president to make a determination that force is warranted: a country, group or person has aided al Qaeda and force is necessary to prevent a terrorist attack against the U.S. from that entity.
Koh says that testimony given by Pompeo to the U.S. Senate recently involved providing justification to satisfy the first part of the test:
“The factual question with respect to Iran’s connections to Al-Qaeda is very real. They have hosted al Qaeda, they have permitted al Qaeda to transit their country,” [Pompeo} said at a Foreign Relations Committee hearing. “There is no doubt there is a connection between the Islamic Republic of Iran and al Qaeda. Period, full stop.”
Of course, such a connection is dubious as Iran is a Shia theocracy and Al Qaeda is a Sunni extremist cult and the two do not share the same interests. The article goes on to explain how recent events by Washington could be seen as trying to justify the second test:
But the deployment of more forces to the region to counter the threat of attacks on American personnel and assets, as well as the partial evacuation of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, could be seen as satisfying the second part of the use-of-force test. That is, the idea that force is appropriate to prevent a terrorist threat from a country that has given assistance to al Qaeda.
In what would seem to be suspiciously perfect timing, four oil tankers, including two Saudi, one Emirati and one Norwegian, were sabotaged on May 12th. A Norwegian insurance company tasked with investigating the incident has theorized that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards was responsible for the attack using underwater drones, but admittedly this has not been satisfactorily substantiated, relying on similarity with drones used by the Houthi in Yemen.
Gareth Porter, one of the best reporters out there on the subject of Iran, stated on a recent episode of Cross-Talk that there was a reasonable chance that this represented a false flag action by Israel, which has been trying to get Washington to do its dirty work by attacking Iran, a perceived rival in the Middle East, for years. He says that there is a working group between Israel and Washington that has been meeting since December of 2017, with the “intelligence” in early May about Iran planning to attack U.S. interests either directly or via proxies, likely originating from Israel as a result of this working group’s April meeting.
It was also brought out in the episode that the provocative behavior by the U.S. toward Iran is engendering sympathy for Iran in the world community.
The EU is most definitely not interested in a war with Iran, surely realizing that another war in the Middle East would, among other things, seriously worsen the refugee crisis it has been dealing with in the aftermath of Washington’s interventions in Libya and Syria. Germany, Spain and the Netherlands have even reportedly removed their forces from U.S. operations in the area in order to distance themselves from Washington’s provocations after two U.S. naval carriers arrived in the Persian Gulf last week.
Of course, Russia and China are actively opposing any aggression by Washington toward Iran. Russia doesn’t want any more instability in its neighborhood, a point which Putin no doubt would have impressed upon Pompeo during their recent meeting. But, with hard-core ideologues like Pompeo (and Bolton), facts and rationality often do not penetrate. With respect to China, not only is Iranian oil a significant issue (China is still buying it regardless of the sanctions), but Iran also represents a critical point on the Belt and Road Initiative, which Russia also has a stake in.
Trump knew very well who Bolton and Pompeo were and what their agenda was when he brought them on board. So, if he really isn’t looking to get the U.S. into another war, why did he hire these guys? I imagine that Trump likes to see himself as crafty – someone who can play others to further his goals. This would include using Bolton for the type of scheme I mentioned earlier. As much as Trump and what he stands for is appealing to the lowest common denominator, Bolton represents a far darker and more dangerous character – a person who would like to see the world burn and will do whatever it takes to get his way. A NYC real estate grifter is no match for this swamp creature and Trump is very likely to find himself being the one played rather than doing the playing.
At this point, Trump needs to can Bolton before he gets Washington to a stage where de-escalation becomes too difficult as these things tend to take on a life of their own.
