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Russians Ask “Why Do You Demonize Us When We Are So Much Like You?”

Russian kids attending a youth camp called Artek in Crimea.

(Russian kids attending a youth camp called Artek in Crimea.)


This was posted at the website of the Center for Citizen Initiatives, which sponsored the 20-person delegation of citizen diplomats to Russia last month.  If you are interested in attending the Center’s next delegation to Russia, scheduled for September, please contact me at natyliesb [at]


The following piece was written by CCI trip participant Ann Wright based on her experiences during the just-concluded CCI Russia trip.
This article is a composite of the comments and questions that were asked to our 20-person delegation and to me as an individual. I do not attempt to defend the views but offer them as an insight into the thinking of many of the persons we came into contact with in meetings and on the streets.I’ve just ended two weeks visiting cities in four regions of Russia. The one question that was asked over and over was, “Why does America hate us? Why do you demonize us?” Most would add a caveat — “I like American people and I think YOU like us individually but why does the American government hate our government?”

None of the questions, comments or views tell the full story, but I hope they give a feel for the desire of the ordinary Russian that her country and its citizens are respected as a sovereign nation with a long history and that it is not demonized as an outlaw state or an “evil” nation. Russia has its flaws and room for improvement in many areas, just as every nation does, including for sure, the United States.

New Russia Looks Like You — Private Business, Elections, Mobile Phones, Cars, Traffic Jams

One middle-aged journalist in the city of Krasnodar commented, “The United States worked hard to make the Soviet Union collapse, and it did. You wanted to remake Russia like the United States — a democratic, capitalist country in which your companies could make money — and you have done that.

“After 25 years, we are a new nation much different from the Soviet Union. The Russian Federation has created laws that have allowed a large private business class to emerge. Our cities now look like your cities. We have Burger King, McDonalds, Subway, Starbucks and malls filled with a huge number of totally Russian business ventures for the middle class. We have chain stores with merchandise and food, similar to Wal-Mart and Target. We have exclusive stores with top-of-the-line clothing and cosmetics for the richer. We drive new (and older) cars now just like you do. We have massive rush hour traffic jams in our cities, just like you do. We have extensive, safe, inexpensive metros in all of our major cities, just like you have. When you fly across our country, it looks just like yours, with forests, farm fields, rivers and lakes — only bigger, many time zones bigger.

“Most people on buses and in the metro are looking at our mobile phones with internet, just like you do. We have a smart youth population that is computer literate and most of whom speak several languages.

“You sent your experts on privatization, international banking, stock exchanges. You urged us to sell off our huge state industries to the private sector at ridiculously low prices, creating the multi-billionaire oligarchs that in many ways mirror the oligarchs of the United States. And you made money in Russia from this privatization. Some of the oligarchs are in prison for violating our laws, just as are some of yours.

“You sent us experts on elections. For over 25 years we have held elections. And we have elected some politicians you don’t like and some that we as individuals may not like. We have political dynasties, just like you do. We don’t have a perfect government, nor perfect government officials — which is also what we observe in the U.S. government and its officials. We have graft and corruption in and outside of government, just as you do. Some of our politicians are in jail for violating our laws, just like some of your politicians are in jail for violating your laws.

“And we have the poor just like you do. We have villages, towns and small cities that are struggling with migration to the big cities with people moving in hopes of finding jobs, just like you do.

“Our middle class travels throughout the world, just like you do. In fact, as a Pacific nation just like the U.S., we bring so much tourism money with us on our trips that your Pacific island territories of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas have negotiated with the U.S. Federal government to allow Russian tourists to enter both of those U.S. territories for 45 days without the time-consuming and expensive U.S. visa.

“We have a strong science and space program and are a key partner in the International Space Station. We sent the first satellite into space and the first humans into space. Our rockets still take astronauts to the space station while your NASA program has been curtailed.”

Dangerous NATO Military Exercises Threatening our Borders

“You have your allies and we have our allies. You told us during the dissolution of the Soviet Union that you would not enlist countries from the Eastern block into NATO, yet you have done that. Now you are placing missile batteries along our border and you are conducting major military exercises with strange names such as Anaconda, the strangling snake, along our borders.

“You say that Russia could possibly invade neighboring countries and you have big dangerous military exercises in countries on our borders with these countries. We did not build up our Russian military forces along those borders until you continued to have ever increasingly large military ‘exercises’ there. You install missile ”defenses’ in countries on our borders, initially saying they are to protect against Iranian missiles and now you say Russia is the aggressor and your missiles are aimed at us.

“For our own national security, we must respond, yet you vilify us for a response that you would have if Russia would have military maneuvers along the Alaskan coast or the Hawaii islands or with Mexico on your southern border or with Canada on your northern border.”


“We have allies in the Middle East including Syria. For decades, we have had military ties to Syria and the only Soviet/Russian port in the Mediterranean is in Syria. Why is it unexpected that we help defend our ally, when the stated policy of your country is for ‘regime change’ of our ally — and you have spent hundreds of millions of dollars for Syrian regime change?

“With this said, we Russia saved the U.S. from an enormous political and military blunder in 2013 when the U.S. was determined to attack the Syrian government for “crossing the red line” when a horrific chemical attack that tragically killed hundreds was erroneously blamed on the Assad government. We provided you documentation that the chemical attack did not come from the Assad government and we brokered a deal with the Syrian government in which they turned over their chemical weapons arsenal to the international community for destruction.

“Ultimately, Russia arranged for the chemicals to be destroyed and you provided an especially designed U.S. ship that carried out the destruction. Without Russian intervention, a direct U.S. attack on the Syrian government for the mistaken allegation of use of chemical weapons would have resulted in even greater chaos, destruction and destabilization in Syria.

“Russia has offered to host talks with the Assad government about power sharing with opposition elements. We, like you, do not want to see the takeover of Syria by a radical group such as ISIS that will use the land of Syria to continue its mission to destabilize the region. Your policies and financing of regime change in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya and Syria have created instability and chaos that is reaching all over the world.”

Coup in Ukraine and Crimea Reuniting with Russia

“You say that Crimea was annexed by Russia and we say Crimea ‘reunited’ with Russia. We believe that the U.S. sponsored a coup of the elected Ukrainian government that had chosen to accept a loan from Russia rather than from the EU and IMF. We believe that coup and the resulting government was illegally brought to power through your multi-million dollar “regime change” program. We know that your Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland described in a phone call that our intelligence services recorded the pro-West/NATO coup leader as ‘our guy-Yats.’

“In response to that US sponsored violent government take-over of the elected government of the Ukraine with a presidential election scheduled within a year, Russians in the Ukraine, particularly those in the eastern part of the Ukraine and those in Crimea were very afraid of the anti-Russian violence that had been unleashed by neo-fascist forces that were in the militia arm of the takeover.

“With the takeover of the Ukrainian government, ethnic Russians who composed a majority of the population of Crimea in a referendum participated by over 95 percent of the population of Crimea, 80 percent voted to unite with the Russian Federation instead of staying with Ukraine. Of course, some citizens of Crimea disagreed and left to live in Ukraine.

“We wonder whether citizens of the United States realize that the Southern Fleet of the military of the Russian Federation was located in the Black Sea ports in the Crimea and in light of the violent take over of Ukraine that our government felt it was vital to ensure access to those ports. On the basis of Russian national security, the Russian Duma (Parliament) voted to accept the results of the referendum and annexed Crimea as a republic of the Russian Federation and gave federal city status to the important seaport of Sevastopol.”

Sanctions on Crimea and Russia — Double Standards

“While the US and European governments accepted and cheered for the violent overthrow of the elected government of the Ukraine, both the US and European nations were very vengeful of the non-violent referendum of people of Crimea and have slammed Crimea with all sorts of sanctions that have reduced international tourism, the main industry of the Crimea, to almost nothing. In the past in Crimea we received over 260 cruise ships filled with international passengers from Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, Spain and other parts of Europe. Now, because of the sanctions we have virtually no European tourists. You are the first group of Americans we have seen in over a year. Now, our business is with other citizens from Russia.

