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Breaking: U.S. Airstrike Reportedly Kills Iran’s Top Military Commander

Details are still coming in but it is being reported by Iraqi media and others that Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, has been killed in a U.S. airstrike. Almasdar News is reporting:

The head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, has reportedly been killed in a strike near the Baghdad International Airport, along with senior leaders of the Iraqi Shia militia the US blamed for the attack on its embassy.

“The American and Israeli enemy is responsible for killing the mujahideen Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Qassem Soleimani,” said Ahmed al-Assadi, a spokesman for Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces, as cited by Reuters…

…Reuters reported that the Pentagon has claimed responsibility for the strike, citing an unnamed US official.

According to the military analyst The Saker, Russian media is reporting the following:

The Telegram channel of RIA News reports that the US has claimed that it was responsible for that attack.

So far, PressTV [Iranian state news outlet] has NOT confirmed the death of Soleimani but other media outlets have.

Middle East analyst Danny Makki explained on Twitter the significance of the killing of Soleimani:

Qassem Suleimani was more than just a General or a military leader, he was Iran’s ultimate symbol of power, strength & influence in the Middle East, rushing between Lebanon, Iraq and Syria, his assassination is not just an escalation, its effectively a declaration of war.

Two questions come to mind. First, how can Iran not treat this as an overt act of war? Secondly, how was this act by the U.S. government in the interest of Americans?

Update #1: It is now being reported that Trump personally ordered the assassination of Suleimani.

Iran expert Trita Parsi has publicly said the following:

Spoke to a very knowledgeable person about what Iran’s response to Soleimani’s assassination might be. This would be the equivalent of Iran assassinating Petreus or Mattis, I argued. No, he responded, this is much bigger than that…

Update #2: Here are a couple of videos from The Hill’s Rising morning show in which Iran expert Trita Parsi is interviewed, along with journalist Aaron Mate.

Putin’s Comments on Possible Changes to Russian Constitution; Successful Prisoner Exchange Between Kiev and Donbas as Ukraine & Russia Reach Gas Deal

Alexei Druzhinin/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images

During his traditional end of year Q&A on December 19th, Putin made some comments about possible changes that could be made to the Russian constitution. These comments have been the subject of some attention by international media and Russia watchers. This has included some strange interpretations suggesting that Putin may use the mentioned changes to somehow finagle staying in office past 2024 when his current presidential term ends.

As context for Putin’s comments, currently the Russian constitution states that a president cannot serve more than two consecutive terms. The 1993 constitution came about as a result of the showdown that had arisen that year between Yeltsin and the Duma – which tried to rein in his abuses of power. The standoff was resolved when Yeltsin ordered the military to attack the parliament building with force, killing around 500 and wounding around 1,000. The 1993 constitution consequently provided for a strong executive and a weak legislative branch. Putin inherited this arrangement and has utilized it to great effect to implement his agenda, but he was not responsible for its establishment.

Below is a transcript of Putin’s remarks regarding the constitution, including the question that prompted them:

Yelena Glushakova: Yelena Glushakova, RIA Novosti.

Since you mentioned that you are a lawyer, the first part of my question relates to legal matters, Mr President. My question will be on the Constitution. In your opinion, could it be that the time has come to amend the Constitution? These questions surface every now and then, and have recently been discussed. If the time has come, what part could be changed? Are you satisfied with the amendments that were introduced ten years ago to change some articles in our Constitution?

The second part of my question is about politics, and relates to the political system our country has. Within a few days, it will be 20 years since you came to the helm. Is there a need, in your opinion, to make changes, like maybe reassigning powers between the parliament, the government or even the president?

And my final question, if you allow me. Do we have competition in Russian politics, in your opinion?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Regarding the Constitution, this is a live tool that has to keep up with the evolution of society. However, it is my belief that we do not have to change the Constitution, I mean adopt a new one, especially since it sets forth some fundamental principles that we have yet to fully achieve. This refers to its first chapter. I believe this part to be sacrosanct.

All the other provisions can be amended in one way or another. I am aware of the ongoing debates on this subject; I see them and hear them. I understand the logic behind what others propose. This is related to possibly expanding the powers of parliament and changing to some extent the powers of the president and the government. But all this has to be well prepared, result from a meaningful debate within society, and be carried out with extreme caution.

Regarding the past amendments, as far as I know, they were related to the number of terms. What could be done in this respect? We could take out the mention of “consecutive” terms. We have this provision, and yours truly served for two consecutive terms, then left this office and had the constitutional right to once again become president, because this did not interfere with the “two consecutive terms” limit. Some political observers and civil society activists have voiced misgivings over this provision. We can probably remove it.

There are some other questions, but they are more about preferences rather than necessity.

I can once again mention the powers of parliament. I do understand political parties, especially those represented in parliament, that believe that we have reached a level in the development of parliamentarism in Russia when parliament could take on additional functions and assume greater responsibility. All we need is to give this idea serious thought.

As for competition in politics, 54 parties are registered in Russia, and four of them I believe are about to be dissolved. Still, 50 parties is a good number, and 12 of them operate at the federal level. I believe that this meets the standard for political competition.

My guess is that Putin will step down in 2024 with a chosen successor who will run successfully in the election. Putin, barring a serious breakdown in physical or cognitive health, will likely still have a strong advisory role behind the scenes.

Over the weekend, it was announced that a large prisoner exchange was successfully completed pursuant to the recent Normandy meeting. Democracy Now! reported the following details on December 30th:

Ukrainian government forces and Russia-backed separatists completed a prisoner swap Sunday in Eastern Ukraine. The office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced at least 76 pro-government prisoners had been returned in exchange for over 120 pro-Russia detainees. Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed on the exchange during peace talks in Paris earlier this month.

Meanwhile, Reuters is reporting that a gas transit deal was finally reached between Ukraine and Russia’s Gazprom just before the current deal was set to expire December 31st.

MOSCOW/KIEV (Reuters) – Russian and Ukrainian companies signed a final five-year agreement safeguarding Russian gas transit to Europe via Ukraine, Kremlin-controlled gas giant Gazprom and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Monday night…

…The final deal on the Russian gas transit to Europe via Ukraine was finally sealed after the two countries initially agreed on the protocol on Dec. 20

Payment of $2.9 billion in legal damages by Russia to Ukraine on Friday was one of the key issues standing in the way of the gas deal. In response, Ukraine dropped more multibillion-dollar legal claims against Russia.

Iraqis Storm US Embassy in Baghdad After US Bombing of Militias; Iran, Russia and China Conduct Joint Naval Exercises in Gulf of Oman

In response to an attack last Friday in Iraq that killed a U.S. military contractor and injured several U.S. servicemembers, the U.S. bombed Iraqi Shia militias known as Popular Mobilization Units (PMU’s), particularly one known as Ketaib Hezbollah, which it claimed was responsible for the Friday attack. The Iraq government warned Washington not to conduct the retaliatory attack, citing violation of Iraq’s sovereignty. The conflict has arisen amid a climate of relations that were already frayed as many of the recent popular protests in Iraq were partly an expression of disgust about perceived foreign control of the country by both the U.S. and neighboring Iran, in addition to domestic grievances. Common Dreams reported the following:

The U.S. strikes, which hit targets in Syria and Iraq, killed at least 25 people and injured dozens more.