Then there’s the media coverage of these events, led by the NYT doing their usual water-carrying for Washington’s warmongers. They played right along with the government’s take that small Iranian vessels armed with missiles represented something new and particularly threatening to the U.S. and its nearby allies. In a May 15th article, the Times stated:
The intelligence that caused the White House to escalate its warnings about a threat from Iran came from photographs of missiles on small boats in the Persian Gulf that were put on board by Iranian paramilitary forces, three American officials said…
….The photographs presented a different kind of threat than previously seen from Iran, said the three officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about it publicly. Taken with the other intelligence, the photographs could indicate that Iran is preparing to attack United States forces. That is the view of John R. Bolton, President Trump’s hard-line national security adviser, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
This ignores previous reporting from the Washington Post on July 26, 2012 in which it was stated:
Iran is rapidly gaining new capabilities to strike at U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf, amassing an arsenal of sophisticated anti-ship missiles while expanding its fleet of fast-attack boats and submarines. . .These highly maneuverable small boats, some barely as long as a subway car, have become a cornerstone of Iran’s strategy for defending the gulf against a much larger adversary. The vessels can rapidly deploy Iran’s estimated 2,000 anti-ship mines or mass in groups to strike large warships from multiple sides at once, like a cloud of wasps attacking much larger prey.
and a Naval Technology report from January 16, 2013:
Iran’s purchase of the British made world-record setting Bladerunner speedboat stirred up increased chatter on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy’s (IRGCN) development of a new fast attack craft (FAC) fleet. Simon O. Williams looks beyond the hyperbole to examine FACs in the context of wider developments in Iran’s naval arsenal. . . .Iran’s missile capabilities continue to grow. In reference to arming FACs, deputy defence minister and head of Iran’s Aerospace Organisation, General Mehdi Farah, stated that the country’s “missiles have the capability of being launched from vessels with speeds of over 30 knots, and these missiles include Zafar, Nasr, Noor and Qader” These are radar guided anti-ship cruise missiles capable of destroying 1,500-tonne targets and damaging even larger ones.
Threats never seen before…except they were seen and reported on publicly 6 and 7 years ago. (Shout out to Sylvia Demarest for pointing this discrepancy out in her e-newsletter analyses).
As most readers already know, this is par for the course for the NYT. I think I have the perfect new tagline for the newspaper of record: Pimping for U.S. Wars Since 1851.
The theme of today’s post is psychology. It’s a subject I’ve had a life-long interest in – I almost majored in it at college, but didn’t. It’s a good subject for any writer to have knowledge in. Understanding human motivations and the various ways they manifest themselves can help a fiction writer create authentic and compelling characters. It can also assist non-fiction writers in analyzing politics and international relations. It’s a great tool for serious diplomats as well.
Dr. Kenneth Dekleva is a psychologist who worked in the Obama-era State Department. He has written a political psychological profile of Putin in which, among other things, he notes that successful diplomacy with Putin would be helped by amiable personal relations from an American leader and that this is partly what undermined Obama’s efforts for the reset. While, I’m sure that amiable personal relations would certainly help grease the wheels of effective diplomacy, it must be pointed out that George W. Bush’s personal rapport with Putin did not stop him from unilaterally pulling the U.S. out of the ABM Treaty or expanding NATO by seven more nations up to Russia’s border.
However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some interesting and insightful nuggets offered by Dekleva, such as:
Putin’s background as a KGB intelligence officer has colored his entire professional life. The KGB shaped his ethos and his sense of identity—the embodiment of a boyhood dream. Less useful commentary – either vilifying his KGB service or downplaying it – misses a more important question, having to do with how Putin’s skills (“I am a specialist in human relations”) manifest themselves. Many have tended to see Putin as merely tactical, rather than strategic, but such a view is mistaken. Seeing such labels as dichotomous, rather than as two sides of the same coin, loses sight of Putin’s adaptability regarding foreign-policy challenges, such as the Ukraine, Georgia, Syria, China, India, the U.S., and Europe. At times, Putin has shown masterful flexibility, often reversing course and shifting priorities, while not deviating from key strategic concerns and his sense of Russia’s national interest. A different concern has to do with Putin’s inner circle of advisors – many of whom he has known and worked with for decades – and the question of whom does he trust and listen to? How do strategic decisions get made? The recent changes in personnel within the Kremlin and key ministries bear careful study in this regard.