“The U.S. and the European Union have put sanctions on Russia again. The Russian ruble has been devalued almost 50 percent, some from the downturn of worldwide price of oil, but some from the sanctions the international community has placed on Russia from the Crimea ‘reunification.’

“We believe you want the sanctions to hurt us so we will overthrow our elected government, just like you put sanctions on Iraq for the Iraqis to overthrow Saddam Hussein, or on North Korea, or on Iran for the people of those countries to overthrow their governments.

“Sanctions have the opposite effect than what you want. While we know sanctions do hurt the ordinary person and if left on a population for a long time can kill through malnutrition and lack of medicines, sanctions have made us stronger.

“Now, we may not get your cheeses and wines, but we are developing or redeveloping our own industries and have become more self-reliant. We now see how the globalization trade mantra of the United States can and will be used against countries that decide not to go along with the U.S. on its worldwide political and military agenda. If your country decides not to go along with the United States, you will be cut off from the global markets that the trade agreements have made you dependent upon.

“We wonder why the double standard? Why haven’t the member states of the United Nations put sanctions on the U.S. since you have invaded and occupied countries and killed hundreds of thousands in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen and Syria.

“Why is the U.S. not held accountable for kidnapping, extraordinary rendition, torture and imprisonment of almost 800 persons that have been held in the gulag called Guantanamo?”

Elimination of Nuclear Weapons

“We want the elimination of nuclear weapons. Unlike you, we have never used a nuclear weapon on people. Even though we consider nuclear weapons as a defensive weapon, they should be eliminated because one political or military mistake will have devastating consequences for the entire planet.”

We Know the Costs of War

“We know the terrible costs of war. Our great-grandparents remind us of the 27 million Soviet citizens killed during World War II, our grandparents tell us of the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s and the difficulties arising from the Cold War.

“We don’t understand why the West continues to vilify and demonize us when we are so much like you. We too are concerned about threats to our national security and our government responds in many ways like yours. We do not want another Cold War, a war in which everyone gets frost bitten, or worse, a war that will kill hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people.”

We Want A Peaceful Future

“We Russians are proud of our lengthy history and heritage.”

“We want a bright future for ourselves and our families…and for yours.”

“We want to live in a peaceful world.”

“We want to live in peace.”

Ann Wright is a 29-year US Army/Army Reserves veteran, a retired United States Army colonel and retired U.S. State Department official, known for her outspoken opposition to the Iraq War. She received the State Department Award for Heroism in 1997, after helping to evacuate several thousand people during the civil war in Sierra Leone. She is most noted for having been one of three State Department officials to publicly resign in direct protest of the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. Wright was also a passenger on the Challenger 1, which along with the Mavi Marmara, was part of the Gaza flotilla. She served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia. In December, 2001 she was on the small team that reopened the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. She is the co-author of the book “Dissent: Voices of Conscience.” She has written frequently on rape in the military.


Still a MAD World: The Insanity of Nuclear Weapons

A dense column of smoke rises more than 60,000 feet into the air over the Japanese industrial port of Nagasaki, the result of an atomic bomb, August 8, 1945;


In 1994, when [William Perry] became President Bill Clinton’s secretary of defense, the US faced an entirely different set of security problems. The cold war was over, and the nuclear weapons of the former Soviet Union were located not only in Russia, but also in three new republics that were not capable of protecting them.  Perry gave these “loose nukes” his highest priority. He was able to arrange for the dismantling of all of the thousands of nuclear weapons in the Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. He movingly tells of visiting a silo built for the Soviet SS-19 missile and watching it disintegrate in a cloud of smoke. Earlier he had visited the site and was briefed by young Russian officers on how the hundreds of missiles under their control would have been fired at targets in the United States. Observing a practice countdown at a site that at that very moment was targeted by American missiles, he realized what an absurdity had been created by nuclear competition.

-Jerry Brown, A Stark Nuclear Warning (Review of My Journey at the Nuclear Brink by William J. Perry)

 Jerry Brown provides an excellent and thought-provoking review of William J. Perry’s book, My Journey at the Nuclear Brink, this month at the New York Review of Books.  Perry’s impressive resume includes a “Ph.D. in mathematics, vast technical training and experience in high-tech business, management of research and weapons acquisition as an undersecretary of defense under President Carter, and deputy secretary and then secretary of defense under Bill Clinton.”

Brown takes the reader through Perry’s evolution of thought about the weapons that he was providing research, management and advice on over the course of decades.  He started out as a senior scientist at Sylvania Electronic Defense Laboratories in what is now known as Silicon Valley but was, in the 1950’s, one of the bastions of the defense industry, particularly nuclear weapons.  Brown describes Perry’s first job at Sylvania as providing his first epiphany about the utter insanity and nihilism inherent in nuclear weapons:


Perry’s first job at the Electronic Defense Laboratories was “to evaluate a proposed electronic countermeasure system” intended to jam “the guidance signal of an attacking Soviet intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).” After careful study, he reported that jamming could successfully reduce fatalities from a medium-size nuclear attack by about two thirds, that is, from 75 million immediate deaths to 25 million. But he later noted that this estimate did not take into account long-term deaths from radiation and “nuclear winter.” Nor did it include the tens of millions of wounded who couldn’t be treated or the total disruption of the economy and the fabric of our society.  This was the moment when Perry concluded that there could be no acceptable defense against a mass nuclear attack, an opinion from which he has never deviated.

At the end of the Eisenhower administration, Perry worked on the team that CIA director Allen Dulles oversaw to determine if the famous “missile gap” with the Soviets actually existed.  Perry had determined that none existed but states in his book that his report was kept secret for years. During the Kennedy administration, Perry served on a committee set up by the CIA and NSA to assess the Soviet Union’s ICBM weapons and was part of the analytical team that studied data and reported the results to the president during the Cuban Missile crisis.  During that period, Perry feared each day that it might be the end.

At this point in the review, Brown relays Perry’s observation that “it was by luck that we avoided a nuclear holocaust in the Cuban crisis.” He describes additional dangers during the crisis that were unknown to many at the time but later came out, such as the fact that, due to communications challenges, Moscow had authorized the commanders of the submarines that were approaching the U.S. blockade of Cuba to fire without further approval.  Of the three commanders on board one of the Soviet submarines that an American destroyer was attempting to force to the surface, one dissented from ordering a launch on the American vessel, averting a nuclear escalation.

Additionally, an American reconnaissance plane strayed into Soviet airspace during the crisis, triggering the scrambling of Soviet attack jets.  Fortunately, the pilot realized his error in a timely manner and was able to exit Soviet airspace before the planes could reach him.

The volume of these near misses has been documented by journalist Eric Schlosser, author of Command and Control, and would almost make an atheist believe in the intervention of a higher power in saving humans from their sheer recklessness with respect to the most destructive weapons ever developed.


Near Misses

In a 2013 interview with Michael Mechanic for Mother Jones magazine, Schlosser discussed the accidents that served as an inspiration for him to write the book.  This includes a 1961 accident in which a US Air Force plane dropped a hydrogen bomb in a North Carolina town.  It failed to detonate thanks to one remaining safety valve that worked after the other five had failed.

A few of the other accidents included a 1966 collision between a B-52 bomber and a refueling tanker over Spain, resulting in the B-52 breaking apart and dropping its load of 4 hydrogen bombs with 2 partially detonating, polluting the Palomares region with radiation; a 1968 B-52 crashing in Greenland where 3 of its hydrogen bombs contaminated an icy area of roughly a quarter million cubic feet; a 1985 incident in which a weather anomaly set off a Soviet early warning satellite indicating an American launch of 5 ICBMs – miraculously, the watch commander decided it had to be a mistake and chose not to report the alarm further up the chain of command, averting another possible nuclear escalation; and a 1995 incident in which the Russian Federation’s early warning system mistook a Norwegian weather rocket as “an incoming U.S. Trident missile.”  Before the mistake was realized, the Russian military had gone into preparations for a potential counter-attack.