The bombing campaign sparked swift condemnation from Iraqi leaders and warnings of a devastating proxy war between the U.S. and Iran, which the Trump administration says is funding and arming Iraqi militias.

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi on Sunday called the U.S. strikes “a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and a dangerous escalation that threatens the security of Iraq and the region.”

Further reporting reveals Washington using the attacks in an apparent attempt to try to escalate tensions with Iran, claiming – without evidence – that Iran was behind the Friday attacks and that the PMU’s are proxies for Iran. This is in spite denials of responsibility and condemnation for the attack by Iran:

Following Sunday’s US attacks on Iraqi militia bases in western Iraq and eastern Syria, the US State Department is now saying that the attacks were a “defensive action,” and also were carried out as a “warning” against neighboring Iran.

As the U.S. bombing further inflamed tensions in Iraq, angry protesters stormed the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, forcing embassy staff to flee the building.

Trump is publicly blaming this turn of events on Iran also, stating in a tweet:

“Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many,” Trump tweeted. “We strongly responded, and always will. Now Iran is orchestrating an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. They will be held fully responsible. In addition, we expect Iraq to use its forces to protect the Embassy, and so notified!”

A warship sails while approaching Iran’s southeastern port city of Chahbahar, in the Gulf of Oman. Iran’s navy on Friday kicked off the first joint naval drill with Russia and China in the northern part of the Indian Ocean. (Iranian Army via AP)

Yesterday, Iran completed four days of joint naval maneuvers with Russia and China off the coast of Iran in the Gulf of Oman. According to the WSWS:

The chief of the Iranian fleet participating in the exercise, Rear Admiral Gholamreza Tahani, said that its purpose was to demonstrate the close relations between Iran, Russia and China. “The message of this exercise is peace, friendship and lasting security through cooperation and unity, and its effect will be to show that Iran cannot be isolated,” Tahani said. He added, “Us hosting these powers shows that our relations have reached a meaningful point and may have an international impact.”

The Israeli government didn’t miss an opportunity to lobby for war against Iran on the eve of the maneuvers:

As Russian warships arrived in Iran [last] Wednesday, Israel’s Army Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi called for military action against Iran. “It would be better if we weren’t the only ones responding to them,” Kohavi said, in what the Times of Israel called a rebuke to Washington, the Saudi monarchy and other Persian Gulf oil sheikdoms for not attacking Iran earlier. Kohavi added that Israeli forces would operate openly as well as clandestinely across the area, “even at the risk of war.”

Representatives of both Russia and China sought to downplay tensions while insisting that the maneuvers were meant only to increase stability in the region and cooperation among the three nations:

Russian and Chinese officials guardedly expressed concern over possible war and their support for Iran. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said: “We are dealing with the issues of maintaining stability in the region, security and the fight against terrorism. This co-operation and interaction are built on both a bilateral and multilateral basis but exclusively on a legal basis.”

Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian said, “The drill will deepen exchange and cooperation between the navies of the three countries.” Wu called the exercises “normal military-to-military co-operation,” adding that they were “not necessarily connected with the regional situation,” an apparent reference to the risk of a US war of aggression against Iran.

In the event that the U.S. and/or Israel were to attack Iran, I think it would be unlikely for Russia or China to directly intervene in fighting. However, both countries, especially Russia, would go into overdrive diplomatically to de-escalate the situation. If that failed, then either or both countries may provide indirect support to Iran. Both China and the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union are heavily invested in the New Silk Road/Belt-and-Road Initiative (BRI) which seeks to connect Asia, Europe and the Middle East in an economic and trade consortium. Iran is viewed as a critical hub in this program. Therefore, peace and stability is the primary goal of all three nations. Conversely, certain strategists in Washington would be just fine with keeping the region de-stabilized in order to prevent the successful viability of BRI, which would represent more strengthening of the region while the U.S. declines as the lone superpower.

The Myth of Russia Wanting to Take the Baltics

I was watching a video by one of my favorite political analysts recently – it involved a discussion of Turkey’s role in NATO. At one point in the video, she started talking about some hypothetical situations that would have implications for NATO and mentioned “Russia taking the Baltics” as one of them. It was then that I knew she was getting over her skis, as they say.

Of course, she’s not the only one to repeat this myth about Russia potentially having designs on the three small Baltic nations on its northwestern border: Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. So let’s take a look at why the idea of Russia taking over the Baltic nations is a ridiculous notion.

Image result for map of russia
The University of Texas Library

First, as you can see from the map above, Russia has more territory than it knows what to do with. Trust me, they don’t need or want more territory.

Second, Russia already has plenty of resources to exploit for the next several decades, at least.

Third – and this is not intended to be offensive to anyone living in or from the Baltic nations – but they don’t have any resources to speak of and have a lot of economic problems. They aren’t exactly bright, shiny objects that a neighbor couldn’t resist coveting.

Therefore, if Russia were to take over the Baltic nations, it would be taking on an economic liability, it would be forced to try to govern over populations that would be openly hostile, and it would face even stronger international condemnation and sanctions. Tell me again why they would want to do this?

Now here is where some people might try to push another fallacy to support this one: Russia has shown that it is an aggressor with respect to Georgia and Ukraine. For anyone who still believes these assertions, please take a look at the 2009 EU report on the Georgian-Russian War of 2008. It concludes that Georgia started the war with military incursions into South Ossetia which killed Russian peacekeepers. Russia responded militarily. One can debate whether Russia’s military response was disproportionate or not, but it is demonstrably untrue to assert that Russia started it and was therefore the aggressor.

With respect to the Ukraine crisis, there was a provocative coup supported by the west in 2014 that removed a democratically elected leader in Kiev, which led to dangers against the Russian speaking populations in Donbas and Crimea. It also was a perceived threat to Russia’s naval base in Sevastopol. For a more in-depth deconstruction of what happened, please see my articles here and here. For a more in-depth discussion of what happened specifically with Crimea, please see the article I wrote based on my travels to Crimea and interviews with a cross-section of Crimeans about the events that took place there in 2013-2014. These articles show that Russia reacted to events but did not initiate them and was not the aggressor.

It should also be noted that Russia reacting strongly to these events was entirely predictable to anyone who had any substantive knowledge about Russia and wasn’t completely blinded by ideology. Georgia and, particularly, Ukraine in NATO is a red line for Russia’s national security interests. This has nothing to do with Putin personally. It has to do with Russia’s history and geography.

Russia does not have natural barriers like oceans and mountain ranges and consequently it has historically experienced numerous invasions. The Mongols viciously invaded twice in the 13th century, Napoleon invaded in the early 19th century, and Hitler invaded in 1941. It is the Nazi invasion that is the most poignant to consider here as virtually all Russian families were affected and many currently living Russians have heard stories directly from relatives (parents, aunts/uncles, grandparents) about the Great Patriotic War as WWII is referred to in Russia.

