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Why Turkey won’t abandon the S-400 deal with Russia

By Ali Hussein Bakir | MEMO | February 20, 2019

Washington’s first deadline for Turkey to respond to its offer to buy the Patriot missile defence system passed last Friday with no progress made. Only one day after the deadline, US Vice President Mike Pence raised the issue once again with Ankara regarding Turkey’s recent deal to acquire the Russian S-400 missile defence system. In his speech at the Munich Security Conference last Saturday, Pence threatened Turkey, without mentioning it explicitly, when he said, “We’ve also made it clear that we will not stand idly by while NATO Allies purchase weapons from our adversaries. We cannot ensure the defence of the West if our allies grow dependent on the East.”

The Americans agreed recently to offer Turkey the Patriot missile deal, worth about $ 3.5 billion, but linked its agreement to do so on several conditions, including the need for Ankara to abandon the S-400 deal with Russia. The Turks initially welcomed the offer, but rejected the conditions tied to it. They also linked any possible agreement to the extent that it serves Turkey’s interests, especially regarding the timeframe offered for delivery of the system. The government in Ankara also stipulated the need for the deal to include the transfer of technology to Turkey as well as financial provisions to help pay for it.

According to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the US responded positively to the possibility of delivering the system early, but it has not yet responded to the matters of joint production and financial arrangements. Since the official deadline for the response to the American offer will expire entirely at the end of March, this means that the debate on the topic will continue for another few weeks, at least. This will occur amid American threats to stop the delivery of F-35 fighter jets to Ankara and the possibility of imposing sanctions if it does not back down from the S-400 deal with Russia.

However, Turkey believes that removing it from the F-35 production programme will lead to higher costs for the Americans, and it will also hamper delivery times to many allies. More importantly, it will damage Washington’s already shrinking credibility. The Trump administration’s arrogant, exploitative behaviour only strengthens Turkey’s commitment to its deal with Russia, as it seems that pulling out is nearly impossible under the current circumstances.

There are three possible reasons why Ankara will not abandon the S-400 deal with Russia. First, the lack of trust in Washington’s sincerity, especially as the latter has not kept its promises on several occasions, most recently by threatening to cancel the delivery of the F-35s. Ankara believes that the US will be able to cancel the Patriot deal, threaten to do so or use it as a means to blackmail Turkey if and when it deems it necessary to do so. Furthermore, the lack of a financial incentive makes it very costly for Turkey to buy the Patriot system from the US, especially in the current economic climate. Unless Washington discusses this aspect of its deal, the Patriot offer will not be attractive from a purely financial point of view, neither on its own or when compared with Russia’s S-400 offer.

Finally, Washington has so far refused to transfer the technology to Turkey as part of the potential deal with Ankara. If this is not done, Turkey will not achieve its declared aims, and so it would be taking the Patriot system for purely political reasons in order to be balanced in the relationship between Russia and America. When all things are considered, therefore, it is almost certain that Ankara will stick to the S-400 deal with Russia.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Arab on 19 February 2019

February 20, 2019 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , | 1 Comment

US senators re-introduce Russian sanctions ‘bill from hell’

 

Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ). ©REUTERS / Yuri Gripas
RT February 13, 2019

A group of senators have introduced a bill suggesting a wide range of sanctions against Russia.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (South Carolina) and Democrat Bob Menendez (New Jersey) will target Russia’s banking and energy sectors, as well as its foreign debt. The Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act (DASKA) of 2019 may affect individuals who the US would deem to “facilitate illicit and corrupt activities, directly or indirectly, on behalf of Putin.”

Graham introduced a similar bill last year, dubbed the “sanctions bill from hell.” The bill that failed to pass would have also called on Congress to declare Russia a “state sponsor of terrorism,” would have make it harder for the US to leave NATO, and would have accused Russia of committing war crimes in Syria, among a laundry list of other provisions. Similar ideas were relocated to the new proposal.

“President Trump’s willful paralysis in the face of Kremlin aggression has reached a boiling point in Congress,” Menendez said in a statement on Wednesday.  Graham, an ally of Trump, echoed the sentiment of the fellow lawmaker, minus his criticism of the president.

“The sanctions and other measures contained in this bill are the most hard-hitting ever imposed – and a direct result of Putin’s continued desire to undermine American democracy,” he wrote.

Russian interference in American elections has never been proven. A handful of Russian nationals have been charged with interference, but those indictments are largely symbolic.

Graham and Menendez’ bill comes one day after the Senate Intelligence Committee announced it had found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election. Another House investigation came to the same conclusion last year.

Regardless of the committee’s conclusion, Graham and Menendez’ bill promises a raft of hard-hitting sanctions on Russia. These sanctions target banks that “support Russian efforts to undermine democratic institutions in other countries,” sanctions on Russia’s cyber sector, and sovereign debt.

They also include sanctions on Russia’s energy sector, mainly its crude oil projects inside the country and liquefied natural gas projects abroad. Russia currently provides almost 40 percent of Europe’s natural gas imports, a share that the US is keen to muscle in on. Despite both Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker promising to step up the US-EU gas trade, business has floundered, mostly due to the logistical headache of transporting the gas across the Atlantic Ocean.

The proposed sanctions also include penalties on Russia’s shipbuilding sector, a response to the confrontation between Russian and Ukrainian vessels in the Kerch Strait last November. Russian authorities accused the Ukrainian navy of performing dangerous maneuvers and denounced their actions as “provocation.”

Many of the bill’s other measures are carried over from Graham and Menendez’ failed legislation last year. It includes a statement of support for NATO and a two-thirds Senate vote to leave the alliance, as well as weapons shipments to any NATO countries that rely on Russian military equipment.

Provisions that would punish the Russian government for alleged chemical weapons production remain in the bill, as does the call for Russia to be declared a “state sponsor of terrorism.”

The reintroduced bill is “the continuation of the insane campaign conducted by the US,” said deputy chairman of the Russian Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Aleksey Chepa, adding that he was certain that the bill won’t float. Russian MP Leonid Slutsky earlier dismissed the planned sanctions, saying whatever damage they would do if imposed would not be critical. “Russia will certainly not perish,” he said.

February 13, 2019 Posted by | Economics, Russophobia | , , , | Leave a comment

‘Collateral damage’: The Amiriyah shelter bombing in Iraq should not be forgotten

By Neil Clark | RT | February 13, 2019

On this day in 1991, over 400 people lost their lives when the US dropped two 2,000-pound smart bombs on a Baghdad air-raid shelter. But because it was the ‘good guys’ who did it, the massacre is not remembered as it should be.

‘Collateral damage’. The first time I remember those words being used was in the first Gulf War. There was plenty of ‘collateral damage’ in that conflict. In other words, lots of innocent people were killed.

At around 4:30am on Wednesday February 13, 1991, US F-117 aircraft bombed an air raid shelter in Amiriyah, a suburb of Baghdad, incinerating 408 people, many of them women and children.

“Most of the bodies were burnt beyond recognition,” the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen reported. One poor man said 11 of his family had been in the shelter. Another wept as he said he had lost his wife and children.

The US ‘defense’ was that they had thought the shelter was a command and control bunker. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was using his people as human shields. Yet, as a Human Rights Watch report later noted, the Pentagon conceded that the bunker had been used for civil defense in the Iran-Iraq war, and US officials“gave no warning that they considered its protected status as a civilian shelter to have ended.”

