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Meeting between Moldovan and Ukrainian leaders was to coordinate actions against Russia

Paul Antonopoulos | January 18, 2021

The visit of Moldovan President Maia Sandu to Ukraine last week is the first interaction between the two neighboring countries at the highest level in recent years. For Sandu, this trip became her foreign policy premiere since she became president on December 24, 2020. We could observe in her meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that there is a good level of personal interaction between the two leaders.

The Three Seas Initiative project was discussed in relation to the implementation of a partnership with the EU. The Three Seas Initiative is a forum comprising of twelve European Union members located between the Baltic, Adriatic and Black Seas and has the aim of fostering closer cooperation. Both Moldova and Ukraine want to be involved in the Three Seas Initiative despite not being European Union member states.

Both Sandu and Zelensky are radically opposed to Russia in the belief that it will help their country’s prospects of becoming European Union and NATO members. The Moldovan and Ukrainian leaders discussed “mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity” and their willingness to face “geopolitical challenges” together with the traditional allusion of a common “aggressor.” They never directly named Russia, but given their known position against Moscow, it is obvious who their statement was directed towards.

Sandu and Zelensky are oriented towards the same circles in the West. Both aim to integrate their countries into Euro-Atlantic structures, despite the unlikeliness that Moldova or Ukraine will become member states of the European Union or NATO in the foreseeable future. As a result of their willingness to appease Western interests in Eastern Europe, Russian influence in the post-Soviet space is being challenged. But now that the political situation in the United States is showing signs of instability, it is not convenient for them to make openly direct statements against Russia.

The issue of Crimea and the Crimean Platform was deliberately avoided by both presidents in the part of the meeting that was revealed to the public. This is likely because such maneuvers require consultation with the incoming Joe Biden administration. Sandu and Zelensky most likely considered it premature to make such statements regarding Crimea. This decision is despite Ukraine launching the Crimean Platform just a mere few months earlier as part of their strategy to “de-occupy” the peninsula after it reunited with Russia in 2014 in a referendum that adhered to all international norms and standards.

When the new administration in Washington stabilizes, it will become clearer whether Moldova’s and Ukraine’s Western partners are ready to use them against Russia. Although they will likely find support from Biden if they continue their opposition to Russia, there will be elections for a new German Chancellor on September 26 and Angela Merkel will not be running. The victor could determine whether Berlin, the de facto leader of the European Union, will continue to loyally follow Washington’s foreign policy or pursue an independent one.

Away from the public eye and ear, it is likely that Sandu and Zelensky privately discussed possibilities of joint pressure against Russia in Transnistria and Donbass. Although Donbass is well known to Westerners, Transnistria is almost unheard of. The small territory is wedged between Ukraine and Moldova. It has a de facto independence but is internationally recognized as a part of Moldova despite the majority of the population being either Russian or Ukrainian.

It should be remembered that during last year’s election campaign, Sandu announced that she will focus on “eliminating the Russian military presence” without mentioning a political settlement in the Transnistrian dispute, thus threatening to warm up a frozen conflict. Given the geography, Ukraine and Moldova are able to blockade Transnistria. This would sever transport links and economic flows.

During the meeting between Sandu and Zelensky, only two public initiatives came to be known – the creation of a certain transportation corridor between the capitals of Ukraine and Moldova, and the organization of a presidential council of the two countries. However, regarding the first initiative, it must have a strong economic justification to be attractive to potential investors. Given the current state of low economic interaction between Ukraine and Moldova, as well as their economic crises, such a justification will be very difficult to find.

The Presidential Council is a more realistic initiative, although the idea itself is not new. The statement about it is a sign that Moldova and Ukraine have agreed to pursue certain policies together. Even if those policies are not clear yet, it will undoubtedly include how they can collectively counter Russian influence in Transnistria and Donbass.

January 18, 2021 Posted by | Russophobia | , , , | Leave a comment

William Burns, ex-envoy to Russia who accused Putin of using judo-like tactics to ‘sow chaos’ in US, named as Biden’s CIA director

RT | January 11, 2021

[Proclaimed] President-elect Joe Biden has nominated career diplomat William Burns to serve as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, claiming that Americans will “sleep soundly” with Burns at the helm of the shadowy intel service.

Burns, who is currently president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, an international affairs think tank based in Washington, DC, retired from the US Foreign Service in 2014 after a 33-year career in diplomacy. He served as deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration from 2011-2014, and as ambassador to Russia from 2005 to 2008. Before his assignment in Moscow, Burns was US envoy to Jordan from 1998 to 2001, and was appointed assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs from 2001 to 2005.

In a press release, Biden described Burns as a “exemplary diplomat with decades of experience on the world stage keeping our people and our country safe and secure.” The statement said that Burns understood the alleged threats facing the United States, whether they be “attacks emanating from Moscow, the challenge China poses,” or plots being hatched by terrorists and other non-state actors.

Like many other State Department veterans, Burns has repeatedly accused Moscow of interfering in the 2016 presidential elections.

In a 2017 op-ed published by the New York Times, the retired diplomat accused Russia of “aggressive” and “deeply troubling” election meddling. Burns predicted that Washington’s relationship with Moscow will remain competitive and “often adversarial” for the foreseeable future, claiming that Russian President Vladimir Putin is seeking greater influence in the world “at the expense of an American-led order.” He alleged that Russia is dreaming of a dominant position in global affairs unconstrained by “Western values and institutions.”

He called on the US to focus on the conflict in Ukraine, predicting that the country’s fate will determine the “future of Europe, and Russia, over the next generation.”

Tellingly, he also dismissed the “superficially appealing notions” like cooperation against Islamic terrorism. He claimed that Russia’s efforts to help the Syrian government defeat Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) has made the terrorist threat “far worse.”

His animosity towards Russia was again revealed in an interview with the Atlantic magazine in 2019. He told the outlet that Putin had been able to “sow chaos” in the United States by “acting like [a] good judo expert, which he is.” According to Burns, the Russian leader took advantage of a “stronger opponent” by leveraging the “polarization and dysfunction” in the US political system.

Burns even suggested that the now-debunked claims of “collusion” between Moscow and the Trump campaign in 2016 had merit, hinting that Special Counsel Robert Mueller could potentially uncover a larger conspiracy behind Putin’s alleged judo-like interference.

Mueller’s probe ultimately found no evidence of collusion, despite years of salacious media reports alleging overwhelming proof of a vast conspiracy between Trump and the Kremlin.

The diplomat appears to have a more reconciliatory approach towards China. Although he has identified Beijing as a long-term competitor with Washington, he has argued that China was more focused on “adapting” to the US-led world order, rather than “undermining it,” which he accused Russia of doing. However, he expressed support for at least some aspects of the Trump administration’s trade war with China, describing the hardline economic policy as “overdue.”