The Soviet Union lost 27 million people as a result of WWII – the most of any country – including 17-19 million civilians. It also saw around 1/3 of its country destroyed. By comparison, the United States lost around 400,000 and saw no damage to its homeland. In Mein Kampf, Hitler had referred to Slavs as sub-human in addition to Jews. For more on what the Soviets experienced as a result of the Nazi invasion, see this previous post.

Both times the Germans invaded Russia in the 20th century (WWI and WWII), they came in through the Ukrainian corridor. No Russian leader – whether Putin or anyone else – would survive politically if they just sat there with their thumb up their rear while Ukraine joined NATO. From the Russian point of view, it is a national security imperative to oppose this.

Now, back to the Baltics. The only conceivable way that Russia would enter the Baltics is if one or more of these nations became a battleground as the result of NATO attack against Russia. While NATO is a hostile military alliance that keeps needling Russia by expanding up to its borders, it’s unlikely that NATO would intentionally attack Russia, but mistakes or miscommunications can easily lead to dangerous escalations, particularly if they occur within the backdrop of tensions that have been continuously stoked to score domestic political points.

So who benefits from this myth that Russia wants to take over the Baltics? First of all, it’s a NATO talking point that provides justification for its existence. It also provides justification for continued weapons sales to the Baltics and other Eastern European countries that must keep up with NATO requirements – thus, feeding the voracious appetite of the military-industrial complex for profits. The political class in the Baltic countries are all too happy to go along with this because flogging the anti-Russia theme – easily exploiting historical grievances against Russia – is much easier than making the tough decisions required to actually solve the Baltic countries’ internal problems (e.g. economic).

One way to think of the NATO mentality metaphorically is with the song “Bad Bad Leroy Brown.” Some of you may remember this hit song from the 1970’s by Jim Croce. For those of you who don’t, you can listen to it here to refresh your memory. The gist of it is that Leroy Brown is the neighborhood bad-ass, a show-off bully, who’s got everyone running scared. But he eventually meets his match – someone who stomps a mud hole in his backside and puts him in his place. Everyone lives happily ever after. The end.

Now it may sound like I’m trying to be funny and I am, partly. But this is pretty close to the kind of primitive and self-reverential thinking that goes on in Washington and NATO headquarters. They want to keep everyone believing that Russia is Bad Bad Leroy Brown and that NATO is the hero who is an even bigger (but benevolent) bad-ass who will keep Russia in its place.

This is the story-line that is necessary to keep NATO in business, maintain Washington’s dominant role over Europe, and to keep profits flowing for defense contractors.

Andrew Yang’s Recent Comments on Syria Reinforce That He Would Be Bad on Foreign Policy

Well, it’s unfortunate, but the more Yang talks about foreign policy, the more he reinforces my misgivings about him as expressed in this blog post from a few months ago.

While at a recent campaign stop, Yang reiterated his Yang Doctrine as criteria for foreign intervention. He also said he thought that Syria might fit the criteria. If you click on the link embedded below (for those receiving this by email), you can hear this short part of his talk. Personally, I had to stop myself from banging my head on the table. This guy is not improving as he goes.



Note that he mentions the usual “exceptionalist” buzzwords like “spreading our values” and supporting “human rights,” but says nothing about international law and the fact that, in the absence of a UN mandate, such an intervention would be just as illegal as Iraq, which he has admitted was a disastrous mistake. So it sounds to me like Yang’s objection to a foreign intervention has little to do with legality or the morality of using our powerful military – whose purpose is to break things and kill people – to effect regime change or to ostensibly solve “humanitarian” problems – as if our military is the fire department or paramedics.

He also does not address how he would ensure that he would not be embarking on the most grave policy decision a president can make based on faulty information. While this was only a snippet from his talk, I’d make book on him not mentioning the implications of the OPCW whistleblowers who have exposed the agency’s report on the Douma chemical weapons allegations as false. He’s either unaware of it or is ignoring it – both of which imply that he is not ready for prime time as commander in chief. He also makes no mention of the problem of portions of the intelligence agencies politicizing information as they did in the run-up to Iraq.

In a recent interview with Matt Taibbi and Katie Halper on the Useful Idiots podcast, Yang talked about how his policy views have been shaped and how he came to be an advocate for UBI. What sparked his transformation in thinking was his reading of a particular book. It makes me wonder what books, if any, Yang is reading on foreign policy. Sadly, based on his comments on Syria, my guess is that it would probably be something from Samantha Power rather than something from John Mearsheimer.

The bottom line is that, based on Yang’s shallow and amateurish thinking on foreign policy, he would easily get sucked into the “Blob” vortex under the more noble patina of “humanitarian intervention” as opposed to overt neoconservative militarism. But, as readers of my work know, it is merely a difference in packaging as the product is still the same – regime change wars that are illegal, immoral, wasteful and ultimately counter-productive with the instability they foster. See Libya as exhibit A.

It sounds like Tulsi needs to have a chat with her friend Yang to set him straight on this “humanitarian intervention” nonsense:

I could see Yang as an adviser or in a cabinet position related to economic or energy policy. His UBI idea – if it is combined with Medicare for All – could be a game-changer for many Americans who are struggling and are stuck in bad jobs. But a hard pass for Yang as president based on his dangerous foreign policy.

Newsweek Journalist Resigns and Exposes Editors’ Blocking of Accurate Syria Reporting; More Docs Leaked Confirming 2 OPCW Whistleblowers’ Accounts of Douma Report

This past weekend saw two more major blows to the years-long establishment narrative of the Syrian war in general and the chemical weapons attacks allegations against the Assad government in particular.

First, Tareq Haddad, an accomplished British journalist who began working for Newsweek earlier this year, resigned last week, telling his Twitter followers that he had done so as the result of his editors attempting to block him from accurate reporting on the Syria war and the OPCW whistleblowers. He also said that in the coming days he would be sharing a write-up on what had happened, despite threats of legal action by Newsweek:

Yesterday I resigned from Newsweek after my attempts to publish newsworthy revelations about the leaked OPCW letter were refused for no valid reason.

I have collected evidence of how they suppressed the story in addition to evidence from another case where info inconvenient to US govt was removed, though it was factually correct.

I plan on publishing these details in full shortly. However, after asking my editors for comment, as is journalistic practice, I received an email reminding me of confidentiality clauses in my contract. I.e. I was threatened with legal action.

I am seeking legal advice on how to proceed and whether I may be entitled to some type of whistleblower protection due to possibly fraudulent behaviour. At very least, I will publish the evidence I have without divulging the confidential information.

On Saturday, he published his in-depth account of his time at Newsweek and how the editing process worked, particularly on certain types of stories. This sets the stage for the blocking of his attempts to report on the latest events regarding the whistleblowers who exposed the fraudulent final report of the OPCW on the 2018 chemical weapons attack in Douma.

(Note: Haddad has stated that anyone is free to reprint his piece).