In the Mother Jones interview, Schlosser discussed more recent incidents:

The incident in 2007, when we lost half a dozen hydrogen bombs for a day and a half, was an incredibly serious security lapse:  The fact that nobody was asked to sign for the weapons when they were removed from the bunker, the fact that nobody in the loading crew or on the airplane even knew that the plane was carrying nuclear weapons is just remarkable….A few years ago, they lost communication with an entire squadron of Minutemen missiles – 50 missiles! – for almost an hour.  They had to decertify the maintenance crew that looks after the biggest Air Force storage facility in New Mexico.  Seventeen launch officers were taken off duty earlier this year for safety violations.  There’s a sense of a lack of direction, and mismanagement right now – particularly in the Air Force.  And it’s intolerable.  It’s unacceptable.

Not only does a mail order package from Victoria’s Secret have more tracking requirements historically than flights with nuclear payloads, but Schlosser also documents that the guardians of the nuclear arsenal are often lackadaisical, inadequately trained and have substance abuse problems:

One of the lessons would be, if you’re going to have nuclear weapons, you must spare no expense in the proper maintenance of them.  The Titan II was widely regarded as obsolete.  They were running out of spare parts.  There were frequent leaks, and the warhead was acknowledged not to have adequate safety devices.  The people working on it were often poorly trained, poorly paid, overworked.  There were shortages of trained technicians.  In retrospect, it was completely irresponsible to have all those things occurring with a missile carrying the most powerful warhead ever put on an Air Force missile.  It’s just extraordinary.  And there were high rates of drug use.  I spoke to people who had been involved in sensitive nuclear positions who were smoking pot all the time.  You don’t want people smoking pot and handling nuclear weapons. [emphasis in original]

Additionally, there are bureaucratic walls between various agencies involved in the design, implementation or oversight of the weapons.  Schlosser describes the occasion when he provided a copy of a document listing “broken arrows” or accidents and less serious nuclear incidents to a famous weapons safety expert, Bob Peurifoy:

He was stunned and very depressed by it, because it was clear that there were many incidents that were not being shared with him.  There was an enormous amount of compartmentalized secrecy, and that was to prevent secrets from being too widely shared and potentially leaked.  But what that meant was people in different parts of the system didn’t have an overall view of how the system was operating – and that can be very dangerous. The people designing the weapons literally didn’t know how they were being handled in the field by the Air Force – and a lot of people in the Air Force didn’t understand some of the dangers.  There’s a very strong element of madness in this.


The Hawks and the Merchants of Death

Perry points to another disturbing aspect of the Cuban Missile Crisis that is still with us today.  Military and national security advisers who wanted to escalate the crisis.  As Brown writes:  “[There were] advisers on both the Soviet and U.S. sides who wanted to rush into war.”

As I detailed in my review of JFK and the Unspeakable by James Douglass, Kennedy was stunned at what he was hearing from some of his advisers early in his administration, including proposals to do a nuclear first strike on the Soviet Union, with figures of hundreds of millions of Soviet casualties and tens of millions of American retaliatory casualties tossed around as an acceptable cost-benefit analysis on behalf of vanquishing the “evil empire.” Kennedy described some of these advisers as having a “collective death wish” for humanity.

Perry also notes the insidious role played by the media which “treated the crisis as ‘a drama of winning and losing.'”

As an article in Foreign Affairs in 2006 revealed, a nuclear first strike on Russia is still a dream cherished by certain fanatics in Washington.  Moreover, with Neocons and advocates of Brzezinski’s Grand Chessboard still having huge influence on foreign policy in both major parties and the corporate media, regardless of the dangerous crises their interventions and cheerleading have unleashed, one cannot say we’ve left this aberrant mentality behind.

Another pernicious factor recognized by Perry is the profit motive of the military industrial complex.  Perry admitted that his previous work in trying to figure out and counter the Soviet missile and space systems was “exhilarating and highly profitable.”  The development of new technology ensured the increased outsourcing of such work to the private sector:

Historically, the interpretation of intelligence had been exclusively reserved to government agencies, but several of the most critical targets of intelligence had become highly technical.  They included ICBMs, nuclear bombs, ballistic missile defense systems, and supersonic aircraft. To collect data on these sophisticated weapons systems, Perry explains, required technical reconnaissance equally as complex. The federal government began to contract with private companies possessing the requisite knowledge and skills.

Hence, a gaggle of corporations entered or flourished in a market with a profit motive in favor of military conflict.  This, combined with incentives built into the system over the years to overcharge taxpayers – such as cost-plus contracting and no-bidding – the odds of policies favoring disarmament and diplomacy have been at an increasing disadvantage.


According to journalist, Andrew Cockburn, this dynamic explains the latest policy out of Washington to spend $1 trillion to completely update our nuclear arsenal, coming from an administration headed by a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who has periodically invoked a desire toward nuclear disarmament no less:

Ongoing and dramatic programs to invest vast sums in meaningless, useless or superfluous weapons systems are the norm.  There is no more striking example of this than current plans to rebuild the entire American arsenal of nuclear weapons in the coming decades, Obama’s staggering bequest to the budgets of his successors….They serve no useful purpose beyond deterring putative opponents from using them, for which an extremely limited number would suffice….In the Cold War as today, the idea of “nuclear war fighting” could not survive scrutiny in a real world context.  Despite this self-evident truth, the U.S. military has long been the pioneer in devising rationales for fighting such a war via ever more “modernized” weapons systems….The drive to develop and build such systems on the irrational pretense that nuclear war fighting is a practical proposition persists today.


Perry sees this thinking as outdated and dangerous, one that inevitably leads to escalation.  He confirms that nuclear weapons cannot actually be used due to “the risk of uncontrollable and catastrophic escalation” being far too high.


As Cockburn demonstrates, this does not stop Washington politicians from continuing on with this insanity.


One component of the current “modernization” plan is the proposed development of a new “dial-a-yield” version of the venerable B-61 nuclear bomb.  Supposedly capable of delivering explosives of varying strength according to demand, this device will, at least theoretically, be guidable to its target with high degrees of accuracy and will also be able to burrow down into the earth to destroy buried bunkers.  The estimated bill — $11 billion – is a welcome boost for the fortunes of the Sandia and Los Alamos weapons laboratories that are developing it.


Cockburn goes on to explain that the cost will likely be far more than the government or the weapons makers estimate as historical studies of the estimated cost versus the actual bill on previous weapons systems reveal, including the F-35 boondoggle – estimated at $35 million each and coming in at actual cost of more than $200 million.  It should be mentioned that the F-35 is in many ways inferior to previous military planes.


This phenomena is called the bow wave, “referring to the process by which current research and development initiatives, initially relatively modest in cost, invariably lock in commitments to massive spending down the road.  Traditionally, such waves start to form at times when the military is threatened with possible spending cutbacks due to the end of a war or some other budgetary crisis.”


This is what happened in the wake of the first Cold War’s end when congressional representative and House Speaker Jim Wright had convened a committee of fellow representatives to discuss and pass legislation on behalf of an economic conversion, translating into the “peace dividend.”  This included consideration of a bill sponsored by representative Tim Weiss, which called for the establishment of Alternative Use Committees comprised of those from labor and management in the defense industry who would prepare “a complete technical economic plan for the use of the people and facilities following termination of work for the Pentagon.”


The legislation would have also mandated occupational retraining for engineers and managers who were veterans of the Pentagon for 10 years or longer to ensure proper training in cost minimizing instead of the entrenched practice of cost-maximizing fostered in the defense industry.  The conversion program would have been overseen by the Commerce Department to encourage all levels of government to prepare their budgets accordingly in support of conversion.


In the weeks following the bill’s historic introduction, however, a smear campaign against Speaker Wright was initiated – led by Newt Gingrich, whose district just happened to be home to the headquarters of Lockheed Martin – based on trumped up charges of financial misconduct, forcing Wright’s resignation.