January 11, 2021 Posted by | Russophobia | , | 1 Comment

Tech guru Durov warns Apple & Google pose threat to freedom, as Russian Senator says Trump Twitter ban a challenge to sovereignty

RT | January 11, 2021

The move by US Tech companies to censor US President Donald Trump has raised concern in Russia, with politicians and IT industry figures expressing concerns about it, and about its potential implications for political freedoms.

Alexey Pushkov, a prominent Senator and Chairman of the Federation Council on Information Policy and Media Relations warned on Sunday that the “diktat of internet giants” set a dangerous precedent. In a message posted to his official Telegram channel, the politician added that Moscow would “draw serious conclusions from the blocking of Trump by US social network conglomerates. Almost totally depending on foreign internet platforms is incompatible with the sovereignty of the country,” he argued.

However, the founder of the Russian-created Telegram messaging service, Pavel Durov, has now warned that “the Apple-Google duopoly poses a much bigger problem for freedoms than Twitter.” Of the two, he said, Silicon Valley stalwart Apple, worth more than $1.3 trillion, was the most worrying.

This, he suggests, is “because it can completely restrict which apps you use.” Over the weekend, the tech giant announced it would ban social media service Parler from its iOS store over apparent breaches to its guidelines. Telegram, which says it prioritizes the right to free speech more than its rivals, has become popular with Trump and his supporters since the president was indefinitely suspended from Twitter and Facebook. Telegram’s Durov added that his company was working on a web-based app as a contingency, should it become the next target of an App Store ban.

The Telegram founder, who first made his name with Russia’s top social network VK, also urged smartphone users to make the switch to the Android operating system, where users have more control over what they can install and use. This, he said, is “the least they can do to retain access to a free flow of information.”

In November, Russia’s media watchdog warned Google, and its subsidiary YouTube, over perceived censorship of content from the country’s media organizations. The row was sparked by the California-based streaming service’s decision to label an RT documentary on American right-wing militias as “extremist.” Roskomnadzor, the federal communications agency, warned that “cases of the administration of the YouTube video hosting service blocking, labelling, warning, consent and other restrictions with respect to materials of Russian media and journalists have become more frequent.”

Parler goes offline as Amazon pulls the plug on the conservative social network

Donald Trump has faced a near-total removal from social media sites since facing accusations that he’d encouraged his supporters to storm Washington’s Capitol building last Wednesday. Four protesters and one police officer are said to have lost their lives in the violent scenes. While he urged the activists to “go home,” the president reiterated claims that November’s election had been rigged, and told demonstrators that “we love you. You’re very special.”

As well as his removal from Twitter and Facebook, Trump has since faced action from platforms including Instagram, Google, YouTube, TikTok, Reddit, Snapchat and Pinterest.

January 11, 2021 Posted by | Full Spectrum Dominance, Russophobia | , , , , | Leave a comment

The “Russian hacking” NATO psyop has finally been solved

CrowdStrike founder Dmitri Alperovitch (center) at the US-NATO Atlantic Council, 2014 (AC)
Swiss Policy Research | December 2020

To professional analysts, it has long been clear that the “Russiagate” saga – including the “Russian hacking” claims, the Trump-Russia collusion claims, as well as the “Skripal poisoning incident” and the more recent “Navalny poisoning incident” – has been a US and NATO psychological operation aimed at containing a resurgent Russia and a somewhat unpredictable US President.

Several aspects of the “Russian hacking” psychological operation had already been uncovered by independent researchers like Stephen McIntyre, “Adam Carter” and “The Forensicator”.

In early November, however, British researcher David J. Blake essentially solved the “Russian hacking” psyop, down to the operational level, as described in his new book “Loaded for Guccifer 2.0”.

US/NATO-controlled IT used for “Russian” hacking and phishing operations (DJB)

Blake shows how the “Russian hacking” psyop was initiated by the US and NATO in 2014 in response to Russia’s reaction to the US regime change in Ukraine, when Russia retook control of the Crimean Peninsula and supported the de-facto secession of Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.

The US/NATO psyop was inspired by the actual amateur hackers “CyberBerkut” in Ukraine and “Guccifer” in Romania. Blake shows how in 2014, NATO created a “Cyber Defence Trust Fund” and used this entity to initiate false-flag “hacking operations” against the US and other NATO members that would then be falsely “attributed” to alleged Russian “state-sponsored hacking groups”.

Regarding the most prominent such case, the alleged “hacking” of the US Democratic Party (DNC) and the 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, Blake shows how the emails and documents in question were in fact exfiltrated by the FBI and FBI cybersecurity contractor CrowdStrike, whose founder, Dmitri Alperovitch, is a Senior Fellow at the US-NATO think tank Atlantic Council.[1]

Blake shows how the mysterious persona of Guccifer 2.0, who claimed the hack, was played by none other than Alperovitch himself, while the technical infrastructure, including the notorious website dcleaks.com, was provided by US and NATO intermediaries in NATO member Romania.

Later, former FBI director Robert Mueller would pretend to “investigate” the cyber operation, attributing it to alleged “Russian hacking groups” named “Cozy Bear” and “Fancy Bear” based on information provided by FBI and DNC contractor CrowdStrike and its CTO Dmitri Alperovitch.[2]

Blake also shows how other alleged “Russian hacks”, including the “hacking” of the German parlia­ment in 2015, relied on the very same NATO-controlled technical infrastructure. Blake was able to show this based on archived information about previous owners of IP addresses, name servers, and SSL security certificates – all pointing to the US military, NATO, and the Ukrainian government.[3]

Archived IP and SSL data tying covert operations to NATO and the Ukrainian government (DJB)

In the case of the staged hack of the US Democratic Party, Blake shows how FBI cybersecurity contractor CrowdStrike added false “Russian fingerprints” by embedding the documents into previously published CyberBerkut documents and inserting additional false signatures. However, CrowdStrike made a few technical mistakes that ultimately revealed their US time zone.

Blake highlights the important fact that in all of these false-flag “Russian hacks”, originating from NATO-controlled infrastructure, either no data or only trivial data was released to the public. Some questions continue to remain open, however, such as the role of murdered DNC employee Seth Rich and the actual source of Wikileaks, whose founder Julian Assange is still in British custody.

In the wake of the 2014 US regime change in Ukraine, the family of then Vice President Joe Biden exfiltrated millions of dollars from Ukraine, protected against corruption investigations by Joe Biden himself, as leaked phone recordings confirmed.

As of 2021, the professionals behind the Ukraine regime change and the “Russiagate” pysop will once again be in full control of the US government.

Most US and European media have promoted the “Russiagate” and “Russian hacking” psyops and will continue to do so. This is because most US and European media, both liberal and conservative, are themselves embedded in networks linked to NATO and the US Council on Foreign Relations. It is only some independent media that have been seriously investigating these topics.