Award-winning anti-war journalist John Pilger noted the interrogation that Jeremy Bowen received when he reported on the crime. “‘Are you absolutely certain it wasn’t a military bunker?” he was asked, or words to that effect. Without any trace of irony the White House spokesperson Martin Fitzwater declared “Saddam Hussein does not share our sanctity for human life.’”

Of course, it’s always a ‘mistake’ or ‘tragic accident’ when the US and its allies commit such terrible crimes, even when it most clearly isn’t. And we are always told we have to ‘move on’ very quickly from these ‘mistakes’ and ‘accidents’.

“Consider the dreadful toll of Iraqi civilian deaths in the intense bombing campaign in the first Gulf War. According to American and French Intelligence reports, over 200,000 died. All this was barely mentioned at the time, even on the BBC and the ‘quality’ press, and is now all but forgotten,” writes David Cromwell of Media Lens, in his book ‘Why Are We The Good Guys?’

The Iraqi press called for the US to be tried for war crimes over the Amiriyah strike. But of course it never happened. In 2001, on the 10th anniversary of the bombing, the US-funded Radio Free Iraq broadcast an interview with an unnamed Iraqi who claimed that there was something not quite right about the air-raid shelter. But even he said he did not know whether or not the bunker was a command and control center and admitted he was not in a “position to give an expert opinion.”

Two years later, the US and its allies assaulted Iraq again – this time falsely claiming that the country possessed WMDs. The second Gulf War has led to the estimated deaths of a further 1mn people.

What is revealing is how the Amiriyah Incineration has – outside of Iraq – disappeared down the memory hole. Let’s suppose that instead of America or one of its allies carrying out the attack it had been Russia, Iran, or another ‘official enemy’. Then we’d never have heard the last of it.

We can be sure that it would have been the subject of at least one major Hollywood film and we’d have annual reminders of the heinous crime. To their credit, the British band Radiohead did write a song about the massacre entitled ‘I Will’ which included the lyric “little baby’s eyes,” but you need to search very hard for other references in popular culture.

Isn’t that shameful?

Because by not remembering the dead of Amiriyah we are saying that those killed by the US and its allies are lesser beings than those killed by its geo-strategic rivals.

It’s not just in Iraq where this has happened.

In April 1999, during the war against Yugoslavia, NATO bombed a convoy of Kosovo Albanians, killing over 60 refugees. At first they tried to blame the atrocity on Yugoslav forces. But when evidence emerged that it was a NATO strike – the alliance claimed that the pilot had believed it to be a military convoy. And of course, the blame for this “tragic accident” was passed on to the ‘official enemy’.

“NATO regrets any harm to innocent civilians, and reminds that the circumstances in which this accident occurred are wholly the responsibility of (Yugoslav) President Milosevic and his policies,” said NATO spokesperson Jamie Shea, sounding just like Martin Fitzwater eight years earlier.

The US-led war in Afghanistan has also been marked by a high level of ‘collateral damage’. On October 9, 2001, just two days after the US and UK began Operation Enduring Freedom, four Afghans working for a UN mine clearing agency were incinerated by a US cruise missile as they slept in the agency’s building in a suburb of Kabul.

“My brother is buried under here. What can we do? Our lives are ruined,” said a distraught Mohammed Afzl as he surveyed the rubble following the US strike.

The bombing of wedding parties became a noted feature of the campaign – 44 people were killed in one such attack in July 2002.

Again, the US tried to blame others – questioning whether it had really been a wedding. It’s a tradition to fire celebratory shots in the air at Pashtun weddings, but the US claimed this was “hostile fire,” so it was ok to bomb. Later, President Bush expressed his ‘sympathy’ to the mourning families and his ‘hope that such kind of accidents won’t happen again’. But of course they did, with great regularity.

Dating back to Amiriyah, we can discern a clear pattern when ‘collateral damage’ occurs:

a) The hit is described as a ‘tragic mistake/accident’, made because we were fighting ‘the bad guys’ (indirectly blaming the ‘bad guys’ for forcing us to be there).

Or…

b) The hit is blamed on the ‘bad guys’ directly. We see this happen in Gaza with the ‘human shield’ claims made by Israel when their bombs kill civilians. Everyone Israel kills is Hamas’ fault, not Israel’s, in the same way that every death during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia was the fault of Milosevic.

c) If there is a real outcry, then it’s a case of: don’t worry, we will hold our own internal inquiry! An internal inquiry which of course ends up exonerating the perpetrators.

What we don’t get and what the families of those killed in Amiriyah are still waiting for is justice.

So spare a thought for the 408 today and all the other innocent victims of ‘collateral damage’, because we’re really meant to have forgotten them.

February 13, 2019 Posted by | Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , | 2 Comments

Integrity Initiative: New leaks show UK-funded project sought £5.5m for Balkans influence campaign

RT | February 12, 2019

Hackers have released a sixth batch of Integrity Initiative leaks, this time focusing on how the project sought £5.5 million in funding from the British government to establish an influence campaign in the Western Balkans.

According to the leaks, Chris Donnelly, who heads the Institute for Statecraft (IfS) — the Integrity Initiative’s parent organization — used his NATO contacts and extensive background in military intelligence to try to secure the money for the program.

The Integrity Initiative (II) had been positioning itself as an “independent” anti-disinformation charity until hackers began dumping batches of internal documents last November which revealed its government funding and the fact that it was running Europe-wide anti-Russia influence campaigns using “clusters” of cooperative journalists, academics and politicians. In response to the leaks, the II wiped all content from its website and claimed that while some of the documents were “genuine,” others were “falsified” — but did not provide any proof that this was the case.

The latest leaks show that the Balkan program would be run in conjunction with global marketing and communications firm Edelman, which Donnelly said could help produce “advertising campaigns on TV promoting change,” English-language training promoting the “right messages” and even “a TV soap opera looking at the problem of corruption.”

To aid ‘Her Majesty’s Government’

In a letter to former MI6 employee Guy Spindler and good governance expert Keith Sargent — who would be a key figure in the Balkan effort — Donnelly explains how the project would need “local partners” in the WB6 countries. The partners will help find journalists “who can be allies” in their efforts and who could be brought “on trips to London, HQ NATO etc.”

Donnelly’s letter is dated October 15, but no year is given. It appears, however, that it is from 2018, based on the fact that the proposal documents for the Balkan project make reference to the year 2018 and January 2019 as the potential start date.

The letter focuses on the efforts to set up the “anti-corruption” and “good governance” influence campaign across the Western Balkans, which a separate document says would “contribute to the aims and strategy of HMG” (Her Majesty’s Government) and would shield the region from corruption “being used as a method of external influence.”

Stumbling blocks and help from the BBC

Perceptively, the document — which lays out the projected three-year costs of £5.5 million ($7.87mn) — also recognizes that the program itself could be “identified as external interference” in the domestic affairs of the Balkan countries. Another leaked document notes “Russian hostility” and “traditional Soviet ties” as potential stumbling blocks to the Western influence campaign.

One serious concern is that many Serbian organizations “promote friendly ties with Russia” and it is suggested that BBC broadcasts could help to “counter Russian fake news” in the region. The fact that Serbia, Russia and a number of other countries do not recognize Kosovo’s independence is also cited as a “major problem” for the project.

‘A Bellingcat for counter-corruption’

To achieve success Donnelly said they would need to “identify a national goal” that could be used as a “lever”— citing Macedonia’s efforts to join NATO as an example. Donnelly boasts about his efforts in Slovakia in the 1990s using MPs to teach businesses how they could lobby government “legitimately in a democracy” rather than using “their then model of cash in brown envelopes.”