I highly recommend reading the full article, but will excerpt some sections pertaining to the inner workings of Newsweek and how it fits into the “manufacturing of consent” paradigm that we’ve all known or suspected for a long time:

There is also another, deeper force that compels me to write. In my years since that moment when I decided to become a journalist and a writer, although I suspect I have known it intrinsically long before, I have come to learn that truth is also the most fundamental pillar of this modern society we so often take for granted—a realisation that did not come to us easily and one that we should be extremely careful to neglect. That is why when journalistic institutions fail to remember this central pillar, we should all be outraged because our mutual destruction follows. It may sound like hyperbole, but I assure you it’s not. When our record of where we come from is flawed, or our truth to put it more simply, the new lies stack on top of the old until our connection to reality becomes so disjointed that our understanding of the world ultimately implodes. The failure of current journalism, among other factors, is undoubtedly linked to the current regression of the Western world. In consequence, we have become the biggest perpetrators of the crimes our democracies were created to prevent.

Of course, for those who pay attention, this failure of mainstream journalism I speak of is nothing new. It has been ongoing for decades and was all too obvious following the Iraq war fiasco. The U.S. and U.K. governments, headed by people who cared for little other than their own personal gain, told the people of their respective countries a slew of fabrications and the media establishment, other than a handful of exceptions, simply went along for the ride.

This was something that consumed my interest when I was training to be a journalist. How could hundreds of reputable, well-meaning journalists get it so wrong? I read numerous books on the issue—from Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent and Philip Knightley’s The First Casualty to work by Chris Hedges, the Pulitzer-prize-winning former foreign correspondent for the New York Times who was booted out for opposing that war (who I disagree with on some things, for the record)—but still, I believed that honest journalism could be done. Nothing I read however, came close to the dishonesty and deception I experienced while at Newsweek. Previously, I believed that not enough journalists questioned the government narrative sufficiently. I believed they failed to examine the facts with close enough attention and had not connected the dots as a handful of others had done.

No. The problem is far worse than that….

….Veterans of the trade Seymour Hersh and Robert Fisk also poked holes in the U.S. government narrative, but their treatment by other journalists has been one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the press.

Hersh—who exposed the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War, the clandestine bombing of Cambodia, the torture at Abu Ghraib prison, in addition to telling the world the real story of how Osama Bin Laden died—was shunned from the industry for reporting a simple fact: Bashar al-Assad’s government is not the only actor with access to chemical weapons in Syria. After a sarin attack in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta in 2013, he was further smeared for reporting that Barack Obama withheld important military intelligence: samples examined in Britain’s Porton Down did not match the chemical signatures of sarin held in the Syrian government’s arsenals.

Fisk, writing days before the Syrian conflict escalated, in a piece that asked Americans to consider what they were really doing in the Middle East as the ten-year anniversary of 9/11 approached, also raised important questions, but he too was largely ignored.

I also did my best to document evidence that poked holes in the narrative as best I could. In 2016, I wrote how Egyptian authorities arrested five people for allegedly filming staged propaganda that purported to be from Syria. Though I’m not aware of any evidence to suggest that the two are connected and I make no such claims, these arrests came to light after The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and The Sunday Times revealed that a British PR firm, Bell Pottinger, was working with the CIA, the Pentagon and the National Security Council and received $540 million to create false propaganda in Iraq a month prior.

The following year, after the alleged chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun, I documented the intriguing story of Shajul Islam, the British doctor who purported to have treated the alleged victims and appeared on several television networks including NBC to sell the case for retaliation. He gushed with heroism, but it was not reported he was previously charged with terror offences in the U.K. and was in fact considered a “committed jihadist” by MI6. He was imprisoned in 2013 in connection with the kidnapping of two Western photo-journalists in northern Syria and was struck off Britain’s General Medical Council in 2016. Why he was released without sentencing and was allowed to travel back to Syria remains a mystery to me.

I also refused to recycle the same sloppy language used, inadvertently or not, by a number of other publications. Al Qaeda and their affiliates had always been referred to as terrorists as far as I was aware—why the sudden change to “rebels” or “moderate rebels” for the purposes of Syria? Thankfully, the news editor I worked with most frequently at the time, Fiona Keating, trusted my reporting and had no problems with me using the more appropriate terms “anti-Assad fighters” or “insurgents”—though one could arguably say even that was not accurate enough.

When buses carrying civilian refugees hoping to escape the fighting in Idlib province were attacked with car bombs in April of 2017, killing over 100, most of them women and children, I was disappointed with the Guardian and the BBC for continuing with their use of this infantile word, but this was not the language I felt to be appropriate in my report….

….Fast forward to 2019, I decided to return to journalism as I was feeling the pressure to have “a grown-up job” and could not count on my ability to be a novelist as a means of long-term career stability. So when I joined Newsweek in September, I was extremely thankful for the opportunity and had no intention of being controversial—the number of jobs in the industry appeared to be shrinking and, besides, the Syrian conflict appeared to be dying down. As soon as I arrived, Newsweek editor-in-chief Nancy Cooper emphasised original reporting and I was even even more pleased. I wanted to come in, get my head down and start building my reputation as a journalist again.

Then on October 6, President Donald Trump and the military machine behind him threw my quiet hopes of staying well clear of Syria into disarray. He announced the decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the country and green-lit the Turkish invasion that followed in a matter of days. Given my understanding of the situation, I was asked by Newsweek editors to report on this….

….I started to come across growing evidence that the U.N.-backed body for investigating chemical weapons use, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), issued a doctored report about an alleged chemical attack in Douma in April of 2018, much to the anger of OPCW investigators who visited the scene. Once Peter Hitchens of the Mail on Sunday published his story containing a leaked letter that was circulated internally from one of the disgruntled OPCW scientists, I believed there was more than enough evidence to publish the story in Newsweek. That case was made even stronger when the letter was confirmed by Reuters and had been corroborated by former OPCW director-general Dr. Jose Bustani.

Although I am no stranger to having story ideas rejected, or having to censor my language to not rock the ship, this was a truth that had to be told. I was not prepared to back down on this….

….After OPCW experts found trace levels of chlorine when they visited Douma—i.e. no different than the levels of chlorine normally present in the atmosphere—or raised concerns that the canisters may have been tampered with or placed, both of which were reflected in their original reports, they made protestations because this information was withheld from the final report that was released to the world’s media. Instead, the final wording said chlorine was “likely” used and the war machine continued.

This is not a “conspiracy theory” as Newsweek sadly said in a statement to Fox News—interestingly the only mainstream publication to cover my resignation. Real OPCW scientists have met with real journalists and explained the timeline of events. They provided internal documents that proved these allegations—documents that were then confirmed by Reuters. This is all I wanted to report….

….This practice of editors telling journalists what to write, with what angle and with headlines already assigned is completely backwards and is the cause of numerous problems. How can journalists find genuine newsworthy developments if what to write has already been scripted for them?

I spoke to several Newsweek journalists about this very problem prior to my departure and they shared the same concerns. This was the very same problem that led to Jessica Kwong’s firing a week before my resignation….

After outlining some issues he’d had with his editors on the content of other stories, Haddad discusses in more detail the problems with one editor in particular:

While all this was going on, and while I waited for a response from Laura, I started to have strong suspicions that something wasn’t quite right with Dimi [Reider], the so-called foreign affairs editor. For starters, he rarely did any foreign affairs editing. He rarely did any editing at all….