Are there real Russian state-sponsored hacks against Western targets? Yes. Blake argues that, for instance, the hacking operation against the British Institute for Statecraft and its “Integrity Initiative” – itself deeply involved in the “Russiagate” psyop – was likely a professional Russian operation. The problem is that such real operations are much harder to “attribute” than fake ones.

∗∗∗

David J. Blake‘s book can be purchased in paperback, and is available as an adapted digital version.

January 5, 2021 Posted by | Book Review, Deception, Russophobia | , | Leave a comment

Cybersecurity group admits SolarWinds hack came from within the US, but doubles down on blaming Russia

RT | January 4, 2021

Internet security firm FireEye has revealed the enormous SolarWinds hack that left upwards of 250 agencies and businesses unprotected for weeks was launched from inside the US – but that hasn’t stopped them from blaming Moscow.

The mega-hack, which affected 250 networks including US government agencies, went undetected by Washington’s security systems because it originated within the US, FireEye told the New York Times. But while one might expect this revelation to pour cold water on the metastasizing, baseless claims that Russia was responsible for the intrusion, speculation about the country’s role has only increased.

The western media establishment has remained largely silent about the latest development in the SolarWinds saga, perhaps embarrassed to blame a foreign country for one’s own inability to safeguard clients’ data. Indeed, the US agencies supposedly tasked with detecting and preventing such attacks – the National Security Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Pentagon’s Cyber Command – all missed the breach. Instead, it took FireEye, a firm that even the AP admits specializes in pinning American security fails on the Kremlin, to uncover the sprawling security snafu.

FireEye allegedly discovered the vulnerability only after those “state actors” broke into its own network to steal security tools, and the Times acknowledged the company has “a history of lackluster security for its products.” However, the same outlet’s coverage suggests such a breach could only have been accomplished with high-level hacking tools backed by a state.

Even the usual Russia hawks were baffled at why the Kremlin would go through all the trouble of infiltrating stateside servers only to – as far as experts can tell – take nothing and leave the system itself intact. “We still don’t know what Russia’s strategic objectives were,” former DHS official Suzanne Spaulding told the New York Times on Sunday – apparently unwilling to consider the heretical notion that Russia might not be the culprit.

Despite the media’s decision to take the “Russia did it” narrative and run with it, FireEye itself has shied away from explicitly pinning the attack on the Kremlin, instead merely claiming it was a government-backed hack. The Associated Press, however, stepped in to fill the blanks, declaring “industry experts” had said it “bore the hallmarks of Russian tradecraft.”

One of those “experts”, Dmitri Alperovitch, was the CEO of CrowdStrike, which famously accused Russia of hacking the Democratic National Committee and failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016. Even though the software used to pull off those hacks was widely available and the firm itself could only muster “low to medium” confidence regarding a supposed link to the Russian government, that didn’t stop the company from presenting its conclusions as if set in stone. CrowdStrike claimed last week that it was also targeted for hacking by the latest group of “Russians,” but claimed that unlike FireEye, it had withstood the infiltration attempt.

January 4, 2021 Posted by | Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia | | 1 Comment

Navalny and Handlers Lose the Plot… He Is a Convicted Felon on Probation

By Finian Cunningham | Strategic Culture Foundation | January 2, 2021

Russia’s federal prison authorities were right to jolt Alexei Navalny this week by warning him to return immediately from Germany or else face a suspended sentence being made into jail time.

The “professional” opposition activist claims to be convalescing in Germany after he was allegedly poisoned by a Soviet-era nerve agent in August. Western news media dutifully repeat the claim that Navalny is “recuperating” in Germany after having survived an assassination plot by Kremlin agents. Navalny has personally accused Russia’s President Vladimir Putin of ordering the alleged hit.

Last week, a team of medics from the Berlin hospital where Navalny had been staying published a paper in The Lancet medical journal in which they claimed he had been poisoned with Novichok nerve agent. Their findings are dubious because the medics acknowledged the involvement of German military intelligence laboratories in conducting their analysis.

But one thing the German doctors did let slip was that a 55-day follow-up check on Navalny ascertained that he had made a “near-complete recovery”.

The Russian dissident figure was flown to Berlin on August 22, two days after he was treated in a hospital in Omsk, Russia. Thus, the German medical team are indicating – no doubt inadvertently – that Navalny’s health recovered nearly two months ago, if not before that.

That means there is no medical reason why he should remain at large in Germany. His claims of “convalescing” and the Western media’s indulgence of those claims are false, if the German doctors are correct about his “recovery”.

Despite Navalny’s arrogant disdain for Russian state laws, he is nevertheless answerable to those authorities as a citizen. While in Germany he was on probation for a suspended jail sentence concerning a fraud conviction in 2014. His so-called Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) has a checkered history of shady financing, from allegations of foreign funding by the U.S. State Department to charges of embezzling millions of dollars. Ironically, the blogger and media activist produces slick programs accusing the Russian government of corruption.

In any case, under the laws of the Russian Federation, the 44-year-old Navalny was on probation during the past four months of his stay in Germany. For the last two months, he is in good health, according to his German doctors. So there are no grounds for why he should abscond from Russian territory and evade the laws for which he is answerable.

Not only is Navalny living as if he above the law, he has also shown flagrant contempt for the Russian authorities.

Last week, he published a video on his website claiming that he had pranked a named member of Russia’s security service, the FSB, into admitting that agents had poisoned him while he was visiting the Siberian city of Tomsk on August 20. He was later flown in an emergency to Omsk where he was treated after having apparently fallen ill onboard a flight to Moscow.

The FSB dismissed Navalny’s prank telephone claim as a “deep fake”. The Russian doctors who treated him in Omsk – and who probably saved his life – have repeatedly stated that their tests showed there was no poison in Navalny’s body, and specifically no traces of nerve agent. They said his illness was due to a metabolic disorder. Perhaps self-induced as a ruse to later transfer to Germany?

The transcript of Navalny’s purported prank call to the FSB agent reads like a comic set-up. Posing as a senior member of Russia’s national security council, Navalny affects to bully the supposed agent as if he is a pathetic stooge.

A telling segment is where the self-styled super sleuth fishes for compliments about his own character from the purported FSB man, betraying the narcissism of a megalomaniac.

Again, incredibly, we are expected to believe that someone who had a near-death experience with a lethal nerve poison and who is “convalescing” still in Germany somehow managed to find the energy and mental reserves to pull off a daring 45-minute telephone sting.

If Navalny is fit enough to participate in such practical jokes – regardless of their credibility – then he is surely fit enough to abide by Russian laws and respect his probation terms. As the Russian Federal Prison Service stated this week: “The convicted man is not fulfilling all of the obligations placed on him by the court, and is evading the supervision of the Criminal Inspectorate.”