Part of the so-called anti-corruption program would entail building “training courses for journalists, students and wider public activists” to help them obtain the relevant investigative tools. Such a program could be “a Bellingcat for counter corruption,” the proposal document states. Bellingcat shot to prominence as a controversial one-man investigative website, which later expanded, received money from the notorious US government-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and was also linked to the II.

Anti-Russia entertainment

The latest leaks also reveal contacts between IfS fellow Euan Grant and a number of journalists, academics and think tank lobbyists. Grant sent a “memorandum of cooperation” to US writer Martha Bayles after a “detailed Skype call” in July 2018. He was looking for her “input into media documentaries and fictional entertainment” to counter Russian narratives.

Governments seeking help from writers and the entertainment industry to counter Russian narratives is nothing new. The 2014 hack of Sony Pictures revealed that the US State Department enlisted Hollywood’s help with “anti-Russia messaging” for movies and TV shows. It appears from these leaks that the British government is also trying to use thinly-disguised entertainment propaganda to promote divisive anti-Russia messaging onto TV screens in politically volatile regions of Europe.

The leaks say that the II should “alert” the press, radio and TV journalists to the “relevance” of already-made entertainment like the BBC series ‘McMafia’ which focuses on a London-based corrupt Russian family.

‘Sympathy for Russia’ in Scotland

There was also contact between the IfS and Neal Stewart, an adviser to the Scottish National Party’s Westminster front bench about “considerable sympathy for Russia” in Scotland in general, but particularly within academia. The “significant Russian speaking presence in private schools and in the Universities could fuel such attitudes,” the document warns. Another leaked document also cites “academic sympathies with Russia” as an indicator of “malign influence and disinformation.”

Targeting academics and students for their ‘Russian sympathies’ brings up rather negative historical parallels, particularly with the McCarthy era in the US, during which entertainers, academics and left-leaning activists were aggressively accused of being Communist sympathizers or agents and were placed on industry blacklists.

More recently, in Britain, a group of academics were smeared on the front page of the Times for similar sympathies, based on the fact that they publicly expressed doubts over certain anti-Russia media narratives. One of the academics involved called it a“coordinated smear campaign” against anti-war journalists and activists. The authors of the Times report were later named in Integrity Initiative documents, proving the existence of collusion between the British government and pro-establishment journalists to target those who do not stick to certain narratives.

High profile names & media ties

In an II“weekly report,” Grant names University of Exeter Professor Jeremy Black and Sunday Times journalist Roland White as two people who expressed interest in collaborating with the II. Roderick Parkes of the Paris-based ISS think tank and Nigel Gould-Davies, an associate fellow at Chatham House, were also named.

The leaks also say that Deborah Haynes of Sky News (a co-author of the aforementioned Times report) and Jonathan Beale of the BBC attended a speech by Air Marshal Sir Philip Osborn on the future of intelligence and information warfare in May 2018. The speech was described in the document as “manna from heaven for the Integrity Initiative.”

Grant writes that the government-funded IfS has “particular links with the Times, Telegraph, Guardian and BBC TV and radio” but says that it needs to “strengthen” its relationship with the Mail.

Times writer and CEPA lobbyist Edward Lucas also crops up in the latest leaks and due to his “considerable interest” is named as the II’s way into getting “articles and references” in the Times. Lucas recently defended the II in an op-ed for the newspaper and argued that criticism of the project would “play into the Kremlin’s hands.”

NGOs and the ‘Australian cluster’

The documents also reveal that the II wanted to provide NGOs with manuals on Russian corruption. Among the named organizations are Transparency International, Global Witness and the World Wildlife Fund.

One of the newly leaked documents also shows just how far the II has extended its reach, referencing an”Australian cluster.” Given the issue of Russian and Chinese influence in that region, Grant writes that there is “scope for a lot of crossover with media in Europe” and Australia relating to “Russian issues.”

Presenting the new leaks, the Anonymous-linked hackers claim that the Integrity Initiative has been trying to “divert people’s attention from the organisation’s wrongful activity” since the documents were made public. The leakers bash the II’s “pathetic attempt” to cover its tracks and say all its efforts have been “shattered to pieces by irrefutable evidence” of wrongdoing that has been shared with the public.

RT sent requests for comment to the people named in the story who were linked to the Integrity Initiative in the latest leaks.

February 12, 2019 Posted by | Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lavrov Says Alleged Russian Links to GPS Glitches During NATO Drills Fantasy

Sputnik – 12.02.2019

MOSCOW – Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday called claims of Russia’s alleged involvement in GPS disruptions during last year’s NATO drills a fantasy, a day after Norway renewed similar allegations concerning signal interference near its border.

“I must say that a matter was not looked into because it is impossible to explore fantasies that are not confirmed by any facts. It’s all along the lines of ‘highly likely,'” Lavrov said at a press conference after meeting with Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini.

In turn, Soini said that Finland had requested information from Russia on what could be causing the GPS disruptions.

“The situation [with GPS failure] last fall caused concern in Finland. And this situation does not in any way contribute to increasing the level of stability in the region. Naturally, the safety of air traffic and security in the broad sense should not be compromised in any circumstances. We expect and believe that there will be no such events in the future. We discussed this issue and asked for information on what these obstacles may be related to,” Soini told reporters after the meeting.

On Monday, the Norwegian Intelligence Service said in its annual report that in repeated incidents since 2017, Russia had blocked GPS signals in Norwegian regions near the border with Russia, adding that these incidents coincided with military drills in Norway.

Between late October and early November, NATO’s Trident Juncture military drills, held in several northern European countries, including Norway and Finland, were overshadowed by several incidents in which pilots reported losing GPS signals.

On November 13, the Norwegian Defense Ministry issued a statement blaming Russia for the disruption of GPS navigation signals. Finland also alleged that Russia could be responsible for jamming the signal. Moscow has denied the allegations, and Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov has noted the existing trend of accusing Russia of “various deadly sins,” saying that such accusations were, as a rule, unfounded.

February 12, 2019 Posted by | Russophobia | , , | Leave a comment

How Integrity Initiative’s ‘Counterfeit Expert’ Perpetuated Novichok Narrative

By Kit Klarenberg | Sputnik | 07.02.2019

In the days following the apparent poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal on 4 March 2018, speculation abounded. What substance had rendered the double agent and his daughter comatose? How? Who was responsible? Why?

By 7 March, it’d been established the pair were struck by a nerve agent, confirmation merely triggering yet further frenzied theorizing — much of it unscientific — on what precise variety had struck the pair. Could it have been VX for instance, first synthesized in the 1950s at Porton Down, the UK’s secretive and controversial chemical and biological weapons testing centre situated a mere eight kilometres from Salisbury?

A day later, security consultant Dan Kaszeta offered an alternative explanation — writing for controversial website Bellingcat, he suggested the agent may have been ‘novichok’.

“The Soviet Union developed a new series of nerve agents in the 1970s and 1980s. The exact nature of these so-called novichok agents is still debated and the information on them varies a bit depending on what source you are looking at… some Novichok agents of interest include A230 and A232,” Kaszeta said.

It was seemingly the first time anyone anywhere had connected the substance with the Salisbury incident — but it would soon become a crucial feature in the UK government’s official narrative, helping lay blame for the attack squarely on the Russian state, before a motive had been established, any perpetrators identified, or other basic facts ascertained.

Own Initiative?

Due to Kaszeta’s amazingly fortuitous insight, he would become a central figure in media reporting on the Skripals, a go-to ‘independent chemical weapons expert’ quoted in a great many articles and reports.