With the bill’s most powerful shepherd effectively eliminated, the legislation died quietly.


Cockburn cited bow waves happening after pullbacks from Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the end of our war in Vietnam.


Joe Lauria, a veteran foreign affairs journalist based at the UN since 1990, recently wrote of his conversation with a top European diplomat who privately admitted a similar phenomenon was at work with regards to NATO and hyping the “Russian threat.”


Two years ago I was in a background briefing with a senior European ambassador at his country’s U.N. mission in New York and could hardly believe my ears when he said talk about Russia’s threat to Eastern Europe was “all hype” designed to give NATO “a reason to exist.”  Yet this same ambassador in public Security Council meetings would viciously attack Russia.


But the hype is about more than just saving NATO.  The fear campaign feeds the American and European military industries and most importantly puts pressure on the Russian government, which the U.S. wants overthrown.


To buttress this interpretation of the threat of Russia being a dangerous myth promulgated to prop up the merchants of death and the imperialist ideologues in Washington, the chairman of NATO’s military committee, General Petr Pavel, admitted during a press conference in Brussels in recent weeks that Russia was not considered a threat:


It is not the aim of NATO to create a military barrier against broad-scale Russian aggression, because such aggression is not on the agenda and no intelligence assessment suggests such a thing.


As Brown concludes in his review of Perry’s book, we seem to be potentially “sleepwalking” into Armageddon.


While many complain of the obvious dysfunction in Washington, few see the incomparably greater danger of “nuclear doom” because it is hidden and out of public consciousness.  Despite an election year filled with commentary and debate, no one is discussing the major issues that trouble Parry.  It is another example of the rigid conformity that often dominates public discourse.  Long ago, I saw this in the Vietnam War and later in the invasion of Iraq; intelligent people were doing mindless – and catastrophic – things.  “Sleepwalking” is the term historians now use for the stupidities that got European leaders into World War I and for the mess they unleashed at Versailles.  And sleepwalking still continues as NATO and Russia trade epithets and build their armies and Moscow and Washington modernize their nuclear overkill.  A new cold war.  Fortunately, Bill Parry is not sleepwalking and he is telling us, in My Journey at the Nuclear Brink, to wake up before it is too late.


*Note:  William Perry is currently a member of the American Committee for East West Accord, which seeks détente between the U.S. and Russia






Russia’s Inflation & Unemployment Rates Low; Putin Warns of Consequences if Finland Joins NATO; Gen. Breedlove’s Emails Show He Actively Sought to Escalate Tensions with Russia Over Ukriane

Monument to the Soviet Worker, Moscow, Russia
Monument to the Soviet Worker, Moscow, Russia; photo by Natylie S. Baldwin, 2015


Based on statistics recently released by Russia’s government statistical agency, Rosstat, and the Russian Central Bank, analyst Alexander Mercouris writes that Russia’s current rates of inflation and unemployment are at healthy lows.  Moreover, very modest growth is expected for the rest of the year and into 2017 and 2018, with growth expected to tick up closer to an annual rate of ~4% in 2019:

Contrary to the Central Bank’s earlier predictions the annualised rate of inflation remained steady in June despite claims that it would go above 8% because of the base effect.  The annualised rate of inflation at the end of June instead turned out to be 7.4% compared to 7.3% in the previous months.  The true rate of inflation after eliminating all statistical anomalies remains rock steady at 0.1% per week (between 5 – 6% for the whole year) where it has been for months.  The Central Bank is now admitting that there will probably be deflation in August – a month when inflation in Russia traditionally falls – and that the annualised rate of inflation for the whole year could be as low as 5.5%.  The Economics Ministry more pessimistically predicts 5.9%.


….Meanwhile the Central Bank is now also predicting growth in the second and third quarters whilst unemployment – perhaps the strongest single indicator of the state of the economy – fell from 5.9% in April to 5.6% in May – the lowest for 7 months.   Meanwhile PMI for manufacturing in June stood at 51.5 – up from 49.6 in May – with any figure above 50 pointing to expansion and any figure below 50 pointing to contraction.  This is the best PMI outcome for 20 months, and is a further strong indicator of recovery.


Finland, which shares a long border with Russia, is not a member of NATO, and had essentially a neutral status during the Cold War.   However, there have reportedly been attempts made since the Ukraine crisis to get Finland to take a harder stance against Russia and perhaps to even consider joining NATO, even though a majority of Finns do not want to join the alliance and wish to continue important trade relations with their big neighbor to the east.  With respect to potential membership of Finland in NATO, Putin said the following at a post-meeting joint press conference, according to Reuters:


Finnish armed forces “would become part of NATO’s military infrastructure, which overnight would be at the borders of the Russian Federation”, Putin said after meeting Finnish President Sauli Niinisto.


“Do you think we will keep it as it is: our troops at 1,500 (kilometers, 900 miles) away?”


“NATO perhaps would gladly fight with Russia until the last Finnish soldier,” Putin said.


“Do you guys need it? We don’t. We don’t want it. But it is your call.”


Journalist Lee Fang reports over at The Intercept, that hacked emails from the Gmail account of retired NATO General Philip Breedlove, show that he actively sought out academics and other high-ranking military officers, such as Colin Powell and Wesley Clark, to help him persuade president Obama to escalate the Ukraine crisis by sending weapons to the coup government in Kiev.


“Given Obama’s instruction to you not to start a war, this may be a tough sell,” [The Atlantic Council’s Harlan] Ullman replied a few months later, in another string of emails about Breedlove’s effort to “leverage, cajole, convince or coerce the U.S. to react” to Russia.

….Phillip Karber, an academic who corresponded regularly with Breedlove — providing him with advice and intelligence on the Ukrainian crisis — verified the authenticity of several of the emails in the leaked cache. He also told The Intercept that Breedlove confirmed to him that the general’s Gmail account was hacked and that the incident had been reported to the government.

NATO War Games in Ukraine; Russia & Turkey Bury the Hatchet; Canada’s Intel Agency Doesn’t Think Russia is Doomed; Putin Grand Strategy?

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


On June 27th, NATO continued on with its needlessly provocative actions by mounting war games in western Ukraine.   Press TV provides details:

The war games, dubbed Rapid Trident 2016, kicked off at 9 am local time on June 27 at the International Peacekeeping and Security Center (IPSC) in Yavoriv in western Ukraine, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said.


At least 2,000 troops from more than 14 NATO member states and their partners in eastern Europe are attending  the exercises, according to the ministry. The maneuvers will involve military equipment, including armored vehicles, military helicopters and aircraft. The first part of the annual military exercise will come to an end on July 8.


Conducted annually, Rapid Trident this year involves Ukraine, the United States, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Georgia, The United Kingdom, Moldova, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Romania, Sweden and Turkey.


Fox News has additional details, including a quote from Russia’s ambassador to NATO in reply to the maneuvers:


“Those measures significantly erode the quality of regional security, in fact turning central and eastern Europe into an arena of military confrontation,” Russia’s ambassador to NATO Alexander Grushko said, adding that NATO’s decision “directly infringes on our legitimate security interests” and “won’t be left unanswered”.


The NATO allies also discussed establishing a Romanian-led multinational “framework brigade” of ground troops to help defend the Black Sea area.


Grushko also criticized NATO’s pledge to offer non-lethal assistance to Ukraine, saying it could encourage its reluctance to abide by the Minsk-2 peace agreement for eastern Ukraine. The deal has helped reduce hostilities in eastern Ukraine, but fighting has continued and a political settlement has stalled.


More than 9,300 people have been killed in fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists [sic] in eastern Ukraine, which erupted in April 2014 weeks after Moscow’s invasion of Crimea.


Meanwhile, Turkey’s president Erdogan sent an apology letter to Russian President Putin with respect to the shooting down of a Russian SU-24 last November, an incident in which the pilot was shot to death after bailing from the plane.   Another Russian pilot was killed while trying to mount a rescue operation by helicopter.   A member of a reactionary Turkish militia who confessed to the shooting murder of the Russian SU-24 pilot has been arrested and is awaiting trial in Turkey.