One gets the unerring impression that Navalny and his foreign handlers have become so self-intoxicated with hubris that they are blind to their own absurd implausibilities.

Why was he permitted to fly by air ambulance to Berlin in the first place if the Russian authorities had evil designs against him?

While there, as a guest of the German government, Navalny has wildly accused President Putin of ordering his alleged assassination. The European governments have subsequently and rashly imposed sanctions on Russia in support of Navalny’s unfounded claims. Then we have the media activist mounting further provocations parlayed into even more outlandish accusations against President Putin and the Kremlin.

All the while there has been no evidence of poisoning presented to support these claims, other than unverifiable assertions by German doctors working with German military intelligence labs, as well as two other NATO laboratories and the Organization for the Prohibition on Chemical Weapons. All of them including the OPCW (the latter compromised over complicity in NATO false-flag provocations in Syria) have refused to share their analytical data and samples with Russia, and yet they are demanding that Moscow launch a criminal investigation into the Navalny case.

The abdication by European governments of due process and of respect for Russian state laws, its government, and its president is astounding. They are indulging a foreign-sponsored gadfly as if he is the sovereign representative of the Russian Federation.

Navalny and his foreign allies have lost the plot in their own telling of an alleged assassination plot.

First things first: he is a convicted felon who is answerable to Russian law. Pushing false flags and slanderous falsehoods from abroad with the intent of damaging Russia’s sovereignty is an abuse of his rights.

Arrogant and overindulged Navalny is patently incapable of even understanding his obligations under law as a Russian citizen. He evidently feels above the law, like many of his Western backers. That’s why Russia is right to tell him to put up or shut up.

January 4, 2021 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia | 1 Comment

While giving Americans $600, Congress sets aside $600 MILLION to fight Russia & China

RT | December 28, 2020

The omnibus spending bill US President Donald Trump eventually agreed to sign gives Americans a pittance, but over $600 million to “counter the influence” of Russia and China and “promote democracy” in Europe and Asia.

The 5,593-page legislation bundled the coronavirus “stimulus” with general 2021 spending. It faced heavy criticism from across the US political spectrum last week, for funding all sorts of pet projects while giving Americans only a $600 individual payment. That’s half of what they got in April, and the only direct assistance to mitigate the economic damage of state-imposed lockdowns.

A million times that much was earmarked for US propaganda and diplomatic efforts aimed against Beijing and Moscow, however. According to Congress, “not less than $290 million” is to be made available for the “Countering Russian Influence Fund.” The funds shall be used to, among other things, “support democracy programs in the Russian Federation and other countries in Europe, Eurasia, and Central Asia.”

One activity specifically listed is the promotion of “internet freedom” – coming from a country where Silicon Valley companies ruthlessly censor what one can think and say online.

No less than $20 million will go “to strengthen democracy and civil society in Central Europe,” including “transparency, independent media, rule of law, minority rights, and programs to combat anti-Semitism.”

Another $300 million was earmarked for the “Countering Chinese Influence Fund” to be used against the “malign influence of the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the Chinese Communist Party and entities acting on their behalf globally.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo may well have written those provisions himself. In a major speech in July, he denounced Beijing as a threat to “our people and our prosperity” and called for a generational struggle against the CCP. Just a week before Congress voted on the bill, he also claimed Russian President Vladimir Putin was “a real risk to those of us who love freedom.”

“We have lots of folks that want to undermine our way of life, our republic, our basic democratic principles. Russia is certainly on that list,” Pompeo told Fox News host Mark Levin on December 18.

Trump had initially refused to sign the bill, demanding that Congress cut back on the programs called out by critics and increase the individual payment to $2,000 per person. He then signed it on Sunday, saying he expected Congress to approve the increase as well as respond to several other priorities he raised.

Democrats have already said they will reject any cuts to the omnibus, however, while there is no indication the Republican-led Senate will actually do anything Trump asked.

December 28, 2020 Posted by | Economics, Progressive Hypocrite, Russophobia | | 1 Comment

Russia can refuse to pay $50 billion bill to Yukos oligarchs, country’s top court rules, as foreign legal battle rages

RT | December 27, 2020

Moscow is set for a showdown with Western judges and 1990s Russian oligarchs, over a new ruling enabling the country to refuse to pay what is considered to be the biggest legal settlement in history, over a collapsed oil empire.

The Constitutional Court, one of Russia’s highest judicial authorities, ruled on Friday that the decision of an international tribunal in the long-running dispute over the now-dissolved energy giant Yukos is incompatible with Russian law. The case has been heard by a court in The Hague, which claims jurisdiction under the terms of the Energy Charter Treaty, and awarded the company’s former shareholders a $50-billion payout from the Russian government earlier this year. Moscow claimed a win in November on the other side of the Atlantic, when a US court, which had been hearing the case simultaneously, decided to throw it out.

However, as Russia signed but never ratified the Treaty, which hands powers to international tribunals, the Constitutional Court has now determined it is not bound by the terms of The Hague judgement. The ruling states that, while the country’s government of the day began the process of signing up to the pact in 1994, they did not have the authority to make national laws inferior to international agreements, or to “challenge the competence” of Russian courts. Therefore, the jurists conclude, adhering to the Dutch court’s demands would be “unconstitutional.”

The claimants in the case are oligarchs who lost cash when Yukos, once among Europe’s largest firms, collapsed. They say that a multi-billion dollar tax bill and the arrest of its CEO and founder, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, on fraud charges amounted to state ‘appropriation’ of its assets. However, Russian authorities insist that the shareholders cannot be considered “legitimate,” and that the Dutch judges had steamrolled over the country’s laws against corruption and fraud when ruling in their favour.

As far back as July 2014, The Hague ordered Moscow to cough up $50 billion to compensate the plaintiffs. After exhausting the appeals process in February this year, Russia’s lawyers asked the Dutch Supreme Court to consider the case and overrule the decision. However, at the start of December, it similarly backed the oligarchs.

Russia has insisted that the judgements are “politically motivated,” and in December the country’s Justice Minister, Konstantin Chuychenko, told journalists that the case was part of a “legal war that has been declared on Russia.” He added that “Russia must adequately defend itself and, sometimes, even attack back.”

Now standing at around $50 billion, around the same ballpark as Russia’s annual military budget, the colossal settlement is thought to be the largest award in history. If the country now rejects the bill, it would spark one of the most serious impasses in international legal history, and leave Western states deciding whether to respect Russia’s constitutional ruling, or to enforce the demands by confiscating assets.