At no point however did Kaszeta disclose his intimate relationship with the Integrity Initiative, a shadowy military intelligence outfit funded by the British state and NATO — and moreover, an organization that specifically sought to systematically shape media reporting on, and Whitehall’s response to, the Salisbury incident from day one.

Dan Kaszeta’s Integrity Initiative Biography

In fact, were it not for hacking syndicate Anonymous, his role within the organization’s ‘Specialist Team’ would be entirely unknown, the only documentation linking him to the organization in any way a series of articles he wrote on novichok for the Initiative’s official website over the course of 2018 — which have since been removed from the web, along with all other site content.

Among them was a puff piece ardently defending Porton Down, stating the UK urgently needed the facility “to do valuable work to protect not just the nation’s armed forces but also to protect all of us who live here”, and dismissing as ludicrous the notion any poison could somehow be smuggled out of the “secure compound”.

Given US Fort Derrick is also highly secure, and anthrax was apparently smuggled out of the grounds successfully in 2001, leading to a notorious wave of anthrax attacks in the week after 9/11, this argument is surely dubious. What’s more, Kaszeta would surely have been aware of this, given he claims to have been “heavily involved in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and the 2001 Anthrax incidents” — in what capacity though, he doesn’t clarify. Moreover, what published literature exists on novichok (or A-234) indicates the substance can be produced at bench scale by any laboratory.In addition to offering technical information on novichok to journalists — including then-Times Defence Editor Deborah Haynes, part of the Initiative’s UK Cluster — Kaszeta sought to rebut alternative explanations for the attack, and answer key questions such as why the Skripals didn’t die on the spot, and how novichok could poison two further people four months after the incident, writing a dedicated article on the former for politics.co.uk on 6 April. Conspicuously, much of this analysis relied on conjecture rather than science — for instance, when asked by NPR on 12 March 2018 why anyone would use “such an unusual agent”, Kaszeta responded “it was possible, given the historic secrecy around the programme, the culprit may have thought it would go undetected”.

“Maybe somebody somewhere felt they could get away with it,” he says. Then again, he says, it could have just as well been used to send a clear message to would-be spies and defectors. “It’s much more than waking up with a horse head in your bed,” he postulated.

He also frequently tweeted on the subject, the postings apparently becoming newsworthy in themselves — it’s difficult to quantify the exact number of articles featuring his Twitter output, although a 5 July 2018 Yahoo article — Weapons expert busts conspiracy theories about the Wiltshire Novichok attack — is certainly representative in terms of tone and content.

Integrity Initiative Monitors Social Media Activity Related to Salisbury Incident

Every step of the way, Kaszeta’s activities were closely tracked by the Initiative, with ‘expert team’ member Chris Hernon (ex-BBC) noting them in regular roundups. Elsewhere, in an internal email titled ‘FCO Disinformation Update’, FCO Head of Counter Disinformation Andy Pryce hailed his “strong rebuttal of conspiracy theories”.

‘Deep in the Pentagon’

Quite where, and indeed when, Kaszeta gleaned his specialist knowledge of novichok is unclear — particularly as he’s repeatedly (and wrongly) claimed the operation that produced the nerve agent was extremely secretive, and little is known about the substance outside the former Soviet Union.

Moreover, he doesn’t appear to have written a single word about novichok prior to his 8 March 2018 Bellingcat article — and his oft-touted chemical weapons and/or warfare prowess doesn’t appear justified by his professional or academic history either. Kaszeta’s work experience in that regard seems strictly limited to crisis response planning, and he holds a BA in political science and an MA in international affairs — but his LinkedIn profile nonetheless makes for fascinating reading.

His first listed role, from August — December 1990, was ‘policy intern’ at the Office of the Secretary of Defence, which he describes as “hard work at a desk deep in the D ring of the Pentagon during the final days of the Cold War” — and between 1994 — 1996 he engaged in “hard thankless toil in the depths of the beltway bandit universe, relieved only by boondoggles to the [Pentagon think tank] RAND Corporation” at Defence Group Inc. Thereafter, he worked in a number of positions within the US military-industrial complex, including the White House Military Office and Secret Service, before entering the private sector.

Dan Kaszeta’s LinkedIn Profile

In 2011, Kaszeta founded Strongpoint Security, which “provides consultancy and advice across a wide variety of defence and security disciplines, with a focus on unconventional threats, CBRN defence, crisis management, and physical security assessment”. The company’s website is rudimentary in the extreme, with many sections appearing to have not been updated for many years — for instance, references are made to Kaszeta’s “new” and “recently published” book, CBRN and Hazmat Incidents at Major Public Events, which was released in November 2012. He claims the work is “the first serious attempt to address the diverse and challenging issues of safeguarding the major event environment against the full spectrum of CBRN and Hazmat incidents and accidents”.

Self-aggrandizement is a recurring theme on the site, with Kaszeta boasting that his “degree and depth of expertise is relatively unique [sic] in Europe” — but while he’s bragged about the size of his “expert daily rate”, Companies House records indicate the firm has very little in the way of capital, cash reserves or assets, with annual post-tax profits typically in the low thousands, falling to just US$448 (£394) in the 2016/2017 tax year.

Strongpoint’s yearly takings certainly don’t appear to have ever reached levels by which Kaszeta could support himself, and references to the company online are sparse — any firms that have ever employed his services have certainly not advertised the fact in any way, and neither Strongpoint’s outdated website nor barely active Twitter account offer any sign of the company or its founder actually working, the latter consisting almost exclusively of retweets, often of Integrity Initiative posts.Strongpoint’s lack of assets is even more puzzling given it operates out of Kaszeta’s flat in Pimlico, one of Central London’s most expensive areas, where housing costs an average of US$1.9 million (£1.4 million) in 2019, 135 percent above the city average.

It’s unclear whether Britain’s spying agencies MI5 and MI6, both situated a few minutes’ walk from Strongpoint, have played any role in boosting property prices there — the organizations maintain a large portfolio of lodgings in the district, including 36 Alderney Street (located half a mile from Kaszeta’s home-cum-office), where GCHQ secondee to MI6 Gareth Williams died in extremely mysterious circumstances in August 2010.

Proximity of Strongpoint Security to MI6 HQ

Nonetheless, Kaszeta owns the residence, so obvious questions must be asked — namely, how is he actually making his living, and is Strongpoint merely a legitimizing professional ‘front’ for other activities, lending superficial credence to his status as ‘independent’ specialist?

‘Counterfeit Expert’

Kaszeta’s rise to media prominence is also somewhat curious. Prior to 2013, he was entirely unheard of in the mainstream — that would change when he began writing articles for Elliot Higgins’ ‘Brown Moses’ blog (the forerunner of Bellingcat ) on 20 August that year, a day prior to the notorious chemical weapons attack in Ghouta, Syria. With Western leaders claiming Syrian government forces were behind the strike, but unable to provide supporting evidence, Kaszeta eagerly filled the void, being a frequent fixture of media reporting on the incident for months afterward.

Among a variety of allegations, his core contention was hexamine had been found by UN inspectors investigating local soil samples and metal fragments, a discovery apparently amounting to “smoking gun” evidence proving Syrian government forces were behind the contested strike, as — he alleged — the fuel can be used in the production of sarin gas, the chemical weapon purportedly used in the Ghouta attack. While Kaszeta has never cited a single scientific paper supporting this thesis, journalists invariably presented his analysis without critique.

He was nonetheless questioned on his various assertions and credentials via email by Theodore Postol, professor emeritus of Science, Technology, and International Security at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, correspondence the academic later published in a wider July 2014 review.

