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US Media: Building Newspaper Curtain Against A Fabled Foe

By Angela BOROZNA | Oriental Review | September 1, 2015

“Now we do not have an Iron Curtain, we have a newspaper curtain.”
Evgeny Yevtushenko (a prominent Russian poet)
– RT interview, Sept 2009.

Though Russia went through significant domestic changes since 1991, the extent of Russia’s domestic achievements had rarely been acknowledged in the United States. Instead, Russia has been continuously criticized for not democratizing fast enough. American media ignores positive developments in Russia and concentrates on the negative. Russia made significant changes from the Soviet totalitarian system, but instead of acknowledging this progress, Russia is characterized by exploiting misleading historical analogies as ‘closed’, associated with the KGB, the Soviet Union, ‘relentless propaganda’, ‘government control’. The opinions of the Russian citizens on their political system or their president as well as the actions by the Russian state that do not fit the description of ‘dictatorial power’ are typically omitted from Western media coverage. The result of this “selection bias” builds up over time to construct a negative overall image of the country and its president.

Creating an external threat perception in the eyes of the Americans and Europeans becomes an instrument of uniting the public on foreign policy issues, as expressed by Zbigniew Brzezinski in his text, The Grand Chessboard: “As America becomes an increasingly multi-cultural society, it may find it more difficult to fashion a consensus on foreign policy issues, except in the circumstance of a truly massive and widely perceived direct external threat.” (p.211)

The news on Russia became consistently negative after 2000. Positive developments inside Russia, or news regarding Russia’s positive international involvements, were ignored while the negative news received immediate attention. A few examples from the period will illustrate this phenomenon:

William Safire’s article in The New York Times in 2004 concluded: “NATO must not lose its original purpose: to contain the Russian bear.” In 2006, the Wall Street Journal editorial described Russian foreign policy as “openly, and often gratuitously, hostile to the U.S.” and therefore it concluded that “it’s time we start thinking of Vladimir Putin’s Russia as an enemy of the United States.”

In July 2007, US Neoconservative Richard Pipes, who has been for decades a fierce critic of Russia, declared to Corriere della Sera that “For Europe, Russia could be even more dangerous than the threat of Islam, more hazardous than Bin Laden”. According to Pipes, Russia is trying to regain its superpower status and will use economic tools as pressure on the European or even global economy to achieve its goals. Pipes insisted that Russia has always been hostile to the West, and that the best policy that the West should adopt toward Russia is to avoid any contact. Oil companies should stop making contracts with Russia, and banks should cut out any investments. Not surprisingly, Pipes has been a fervent supporter of the missile defense shield in Eastern Europe, which hides behind the pretense of avoiding the spread of Russian influence there.

Similar to Pipes’ Russophobic stance, Vice President Dick Cheney frequently characterized Russian foreign policy as threatening to the United States and therefore has been advocating a policy of isolating Russia. Other officials in the George W. Bush administration who helped to inflate anti-Russian rhetoric are the Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Senator Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), and Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.).

David Kramer is particularly descriptive of Russia’s sins: “With this renewed sense of pride comes an arrogance, cockiness, assertiveness, self-confidence, and even aggressiveness that is combined at the same time with paranoia, insecurity, and hypersensitivity.” And journalist Michael Bohn sees Moscow acting out of stubbornness, and as a ‘spoiler’: “Now Moscow has trouble projecting its power…one way it can still project its strength globally ­ and particularly vis-à-vis the United States ­ is to be the spoiler in international affairs, a modern-day version of ‘Mr. Nyet.’” One must ask: What precisely is Moscow ‘spoiling’, and why? Said answers are tellingly avoided in much of this predominantly Western-based anti-Russian commentary.

The commentators, politicians and media personalities consistently portray a negative picture of Russia: ‘aggressive’, ‘non-cooperative, ‘imperialist’ are very common descriptions in the mainstream Western media. Negative media on Russia became especially intense after the brief Russo-Georgian War of 2008, which lasted only five days due in large part to Russia.