Yukos’ former shareholders have already sought to have Western governments take control of Russian property overseas as an insurance policy in case Moscow refuses to pay up. However, in November, a judge in the simultaneous hearing in the US refused that request, saying that “the Russian Federation is a sovereign country with economic tendrils that cross the globe, not an insecure potential debtor that must be required to post security lest there be no assets to seize at a later date.”

Not all countries have taken the same approach, however, and in 2015 Russia’s diplomats slammed France and Belgium for confiscating state cash in overseas banks, and even buildings, to be held as collateral in the case. Moscow again rejected the court’s authority and said their move was “an openly hostile act.” Tim Osborne, a British lawyer representing the former shareholders, said at the time that such seizures were necessary because Russia “has no regard for international law or the rule of law.”

At its height, Yukos produced 20 per cent of Russia’s oil, placing it firmly among the ranks of the world’s most valuable enterprises. It had been formed by the privatization of former state assets after the fall of the Soviet Union, with Khodorkovsky acquiring the assets for a fraction of their worth at an auction that one economist, Andrey Illarionov, called “the swindle of the century.”

Khodorkovsky claims his arrest on fraud charges and the subsequent collapse of Yukos was tied to his political activism and his personal animosity towards Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin, however, claims that the oligarch, once said to be Russia’s wealthiest man, had admitted his guilt to him privately in exchange for a pardon in 2013.

Khodorkovsky insists that he has renounced any claims to his former empire and that, should a settlement be reached in the Yukos case, he would not stand to benefit. However, Russian authorities are said to suspect that a number of claimants have close financial ties to the former oil magnate.

December 27, 2020 Posted by | Corruption, Economics, Russophobia | , | 1 Comment

With Biden’s New Threats, the Russia Discourse is More Reckless and Dangerous Than Ever

The U.S. media demands inflammatory claims be accepted with no evidence, while hacking behavior routinely engaged in by the U.S. is depicted as aberrational.

By Glenn Greenwald | December 23, 2020

To justify Hillary Clinton’s 2016 loss to Donald Trump, leading Democrats and their key media allies for years competed with one another to depict what they called “Russia’s interference in our elections” in the most apocalyptic terms possible. They fanatically rejected the view of the Russian Federation repeatedly expressed by President Obama — that it is a weak regional power with an economy smaller than Italy’s capable of only threatening its neighbors but not the U.S. — and instead cast Moscow as a grave, even existential, threat to U.S. democracy, with its actions tantamount to the worst security breaches in U.S. history.

This post-2016 mania culminated with prominent liberal politicians and journalists (as well as John McCain) declaring Russia’s activities surrounding the 2016 [election] to be an “act of war” which, many of them insisted, was comparable to Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 attack — the two most traumatic attacks in modern U.S. history which both spawned years of savage and destructive war, among other things.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) repeatedly demanded that Russia’s 2016 “interference” be treated as “an act of war.” Hillary Clinton described Russian hacking as “a cyber 9/11.” And Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) on MSNBC in early February, 2018, pronounced Russia “a hostile foreign power” whose 2016 meddling was the “equivalent” of Pearl Harbor, “very much on par” with the “seriousness” of the 1941 attack in Hawaii that helped prompt four years of U.S. involvement in a world war.

With the Democrats, under Joe Biden, [presumably] just weeks away from assuming control of the White House and the U.S. military and foreign policy that goes along with it, the discourse from them and their media allies about Russia is becoming even more unhinged and dangerous. Moscow’s alleged responsibility for the recently revealed, multi-pronged hack of U.S. Government agencies and various corporate servers is asserted — despite not a shred of evidence, literally, having yet been presented — as not merely proven fact, but as so obviously true that it is off-limits from doubt or questioning.

Any questioning of this claim will be instantly vilified by the Democrats’ extremely militaristic media spokespeople as virtual treason. “Now the president is not just silent on Russia and the hack. He is deliberately running defense for the Kremlin by contradicting his own Secretary of State on Russian responsibility,” pronounced CNN’s national security reporter Jim Sciutto, who last week depicted Trump’s attempted troop withdrawal from Syria and Germany as “ceding territory” and furnishing “gifts” to Putin. More alarmingly, both the rhetoric to describe the hack and the retaliation being threatened are rapidly spiraling out of control.

Democrats (along with some Republicans long obsessed with The Russian Threat, such as Mitt Romney) are casting the latest alleged hack by Moscow in the most melodramatic terms possible, ensuring that Biden will enter the White House with tensions sky-high with Russia and facing heavy pressure to retaliate aggressively. Biden’s top national security advisers and now Biden himself have, with no evidence shown to the public, repeatedly threatened aggressive retaliation against the country with the world’s second-largest nuclear stockpile.

Congressman Jason Crow (D-CO) — one of the pro-war Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee who earlier this year joined with Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) to block Trump’s plan to withdraw troops from Afghanistan — announced: “this could be our modern day, cyber equivalent of Pearl Harbor,” adding: “Our nation is under assault.” The second-ranking Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin (D-IL), pronounced: “This is virtually a declaration of war by Russia.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), who has for years been casting Russia as a grave threat to the U.S. while Democrats mocked him as a relic of the Cold War (before they copied and then surpassed him), described the latest hack as “the equivalent of Russian bombers flying undetected over the entire country.” The GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee also blasted Trump for his failure to be “aggressively speaking out and protesting and taking punitive action,” though — like virtually every prominent figure demanding tough “retaliation” — Romney failed to specify what he had in mind that would be sufficient retaliation for “the equivalent of Russian bombers flying undetected over the entire country.”

For those keeping track at home: that’s two separate “Pearl Harbors” in less than four years from Moscow (or, if you prefer, one Pearl Harbor and one 9/11). If Democrats actually believe that, it stands to reason that they will be eager to embrace a policy of belligerence and aggression toward Russia. Many of them are demanding this outright, mocking Trump for failing to attack Russia — despite no evidence that they were responsible — while their well-trained liberal flock is suggesting that the non-response constitutes some form of “high treason.”

Indeed, the Biden team has been signalling that they intend to quickly fulfill demands for aggressive retaliation. The New York Times reported on Tuesday that Biden “accused President Trump [] of ‘irrational downplaying’” of the hack while “warning Russia that he would not allow the intrusion to ‘go unanswered’ after he takes office.” Biden emphasized that once the intelligence assessment is complete, “we will respond, and probably respond in kind.”

Threats and retaliation between the U.S. and Russia are always dangerous, but particularly so now. One of the key nuclear arms agreements between the two nuclear-armed nations, the New START treaty, will expire in February unless Putin and Biden can successfully negotiate a renewal: sixteen days after Biden is [tentatively] scheduled to take office. “That will force Mr. Biden to strike a deal to prevent one threat — a nuclear arms race — while simultaneously threatening retaliation on another,” observed the Times.