Over the course of their discussion, Postol writes that Kaszeta made “numerous false science-based claims” which he’d “not researched before [he] made the statements”, referenced quotes “not made by the individuals [he] cited” and claimed scientific expertise he “amply demonstrated” he didn’t have.

Dan Kaszeta Defends Integrity Initiative Employment

Concluding Kaszeta to be a “counterfeit expert”, the professor notes the self-avowed CBRN aficionado’s aforementioned book contains “no technical or scientific information” that couldn’t be obtained by a “superficial” internet search, and suggests Kaszeta’s prominence in news reports on Ghouta stemmed from a “complete failure” by the media “to exercise the most rudimentary levels of editorial due diligence” and challenge his “ill-informed and inflammatory use of false technical facts”.

Moreover, this bogus “empowerment” of Kaszeta, Postol writes, resulted in “controversy [with] no basis in sound science”, which could’ve played a role in justifying US military involvement in Syria.

Despite this extremely damning indictment of his probity and professional competency, mainstream journalists and news outlets were evidently indifferent, as Kaszeta’s media profile would grow exponentially in the years afterward, leading to his central role in perpetuating the novichok narrative.

Notably, not once in this period has Kaszeta ever provided ‘expertise’ even vaguely inconvenient for Western governments — in fact, he has unfailingly supported and perhaps even legitimized their aggressive policies, in the manner his Ghouta analysis potentially offered a pretext for US action in Syria.

Urban Planning

One of the most renowned journalists to promote Kaszeta’s views on novichok was BBC Diplomatic Editor Mark Urban, who championed his politics.co.uk article as a “common sense answer” to the question of why the Skripals weren’t killed by the poison they seemingly came into contact with, written by a “real expert”.

Mark Urban Promotes Dan Kaszeta’s ‘Expertise’ on Twitter

Urban’s advocacy of Kaszeta is perhaps unsurprising given his own peculiar connections to the Skripal affair — for in a shock disclosure, in July he revealed he’d repeatedly met with and interviewed the former Russian intelligence officer in the year prior to the Salisbury incident, while researching a book on the history of East-West Espionage.

That Urban neglected to mention securing such a seismic, serendipitous scoop until four months after that fateful March day — a period in which discussion of the attack, and Skripal, utterly dominated media reporting the world over — is somewhat staggering, but not quite as astounding as him having once served in the same tank regiment as Pablo Miller, Skripal’s MI6 recruiter and handler, and neighbour in Salisbury.

Serious questions hang over Miller’s involvement in the incident, not least because immediately afterward he deleted his LinkedIn, which revealed him to be a Senior Analyst at Orbis Intelligence, the private “investigative consultancy” run by former MI6 operative Christopher Steele, author of the highly controversial ‘Trump-Russia’ dossier — which Integrity Initiative operatives worked to circulate among US politicians.

Furthermore, on 7 March the UK government issued a D-notice related to the Salisbury incident, effectively blocking mention of Miller in the mainstream media since.

“The issue surrounding the identity of former MI6 informer Sergei Skripal is already widely available in the public domain. However, the identities of intelligence agency personnel associated with Sergei Skripal are not yet widely available in the public domain. The provisions of DSMA Notice 05 therefore apply to these identities. If any editor is currently considering publication of such material, may I ask you to seek [the] advice [of the Defence and Security Media Advisory Committee] before doing so?” the notice reads.

Adding to the intrigue, Miller also has an unclear relationship with Integrity Initiative, a leaked file naming him in a list compiled by Initiative chief Chris Donnelly, alongside representatives of the BBC, Porton Down, the FCO, the MOD and the US Embassy. The nature of the register is neither clear from the file itself, nor referenced in any other internal Initiative documents, although Anonymous claim the individuals were invitees to a private meeting with Syria’s notorious White Helmets group. Conversely, former Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray has speculated the event was in fact related to the Skripal incident, a hypothesis partially supported by the presence of Howard Body, Assistant Head of Science Support at Porton Down (and Assistant Head of Strategic Analysis at the Ministry of Defence) among the names.

Integrity Initiative Promotes Dan Kaszeta’s ‘Skripal Files’ Review on Twitter

Whatever the truth of the matter, Urban’s aforementioned book, The Skripal Files — widely marketed as the “definitive account” of the incident — was published 4 October 2018. On 21 December, a glowing review of the work authored by none other than Dan Kaszeta was published on the Integrity Initiative website — strikingly, in its introductory paragraph the “counterfeit expert” revealed he’d met with Urban “several times over the past few years”. On 20 January, I emailed Kaszeta seeking clarity on how, why and when it was he crossed paths Urban — predictably he didn’t respond, a recurring theme with Initiative-connected individuals.

Dan Kaszeta Reviews Mark Urban’s Book, ‘The Skripal Files’

A mere two days later the organization would remove all content from its website, pending an “investigation” into the hack which acquired so much incriminating information from the organization’s servers. While there’s no necessary connection between my contacting Kaszeta and the purge, the timing is at least potentially significant given the review is one of very few Initiative site pages not still accessible via internet archiving services — it’s also not included among the now-dead links to the various articles he wrote for the Initiative on the Strongpoint website.

Wider Conspiracy

Shockingly, Kaszeta was but one cog within a much wider connivance — Operation Iris — constructed by Integrity Initiative. Under its auspices, many Institute for Statecraft and Initiative operatives — and journalists within the organization’s assorted international clusters — played a leading and early role in perpetuating various narratives, myths and recommended “responses” to the incident that would utterly dominate mainstream media reporting of the affair the world over for months afterwards.

2015 File Written By Victor Madeira on Possible Anti-Russian Actions

In addition to cementing an extremely negative public perception of Russia, the Initiative also sought to influence government policy in the UK — and ensure isolation of Russia internationally.

Disturbingly, many of these narratives, and recommended strategies, were originally mooted in a document produced in 2015 by Initiative staffer Victor Madeira, who likewise played a leading role in pushing particular angles in the wake of the Salisbury incident. Over the coming weeks, Sputnik will document the activities of each and every Operation IRIS operative, in an attempt to ascertain just what role the Initiative played in the Skripal affair, and why.

February 8, 2019 Posted by | Deception, False Flag Terrorism, Russophobia | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

US revisits Vietnam Syndrome in Afghanistan after 17 years of war and destruction

By Finian Cunningham | RT | January 30, 2019

It is America’s longest war, costing huge amounts of “blood and treasure” as US leaders claim. Yet, the signs are that Washington is finally accepting an historic defeat in Afghanistan comparable to the ignominious Vietnam War.

Intensive negotiations between American officials and Taliban insurgents have produced the “biggest tangible step” towards ending the nearly 18-year war in Afghanistan, according to the New York Times.

More talks are scheduled in the coming weeks to firm up details, but already it is reported that the US is to withdraw its remaining 14,000 troops from the Central Asian country over the next year without any guarantees of reciprocation by the enemy.

That unilateral pullout is not yet officially admitted by Washington, but analysts believe the US has tacitly accepted the long-held demand by the Taliban for foreign troops to get out.

At the height of the war, US forces numbered up to 100,000 personnel. The remnant American military therefore have no way of countering the growing insurgency. Even with an additional 8,000 NATO troops and thousands of private contractors also present in Afghanistan supporting the US-backed government in Kabul, the sordid game is up.