Without an investigation of the sources of the conflict, Western media nonetheless immediately took the side of the Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in the conflict and disregarded any evidence that Russia submitted to the United Nations, calling Russia the “aggressor”. While the Russian State’s account of the event did not receive any Western media coverage, nonetheless Saakashvili’s pleas for ‘protection’ were afforded front page positioning in major Western newspapers.

After Joe Biden visited Georgia and Ukraine in 2009, he expressed his predictions in The Wall Street Journal that Russia will collapse in no less than 15 years, given its “withering economy” and shrinking population base. Biden dismissed any Russian goodwill on nuclear disarmament, attributing it to Russia’s inability to maintain commitment to such a policy: “All of sudden, did they have an epiphany and say: ‘Hey man, we don’t want to threaten our neighbors?’ No. They can’t sustain it.”

Russian analyst, Sergey Roy, expressed the feeling in Russia toward the negative remarks by Biden on Russia:

“Biden’s harangues have done more good than harm. Russia’s leaders, starting with Mikhail Gorbachev, have been too gullible in their dealings with the United States and the West generally. Biden’s Dick Cheney-like stance shows only too clearly the kind of “partner” with whom we are supposed to enter “a new era of mutual respect and improved relations,” as promised by Obama.

Walter Isaacson, the former Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which oversees US media coverage directed at foreign audiences, was very open at calling Russia an enemy. Thus, in October 2010, Isaacson called for even more money for the BBG to combat America’s “enemies,” which he identifies as Iran, Venezuela, Russia, and China. “We can’t allow ourselves to be out-communicated by our enemies,” Isaacson bluntly, indiscreetly stated.

The Foreign Affairs journal ran an article by Charles Kupchan, where Russia is listed among other US enemies: Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Syria, and Myanmar. According to the article, Russia is an adversary, “a rivalry that Washington hopes to tame,” it is “on the wrong side of history.” Kupchan compares “recalcitrant autocrats” Putin and Medvedev to Iranian president Ahmadinejad, and Cuban President Raul Castro in their use of anti-Americanism in order to bolster domestic Russian support.

In 2011, The Economist published an article entitled, “The mood of Russia: Time to Shove Off,” where the publication concluded that the most educated and successful Russians are ready to emigrate as a response to Russia’s domestic ‘situation’. The article was based on the statistics provided by Levada-Center stating that 22% of Russians are interested in emigrating out of the country. What The Economist piece forgot, however, was to compare this figure to similar figures from other nations, such as Great Britain, where said figure would be closer to 33%, or to those from Chile, where the number of people wishing to emigrate is 35%, according to a Gallup poll. Mark Adomanis from Forbes responded: “The Economist does have a quite nasty habit of excluding evidence and limiting perspective when it serves its own interests, and the publication has long made clear that it considers Mr. Putin to be a figure of extreme, if not unique, malevolence.”

Russia’s efforts to restore its national pride are misread in Washington as somehow Russia’s efforts toward the restoration of the old USSR. Since most Russians appreciate the increased stability and security prevalent since Putin first assumed the Office of President, the ongoing criticism of Russia from Washington makes Russians wonder: “When we hear US criticism of what’s going on here, it sounds to Russians as if Americans want us to be weak. They want to provoke chaos – not to democratize, but to destroy.”

President Putin’s oft quoted phrase regarding the collapse of the USSR as “the biggest geopolitical catastrophe,” got misquoted numerous times by politicians, analysts, and the media. To those who quote it, the phrase apparently signals Putin’s dreams of rebuilding the Russian Empire. What Putin actually said carried a different meaning than that which is usually attached to the quote:

“The demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century. Whoever does not miss the Soviet Union has no heart. Whoever wants it back has no brain. I see that not everyone in the West has understood that the Soviet Union has disappeared from the political map of the world and that a new country has emerged with new humanist and ideological principles at the foundation of its existence.”

American media’s assault on Russia started right after Putin came to power, yet it took on new heights during the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, which coincided with the protests in Ukraine at the end of 2013. The distortions and twisting of facts to create an image of Russia as an enemy is achieved best by using the technique of ‘personalization of a threat’. In Russia’s case, the whole focus of attention is concentrated on the personality of Putin and his role in conducting Russia’s foreign policy. ‘Personalization of a threat’ leads to downplaying substantive discussions of events and the role of the United States in provoking Russia’s foreign policy responses.