After receiving the letter, Putin called Erdogan.  For an analysis of what was agreed to by Putin and Erdogan in the phone call, see:


Putin reportedly offered his condolences to Erdogan on the recent terror attacks at Turkey’s main airport.


Professor Paul Robinson, over at the Irrussianality blog, discusses a Canadian intelligence report that just came out, which acknowledges that Russia is not circling the drain but is actually holding up reasonably well.   Robinson notes:


‘Russia is doomed’ is a common refrain of newspaper articles and think tank reports. It is quite refreshing, therefore, to read something which while not entirely optimistic about Russia’s immediate future is nonetheless a little more circumspect. A new report issued by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), entitled 2018 Security Outlook: Risks and Threats, aims ‘to explore the drivers influencing the security risks and potential threats related to specific regions of the world and themes by the year 2018.’ According to the introduction, ‘five leading global thinkers were commissioned’ to write about China, the Middle East, Russia, weapons of mass destruction, and ‘state power and cyber power’. CSIS doesn’t reveal who these ‘leading global thinkers’ are, but the one responsible for the chapter on Russia has produced 15 pages of sober analysis without any of the hyperbole normally associated with the subject.


Russia analyst Alexander Mercouris, motivated by observations due to his attendance at the recently concluded St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, has written an interesting piece explaining Putin’s “grand strategy” for Russia’s future:  a greater Eurasian economic zone.  The Eurasian Economic Union, a free trade zone that includes Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, will be working in tandem with China’s One Belt, One Road project, and the goal is to eventually get the EU to become a partner, creating a greater Eurasian economic zone with Russia serving as the bridge nation between the East and West.


Mercouris writes:


This is not only a strategy; it is a hugely ambitious – even grandiose – strategy.  It aims to link the two sides of the Eurasian continent into a single economic space with Russia at the centre, acting as the link and bridge.  It is a proposal not for a “Eurasia” but for a “Greater Eurasia”: a single colossal economic unit extending all the way from the Pacific to the Atlantic.  Moreover it is quite clear this project is fully supported by the Chinese leadership, China of course being the eastern half of the project.  Indeed it is a certainty the Chinese had a hand in making it and that their Silk Road project is part of it.


Far from seeking the break-up of the EU as so many neocon writers in the West claim, what Putin wants is the EU to become a full partner in this project.  Far from being forced to choose between “Russia in Europe” and “Russia in Eurasia”, Putin sees no contradiction in working towards both.  Far from wanting to choose between the EU and China as Russia’s partner, Putin wants Russia to have a partnership with both of them, bringing the two together.

Read the full article here:


Putin’s Grand Strategy: The Greater Eurasia Project

Some Thoughts on the Dynamics of Brexit and the Media Response to It



I have no opinion on Brexit and see it as an issue that is up to the British people to decide for themselves.  However, I do think the decision of the British to vote to leave the EU is understandable, whether one agrees with it or not.  Seeking to understand it is imperative as Glenn Greenwald writes in this fine analysis, excoriating many in the corporate media for their judgmentalism and refusal to understand, instead reducing a significant portion of the British public to caricatures of buffoons and racists.  Here are some highlights:


The decision by UK voters to leave the EU is such a glaring repudiation of the wisdom and relevance of elite political and media institutions that — for once — their failures have become a prominent part of the storyline.


Media reaction to the Brexit vote falls into two general categories: (1) earnest, candid attempts to understand what motivated voters to make this choice, even if that means indicting one’s own establishment circles, and (2) petulant, self-serving, simple-minded attacks on disobedient pro-leave voters for being primitive, xenophobic bigots (and stupid to boot), all to evade any reckoning with their own responsibility. Virtually every reaction that falls into the former category emphasizes the profound failures of Western establishment factions; these institutions have spawned pervasive misery and inequality, only to spew condescending scorn at their victims when they object….


…In sum, the West’s establishment credibility is dying, and their influence is precipitously eroding — all deservedly so. The frenetic pace of online media makes even the most recent events feel distant, like ancient history. That, in turn, makes it easy to lose sight of how many catastrophic and devastating failures Western elites have produced in a remarkably short period of time.


In 2003, U.S. and British elites joined together to advocate one of the most heinous and immoral aggressive wars in decades: the destruction of Iraq; that it turned out to be centrally based on falsehoods that were ratified by the most trusted institutions, as well as a complete policy failure even on its own terms, gutted public trust.


In 2008, their economic worldview and unrestrained corruption precipitated a global economic crisis that literally caused, and is still causing, billions of people to suffer — in response, they quickly protected the plutocrats who caused the crisis while leaving the victimized masses to cope with the generational fallout. Even now, Western elites continue to proselytize markets and impose free trade and globalization without the slightest concern for the vast inequality and destruction of economic security those policies generate.


In 2011, NATO bombed Libya by pretending it was motivated by humanitarianism, only to ignore that country once the fun military triumph was celebrated, thus leaving a vacuum of anarchy and militia rule for years that spread instability through the region and fueled the refugee crisis. The U.S. and its European allies continue to invade, occupy, and bomb predominantly Muslim countries while propping up their most brutal tyrants, then feign befuddlement about why anyone would want to attack them back, justifying erosions of basic liberties and more bombing campaigns and ratcheting up fear levels each time someone does. The rise of ISIS and the foothold it seized in Iraq and Libya were the direct byproducts of the West’s military actions (as even Tony Blair admitted regarding Iraq). Western societies continue to divert massive resources into military weaponry and prisons for their citizens, enriching the most powerful factions in the process, all while imposing harsh austerity on already suffering masses. In sum, Western elites thrive while everyone else loses hope.


These are not random, isolated mistakes. They are the byproduct of fundamental cultural pathologies within Western elite circles — a deep rot. Why should institutions that have repeatedly authored such travesties, and spread such misery, continue to command respect and credibility? They shouldn’t, and they’re not. As Chris Hayes warned in his 2012 book Twilight of the Elites, “Given both the scope and depth of this distrust [in elite institutions], it’s clear that we’re in the midst of something far grander and more perilous than just a crisis of government or a crisis of capitalism. We are in the midst of a broad and devastating crisis of authority.”…


…There is no one, unifying explanation for Brexit, or Trumpism, or the growing extremism of various stripes throughout the West, but this sense of angry impotence — an inability to see any option other than smashing those responsible for their plight — is undoubtedly a major factor. As Bevins put it, supporters of Trump, Brexit, and other anti-establishment movements “are motivated not so much by whether they think the projects will actually work, but more by their desire to say FUCK YOU” to those they believe (with very good reason) have failed them.


Obviously, those who are the target of this anti-establishment rage — political, economic, and media elites — are desperate to exonerate themselves, to demonstrate that they bear no responsibility for the suffering masses that are now refusing to be compliant and silent. The easiest course to achieve that goal is simply to demonize those with little power, wealth, or possibility as stupid and racist: This is only happening because they are primitive and ignorant and hateful, not because they have any legitimate grievances or because I or my friends or my elite institutions have done anything wrong. As Vice’s Michael Tracey put it:


Because that reaction is so self-protective and self-glorifying, many U.S. media elites — including those who knew almost nothing about Brexit until 48 hours ago — instantly adopted it as their preferred narrative for explaining what happened, just as they’ve done with Trump, Corbyn, Sanders, and any number of other instances where their entitlement to rule has been disregarded. They are so persuaded of their own natural superiority that any factions who refuse to see it and submit to it prove themselves, by definition, to be regressive, stunted, and amoral.


Indeed, media reaction to the Brexit vote – filled with unreflective rage, condescension, and contempt toward those who voted wrong – perfectly illustrates the dynamics that caused all of this in the first place. Media elites, by virtue of their position, adore the status quo. It rewards them, vests them with prestige and position, welcomes them into exclusive circles, allows them to be close to (if not themselves wielding) great power while traveling their country and the world, provides them with a platform, fills them with esteem and purpose. The same is true of academic elites, financial elites, and political elites. Elites love the status quo that has given them, and then protected, their elite position.