Zalmay Khalilzad, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, during the latest round of talks held in Doha, Qatar, sought to portray an “agreed framework for a peace deal” being contingent on the Taliban delivering on three items: a ceasefire; entering into negotiations with the government in Kabul; and a vow to never allow Afghanistan to become a haven for terror groups.

But media reports cite Taliban officials as giving no firm commitment to those US demands, while it appears Washington has accepted its troops are to be repatriated regardless. In other words, the American side is looking for a face-saving, apparent bilateral “deal” when the reality is Washington knows its war is over.

Ryan Crocker, a former US ambassador to Afghanistan, puts it acerbically. Washington is only polishing the optics, while finessing “the terms of surrender.”

He compares the American withdrawal from Afghanistan to the disorderly retreat and defeat that US forces incurred at the end of the Vietnam War in the mid-1970s. “Then, as now, it was clear that by going to the table we were surrendering; we are just negotiating the terms of our surrender,” opined Crocker in the Washington Post.

The defeat of US military might in Indochina gave rise to the Vietnam Syndrome which entailed a grave loss in national confidence and international standing. The war in Afghanistan has already exceeded the duration of the Vietnam debacle by nearly eight years. While the death toll among American forces is a lot less, the financial cost of Afghanistan is potentially ruinous. Up to $2 trillion of taxpayer money is estimated to have been poured into waging war in that country, yet the strategic achievements are arguably zero.

Not only that, but the launching of “Operation Enduring Freedom” in October 2001 by the GW Bush administration was the catalyst for a global so-called “war on terror” which engulfed several countries. The total financial cost for those wars is reckoned to be around $5 trillion – or nearly a quarter of America’s spiraling national debt.

In cost of human lives, the Afghan war and its derivative “anti-terror” operations elsewhere have resulted in millions of deaths and casualties, millions of refugees and the decimation of whole nations, which have further spawned conflict and the spread of terrorism. Suicide rates and pathological self-destruction among US veterans who served in Afghanistan (and Iraq) are off the charts and will have long-term detriment on American society for generations to come.

The Afghan Syndrome is going to haunt the US for decades in the same way the Vietnam forerunner did.

What’s more despicable is the utter waste and futility. When Bush ordered the troops into Afghanistan at the end of 2001, it was supposed to be in revenge for the terror attacks on the US on September 11. Never mind that the evidence linking those attacks to Afghanistan was tenuous at best.

The Taliban regime, which had been in power from 1996, was toppled by the US. But three presidents later, the Taliban now are reckoned to control over half the territory in Afghanistan, and can carry out deadly attacks on US-backed local forces seemingly at will on a daily basis, including in the capital Kabul.

Now it seems only a matter of time until the Taliban will be back in power with the US and allied NATO forces gone.

Richard Haass, a former senior US State Department planner, commented: “The Taliban have concluded that it is only a matter of time before the United States grows weary of stationing troops in a far-off country and spending $45 billion a year on a war that cannot be won… they have little need to compromise.”

The irony is that the Taliban grew out of the tribal militants that the US cultivated and armed to the teeth at the end of the 1970s when Afghanistan was governed by a Soviet-backed administration.

The American policy was gleefully calculated in Washington to give the “Soviets their Vietnam.” The proxy war was indeed a heavy loss for the Soviet Union, but in the longer-term it looks like Uncle Sam ended up getting another Vietnam in terms of creating the longest war ever for Washington, the unfolding ignominious defeat and the global blowback from Islamist terrorism it engendered.

Washington may be pretending it has reached a “framework deal for peace” in Afghanistan. But the brutal truth is Washington has lost another epic war.

The Taliban have always maintained they are not going to negotiate with the US-backed administration in Kabul, headed by President Ashraf Ghani. Like his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, the Taliban view Ghani and his government as a corrupt, venal puppet of the Americans.

The fact that the US sidelined the Kabul regime by talking directly with the Taliban is a crucial concession by Washington. By doing so, the US is effectively admitting that the insurgents are in the driving seat. All the talk out of Washington about supporting “intra-Afghani dialogue” and finding a “comprehensive peace settlement” is window-dressing rhetoric.

US President Donald Trump last month ordered about half of the American troops in Afghanistan – some 7,000 – to withdraw. Trump is said to be growing impatient with the huge financial drain of the never-ending war. His order to pull out forces before the latest round of negotiations in Qatar will have been taken by the Taliban as further proof the Americans know they are beaten.

Astoundingly, prominent voices in Washington are arguing that, in spite of the human calamity and cost of Afghanistan, US troops should remain there indefinitely. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell wants to pass legislation forbidding a withdrawal. The Washington Post’s editorial board – which reflects the foreign policy establishment view – admonished: “The Trump administration’s tentative deal with the Taliban could return Afghanistan to chaos.”

“Return to chaos”?

Afghanistan – known as the Graveyard of Empires – from centuries of defeating great powers is showing that the Americans are up their necks in chaos.

January 30, 2019 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism | , , | 2 Comments

Gerd Büntzly, Crime Fighter

Photo by John LaForge: International youth group blockades one of three main gates to Buchel Air Force in Germany, July 2018.
By John Laforge | CounterPunch | January 25, 2019

Hamburg, Germany – I was with Gerd Büntzly, 69, of Herford, in a demonstration in Germany July 17, 2017. So were Steve Baggarly, Susan Crane, and Bonnie Urfer, all of the United States. Ours was a peaceful if covert, night-time occupation of a protected aircraft shelter or bomb bunker far inside the Büchel Air Force Base, near the beautiful Mosel River valley.

We were there to help prevent the unlawful use of the shelter in nuclear attacks or nuclear war preparations. Routine nuclear war planning by US and German Air Force personnel there, using US B61 nuclear bombs (NATO’s so-called “nuclear sharing”), violates the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and several other international treaties, all binding on the United States and Germany.

In spite of our formal complaint to state prosecutors against “selective prosecution” of Gerd, and the violation of his “equal protection” rights, only he was charged, tried, and convicted of trespass and property damage (for clipping fences) in January last year. This Jan. 16, he was in court again appealing the conviction. Susan Crane from California and I travelled to Koblenz to speak on his behalf. Attorneys were quite sure that we two could testify, but ultimately were not allowed.

We wanted to explain that international law has the force of state and federal law in Germany and the United States, a fact recognized by Germany’s Constitution (Art. 25) and the US Constitution (Art. 6). According to Univ. of Illinois Law School Prof. Francis Boyle, writing recently for other nuclear weapons resisters, “International law is not ‘higher’ or separate law; it is part and parcel of the structure of federal law. The Supreme Court so held in the landmark decision in The Paquete Habana (1900), that was recently reaffirmed in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, in 2006.”

Contrary to modern military strategists, there is no such thing as a “limited nuclear war.” Nuclear weapons only produce massacres. Beginning with 8 to 10 million degrees at detonation, followed by indiscriminate mass destruction from blast effects, city-size mass fires (firestorms) in which nothing survives, and uncontrollable radiation poisoning that produces genetic damage unlimited by space or time, nuclear weapons are just massacre delivery systems.

International law has prohibited the planning and not just the commission of such massacres since 1946.

Professor Boyle wrote last November 1st: “The Judgment of the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal meted out severe punishment in 1946 against individuals who, acting in full compliance with domestic law but in disregard of the limitations of international law, had committed war crimes and crimes against peace as defined in its Charter.”

The Nuremberg Charter and Principles apply to individual civilians like us and oblige individuals to disobey domestic laws that protect government crimes. And Nuremberg prohibits all “planning and preparation” of wars that violate international treaties.