Martial arts and the study of Judo has likely shaped Putin’s personality as much as any other activity. A student of Judo since age 10, Putin eloquently spoke (in a video made by him in 2008) of its virtues of discipline, respect for one’s teachers and fellow students, and humility. Holder of an 8th-dan rank, Putin is the highest-ranking non-Japanese judoka in the world and a true ambassador of the art. Videos of Putin demonstrating Judo showcase not only his immense talent, but also a flexible, playful, and competitive style, which for Putin – for whom Judo is a way of life – colors his political behavior as well.
Overall, it’s refreshing to hear a public psychologist provide an analysis of Putin that reflects an intelligent, sophisticated and complicated person who largely acts based on rational interests, rather than simply writing him off with out-of-context images as suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder, psychopathy, gun-slinger gait, Asperger’s Syndrome or some other cartoonish defamation.
Next, is a very timely and perceptive interview from the Grayzone Project – an independent media outlet founded by Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton that I highly recommend.
Aaron Mate, who has done a tremendous job of debunking the Russiagate scandal by conducting actual journalism, is the son of famous psychologist Gabor Mate, who specializes in the study of trauma.
In this 30-minute video, Aaron prompts his father to explain how Russiagate gained such a foothold in the American political landscape and why it won’t die easily.
Former UK ambassador Craig Murray, who has worked with Wikileaks and stated that he knew the identity of the person who provided the DNC emails to Wikileaks, confirming that it was an inside leak and not a hack, has reviewed the Mueller report and provides his analysis:
Robert Mueller is either a fool, or deeply corrupt. I do not think he is a fool.
I did not comment instantly on the Mueller Report as I was so shocked by it, I have been waiting to see if any other facts come to light in justification. Nothing has. I limit myself here to that area of which I have personal knowledge – the leak of DNC and Podesta emails to Wikileaks. On the wider question of the corrupt Russian 1% having business dealings with the corrupt Western 1%, all I have to say is that if you believe that is limited in the USA by party political boundaries, you are a fool.
On the DNC leak, Mueller started with the prejudice that it was “the Russians” and he deliberately and systematically excluded from evidence anything that contradicted that view.
Mueller, as a matter of determined policy, omitted key steps which any honest investigator would undertake. He did not commission any forensic examination of the DNC servers. He did not interview Bill Binney. He did not interview Julian Assange. His failure to do any of those obvious things renders his report worthless.
There has never been, by any US law enforcement or security service body, a forensic examination of the DNC servers, despite the fact that the claim those servers were hacked is the very heart of the entire investigation. Instead, the security services simply accepted the “evidence” provided by the DNC’s own IT security consultants, Crowdstrike, a company which is politically aligned to the Clintons.
That is precisely the equivalent of the police receiving a phone call saying:
“Hello? My husband has just been murdered. He had a knife in his back with the initials of the Russian man who lives next door engraved on it in Cyrillic script. I have employed a private detective who will send you photos of the body and the knife. No, you don’t need to see either of them.”
There is no honest policeman in the world who would agree to that proposition, and neither would Mueller were he remotely an honest man.
Last month, the National Security Archive released documents revealing how the agreements between the U.S. and Soviet Union in the 1980’s that were to govern the Soviet Union’s withdrawal from Afghanistan – with Washington disarming the jihadists it had funded/supported and allowing free and independent elections – were backtracked on by Washington once withdrawal was underway. According to the archive’s summary published with the documents:
The documents show that the U.S. position changed from “the mutual withdrawal of all outside forces” (as President Reagan told Mikhail Gorbachev at Geneva in November 1985), to insisting on continued arms support to the Afghan Mujahedin in 1988 (as National Security Advisor Colin Powell told Secretary of State George Shultz when the latter seemed to embrace “mutual restraint”), to the refusal of free election plans in 1990 if they allowed the Soviet-supported Kabul incumbent, Najibullah, to run. The core U.S. goal had been to bring about a Soviet military withdrawal, and once that was clearly underway in 1988 other factors came to the fore, such as U.S. relations with Pakistan, Congress’s commitment to the Afghan resistance, and U.S. insistence that Najibullah had to go.