Newsweek, in its August 1st, 2014 issue, featured a cover page with a picture of Putin alongside huge letters stating: ” Putin’s Ukraine Mistakes Have Made Him a Pariah” The article, written by Owen Matthews gave a summary verdict of Putin’s involvement in the crash of the Malaysian airline, despite no formal investigation of the accident having even taken place.

One of the more recent examples of a ‘shaper’ of media messages about Russia in the West is that of writer and foreign investment fund manager Bill Browder. In 2003, when Browder was still making billions in Russia, he backed Putin’s decision to arrest former Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, saying, “A nice, well-run authoritarian regime is better than an oligarchic mafia regime — and those are the choices on offer.” After Khodorkovsky’s arrest, Browder said: “People will forget in six months that Khodorkovsky is still sitting in jail.” During Khodorkovsky’s trial in 2005, Browder attacked the oligarch for the same asset-stripping behavior which Browder supported and profited from, telling the BBC: “Mr. Khodorkovsky is no martyr. He has left in his wake aggrieved investors too numerous to count and is widely credited with masterminding much of the financial trickery that plagued the Russian capital markets throughout the 1990s.” Browder tried to encourage Westerners to invest in Russia by writing in the New York Times : “Putin cares about foreign investors; he just doesn’t care about them enough to allow one oligarch to use his ill-gotten gains to hijack the state for his own economic purposes.” After Browder became unwelcome in Russia, he completely changed his narrative and started demonizing Putin and Russia as a state.

Examples of negative media are too many to mention, but the main victim of this negative media coverage of Russia is U.S. foreign policy itself. Instead of trying to understand complex issues, Russian foreign policy actions and internal developments are presented in a caricatured, black and white dichotomy, resulting in mistrust and making continuing reasonable dialogue between the two nations quite difficult.

Angela Borozna is pursuing a Ph.D in political science, writing her dissertation on Russian foreign policy.

September 1, 2015 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | , , | 1 Comment

Who is doing the saber-rattling in Eastern Europe?

By Vladimir KOZIN | Oriental Review | August 25, 2015

Last week, NATO headquarters announced Exercise Swift Response-15, the largest Allied airborne training event on the European continent since the end of the Cold War. About 5,000 soldiers from 11 countries in the alliance will take part in the maneuvers, which will last until Sept. 13.

This is neither the first nor the last drill to be conducted by NATO, the largest military alliance in the world.

Over the past year and a half, NATO armed forces have almost doubled the number of military exercises they have staged near the Russian border: between 2012 and 2013 they conducted an average of 95 such training events per year, but there have already been 150 so far in 2015, and flights by reconnaissance aircraft along the Russian frontier have increased tenfold.

But in an attempt to unfairly place the blame on Russia for such exercises, the London-based European Leadership Network issued a report on Aug. 12 that uses a flawed methodology to compare one type of exercise held in Russia in 2015 with another kind of military drill organized by NATO this year. Criticism was only leveled at the large number of troops involved in the Russian exercise, because the alliance’s drill was smaller on that scale. The report’s purpose was obvious: to shift the entirety of the West’s own culpability for war preparations in Europe onto the Russians.