This escalating rhetoric from Washington about Russia, and the resulting climate of heightened tensions, are dangerous in the extreme. They are also based in numerous myths, deceits and falsehoods:

First, absolutely no evidence of any kind has been presented to suggest, let alone prove, that Russia is responsible for these hacks. It goes without saying that it is perfectly plausible that Russia could have done this: it’s the sort of thing that every large power from China and Iran to the U.S. and Russia have the capability to do and wield against virtually every other country including one another.

But if we learned nothing else over the last several decades, we should know that accepting claims that emanate from the U.S. intelligence community about adversaries without a shred of evidence is madness of the highest order. We just had a glaring reminder of the importance of this rule: just weeks before the election, countless mainstream media outlets laundered and endorsed the utterly false claim that the documents from Hunter Biden’s laptop were “Russian disinformation,” only for officials to acknowledge once the harm was done that there was no evidence — zero — of Russian involvement.

Yet that is exactly what the overwhelming bulk of media outlets are doing again: asserting that Russia is behind these hacks despite having no evidence of its truth. The New York Times’ Michael Barbaro, host of the paper’s popular The Daily podcast, asked his colleague, national security reporter David Sanger, what evidence exists to assert that Russia did this. As Barbaro put it, even Sanger is “allowing that early conclusions could all be wrong, but that it’s doubtful.” Indeed, Sanger acknowledged to Barbaro that they have no proof, asserting instead that the basis on which he is relying is that Russia possesses the sophistication to carry out such a hack (as do several other nation-states), along with claiming that the hack has what he calls the “markings” of Russian hackers.

But this tactic was exactly the same one used by former intelligence officials, echoed by these same media outlets, to circulate the false pre-election claim that the documents from Hunter Biden’s laptop were “Russian disinformation”: namely, they pronounced in lockstep, the material from Hunter’s laptop “has all the classic earmarks of a Russian information.” This was also exactly the same tactic used by the U.S. intelligence community in 2001 to falsely blame Iraq for the anthrax attacks, claiming that their chemical analysis revealed a substance that was “a trademark of the Iraqi biological weapons program.”

These media outlets will, if pressed, acknowledge their lack of proof that Russia did this. Despite this admitted lack of proof, media outlets are repeatedly stating Russian responsibility as proven fact.

“Scope of Russian Hacking Becomes Clear: Multiple U.S. Agencies Were Hit,” one New York Times headline proclaimed, and the first line of that article, co-written by Sanger, stated definitively: “The scope of a hacking engineered by one of Russia’s premier intelligence agencies became clearer on Monday.” The Washington Post deluged the public with identically certain headlines.

Nobody in the government has been as definitive in asserting Russian responsibility as corporate media outlets. Even Trump’s hawkish Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, crafted his accusation against Moscow with caveats and uncertainty: “I think it’s the case that now we can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians that engaged in this activity.”

If actual evidence ultimately emerges demonstrating Russian responsibility, it would not alter how dangerous it is that — less than twenty years after the Iraq WMD debacle and less than a couple of years after media endorsement of endless Russiagate falsehoods — the most influential media outlets continue to mindlessly peddle as Truth whatever the intelligence community feeds them, without the need to see any evidence that what they’re claiming is actually true. Even more alarmingly, large sectors of the public that venerate these outlets continue to believe that what they hear from them must be true, no matter how many times they betray that trust. The ease with which the CIA can disseminate whatever messaging it wants through friendly media outlets is stunning.

Second, the very idea that this hack could be compared to rogue and wildly aberrational events such as Pearl Harbor or the 9/11 attack is utterly laughable on its face. One has to be drowning in endless amounts of jingoistic self-delusion to believe that this hack — or, for that matter, the 2016 “election interference” — is a radical departure from international norms as opposed to a perfect reflection of them.

Just as was true of 2016 fake Facebook pages and Twitter bots, it is not an exaggeration to say that the U.S. Government engages in hacking attacks of this sort, and ones far more invasive, against virtually every country on the planet, including Russia, on a weekly basis. That does not mean that this kind of hacking is either justified or unjustified. It does mean, however, that depicting it as some particularly dastardly and incomparably immoral act that requires massive retaliation requires a degree of irrationality and gullibility that is bewildering to behold.

The NSA reporting enabled by Edward Snowden by itself proved that the NSA spies on virtually anyone it can. Indeed, after reviewing the archive back in 2013, I made the decision that I would not report on U.S. hacks of large adversary countries such as China and Russia because it was so commonplace for all of these countries to hack one another as aggressively and intrusively as they could that it was hardly newsworthy to report on this (the only exception was when there was a substantial reason to view such spying as independently newsworthy, such as Sweden’s partnering with NSA to spy on Russia in direct violation of the denials Swedish officials voiced to their public).

Other news outlets who had access to Snowden documents, particularly The New York Times, were not nearly as circumspect in exposing U.S. spying on large nation-state adversaries. As a result, there is ample proof published by those outlets (sometimes provoking Snowden’s strong objections) that the U.S. does exactly what Russia is alleged to have done here — and far worse.

“Even as the United States made a public case about the dangers of buying from [China’s] Huawei, classified documents show that the National Security Agency was creating its own back doors — directly into Huawei’s networks,” reported The New York Times’ David Sanger and Nicole Perlroth in 2013, adding that “the agency pried its way into the servers in Huawei’s sealed headquarters in Shenzhen, China’s industrial heart.”

In 2013, the Guardian revealed “an NSA attempt to eavesdrop on the Russian leader, Dmitry Medvedev, as his phone calls passed through satellite links to Moscow,” and added: “foreign politicians and officials who took part in two G20 summit meetings in London in 2009 had their computers monitored and their phone calls intercepted on the instructions of their British government hosts.” Meanwhile, “Sweden has been a key partner for the United States in spying on Russia and its leadership, Swedish television said on Thursday,” noted Reuters, citing what one NSA document described as “a unique collection on high-priority Russian targets, such as leadership, internal politics.”

Other reports revealed that the U.S. had hacked into the Brazilian telecommunications system to collect data on the whole population, and was spying on Brazil’s key leaders (including then-President Dilma Rousseff) as well as its most important companies such as its oil giant Petrobras and its Ministry of Mines and Energy. The Washington Post reported: “The National Security Agency is gathering nearly 5 billion records a day on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world, according to top-secret documents and interviews with U.S. intelligence officials, enabling the agency to track the movements of individuals — and map their relationships — in ways that would have been previously unimaginable.” And on and on.