Because of how generally satisfied they are with their lot, they regard with affection and respect the internationalist institutions that safeguard the West’s prevailing order: the World Bank and IMF, NATO and the West’s military forces, the Federal Reserve, Wall Street, the EU. While they express some piecemeal criticisms of each, they literally cannot comprehend how anyone would be fundamentally disillusioned by and angry with these institutions, let alone want to break from them. They are far removed from the suffering that causes those anti-establishment sentiments. So they search and search in vain for some rationale that could explain something like Brexit, or the establishment-condemning movements on the right and left, and can find only one way to process it:These people are not motivated by any legitimate grievances or economic suffering, but instead they are just broken, ungrateful, immoral, hateful, racist, and ignorant.


Read the full article here:


For an in-depth analysis on the myth of the European Union versus the reality, see:

The Left and the EU: Why Cling to This Reactionary Institution? by Joseph Richardson at:





Online Trove of Photos Documenting 150 Years of Russian History

I had to implement the Google translate option in order to read the captions.   A few of my favorites to give you a sampling:


(Yuri Gagarin and Che Guevara, 1964;


(Leo Tolstoy and his daughter, 1902;


(Vladimir Lenin visiting Maxim Gorky in Capri, 1908;


(Ballerina Tamara Karsavina, circa 1910-1914;


(February Revolution, when soldiers and sailors sided with the rebels, 1917;


(Emperor Nicholas II in exile, 1918;


Read more about the project and view more photos at:



“Extending American Power” – A Sneak Peek at What a Clinton Foreign Policy May Look Like

(Extending American Power:

The Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a think tank connected to the Democratic Party, particularly with Obama’s transition team at the beginning of his first term, published a 20-page policy paper last month called “Extending American Power.”


That this think tank is already close to the Democratic Party establishment is not the only salient fact in relation to this policy paper.  It is also relevant that this paper was signed off on, with an introduction co-authored by, Robert Kagan.  For those who may need a refresher, Kagan is the philosophical standard bearer of Neoconservative thought in western corporate media (New Republic and The Washington Post) as well as co-founder of Project for a New American Century (PNAC) which pushed for the invasion of Iraq in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.  Kagan believes that the U.S. has a right and duty to be the policeman of the world and to expend whatever resources are necessary to do so under the guise of spreading (imposing) Washington’s definition of democracy by manipulation and force.  It is imperialism with a more palatable cover, using terms like human rights and democracy to get average Americans to swallow it.  Despite the fact that these democracy-spreading regime change attempts have produced death, chaos and blowback wherever they’ve been tried, such as Iraq, Kagan continues to advocate them with only the minor cosmetic change of now calling himself a “liberal interventionist” rather than a Neocon.  It should also be noted that Kagan is married to Victoria Nuland, who, in her job as Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, played a leading role in the 2014 coup in Ukraine.


The Neocons have now successfully inserted themselves into the Democratic Party where they’ve often teamed up opportunistically with the resident hawks there, such as Zbigniew Brzezinski and his protégé, Madeline Albright.  Indeed, Albright served on the Board of Directors of CNAS only a few years ago.


The policy paper is therefore what one would likely expect from the Neocon godfather who has endorsed Hillary Clinton explicitly for her Neocon foreign policy.  In 2014, Kagan said the following to the New York Times:


“I feel comfortable with her on foreign policy. If she pursues a policy which we think she will pursue it’s something that might have been called neocon, but clearly her supporters are not going to call it that; they are going to call it something else.”


In the paper’s introduction, the authors express their desire to influence a new presidential administration directly: “…with a mandate to examine the degree to which the United States can and should play a leadership role internationally, and with an eye toward policymaking in a new administration.”

The paper sets up its analysis of each of the three geographic areas of the world that it considers to be of critical importance, Asia, Europe and the Middle East, with a distorted history in which America’s policies are noble and successful.


For example, with respect to Asia, the authors state:  “U.S. leadership has been indispensable in ensuring a stable balance of power in Asia the past 70 years.”


Suffice it to say, the people of Vietnam, Cambodia, East Timor and North Korea might beg to differ with this account.


Moving on to the Middle East, the U.S.-created disasters in Iraq and Libya barely get a mention and only in passing when speaking of ISIS.  The origins of ISIS – from the chaos of the Iraq invasion and its aftermath is omitted.


Instead, we get an explanation of ISIS only as being the fault of Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad whose “brutal repression of Syria’s majority Sunni population that has created both the massive exodus and the increase in support for jihadist groups like ISIS.”


In addition to this false narrative of the relationship between ISIS and Assad, regime change in Syria is still called for:  “Any such political solution [in Syria] must include the departure of Al-Assad.”  For all the platitudes about democracy, the Syrian people are not to be consulted about this proclamation from Washington.


Furthermore, the authors call for a no-fly zone.  This, despite the fact that American military leaders have acknowledged that such a policy would be a humanitarian disaster and that it would put the U.S. toe to toe against the world’s other nuclear superpower.  Russia currently has the S400 system in place in Syria, effectively creating its own de facto no-fly zone.


None of this has stopped 50 employees in the State Department (the department of diplomacy) from expressing their opposition to president Obama’s demurrer at going all in militarily in Syria as the WSJ reported last week, speculating that this is designed to grease the skids for what the Neocon/Liberal Interventionist-infested State Department hopes will be a more hawkish occupant in the White House in January 2017:


The internal cable may be an attempt to shape the foreign policy outlook for the next administration, the official familiar with the document said. President Barack Obama has balked at taking military action against Mr. Assad, while the Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton has promised a more hawkish stance against the Syrian leader. Republican candidate Donald Trump has said he would hit Islamic State hard but has also said he would be prepared to work with Russia and Syria.


Secretary of State, John Kerry, is reportedly in solidarity with this position.  This should put to rest any notions that have been bandied about that Kerry is a force for restraint in our foreign policy as his reckless and shrill comments back in 2013 evidence.   Interesting insight into this is provided by Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell, who attended a meeting recently with Obama in which Kerry was present.  When the discussion turned to Syria, Kerry made it clear through his body language and gestures that he disagreed with Obama’s more moderate approach to Syria, according to Wilkerson.


Adding to these reckless calls, Michele Flournoy, who is associated with CNAS and is rumored to be on the short list for consideration as Secretary of Defense in a Hillary Clinton administration, advocated regime change and sending U.S. forces into Syria to push Assad’s forces out of southern Syria in a recent interview with Defense One magazine.


The Russian presence in Syria is, of course, characterized as pernicious in the CNAS report as well as in the aforementioned State Department memo, even though Russia is the only foreign actor operating legally in Syria at the request of the recognized government in Damascus.  A no-fly zone implemented in Syria by the U.S., on the other hand, would violate international law.


Speaking of international law, one of the themes throughout the paper is that the U.S.’s leadership in the world is justified, in part, to uphold “a stable rules-based international order.”  Again, Washington’s illegal aggressions, such as the invasion of Iraq and the bombing of numerous other countries, go unmentioned.


Aggression is the operative term, however, for Russia in this report:  at one point, the authors praise German Chancellor Angela Merkel for holding together the sanctions “in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”


Perhaps this is a reference to those numerous invasions of Ukraine we all heard about from NATO leaders in 2014; those times when the Russian military invaded, then retreated, then invaded again – just to be weird (hey, they’re Russian); numerous invasions that the OSCE always managed to miss when they were monitoring the border.


Weapons transfers to the Kiev regime under the guise of defense are a possibility as the authors state:  “The United States must provide Ukrainian armed forces with the training and equipment necessary to resist Russian-backed forces and Russian forces operating on Ukrainian territory.”