The Soviet decision to withdraw from its disastrous military invasion of Afghanistan occurred as early as October 1985, according to the documents; but Gorbachev did not set a specific timetable until February 1988 while he sought to create a model of cooperation with the United States for resolving regional conflicts. While the Soviets shared the U.S. goal of an independent Afghanistan, they were especially wary of the power of radical fundamentalists, who dominated in the Pakistan-based resistance, supported by the United States. The Soviet leadership believed that the process of national reconciliation would culminate in free elections under U.N. monitoring and the resulting government would be secular and moderate. However, the documents show that eventually the Soviets accepted the fact that the Reagan administration would continue to arm the more radical factions of the Mujahedin through Pakistan, even in violation of the Geneva agreements. Gorbachev was hoping that progress toward a political settlement could be made by working together with the United States after the signing of the Geneva agreements, thus creating a precedent and further cementing U.S.-Soviet global cooperation.
Read the full summary and view the documents here.
President Trump has made remarks to the effect that the U.S. defense budget in general and the new nuclear arms race in particular are ridiculously expensive. As a recent RAND report confirms, while absorbing the costs of an expensive arms race would be supposedly more difficult economically for Russia, it would also be dangerous for the U.S., both in terms of economic costs and possible unintended consequences – a concept that the neocons and liberal interventionists who have been influential in the past 25 years don’t ever seem to grasp.
“Geopolitical measures to bait Russia into overextending itself are likely impractical, or they risk second-order consequences. Many geopolitical measures would force the United States to operate in areas that are closer to Russia and where it is thus cheaper and easier for Russia than the United States to exert influence. Ideological measures to undermine the regime’s stability carry significant risks of counter escalation. Many military options … could enhance U.S. deterrence and reassure U.S. allies, but only a few are likely to extend Russia.”
Trump’s approach for supposedly addressing this problem is to push for a new multilateral arms agreement with both Russia and China. As reported by the Washington Post on April 25th:
“Between Russia and China and us, we’re all making hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of weapons, including nuclear, which is ridiculous,” Trump said. “And I would say that China will come along, and I would say Russia will come along. It doesn’t really make sense that we’re doing this.”
Russia has expressed some willingness to consider such an agreement but probably has low expectations as the academic news summary service Russia Matters stated in its digest for that week:
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters on April 26 Moscow is closely following reports that the U.S. would like to reach a nuclear weapons deal with both Russia and China, and is “willing” to negotiate. Ryabkov also said that Russia “would like to convince” the U.S. to adopt a joint statement that would condemn any use of nuclear weapons. In October, Russia sent the U.S. a draft joint declaration on how to prevent nuclear war, only to never hear back from Washington, Kommersant reported. “Nuclear war cannot be won and it must never be unleashed,” Kommersant quoted Russia’s draft joint declaration as stating. (AP, 04.26.19, The Moscow Times, 04.19.19)
China, on the other hand, is straight up dismissing the idea. A spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry explained that it’s up to the world’s largest nuclear weapons powers (Russia and the U.S.) to lower their arsenals, thus laying the groundwork for the smaller nuclear-armed nations to do so. According to a May 6th article in Reuters:
BEIJING (Reuters) – China on Monday dismissed a suggestion that it would talk with the United States and Russia about a new accord limiting nuclear arms, saying it would not take part in any trilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations.
….Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that the country’s nuclear forces were at the “lowest level” of its national security needs, and that they could not be compared to the United States and Russia.
“China opposes any country talking out of turn about China on the issue of arms control, and will not take part in any trilateral negotiations on a nuclear disarmament agreement,” Geng told a daily news briefing, when asked about Trump’s remarks.
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.
“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.
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 Timesreported 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.