[One amazing though under-appreciated episode related to all this: the same New York Times reporter who revealed the details about massive NSA hacking of Chinese government and industry, Nicole Perlroth, subsequently urged (in tweets she has now deleted) that Snowden not be pardoned on the ground that, according to her, he revealed legitimate NSA spying on U.S. adversaries. In reality, it was actually she, Perlorth, not Snowden, who chose to expose NSA spying on China, provoking Snowden’s angry objections when she did so based on his view this was a violation of the framework he created for what should and should not be revealed; in other words, not only did Perlroth urge the criminal prosecution of a source on which she herself relied, an absolutely astonishing thing for any reporter to do, but so much worse, she did so by falsely accusing that source of doing something that she, Perlroth, had done herself: namely, reveal extensive U.S. hacking of China].

What all of this makes demonstrably clear is that only the most deluded and uninformed person could believe that Russian hacking of U.S. agencies and corporations — if it happened — is anything other than totally normal and common behavior between these countries. Harvard Law Professor and former Bush DOJ official Jack Goldsmith, reviewing growing demands for retaliation, wrote in an excellent article last week entitled “Self-Delusion on the Russia Hack: The U.S. regularly hacks foreign governmental computer systems on a massive scale”:

The lack of self-awareness in these and similar reactions to the Russia breach is astounding. The U.S. government has no principled basis to complain about the Russia hack, much less retaliate for it with military means, since the U.S. government hacks foreign government networks on a huge scale every day. Indeed, a military response to the Russian hack would violate international law . . . .

As the revelations from leaks of information from Edward Snowden made plain, the United States regularly penetrates foreign governmental computer systems on a massive scale, often (as in the Russia hack) with the unwitting assistance of the private sector, for purposes of spying. It is almost certainly the world’s leader in this practice, probably by a lot. The Snowden documents suggested as much, as does the NSA’s probable budget. In 2016, after noting “problems with cyber intrusions from Russia,” Obama boasted that the United States has “more capacity than anybody … offensively” . . . .

Because of its own practices, the U.S. government has traditionally accepted the legitimacy of foreign governmental electronic spying in U.S. government networks. After the notorious Chinese hack of the Office of Personnel Management database, then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said: “You have to kind of salute the Chinese for what they did. If we had the opportunity to do that, I don’t think we’d hesitate for a minute.” The same Russian agency that appears to have carried out the hack revealed this week also hacked into unclassified emails in the White House and Defense and State Departments in 2014-2015. The Obama administration deemed it traditional espionage and did not retaliate. “It was information collection, which is what nation states—including the United States—do,” said Obama administration cybersecurity coordinator Michael Daniel this week.

But over the last four years, Americans, particularly those who feed on liberal media outlets, have been drowned in so much mythology about the U.S. and Russia that they have no capacity to critically assess the claims being made, and — just as they were led to believe about “Russia’s 2016 interference in Our Sacred Elections” — are easily convinced that what Russia did is some shocking and extreme crime the likes of which are rarely seen in international relations. In reality, their own government is the undisputed world champion in perpetrating these acts, and has been for years if not decades.

Third, these demands for “retaliation” are so reckless because they are almost always unaccompanied by any specifics. Even if Moscow’s responsibility is demonstrated, what is the U.S. supposed to do in response? If your answer is that they should hack Russia back, rest assured the NSA and CIA are always trying to hack Russia as much as it possibly can, long before this event.

If the answer is more sanctions, that would be just performative and pointless, aside from wildly hypocritical. Any reprisals more severe than that would be beyond reckless, particularly with the need to renew nuclear arms control agreements looming. And if you are someone demanding retaliation, do you believe that Russia, China, Brazil and all the other countries invaded by NSA hackers have the same right of retaliation against the U.S., or does the U.S. occupy a special place with special entitlements that all other countries lack?

What we have here, yet again, is the classic operation of the intelligence community feeding serious accusations about a nuclear-armed power to an eagerly gullible corporate media, with the media mindlessly disseminating it without evidence, all toward ratcheting up tensions between these two nuclear-armed powers and fortifying a mythology of the U.S. as grand victim but never perpetrator.

If you ever find yourself wondering how massive military budgets and a posture of Endless War are seemingly invulnerable to challenge, this pathological behavior — from a now-enduring union of the intelligence community, corporate media outlets, and the Democratic Party — provides one key piece of the puzzle.

December 23, 2020 Posted by | Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Washington Post Can’t Stop Babbling About Russians ‘Hacking Our Minds’

By Caitlin Johnstone | December 19, 2020

The Washington Post has published another article warning its readers that the Russians are “hacking our minds”, this one authored by CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.

Russia hasn’t just hacked our computer systems. It’s hacked our minds.” blares the ridiculous, propagandistic headline for an article about “the Russian model” of propaganda which “rests on the principle that people get convinced when they hear the same message many times from a variety of sources, no matter how biased.”

Which is funny, since this is not the first time WaPo itself has repeated this cartoonish narrative about Russian mind-hackers.

Just two months ago the Washington Post editorial board published an article titled “The US may be safe from foreign interference in this election. But what about perception hacking?“, which opens with the line “Russia and other adversaries may not need to hack the election if they can hack something else: our minds.”

The paranoid screed unironically argued that Russia is using its super powerful propaganda engine to make people paranoid and doubtful of US electoral systems, which could actually have an adverse effect on the US election. As though telling people their mental and perceptual faculties are being hacked by a hostile foreign enemy with the goal of influencing the election would not make them paranoid and doubtful of US electoral systems.

Zakaria’s piece builds on this already established theme by parroting the still completely evidence-free claim that Russia was responsible for the far-reaching cyber intrusion into the IT company SolarWinds, whose cybersecurity we recently learned was left so unprotected that its update server’s password was literally “solarwinds123”.

“But what about the perhaps more insidious Russian efforts at disinformation, which have helped to reshape the information environment worldwide?” Zakaria asks. He then does a few mental gymnastics to tie Russia’s propaganda campaign to Donald Trump, because of course he does, and leaves the reader with the closing line, “The problem is not just that Russia has hacked America’s computer systems. It seems to have hacked our minds.”

WaPo keeps hammering this narrative about powerful Russian mind-hackers as though Russia is the only nation with an existing propaganda campaign on the world stage and not one of the weaker ones doing so. The US government itself openly uses propaganda on foreigners with programs like Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, which actually serve the more important function of presenting the illusion that those are the only form of US government propaganda.

In reality the plutocratic class which owns the mass media works closely with the US government and sets up its institutions to only elevate voices which advance narratives that are favorable to the status quo those plutocrats have built their kingdoms upon. WaPo itself is owned by the richest man in the world who is also a CIA contractor and sits on a Pentagon advisory board. The unofficial propaganda operations of the oligarchic empire give it a massive edge in international narrative control that dwarfs both official US propaganda programs and anything the Russian government could ever come up with.