Of course, any military “equipment” or weapons could be just as easily put to offensive use as defensive (to “resist”).  It is telling that the Minsk agreement is not mentioned once, as though it doesn’t even exist – like so many other inconvenient facts for the authors of this report.


Unsubstantiated assertions that Russia is a threat to the Baltic nations are trotted out to justify more of the current provocative actions by NATO: “The Baltics in particular are vulnerable to both direct attack and the more complicated “hybrid” warfare [never defined] that Russia has displayed in Ukraine.”


The solution, according to the authors, is more of the same sort of policies that have contributed to current tensions – the most dangerous in decades:  “…establish a more robust U.S. force presence in appropriate central and eastern European countries, which should include a mix of permanently stationed forces, rotationally deployed forces, prepositioned equipment, access arrangements and a more robust schedule of military training and exercises.”


As Russia expert Stephen F. Cohen pointed out in a recent interview with John Batchelor, unlike the first Cold War, which had military dividing lines between NATO and the Soviet Union in Berlin, the current military lines are right on Russia’s borders – just kilometers away from St. Petersburg.  NATO, controlled by Washington, is recklessly backing Russia into a corner with nowhere to retreat to.


To continue facilitating this grand strategy of American power and indispensability to the entire globe, the authors propose even more spending on the military and national security state:  “An urgent first step is to significantly increase U.S. national security and defense spending and eliminate the budgetary straitjacket of the Budget Control Act.”


Military spending is already 54% of our discretionary budget, totaling $598 billion.* (This does not include the separate “Overseas Contingency Operations” budget worth another $64 billion or the “black budget” estimated at an additional $52 billion for classified operations). This would make it more than during the first Cold War when the U.S. was taking on a much larger “enemy” with a bigger military and an official policy of supporting communist revolution.  But, somehow, now, when we spend 8 times more than Russia and have over 700 hundred military bases around the globe, the still-largest economy (except for perhaps China), we need to spend even more to take on a couple of “regional powers” and relatively low-tech terrorists.  Really?


The American people in general do not seem to buy into this premise as reflected in a poll released in March of this year, showing that the majority of Democrats and independents supported cutting the military budget by $20 billion – $36 billion, while half of Republicans supported significant cuts.


It might be instructive at this point to look into who the major funders are of this illustrious establishment think tank.  The list is available here.  Unsurprisingly, one will find defense contractors, along with the fossil fuel industry, comprise the majority.


It’s disconcerting to know that the fate of the world may rest in the hands of those beholden to a combination of die-hard ideologues and war profiteers.



*Figures are for 2015


Kathy Kelly: Why Go to Russia?


Church on Spilt Blood, St. Petersburg, Russia; Photo by Natylie S. Baldwin, 2015
Church on Spilt Blood, St. Petersburg, Russia; Photo by Natylie S. Baldwin, 2015

In this article, long-time peace activist, Kathy Kelly, explains why she decided to join a  citizen diplomacy delegation to Russia, led by Sharon Tennison and the Center for Citizen Initiatives.  The delegation is currently in Crimea, after having spent several days in Moscow.   They will also be visiting Krasnodar and St. Petersburg. The delegation’s other members include retired CIA analyst Ray McGovern and Col. Ann Wright.


It’s important for U.S. people to learn more, from ordinary Russian people, about their responses to troop build-up and new bases on their borders, threatening military exercises, and antagonistic arsenals of nuclear weapons on high alert. As President Vladimir Putin begins summoning a new Russian National Guard that could include 400,000 troops, it’s also important to hear how Russian people feel about this development.

Rather than foster cartoon[ish] versions of foreign policy, the media should help people recognize complexity in Russian society and include awareness of desires to live in peace on the part of most people in both countries.

U.S. people committed to peace making might help ordinary Russians sense the complexity of U.S. society and better understand how U.S. military spending and build up toward war adversely affects civil society in the U.S.


Read the full article here:

75th Anniversary of Nazi Invasion of Soviet Union – Operation Barbarossa

Inline image 1



Due to a lack of natural barriers, such as oceans and mountain ranges, Russia has a history of invasions from all different directions, particularly from the west.  Within the span of 25 years  in the first half of the 20th century, Russia was invaded twice by Germany.  The Soviet Union suffered up to 27 million deaths – 19 million of them civilians – in order to fight off the Nazis, according  to ethnographer Michelle Parsons, and a third of the country was destroyed.


For a sense of perspective, the U.S. suffered 400, 000 deaths and saw no fighting on its territory during WWII (except for the attack at Pearl Harbor).  The U.S. has a vast ocean on either side and relatively friendly neighbors to the north and south as well as possession of a nuclear arsenal since 1945.  This has all likely contributed to the fact that the U.S. has not experienced a war on its soil for over 150 years – and that did not involve a foreign invasion.  This, no doubt, has shaped a certain mentality about war in American culture, the fact that we have been pretty insulated from it.


On the other hand, Russia’s mentality has been shaped via a history of violation, destruction and loss of life on a level that would be difficult for the average American to wrap their mind around.


It was 75 years ago today that Adolph Hitler ordered Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, a move that would prove the extent of Hitler’s hubris, even going so far as to plan to celebrate the taking of Leningrad at the Astoria Hotel, having actually printed up the invitations.


Astoria Hotel, St. Petersburg; Photo by Natylie S. Baldwin, 2015
Astoria Hotel, St. Petersburg; Photo by Natylie S. Baldwin, 2015


Irish professor of history, Geoffrey Roberts, described Operation Barbarossa as follows:


The aim of Barbarossa was to conquer Russia in the course of a single Blitzkrieg campaign. Hitler and and his generals thought that it would take only a few months to destroy the Red Army, capture Leningrad and Moscow and occupy the western half of the Soviet Union along a line from Archangel to Astrakhan.  “The world will hold its breath,” said Hitler as he reassured his generals that all they had to do was kick the door in and the whole rotten structure of the Soviet communist system would collapse.


Another history professor, Michael Jabara Carley, at the University of Montreal, adds that British and U.S. intelligence virtually agreed with Hitler’s assessment that the Soviet Union would fall quickly in the face of the Wehrmacht.   He also details how it was the Soviet Union that eventually, in British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s words, “tore the guts out of the Wehrmacht,” despite the subsequent American narrative that it was the U.S. that primarily won WWII in Europe.


[Germany] made large territorial gains but at the loss of an estimated 7,000 casualties a day. This was a new experience for the Germans who until then had destroyed every adversary they faced with relatively little loss to themselves. Poland was essentially beaten in four days; France, in six. The British army was run out of Europe, first at Dunkirk, where it left all its arms, and then in Greece and Crete which were fresh British fiascos. There were also others later on in North Africa. The Wehrmacht was finally beaten at the battle of Moscow in December 1941, long after British and US intelligence said the war in the east would be over. It was the first time the Wehrmacht had suffered a strategic defeat….


1942 was another year of sorrow and sacrifice for the Soviet Union. Everyone knew that the Red Army was carrying the main burden of the war against Germany.


In the autumn Soviet forces fought with their backs against the Volga in Stalingrad. Someone said Stalingrad was Hell. «No, no», another replied, «it was ten times worse than Hell». The Red Army won this ferocious battle, and the last German soldiers surrendered on 3 February 1943, fifteen months before the Normandy landings in France. On that date there was not a single US or British division fighting on the ground in Europe, not one. In March 1943 the tally of German and Axis casualties was enormous: 68 German, 19 Romanian, 10 Hungarian and 10 Italian divisions were mauled or destroyed. That represented 43% of Axis forces in the east. Many historians and contemporaries from clerks in the British Foreign Office to President Franklin Roosevelt in Washington thought that Stalingrad marked the turning of the tide of war against Hitler.


February 2, 2015 — 72nd Anniversary of the Victory at Stalingrad | The Motherland Calls monument in Volgograd, raised for heroes of the Battle of Stalingrad

(The Motherland Calls, monument to Battle of Stalingrad, Volgograd, Russia;

Carley also challenges the oft-cited accusation against the Soviet Union that it freely chose to enter into the 1939 Non-Aggression pact with Hitler instead of negotiating with what became the Allied powers to oppose Germany.