The only times Dimi appeared to be involved is when a story had the potential to be controversial. He worked on my white phosphorus investigation, made the decision to not publish anything about the original Ilhan spy claims and rejected my attempts at publishing the OPCW leaks….

…I was so bewildered when he flatly refused to publish the OPCW revelations. Surely any editor worth their salt would see this as big? Of course, I understood that the implications of such a piece would be substantial and not easy to report—it was the strongest evidence of lies about Syria to date—but surely most educated people could see this coming? Other evidence was growing by the day.

But no. As the earlier messages showed, there was no desire to report these revelations, regardless of how strong the evidence appeared to be. Dimi was simply happy to defer to Bellingcat—a clearly dubious organization as others have taken the time to address, such as here and here—instead of allowing journalists who are more than capable of doing their own research to do their job.

It was this realization that made me start to question Dimi. When I looked a little deeper, he was the missing piece.

Dimi worked at the European Council on Foreign Relations from 2013 and 2016—the sister organization to the more prevalent think-tank, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Some may be asking why this matters, but the lobbying group—the largest and most powerful in the United States—is nicknamed “Wall Street’s think-tank” for a reason, as the book by Laurence H. Shoup with the same title explains.

To understand just how influential the body is, it is worth noting that 10 of George H. W. Bush’s top 11 foreign policymakers were members, as was the former president himself. Bill Clinton, also a member, hired 15 foreign policymakers with CFR membership from a total of 17. George W. Bush hired 14 CFR members as top foreign policymakers and Barack Obama had 12, with a further five working in domestic policy positions.

Its European sister act is also highly influential, as this graphic from its website about current members demonstrates.

It is also worth noting that the CFR’s current chairman is David Rubenstein, co-founder and executive chairman of the Carlyle Group—the same Carlyle Group which previously described itself as the “leading private equity investor in the aerospace and the defense industries,” until it probably decided it was not a good look to boast about its war profiteering, though its investments in those industries remain.

It is the same Carlyle Group that hosted Osama bin Laden’s brother as the guest of honor for the group’s annual investor meeting in Washington D.C. the same day the Twin Towers fell. George H. W. Bush, an informal advisor to Carlyle, was also present.

Furthermore, one of the CFR’s most notorious experts was former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger—a man famously described by Christopher Hitchens as America’s greatest ever war criminal. His long list of crimes against humanity cannot be summarized quickly….

….But what about the think tank’s influence on journalism?

I’m unaware if what I will report here is common knowledge to the rest of the industry, but what I discovered when researching this topic is unacceptable to me.

I learned that aside from a large number of prominent journalists holding membership, I discovered that the CFR offers fellowships for journalists to come work alongside its many State Department and Department of Defensive representatives. A list of historical fellows includes top reporters and editors from The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and CNN, among others—not forgetting journalists from Newsweek.

The most prominent CFR member to join Newsweek’s ranks was Fareed Zakaria. After stints at Yale and Harvard, at the age of 28, Zakaria became the managing editor of Foreign Affairs—the CFR’s own in-house publication. From there, he became the editor of Newsweek International in 2000, before moving on to edit Time Magazine in 2010….

….Zakaria’s Newsweek columns prior to the war also make for interesting reading. “Let’s get real with Iraq,” one headline reads as early as 2001. “Time to take on America’s haters,” another one goes on. Others include “It’s time to do as daddy did,” and “Invade Iraq, but bring friends.” I could go on.

Interestingly, once the war had started in 2003, Foreign Affairs—where Zakaria writes to this day—was ranked first by research firm Erdos and Morgan as the most successful in influencing in public opinion. It achieved the accolade in 2005 and again in 2006. Results for other years are not known.

Scrolling through LinkedIn and Twitter, numerous individuals listed as journalists have taken the same path Zakaria has taken. They complete State Department-funded “diplomacy” degrees from prestigious universities—such as Harvard, Yale, Georgetown and Johns Hopkins, or at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London—before gritting their teeth at publications or think tanks funded by the CFR or Open Society Foundations. Once their unquestioning obedience is demonstrated, they slowly filter into mainstream organizations or Foreign Affairs.

It also emerged that this is the same path that Dimi has taken. +972 Magazine’s [which Dimi co-founded] biggest funder is the Rockefeller Brother’s Fund, whose president and CEO, Stephen Heintz, is a CFR member. In addition to his work with the ECFR, Dimi is also listed as a research associate at SOAS.

This conflict of interests may be known to other journalists in the trade, but I will repeat: this is unacceptable to me.

The U.S. government, in an ugly alliance with those the profit the most from war, has its tentacles in every part of the media—imposters, with ties to the U.S. State Department, sit in newsrooms all over the world. Editors, with no apparent connections to the member’s club, have done nothing to resist. Together, they filter out what can or cannot be reported. Inconvenient stories are completely blocked. As a result, journalism is quickly dying. America is regressing because it lacks the truth.

The Afghanistan Papers, released this week by the Washington Post, showed further evidence of this. Misinformation, a trillion dollars wasted and two thousand Americans killed—and who knows how many more Afghanis. The newspapers ran countless stories on this utter failure, however, none will tell you how they are to blame. The same mistakes are being repeated. The situation is becoming more grave. Real journalists and ordinary people need to take back journalism….

Right after Haddad released his bombshell article, Wikileaks released more documents pertaining to the OPCW report on Douma. Among the documents released was a memo signed by 20 of the inspectors involved in the Douma investigation stating that the final OPCW report “did not reflect the views of the team members that deployed to [Syria].”

Caitlin Johnstone is one of the first to do a full write-up on these releases and their highlights:

WikiLeaks has published multiple documents providing further details on the coverup within the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) of its own investigators’ findings which contradicted the official story we were all given about an alleged chlorine gas attack in Douma, Syria last year. The alleged chemical weapons incident was blamed on the Syrian government by the US and its allies, who launched airstrikes against Syria several days later. Subsequent evidence indicating that there was insufficient reason to conclude the chlorine gas attack ever happened was repressed by the OPCW, reportedly at the urging of US government officials.

The new publications by WikiLeaks add new detail to this still-unfolding scandal, providing more evidence to further invalidate attempts by establishment Syria narrative managers to spin it all as an empty conspiracy theory. The OPCW has no business hiding any information from the public which casts doubt on the official narrative about an incident which was used to justify an act of war on a sovereign nation.

The following are hyperlinks to the individual OPCW documents WikiLeaks published, with some highlights found therein:

A first draft of the OPCW’s July 2018 Interim Report on the team’s findings in Douma.

Contains crucial information that was not included in either the final draft of the July 2018 Interim Report or the March 2019 Final Report, including (emphasis mine):

1. The symptoms of the alleged victims of the supposed chemical incident were inconsistent with chlorine gas poisoning.

“Some of the signs and symptoms described by witnesses and noted in photos and video recordings taken by witnesses, of the alleged victims are not consistent with exposure to chlorine-containing choking or blood agents such as chlorine gas, phosgene or cyanogen chloride,” we learn in the unredacted first draft. “Specifically, the rapid onset of heavy buccal and nasal frothing in many victims, as well as the colour of the secretions, is not indicative of intoxication from such chemicals.”