Among some very stiff competition, one of the dumbest recurring themes in western imperialist media is the idea that world affairs, entire electoral and governmental systems, and even our very minds, are being controlled by a nation with the same GDP as South Korea. Russia does not have an especially strong sway over the world stage, it just happens to be one of the few remaining power structures which have resisted absorption into the US-centralized empire and is being targeted with a propaganda campaign aimed at changing that.

Russia is not hacking your mind. If anyone is hacking your mind, it’s the vast globe-spanning power structure loosely centralized around the United States which has been aggressively propagandizing you into supporting the continuation of status quo politics since you were born.

The dawn of political insight comes when you realize that propaganda is not just something that is done by other nations to other people. It is done by your own rulers, in your own nation, and it is being done to you.

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December 21, 2020 Posted by | Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia | , | 2 Comments

Trump’s China tweet ‘destructive & deceitful’ as there isn’t ‘ANY QUESTION’ Russia behind latest hacking scare, Adam Schiff claims

RT | December 20, 2020

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) has joined Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in blaming Russia for a recent massive cyber attack. He also slammed President Donald Trump for the inconvenient suggestion China could have been the culprit.

“Based on what I’ve seen, I don’t think there’s any question that it was Russia,” Schiff, who is the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told MSNBC on Sunday, commenting on the hack.

The hacking operation in question targeted the SolarWinds Orion Platform, a network monitoring tool used by US government agencies and numerous corporations. There has been no evidence presented that Russia was behind the hack, but Pompeo alleged otherwise in a recent interview.

The president broke with his secretary of state on Saturday and called out “fake news media” for their anonymous reports pinning the hack on Russia. He also suggested China may have been behind the hack, tying it to his ongoing allegations of voter fraud in key swing states during November’s election.

Schiff, one of the president’s most vocal critics in the House and a supporter of evidence-free claims Russia colluded to influence the 2016 presidential election, called Trump’s tweets “uniformly destructive and deceitful and injurious” to the country’s “national security.”

In a previous tweet, Schiff called the president’s China accusation “another scandalous betrayal of our national security.”

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) also pushed back against the president on Sunday, accusing him of having a “blind spot” when it comes to Russia.

“What Russia has done is put in place a capacity to potentially cripple us in terms of our electricity, our water, our communications,” the senator told CNN’s Jake Tapper.

The Republican called for the cyber attack to be “met with a very strong response, not just rhetorical, important as that is, but also with a cyber response of like magnitude or greater.”

Similarly to 2016, the claim of a major Russian cyber attack on the US comes amid the expected transition of power at the White House – although President Trump continues his legal efforts disputing the election result over the alleged mass-scale voter fraud. When Trump assumed his post in January 2017, the stage had already been set for the worsening of relations with Moscow, which included dozens of Russian diplomats getting expelled by the Obama administration over the allegations of meddling in US affairs and over “hacking” of the election. As Trump’s term progressed, overshadowed by the failed ‘Russiagate’ investigation, initial hopes of a detente with Moscow have all but faded.

December 20, 2020 Posted by | Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia | , | 2 Comments

America analysts downbeat as Washington opts to withdraw Siberia & remote Far East diplomatic presence

RT | December 19, 2020

As Russia moves to liberalize its Visa system for most Western visitors, the US has said it will close its last consulates outside Moscow. This step is certain to reduce person-to-person contacts between Americans and Russians.

The decision, which has echoes of the Cold War, albeit with roles reversed in terms of the paranoia at play, will see diplomatic offices close in the Far Eastern capital Vladivostok, and in Ekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth largest city, located east of the Ural Mountains. President Donald Trump’s administration notified Congress of the plans over a week ago, but the news received little coverage until Saturday.

While the exact timings of the closures have not yet been made clear, it is understood that American officials will be transferred to the country’s embassy in Moscow, while local Russian support staff will be laid off. In news that will satisfy Washington’s deficit hawks, the State Department predicts that the move, if made permanent, would save $3.2 million each year.

In a written communiqué, the administration claims that its actions are “in response to ongoing staffing challenges of the US Mission in Russia in the wake of the 2017 Russian-imposed personnel cap on the US Mission and resultant impasse with Russia over diplomatic visas.” The presence of state representatives first became an issue in 2016, when Washington expelled 35 of Moscow’s diplomats, limiting its mission’s numbers, over alleged attempts to interfere with that year’s Presidential elections, which Russia strenuously denies.

The decision leaves the US without formal representation anywhere apart from the capital, in a country that bridges two continents. As well as providing consular services to the more than a quarter of a million Americans who visit Russia each year, the offices are charged with issuing visas to Russians wishing to travel stateside.

Residents of Russia’s Far East who wish to visit the US will now have to fly for up to nine hours to Moscow for a Visa, with no guarantees that their application will be approved. Likewise, Americans needing to access consular services will face days of travel if they need support in Siberia or the Far East. The move, and the restrictive Visa regime, flies in the face of Russia’s recent policy towards liberalizing the process, with the introduction of a digital system offering tourists stays of up to 16-days for no more than $50 to be rolled out in January 2021. Americans are excluded from the scheme, but citizens of most NATO states are eligible.

Many analysts took to Twitter to criticize the American decision, even those usually supportive of a more confrontational approach to relations with Russia. One-time US Ambassador Michael McFaul, who has frequently become the target of ridicule over his bellicose and often inaccurate claims about the country, said that he was “saddened” by the decision, adding that “the US should be seeking ways to engage more directly with Russian society.”

A senior national security adviser to the University of Denver’s Biden Institute, Sam Vinograd, was similarly concerned over the impact of the closures, adding that “there’s a reason we have embassies and consulates in countries. Closing consulates could harm Americans and our interests.”

While ties between Moscow and Washington have been consistently under strain over a number of issues in recent months, it is unclear how the decision to shutter diplomatic offices is expected to relieve tensions. In most cases, consulates fulfil a purely administrative role, but they often also act as hubs for cultural and political exchanges, hosting events and enabling diplomats to get a better understanding of a country beyond its capital. Shuttering them also deprives the US of a useful vantage point in Vladivostok, in close range of China, North Korea and Japan.

In 2018, US officials forced Moscow to shut its consulate in Seattle, leaving it without any representation on America’s West Coast. In retaliation, the Kremlin told Washington to shut down its equivalent operations in the city of St Petersburg, one of Russia’s most popular tourist destinations. The spat saw around 60 diplomats expelled from the country, with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov saying at the time that they had been ”declared ‘persona non grata’ for activities incompatible with diplomatic status.”

These decisions have widely been interpreted as attempts to restrict the kind of human-to-human contact that helps challenge established narratives about countries. In the Soviet-era, access to the country for foreign visitors was tightly restricted. But now, it would appear that the situation has reversed and, if a new Cold War is indeed underway, the US has chosen to close its doors to many Russians.

December 19, 2020 Posted by | Russophobia | , | 1 Comment