In May 1939 [Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav] Molotov even offered support to Poland, quickly rejected by Warsaw. Had the Poles lost their senses; did they ever have any? When British and French delegations arrived in Moscow in August to discuss an anti-Nazi alliance, you might think they would have been serious about getting down to business. War was expected to break out at any time. But no, not even then: British instructions were to «go very slowly». The delegations did too. It took them five days to get to Russia in an old, chartered merchantman, making a top speed of 13 knots. The British head of delegation did not have written powers giving him authority to conclude an agreement with his Soviet «partners». For Stalin, that must have been the camel breaking straw. The Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact was signed on 23 August 1939. The failure of the negotiations with the British and French led to the non-aggression pact, rather than the other way around.


The Stories We Tell

(American Progress, an 1872 painting by John Gast, is an allegorical representation of the modernization of the new west. Here Columbia, a personification of the United States, leads civilization westward with American settlers;


The Greater Good project at UC Berkeley recently published an article, The Science of the Story which discusses the science behind storytelling – how it affects humans on a biological level and its implications, both for forging empathy and for potentially exerting control. The article states:


Experiencing a story alters our neurochemical processes, and stories are a powerful force in shaping human behavior. In this way, stories are not just instruments of connection and entertainment but also of control.

This article naturally interested me as a fiction writer; but it interested me just as much as an analyst on Russia and U.S. foreign policy.  In terms of the stories we tell about the other and how that shapes policy and vice versa, potentially leading to a vicious circle with terrible ramifications, understanding the consequences of the narrative is critical.  My attempts, via articles and blog posts, to provide facts and information about Russia to counter the distortions we constantly hear from our politicians and media that paint that country in a bleak and ominous manner are an important part of that.


However, just as important as the story we tell about Russia (or any other country) is the story we tell about ourselves. As Stephen Kinzer discussed in the presentation I posted a few days ago, there has been a strong strain within our culture from its earliest days to view America as a shining city on a hill with a special God-given mission to remake the world in our image.  In the 19th century it was known as Manifest Destiny, in the 20th century we represented the Free World against the “Evil Empire” during the Cold War, and today it is Exceptionalism with a mission of spreading democracy and a “Responsibility to Protect.”


As David S. Foglesong, an historian at Rutgers University, points out in his 2007 book The American Mission and the “Evil Empire,” this self-righteous impulse to convert or reform in relation to Russia has existed to varying degrees since the late 19th century:


There was something about Russia that made it more persistently fascinating. Since Russia could be seen as both like and unlike America – both Christian and heathen, European and Asiatic, white and dark – gazing at Russia involved the strange fascination of looking into a skewed mirror.  The commonalities, such as youth, vast territory and frontier expansion that made Russia seem akin to the United States for much of the 19th century served to make Russia especially fitted for the role of “imaginary twin” or “dark double” that it assumed after the 1880’s and continued to play through the 20th century.  Soviet communism, as an atheist and universalist ideology, came to seem, more than any other rival creed, the antithesis of the American spirit.  Thus, more enduringly than any other country, Russia came to be seen as both an object of the American mission and the opposite of American virtues.  (page 6)

This dynamic of fascination and revulsion and the role of “dark double” are reminiscent of what Carl Jung referred to as the “shadow” – that part of one’s self that one doesn’t like and doesn’t even wish to acknowledge.  This denial inevitably leads to pathology in the individual.


Something similar can be seen in the earliest days of America’s messianic attitude toward Russia (and others) as Foglesong highlights how the height of the sanctimonious condemnations against the alleged sins of Tsarist Russia in the late 19th century coincided with the rise of domestic problems in America, which showed that all was far from perfect up on the hill. These included:


…declining religious faith, demoralizing materialism, dishonorable treatment of Native Americans, and the disenfranchisement and lynching of African-Americans.  Discomfort with such troubles inclined journalists, editors, ministers, and other opinion leaders to emphasize problems in Russia that made American imperfections pale in comparison.  Thus as Americans resolved uncertainties and conflicting notions about Russia, that country gradually came to serve as a “dark double” or “imaginary twin” for the United States….Treating Russia as both a whipping boy and a potential beneficiary of American philanthropy fostered in many Americans a heady sense of their country’s unique blessings, and reaffirmed their special role in the world. (pages 11-12)

This superior self-image and messianic tendency is rooted in the Puritan/Calvinist strain of Protestantism of the early European settlers.  Foglesong also documents that the journalists and activists who were most responsible for portraying Russia in the late 19th and early 20th century as unusually brutal, backward and repressive and consequently stirring up public opinion against the Tsarist government, had religious backgrounds.


A prime example is George Kennan, a journalist who actually began his career as a skeptic of Russia’s revolutionary movement.  But a sequence of events while on assignment investigating Russia’s exile system for Century magazine in 1884-85 resulted in a conversion of sorts.  Kennan had a religious upbringing but became disillusioned in terms of trying to reconcile his faith with science and his observations during his travels as a journalist.  After meetings with some of the revolutionaries, he began to sympathize with what he saw as their sophisticated western-style intellectualism.  This sympathy deepened after he got sick in the borderlands between Russia and Mongolia and he encountered Russian exiles whose courage and endurance inspired him.


Kennan soon took up the revolutionaries’ cause against the “evil” Tsarist government.  In his zeal, however, Kennan became less objective in his reporting and often disseminated embellished or even fabricated events and characterizations of the conditions in Russia, portraying the Tsarist government in the most simplistic and blackest terms.


As biographer Frederick Travis has shown, Kennan exaggerated conditions and invented episodes in order to paint Siberian prisons “in even blacker colors than the shade that some of them so richly deserved.”  Only a few years earlier Kennan had maintained that the exile system was no worse than western prisons, but now he rejected such comparisons and insisted upon absolutist moral condemnation of tsarist brutality.  (page 17)


Kennan also misrepresented how America was viewed by Russians, particularly Russian political dissidents who had largely been disabused of their idealistic notions of America and its capitalist system after visiting here in the 1870’s, subsequently exploring socialism as an alternative foundation for reform or revolution.    Foglesong also makes the point that Kennan and other crusaders for a “free Russia” showed little interest in what the majority of Russians actually thought about the prospect of being “saved” by these self-appointed forces of light, a glaring omission in the American discourse.


The similarities of these early writers and their agenda to the dynamics of the secular missionary writers of today, like Masha Gessen, Edward Lucas and Anne Applebaum, with their never-ending depictions of contemporary Russia as a nightmarish cesspit lorded over by a demonic Putin, who is preventing the Russian masses from realizing their profound desire to become Americans in furry hats, is striking.


Of course, a narrative in which one necessarily represents a paragon of goodness requires an evil other as a contrast to continually demonstrate that goodness.  And when one’s self-image is that of the righteous against an evil foe, it then justifies virtually any means to convert or vanquish the evil – coups, assassinations, massive bombing campaigns (“we had to destroy the village in order to save it”), perhaps even a nuclear first strike as some of president Kennedy’s military advisers had recommended in the early 1960’s – a possibility that some in Washington apparently have not taken off the table.  The recent installation of a missile shield in Romania aimed at undermining Russia’s capability for a retaliatory nuclear strike, despite Washington’s implausible denials, only feeds into this dangerous notion.


Even the 19th century advocates of Manifest Destiny in all its expansionist flavors had their ideological opponents, those who challenged the notion that American righteousness was a self-evident truth and that it justified imposing its way on other parts of the world.  Instead, they argued that the wisest path was for America to focus on solving its own problems, being the best country it could be and to, hence, serve as an example to others.

The story of being exceptional, with the implication that others are less and in need of reform, conversion or even destruction if they refuse American demands to figuratively “come to Jesus”, is a dangerous one.   Where are those today who can offer a valuable alternative narrative that is needed more than ever in a nuclear-armed world?