“The large number of decedents in the one location (allegedly 40 to 45), most of whom were seen in videos and photos strewn on the floor of the apartments away from open windows, and within a few meters of an escape to un-poisoned or less toxic air, is at odds with intoxication by chlorine-based choking or blood agents, even at high concentrations,” the unredacted draft says.

This important information was omitted from the Interim Report and completely contradicted by the Final Report, which said that the investigation had found “reasonable grounds that the use of a toxic chemical as a weapon took place. This toxic chemical contained reactive chlorine. The toxic chemical was likely molecular chlorine.”

2. OPCW inspectors couldn’t find any explanation for why the gas cylinders supposedly dropped from Syrian aircraft were so undamaged by the fall.

“The FFM [Fact-Finding Mission] team is unable to provide satisfactory explanations for the relatively moderate damage to the cylinders allegedly dropped from an unknown height, compared to the destruction caused to the rebar-reinforced concrete roofs,” reads the leaked first draft. “In the case of Location 4, how the cylinder ended up on the bed, given the point at which it allegedly penetrated the room, remains unclear. The team considers that further studies by specialists in metallurgy and structural engineering or mechanics are required to provide an authoritative assessment of the team’s observations.”

We now know that a specialist was subsequently recruited to find an answer to this mystery. A leaked document dated February 2019 and published by the Working Group On Syria, Propaganda and Media in May 2019 was signed by a longtime OPCW inspector named Ian Henderson. Henderson, a South African ballistics expert, ran some experiments and determined that “The dimensions, characteristics and appearance of the cylinders, and the surrounding scene of the incidents, were inconsistent with what would have been expected in the case of either cylinder being delivered from an aircraft,” writing instead that the cylinders being “manually placed” (i.e. staged) in the locations where investigators found them is “the only plausible explanation for observations at the scene.”

More on Ian Henderson in a moment.

3. The team concluded that either the victims were poisoned with some unknown gas which wasn’t chlorine, or there was no chemical weapon at all.

“The inconsistency between the presence of a putative chlorine-containing toxic chocking or blood agent on the one hand and the testimonies of alleged witnesses and symptoms observed from video footage and photographs, on the other, cannot be rationalised,” the unredacted first draft reads. “The team considered two possible explanations for the incongruity:

a. The victims were exposed to another highly toxic chemical agent that gave rise to the symptoms observed and has so far gone undetected.
b. The fatalities resulted from a non-chemical-related incident.”

Again, none of this information made it into any of the OPCW’s public reports on the Douma incident. The difference between the information we were given (that a chlorine gas attack took place and the strong suggestion that it was dropped by Syrian aircraft) and the report the inspectors were initially trying to put together (literally the exact opposite) is staggering. For more insider information on the deliberation between OPCW inspectors who wanted their actual findings to be reported and the organisation officials who conspired to omit those findings, read this November report by journalist Jonathan Steele.

A memo from a member of the OPCW’s Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) in Douma to the OPCW Director General Fernando Arais.

It’s worth noting that this memo is dated two weeks after the OPCW published its Final Report on the Douma incident in March 2019, because it further invalidates the bogus argument made by narrative management firms like Bellingcat claiming that the grievances of the dissenting OPCW inspectors had been satisfactorily addressed by the time the Final Report was published.

Clearly the concerns were not addressed, because the memo consists entirely of complaints, and according to its author “there are about 20 inspectors who have expressed their concern over the current situation.”

The memo’s author complains that the FFM report was made almost exclusively by team members who never even went to Douma, doing their research instead solely in “Country X”, which WikiLeaks speculates may be Turkey.

“The FFM report does not reflect the views of all the teams that deployed to Douma,” the memo says. “Only one team member (a paramedic) of the so-called ‘FFM core team’ was in Douma. The FFM report was written by this core team, thus by people who had only operated in Country X.”

“After the exclusion of all team members other than a small cadre of members who had deployed (and deployed again in October 2018) to Country X, the conclusion seems to have turned completely in the opposite direction. The FFM team members find this confusing, and are concerned to know how this occurred.”

The memo’s author is unnamed in the WikiLeaks document, but claims to have been “assigned the task of analysis and assessment of the ballistics of the two cylinders,” indicating that it was likely the aforementioned Ian Henderson. A concurrent publication by Peter Hitchens in the Daily Mail appears to confirm this. Hitchens reports that when Henderson lodged his Engineering Assessment in the OPCW’s secure registry after failing to get traction for his report, which the memo’s author also reports to have done, an unpopular unnamed OPCW official nicknamed “Voldemort” ordered that every trace of the report be removed.

“Mr Henderson tried to get his research included in the final report, but when it became clear it would be excluded, he lodged a copy in a secure registry, known as the Documents Registry Archive (DRA),” Hitchens reported. “This is normal practice for such confidential material, but when ‘Voldemort’ heard about it, he sent an email to subordinates saying: ‘Please get this document out of DRA … And please remove all traces, if any, of its delivery/storage/whatever in DRA’.”

So to recap, the OPCW enlisted a longtime ballistics expert with an extensive history of work with the organisation to run some experiments and produce an Engineering Assessment to explain how the alleged chlorine cylinders could have been found in the condition they were found in, and when he came to conclusions which were exculpatory for the Syrian government, his boss ordered every sign of it purged from the registry.

Again, not a whisper of any of this was breathed in the OPCW’s public reports on the Douma incident, despite somewhere around 20 inspectors having objections. The OPCW had no business hiding this from the public.

Read the rest of Johnstone’s article here.

Not Everyone is Down with the Anti-Russia Hysteria; Syrian President’s Interview with Italian Media

When the Ukraine crisis erupted in late 2013-early 2014, the western establishment media embarked on its anti-Russia campaign in earnest. According to establishment media, Putin had suddenly woken up one day and decided that things were just getting too boring. It was time to invade Crimea, the Donbas and maybe the Baltics and Poland while snapping his fingers to the Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.”

Then when the results of the 2016 election came in, the anti-Russia hysteria really went into overdrive as the Hillary machine sought to evade blame for her epic failure. Now, if you question the establishment on economic or foreign policy – hell, if you even look at the establishment and its media mouthpieces funny – you’re gonna get called a Russian asset.

But having reached a saturation point, how effective is the anti-Russia propaganda? It has certainly had a negative effect on the political discourse in the U.S., but do all Americans really think Putin is coming to destroy freedom, democracy, and chocolate? Does he have a secret plan to round up trans-sexual unicorns to spite liberals and “sow discord”?

Well, according to a couple of recent surveys of opinion, the results have been a bit mixed. A survey was released last week which revealed that almost half of U.S. military households and over a fourth of Americans overall viewed Russia as an ally. But, of course, rather than consider that their nonstop campaign of animus toward Russia is over-the-top and maybe not entirely justified or wise, Washington and establishment media are framing this as the successful results of a pernicious Russian influence campaign. Voice of America reported it thus:

WASHINGTON – Russian efforts to weaken the West through a relentless campaign of information warfare may be starting to pay off, cracking a key bastion of the U.S. line of defense: the military.