  • First of all, it makes no sense to compare only two military drills conducted by opposing sides; one needs to take into account all the exercises that are being held, including the sum total of their scope and focus (the scenarios being rehearsed). In this regard, it should be noted that the aggregate number of NATO personnel taking part in the alliance’s military maneuvers is significantly greater than the estimate of troops involved in the Russian military exercises.
  • Second, in regard to this matter, one must also acknowledge that it was not Russia who initiated this upsurge in military drills. The US and its closest NATO allies took that first step under contrived pretenses. For this reason, the European Leadership Network’s proposals to limit the number and scope of military exercises in Europe should be primarily directed at Washington and the alliance, not at Russia.
  • Third, one cannot overlook the fact that many NATO members (the US, UK, France, Germany, and others) conduct their military drills far from their own borders. The Russian armed forces almost always oversee this training within their own country.
  • Fourth, it should be noted that in addition to periodic military maneuvers, a special NATO Response Force has been created that will consist of up to 40,000 soldiers who can be quickly airlifted to wherever they need to be. In addition, the US Navy must now be able to instantly mobilize the resources to form “expeditionary forces” that can be rapidly deployed to any part of the world (for example, as part of a Marine brigade including up to 17 amphibious ships or a joint Marine Air-Ground Task Force with as many as 75,000 personnel). For comparison, a recent NATO Baltops naval exercise in the seas around northwestern Europe involved 49 warships and support vessels from 17 countries within the alliance.
  • Fifth, it is important to note that while NATO has 24,000 combat aircraft and 800 ocean-going ships at its disposal, Russia does not own nearly so much equipment of that type. What’s more, the Pentagon is planning a further expansion of the forward deployment of its armed forces. That would station US troops, on a permanent or temporary basis, within more than 100 nations. There are plans to begin prepositioning weapons and military equipment in these countries, as is “needed to equip troops fighting in forward combat zones.”
  • Sixth, during these military drills, the Pentagon is rehearsing scenarios for armed intervention intended to overthrow undesirable regimes. For example, throughout the post-war period, the United States and its allies have employed military force more than 50 times, and six times that has escalated into regional armed conflicts.

Even NATO’s leaders have acknowledged the alliance’s military buildup on Russia’s doorstep. According to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, in 2014 these numbers have quintupled since 2013. And NATO member states’ naval operations have increased fourfold during this period.

In particular, the air forces of the 15 NATO countries that take part in the Baltic Air Policing operation over the Baltic states ramped up their activities more than 1,240 times (when calculated in flying hours) since it was launched 11 years ago. This operation is underway 24/7, year-round. Four of the types of planes used in this drill are considered “dual-capable” aircraft that can carry either conventional or tactical nuclear weapons.

At the same time the United States is refusing to adopt the new Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), proposing to revive the former act, which also never went into effect through the fault of its NATO signatories. New talks on CFE-2 have not even begun. At the same time, eight additional military bases in Eastern and Southern Europe, as well as seven command and administrative centers, plus American heavy weaponry and AEW&C aircraft have been added to the 150 military bases belonging to the United States and its allies that are immediately adjacent or relatively close to Russia’s borders.

Without exception, every military exercise that the alliance has recently staged in Europe has had very focused objectives. They are rehearsing scenarios that test the use of the Rapid Reaction Force, which includes the transportation of personnel and heavy equipment over long distances, the interaction between different varieties and formats of armed forces, and the operational “coupling” between the command and control structures. There is no doubt that such exercises have an anti-Russian bias, mainly because, as already noted, they are primarily (up to 55%) conducted in zones adjacent to the Russian borders. For example, an exercise that included 140 armored vehicles and 1,400 troops near the Estonian city of Narva in February of this year was held only 300 meters away from the Russian border.

In mid-February of this year the Pentagon shipped twelve A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft to Spangdahlem Air Base (Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany), which will be deployed in Eastern Europe. There is no doubt about the identity of the potential enemy. Eight of these aircraft were flown to the Ämari Air Base (Estonia) in June of this year. And five USAF B-52H and B-2 strategic heavy bombers were sent to RAF Fairford in Great Britain to participate in NATO military exercises.

In March of this year NATO organized the Joint Viking military exercises in northern Norway near the Russian border, which was an event unprecedented since 1990. Over 5,000 troops and 400 units of military equipment were involved. During these drills, the naval and air forces of the region’s NATO countries were placed on alert. The last time a similar drill was conducted was in 1967.

In March and April of 2015 the US, Swedish, and Finnish air forces directed military maneuvers near the Finnish town of Pori, flying sorties with Gripen, F-16, and Hornet fighter jets. In May, the air forces from eight NATO member states staged the Arctic Challenge Exercise in Norway, which included more than 100 aircraft. In early May of this year major military drills known as Siil-2015 were held in Estonia, involving 13,000 troops. This was the first time such large-scale drills had been conducted inside Estonia.