The 1949 Geneva Conventions prohibit indiscriminate attacks on noncombatants, attacks on neutral states, and long-term damage to the environment. The 1907 Hague Conventions forbid the use of poison and poisoned weapons under any circumstances.

Under the 1970 NPT, it is prohibited for Germany to receive nuclear weapons from the United States and for the US to transfer them to Germany. Germany and the United States are both formal state parties to all of these Treaties.

“By implication,” Boyle explains, “the Nuremberg Judgment privileges all citizens of nations engaged in war crimes to act in a measured but effective way to prevent the continuing commission of those crimes. The same Nuremberg Privilege is recognized in Article 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice which has been adopted as a Treaty (the United Nations Charter) by the United States” [and Germany]. In my opinion, such action certainly includes nonviolent exposure and inspection of sites of ongoing war crimes.”

Because nuclear weapons cannot be used without violating these binding international treaties; since Germany and United States at Büchel are planning and preparing war that violates these treaties; and because the Nuremberg Charter and Principles forbid this planning and preparation, and apply to civilians and military personnel alike, and hold citizens individually responsible; and require citizens to disobey illegal orders, to refuse participation in or ignore international crimes, civil resistance at Büchel is no offense but a civic duty, a lawful obligation, and an act of crime prevention.

In the courtroom, crowded with 40 people, the three-person “bench” (two lay volunteers and one criminal court judge) found Gerd guilty — but reduced his fine from 1,200 Euros to 750 — after making a yawning apology for “deterrence.” Prescient as ever, Professor Boyle’s latest book is, “The Criminality of Nuclear Deterrence” (Clarity Press 2013).

John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.

January 27, 2019 Posted by | Book Review, Solidarity and Activism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , | Leave a comment

‘Western journalists have become cheerleaders for war’ – analyst on Estonian ‘bomb Russia’ article

RT | January 23, 2019

A recent Estonian op-ed calling for capability to shell St.Petersburg and sink Russian ships in case of conflict may be hypothetical, but the pressure on Tallinn to buy missiles from NATO is real, a British journalist told RT.

“Just several limited strikes” on St. Petersburg could be enough to change Russia’s mind if it ever decides to attack Estonia, an opinion piece in Delfi, one of the top online news outlets in the Baltics, suggested. Its author, Estonian journalist Vahur Koorits, also urged the country to become capable of sinking or hijacking Russia ships in order to disrupt trade in the Baltic Sea.

Koorits’s article is part of a wider trend that signals “a sad decline in journalism” in Europe and the US, according to UK journalist Neil Clark.

“A lot of journalists in the West have become cheerleaders for military confrontations and wars… Instead of being skeptical, looking at issues objectively and actually trying to hold power to account, they’re doing the opposite. This is very worrying,” he said.

The publication in Delfi was “the latest in a number of similar articles, basically calling for aggression against Russia,” Clark noted. He recalled another example in the Washington Examiner last year, in which US political commentator Tom Rogan advised Ukrainian authorities to bomb the newly built 19km bridge connecting Crimea with mainland Russia.

“Just imagine a Russian writer saying a similar thing about America or Britain, saying that infrastructure in the US should be bombed. It would be seen as outrageous… hailed as evidence that Russia is aggressive; threatening the West,” Clark said.

However, when a Western journalist is calling for the use of force against the countries that have been labeled as “bad guys” by Washington and London, “there is silence,” he added.

Moscow, of course, has “zero reasons” to attack Estonia and Tallinn would never dare to attack Russia, so the op-ed by Koorits should be treated with “a smile,” the British journalist stated.

However, he warned that Estonia and its Baltic neighbors in Latvia and Lithuania “are very crucial actors of this new Cold War against Russia.”

“Think tanks working for the Western arms companies are promoting this narrative of a Russian threat to the Baltics in order to sell weapons. It could well be that Estonia does come under pressure to buy missiles that could threaten St. Petersburg,” Clark said.

READ MORE:

‘Russians will die in Tallinn if they invade’: Estonian commander launches bizarre rant

January 23, 2019 Posted by | Militarism, Russophobia | | 1 Comment

House passes bill preventing Trump from leaving NATO, tells allies to start pulling weight

RT | January 23, 2019

The US House of Representatives has passed a bill to prevent President Donald Trump from withdrawing the country from NATO, but called on European allies to pay their dues – just like Trump has demanded.

The bipartisan NATO Support Act was passed on Tuesday in a 357-22 vote that reiterated US commitment to the military bloc and included a provision that rejects any effort made by the president to withdraw from it, banning funding for such actions.

“It’s crazy that we have to be introducing this bill. But it is, unfortunately, both necessary and urgent,” said Rep. Tom Malinowski, one of the Democratic co-sponsors of the bill. “I believe it’s necessary that I take the president of the United States seriously. President Trump has made no secret of his disdain for NATO and his willingness to consider leaving it.”

On the campaign trail and during his presidency, Trump repeatedly criticized NATO, saying the organization allowed other members to take advantage of American generosity and enjoy protection it offers without sharing the burden. The US is by far the biggest contributor to the alliance in terms of finances and soldiers carrying out its missions.

Among other NATO allies, few meet the benchmark two percent of GDP that they are required to spend on defense, which is a commitment that all members made. On many occasions, Trump demanded that this slight was addressed.

The new bill makes the same demand, but Rep. Jimmy Panetta, who spearheaded the legislation, insists it is not like those made by the president.

“What we have to realize is that NATO is not just a transactional relationship,” he said, adding that the focus “can’t just be on who pays what and who gets what. Being a member of NATO is not like being a member of a country club.”

In their statements on the bill, several lawmakers stressed NATO’s role in defending Europe from ‘aggression by Russia.’ This perceived threat has been used to justify an increased military presence of NATO troops close to Russia’s border and regular exercises on a scale unseen since the Cold War. Russia is responding with additional deployments of troops in the west of the country and exercises of its own.

NATO’s uncontrolled expansion eastwards, contrary to verbal assurances made to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, made Moscow increasingly suspicious of the West’s actions and caused it to spend a lot of resources modernizing its armed forces and boosting its nuclear deterrence over the past two decades.

This policy is now cited as the reason why NATO is necessary. Retired US four-star general David Petraeus recently called it “the greatest gift” the bloc could receive.

January 23, 2019 Posted by | Militarism | , | Leave a comment

Debris of INF treaty will fall far and wide

By M. K. BHADRAKUMAR | Indian Punchline | January 17, 2019

The US-Russia talks in Geneva regarding the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty have ended in failure. In a final call to salvage the treaty, Moscow offered that American experts could inspect a new suspect Russian missile, which Washington has been citing as the alibi for its decision to quit the treaty, but the US point-blank rejected the offer and instead went on to reconfirm that it intends to suspend observance of the cold-war era pact with effect from February 2.

We are entering uncharted waters in regional and international security. Russia anticipates increased US deployments near its borders. In an interview with government-daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Russia’s Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev said on Tuesday, “In general, our analysis shows that the American presence near our borders will grow… As for Russia’s western borders, we note the course for the growth of military presence of the US and other NATO members in their vicinity. In 2019, placement of multinational battalion tactical groups in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland will continue. At the same time, Brussels does not hide the fact that its main goal is to contain our country. The strengthening of the European segment of the US global missile defense system continues. The inauguration of the missile defense complex in Poland in addition to the already functioning one in Romania is expected in 2020.”