While most Americans still see Moscow as a key U.S. adversary, new polling suggests that view is changing, most notably among the households of military members.

The second annual Reagan National Defense Survey, completed in late October, found nearly half of armed services households questioned, 46%, said they viewed Russia as ally.

Overall, the survey found 28% of Americans identified Russia as an ally, up from 19% the previous year.

Representatives of the government have assured us they’re going to get out in front of this horrible trend of conciliatory sentiments toward the world’s other nuclear superpower:

“There is an effort, on the part of Russia, to flood the media with disinformation to sow doubt and confusion,” Defense Department spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Carla Gleason told VOA.

“This is not only through discordant and inflammatory dialogue but through false narratives designed to elicit sympathetic views,” she said, adding, “we are actively working to expose and counter Russian disinformation whenever possible.”

A recent Pew survey of people around the world showed which countries were perceived as the biggest threat. Russia wasn’t even in the top 6 and didn’t yield double-digits except in the US. (24%) and Canada (10%).

Proud holder of the number one spot as perceived threat in the world is the U.S., followed by China, Pakistan, Iran and Israel.

In the heart of Europe, the anti-Russia hysteria now seems to be hitting a wall. According to a new YouGov poll, 55% of Germans thought that they should lessen their reliance on the U.S. for their defense, while 54% favored more cooperation with Russia.

Earlier this week Syrian president Bashar al-Assad gave an interview with the Italian media outlet, RaiNews 24. He discussed several issues, including the OPCW whistleblowers who have exposed the conclusions that blamed the Douma chemical attack in April of 2014 on the Syrian government to be fraudulent.

Learn more about the OPCW whistleblower story below. It has not been covered by the establishment media except for one UK outlet and Tucker Carlson (!).

Update on Normandy Four Talks

Moscow-based journalist Bryan MacDonald has tweeted the following thread regarding what happened at the Normandy Four talks:

Russia’s @Kommersant (known to have good Kremlin sources) reports Paris negotiations on peace in Eastern Ukraine have failed to reach an agreement. Moscow claims it’s because Kiev can’t agree to withdraw its military from front lines.…

Putin says he had a “good, businesslike” private meeting with Ukrainian counterpart Vladimir Zelensky. The leaders are now having dinner with Emmanuel Macron & Angela Merkel. With a press briefing to follow

Kommersant adds that Ukraine and Russia have agreed on gas transit. If so, that would be a major win for Zelensky and give him something tangible to take back to Kiev.

However, that appears to be in dispute according to Ukrainian media as relayed by Dr. Ivan Katchanovski (academic expert that has been cited on this blog regarding the Maidan violence in February of 2014):

Head of @NaftogazUkraine denies that @ZelenskyyUa and #Putin agreed on new Russian gas transit agreement via #Ukraine

Furthermore, Katchanovski says that Ukrainian media is also reporting that no deal has been reached at the meeting, but that a further exchange of prisoners before the end of the year has been agreed to:

#Ukrainian media reports that Zelensky and Putin discussed elections in #Donbas and resumption of #Ukraine control of border with #Russia there but failed to agree which would be first. Negotiations continue in #NormandySummit format of leaders of 4 states

My comment on this point: Russia and the Donbas rebels would be stupid to agree to returning control of the border prior to elections as Russia and the rebels would have little leverage to force Kiev to implement the agreement on elections. More from Katchanovksi:

#Ukrainian media also reports that #Zelensky and #Putin has agreed on new exchange of prisoners before New Year. #Ukraine#Russia#NormandySummit

So, it looks like some more trust-building measures have been agreed, but no deal. About the best that most of us expected at this point.

Update #1:

According to the Normandy Summit Communique just released to the public, the participants agree to the following:

  1. Current ceasefire will be sustained and strengthened by adding 3 new areas where forces on both sides will pull back. This will happen by the end of March, 2020; more de-mining activities will also occur;
  2. Confirmation of the Steinmeier Formula and the general principles of the Minsk Agreement;
  3. A further summit within 4 months.

I will provide a link to the communique once it is available. I have written this summary based on an image of the communique embedded within a tweet.

Normandy Four Meets Today; Nancy Pelosi Admits She Knew Bush II Administration Lied About WMD’s in Iraq But Didn’t Think it Was an Impeachable Offense – But Trump’s Phone Call with Zelensky Is

The leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany are scheduled to meet today in Paris. Most analysts, myself included, are skeptical that anything substantive will come out of the meeting – namely because of the political pickle Zelensky finds himself in with respect to the ultra-right forces in Ukraine who have complained about Zelensky’s moderate steps toward even fulfilling the Steinmeier Formula and reviving the Normandy Four talks. US-UK-backed media outlets, including Hromadske, have run warnings to Zelensky not to make any concessions to Russia.

Interestingly, Thomas E. Graham, a former aide to George W. Bush and one of the few realists in his administration, wrote an article in October for Foreign Affairs magazine in which he outlined a proposal for how to resolve the Ukraine crisis. The article has been criticized for being unrealistic and for ostensibly making too many concessions to Russia (i.e. any concessions in a diplomatic process that, by definition, is supposed to include give-and-take). The article is behind a paywall but its main points are summarized by Professor Serhiy Kudelia on his Facebook page:

“Thomas Graham, former senior director on Russia at the National Security Council under George W. Bush, offers advice on how to achieve breakthrough during Normandy talks in Paris published in the leading US foreign policy journal: ‘The recent election in Ukraine of a new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, whose supporters now dominate the parliament, has created an opening for a comprehensive resolution of the crisis. Two tradeoffs are essential. First, to allay Russian concerns, the United States should tell Ukraine that NATO membership is off the table, while deepening bilateral security cooperation with Kiev. Second, Kiev should recognize Russia’s incorporation of Crimea in exchange for Moscow’s acceptance of the full reintegration of the Donbas into Ukraine without any special status. In a comprehensive agreement, Ukrainians would also receive compensation for lost property in Crimea and Ukraine would be afforded access to offshore resources and guaranteed passage through the Kerch Strait to ports on the Sea of Azov. The United States and the EU would incrementally ease their sanctions on Russia as these arrangements took effect. At the same time, they would offer Ukraine a substantial assistance package aimed at facilitating reform in the belief that a strong, prosperous Ukraine is both the best deterrent against future Russian aggression and a necessary foundation for more constructive Russian-Ukrainian relations. Such an approach would be met initially with great skepticism in Kiev, Moscow, and elsewhere in Europe. But Zelensky has staked his presidency on resolving the Donbas conflict, and Putin would welcome the chance to redirect resources and attention to countering spreading socioeconomic unrest in Russia.'”

What’s even more interesting is that on November 25th, Graham was in Moscow meeting with Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov. The description of the meeting on the foreign ministry’s web page was short and vague, stating simply:

Opinions were exchanged on current issues of bilateral relations. They also touched on some international and regional issues.