The Pentagon is planning to set up warehouses of military equipment in NATO’s eastern flank in order to conduct “ongoing exercises on a rotational basis.” For these purposes, 1,200 armored vehicles, including 250 Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles, as well as artillery systems, are to be stockpiled in Eastern Europe. US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter claims that Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Poland have already agreed to house this military equipment within their borders. Some types of weaponry can also be stationed in Germany, where, just like after WWII, large numbers of American troops are already concentrated.

In light of the increased US military aid to the regime in Kiev that will be used in the genocide of Ukrainian citizens, these military preparations are taking on a plainly anti-Russian flavor.

Nor can we ignore America’s tactical nuclear weapons, which since the early 1950s have been deployed in four European countries (Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, and Germany), as well as the Asian part of Turkey. Furthermore, a US missile defense system will be installed in Romania in 2015, and then another three years later in Poland. These military forces and infrastructures are certainly not aimed at Iran. So how should Russians react to all of this, and who is actually rattling his saber in Eastern Europe?

August 25, 2015 Posted by | Deception, Militarism | , , , , , | Leave a comment

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry v. His Subordinate Victoria Nuland, Regarding Ukraine

By Eric ZUESSE | Oriental Review | May 22, 2015

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, on May 12th, responding to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s assertions that Ukraine will retake Crimea and will conquer Donbass:

“I have not had a chance – I have not read the speech. I haven’t seen any context. I have simply heard about it in the course of today. But if indeed President Poroshenko is advocating an engagement in a forceful effort at this time, we would strongly urge him to think twice not to engage in that kind of activity, that that would put Minsk in serious jeopardy. And we would be very, very concerned about what the consequences of that kind of action at this time may be.”

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European & Eurasian Affairs, Victoria Nuland, as communicated by the U.S. State Department’s Press Office on May 15th, reiterating Poroshenko’s view:

“Assistant Secretary Nuland’s ongoing visit to Kyiv and her discussions with Prime Minister [Arseniy] Yatseniuk and President [Petro] Poroshenko reaffirm the United States’ full and unbreakable support for Ukraine’s government, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. We continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Ukraine and reiterate our deep commitment to a single Ukrainian nation, including Crimea, and all the other regions of Ukraine.”

Will John Kerry reprimand his subordinate for her contradicting what he, her boss, had said three days earlier? If not, then will President Barack Obama fire his Secretary of State John Kerry? If not, then will Victoria Nuland be fired? If not, then who is to trust anything that comes from the U.S. State Department, when the Secretary of State can be contradicted three days later by his subordinate, and both remain in their respective jobs?

Republicans are already preparing to weaken Kerry over this. The far-right news-site Frontpage Mag headlined on May 21st, John Kerry’s Seven Hours of Weakness in Russia, and condemned the “attempt by Kerry to re-set the ‘re-set’ button [on U.S. policy toward Russia] first pushed by his predecessor, Hillary Clinton.” The special subject of their ire: “The promise of ‘rolling back’ the mild sanctions regime the West imposed on Russia on account of Putin’s annexation of Crimea and support of separatist rebels was bandied about, if only Russia would behave in the future.” But winning changes in behavior is what international diplomacy is supposed to be all about — otherwise the State Department wouldn’t even be needed, and only the Pentagon would handle America’s foreign relations.

If Victoria Nuland stays in her job, then John Kerry will be neutered even if he’s not fired.

The only person with the power to fire Nuland is actually U.S. President Barack Obama. Perhaps the request for him to do that is already on his desk. If it’s not, then Kerry’s job is in jeopardy, because his diplomatic efforts can be obliterated by a subordinate and that subordinate will suffer no penalty for doing this. Nobody then would respect anything that the U.S. Secretary of State says, because it wouldn’t necessarily represent the President’s policies. If the Secretary of State isn’t backed up by the President, then the Secretary of State has no real power at all.

May 22, 2015 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , , | Leave a comment