Now Washington is not formally a part of the Normandy talks but no doubt the U.S. wants to exert influence. I’m wondering if the Trump administration sent Graham to Moscow as some kind of back channel on the Ukraine issue. Of course, that would mean that the Trump administration is actually showing some competence. It will be interesting to see what happens.

In a recent CNN Town Hall, Nancy Pelosi was asked a question by a member of the audience about why she had opposed impeachment proceedings in the past, specifically against George W. Bush in 2006 for misleading the country into the Iraq war, but supports it now against Trump in connection with his phone call with the president of Ukraine. Below is video of her response. It needs no comment from me.

Polls: What Russians Think About Their Lives, How Inclined They are Toward Protesting and About What; Kamala Harris Drops Out of Presidential Race

Palace Square in St. Petersburg, site of Bloody Sunday, which triggered the first Russian Revolution of 1905

Several polls of Russian opinion have come out over the past few weeks that reveal some interesting insight into what Russians are thinking.

One Russian poll from November showed that 84% of Russians felt happy with their lives, with contentment with family life being counted as the most important contributing factor to that happiness. As TASS reported on the results:

“The level of happiness among Russians is still high, as 84% of those surveyed said they were content. The number is high in every social and demographic group but a thing to note is that people who consider their financial situation to be solid (94%) tend to be more optimistic than those complaining about a dire financial situation (66%),” the statement reads.

Keep that last line in mind as we continue on.

The same Russian polling agency did a poll in October which asked similar but different questions about Russians’ life satisfaction. This poll was also reported on by TASS:

“One in two Russians is satisfied with the life they lead (50%), which is the highest indicator for the last year. One-fourth of respondents, 25%, say they are partially satisfied with their life, and 22% of Russians are dissatisfied with it,” the poll says.

More than half of those surveyed (57%) positively evaluate the domestic situation, while 35% say the opposite. One-fourth of Russians are optimistic about the future, 25% are confident that their life will improve in a year, another 41% believe that nothing while change, while 23% think that things will just get worse.

“Half of those polled (48%) are concerned and worried about their future, but their number is falling. <…> One in four respondents said they are optimistic about the future (26%) and almost the same number (23%) are neither optimistic nor worried about it,” the state-run pollster said.

According to that last paragraph, although the number has gone down, around half of those polled are worried about their future, while 64% (from penultimate paragraph) think things will not change or will get worse. This is consistent with other polls I’ve looked at over the past couple of years indicating that Russians are getting a bit concerned and restless about the stagnating living standards, with wages having “contracted” over the past six years – though there was a small uptick last quarter attributed to the decline in inflation. In order to make ends meet or keep up their lifestyle, more and more Russians have been turning to credit.

This brings me to another interesting poll from early November in which 70% of Russians said they were concerned about social inequality in general. More specifically, they were concerned about falling incomes (63%), problems with getting free medical care (58%), and the high cost of necessities (58%).

But will this translate into protests in the street?

The protests in Russia we most hear about in western media are political protests in connection with more abstract ideas like democracy, freedom, and anti-corruption. But there have been protests over the past few years in various parts of Russia relating to socioeconomic issues that affect Russians’ material well-being. For example, there were protests by truck drivers over toll fees in 2015 and protests in response to the Putin government’s increase in the retirement age in 2018.

The results of a Levada Center poll released earlier this week showed that a fifth of Russians said they would participate in a political protest, but a third said they would be willing to protest economic conditions.

Apparently, the Russian government is indeed more concerned by the potential of protests based on socioeconomic discontent as reflected in a report by Professor Paul Robinson yesterday about a French sociologist who was denied entry to Russia where she was going to attend an academic conference.

The story in question is that French sociologist Carine Clément was detained by Russian border guards last week when she attempted to enter the country to attend an academic conference, and was then deported back to France. Clément had been due to give a paper discussing the French ‘Gilets jaunes’ [Yellow Vests] and comparing them to Russian vatniki (rednecks, roughly speaking). Superficially, it doesn’t seem like something which should really bother the Russian security services. After all, the Russian state-funded TV network RT has been about the only international media outlet to regularly report on the Gilets jaunes over the past year. Nevertheless, despite the fact that she has a Russian husband and daughter, Clément was declared a threat to national security and told that she was forbidden from entering Russia for 10 years…

I was able to find an English-language version of a 2015 article  [by Clement] entitled ‘Putin, Patriotism, and Political Apathy’.  It’s actually quite good, so I thought that I would share some excerpts of it here.

Clément starts off by noting Putin’s political popularity. This is genuine, she argues, and it’s not just a product of alternative voices being repressed. Political repression exists in Russia, but ‘Repression is not occurring on a massive scale. Many independent initiatives that are critical of current authorities still operate in broad daylight.’ The root of Putin’s support instead lies in the experience of the 1990s, Clément argues. In that time period, ordinary people ‘watched unscrupulous individuals make fortunes through small or big-time fraud’, while being treated with the utmost ‘contempt’ by the reformers and their allies, who dismissed them as ‘losers’ and ‘maladjusted’…

At the same time, Clément remarks, the liberal opposition is ‘cut off from the people’. It is obsessed with overthrowing the ‘Putin regime’, but ‘The problems that preoccupy most Russians, as indicated by polls, including poverty, housing, education, and health, do not appear as priorities.’ She recounts the story of a woman who visited the offices of the Yabloko party to complain about people who were poisoning dogs in her locality, and was told, ‘yes, of course, we see the problem. But tell us, how are we going to fight the regime?’

Russians see that this sort of thing is pointless, Clément argues. The political protests of the liberal opposition don’t interest them. Instead, they’re turning to more local forms of action, focusing on the sort of social-economic issues I mentioned at the start of this post. Clément believes that it is this sort of action, coming from below, and ‘rooted in local concerns and the realities of daily life’ which offers the best prospects for change in Russia.

Putin seems to have some awareness of average Russians’ concerns as he has reportedly been seeking feedback from his administration on how to “jump-start” the economy. His administration is also in the process of trying to implement the national projects that he has spoken of in his last two addresses to the Federal Assembly. Those infrastructure projects – with a special emphasis on improvement of roads – have been slow getting off the ground, however.


Earlier this week, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris announced that she was dropping out of the race for the presidency.

All I can say is: Aloha, baby! Don’t let the door hit your tush on the way out.

But seriously, establishment media pundits are trying to spin this in various disingenuous ways – that she couldn’t gain traction because she was a woman of color, etc. But as political comedian and analyst Tim Black discusses below, it is because she was running a dismal campaign in which she articulated no major policy upon which she was running to fix a major problem – of which there are many currently in this country. The fact that she was very arrogant also hurt her. This arrogance was reflected in her dismissive treatment of Tulsi Gabbard, while refusing to address the substantive and very relevant problems with Harris’s record that Gabbard brought up. In fact, Harris was given several opportunities to answer Gabbard’s charges and failed every time.

Instead of offering substance as a candidate, Harris offered up her identity politics credentials, jokes that only she laughed at, and a mission to get Trump removed from Twitter. The era of style-over-substance neoliberal candidates is over. Unfortunately, Harris got the memo too late.