Equally, new faultlines are appearing. Moscow anticipates further US missile deployments to Northeast Asia – specifically, Japan. Moscow estimates that it is unrealistic to expect Japan to adopt an independent foreign policy. This geopolitical reality in Northeast Asia is in turn casting shadows on the recent improved climate in Russo-Japanese relations. (See my blog Russia tamps down the Kuril hype.)

Following the foreign-minister level talks in Moscow on Monday between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Japanese counterpart Taro Kono, the latter showed reluctance to hold a joint press conference, underscoring the rapidly changing climate of ties between the two countries. Lavrov’s remarks to the media later signaled a marked toughening of the Russian stance on the territorial dispute over Kuril Islands.

Lavrov demanded an outright Japanese recognition of Russian sovereignty over all the islands in the Kuril chain as part of the outcome of World War 2, as accepted under international treaties and by the UN – “Japan’s indisputable recognition of the entirety of results of World War 2, including Russia’s sovereignty over all of the islands of the southern Kuril chain,” as Lavrov put it.

Lavrov said Japanese domestic legislation must accordingly be changed in consultation with Russia. He added, “This is our base position and without steps in this direction it is very difficult to expect movement forward on other issues (such as peace treaty).”

Evidently, in the developing post-INF treaty scenario, Japan’s security alliance with the US now becomes a major hurdle in Russo-Japanese relations. Lavrov specifically pointed a finger at this: “The 1956 Declaration was signed when Japan did not have a military alliance treaty with the US. The treaty was signed in 1960, after which our Japanese colleagues departed from the 1956 Declaration. Now that we are resuming talks on the basis of this declaration, we must consider the drastic change that has taken place in Japan’s military alliances since then. At today’s talks we devoted attention to the US efforts to develop a global missile defence system in Japan with a view to militarising that part of the world and also to the actions that the US formally justifies by citing the need to neutralise the North Korean nuclear threat. In reality, these actions are creating security risks for Russia and China.”

Interestingly, Lavrov brought in the common concern of Russia and China with regard to the US-Japan security alliance and the American missile deployments to Japan. This is a snub to Tokyo inasmuch as recently, Abe’s aide in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (which Abe heads) had made a provocative statement that the US should be interested in concluding a treaty between Russia and Japan, as this would “strengthen the bloc” to contain China. Lavrov called it an “outrageous statement” and put across as bluntly as he could the Russian indignation over any Japanese ploy to create misperceptions regarding Russia-China relations:

“The problem is that the president of the Liberal Democratic Party is Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. We have issued a serious warning about how inappropriate such statements are. We have also inquired more broadly about how independent Japan can be in addressing any issues at all with such heavy dependence on the United States. We were assured that Japan would make decisions based on its national interests. We would like it to be that way.” (See a detailed report by China Daily titled Russia tells Japan retaking Pacific islands not on horizon.)

As much as in regard of Russia’s western borders with Europe, the Asia-Pacific also becomes a region where Moscow’s policies will be significantly influenced by the new climate in international security. This holds good for other regions, too.

Most certainly, Russia will be even more wary of any open-ended US-NATO occupation of Afghanistan. The Russian-American contestation over Turkey will become more complex. (The US missile deployment in Turkey was a core issue during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.) Again, there are reports that a massive expansion of the US bases in Qatar is unfolding (where the US Central Command is headquartered.) Qatar is a potential site for the deployment of US missile systems. Indeed, in the circumstances, Russia’s relations with Iran assume a highly strategic character. Iran’s strategic autonomy is of vital interest to Russia.

The Balkans is another region that Russian strategies will prioritize. Putin is embarking today on a visit to Serbia, which is a key ally, but where conditions may arise for a potential standoff between the West and Russia as had happened in 2014 in Ukraine. In an interview with the Serbian media, Putin came down heavily on the NATO expansion policy, which he condemned as “a misguided, destructive military and political strategy.” He accused the Alliance of “trying to strengthen its presence in the Balkans.” No doubt, a period of heightened tensions in international security lies ahead with the US decision to abandon the INF treaty.

January 17, 2019 Posted by | Aletho News, Militarism | , , , , | Leave a comment

US media intensify pretext for ousting Trump

By Finian Cunningham | RT | January 16, 2019

It’s no secret that since his election in 2016, powerful elements in the US political and media establishment have been running a non-stop campaign to remove Trump from the White House. Lately, the stakes have been raised.

Spearheading the media effort to defenestrate Trump are the New York Times and Washington Post. Both have been prominent purveyors of the “Russiagate” narrative over the past two years, claiming that Republican candidate colluded with Russian state intelligence, or at least was a beneficiary of alleged Russian interference, to win the presidency against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

Congressional investigations and a probe by a Special Counsel Robert Mueller, along with relentless media innuendo, have failed to produce any evidence to support the Russiagate narrative.

Now, the anti-Trump media in alliance with the Democratic leadership, the foreign policy establishment and senior ranks of the state intelligence agencies appear to have come up with a new angle on President Trump – he is a national security risk.

Ingeniously, the latest media effort lessens the burden of proof required against Trump. No longer has it to be proven that he deliberately collaborated with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump could have done it “unwittingly,” the media are now claiming, because he is a buffoon and reckless. But the upshot, for them, is he’s still a national security risk. The only conclusion, therefore, is that he should be removed from office. In short, a coup.

Over the past couple of weeks, the supposed media bastions have been full of it against Trump. An op-ed in the New York Times on January 5 by David Leonhardt could not have made more plain the absolute disdain. “He is demonstrably unfit for office. What are we waiting for?”

Follow-up editorials and reports have piled on the pressure. The Times reported how the Federal Bureau of Investigation – the state’s internal security agency – opened a counterintelligence file on Trump back in 2017 out of concern that he was “working for Russia against US interests.”

That unprecedented move was prompted partly because of Trump’s comments during the election campaign in 2016 when he jokingly called on Russia to release Hillary Clinton’s incriminating emails. Never mind the fact that Russian hackers were not the culprits for Clinton’s email breach.

Then the Washington Post reported former US officials were concerned about what they said was Trump’s “extraordinary lengths” to keep secret his private conversations with Russia’s Putin when the pair met on the sidelines of conferences or during their one-on-one summit in Helsinki last July.

The Post claimed that Trump confiscated the notes of his interpreter after one meeting with Putin, allegedly admonishing the aide to not tell other officials in the administration about the notes being sequestered. The inference is Trump was allegedly in cahoots with the Kremlin.

This week, in response to the media speculation, Trump was obliged to strenuously deny such claims, saying: “I have never worked for Russia… it’s a big fat hoax.”

What’s going on here is a staggering abuse of power by the US’ top internal state intelligence agency to fatally undermine a sitting president based on the flimsiest of pretexts. Moreover, the nation’s most prominent news media outlets – supposedly the Fourth Estate defenders of democracy – are complacently giving their assent, indeed encouragement, to this abuse of power.

The Times in the above report admitted, in a buried one-line disclaimer, that there was no evidence linking Trump to Russia.

Nevertheless, the media campaign doubled down to paint Trump as a national security risk.

The Times reported on January 14 about deep “concerns” among Pentagon officials over Trump’s repeated threats to withdraw the US from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The reporting portrays Trump as incompetent, ignorant of policy details and habitually rude to American allies. His capricious temper tantrums could result in the US walking away from NATO at any time, the newspaper contends.

Such a move would collapse the transatlantic partnership between the US and Europe which has “deterred Soviet and Russian aggression for 70 years,” claimed the Times.

The paper quotes US Admiral James Stavridis, the former supreme allied commander of NATO, calling Trump’s withdrawal whims “a geopolitical mistake of epic proportion.”

“Even discussing the idea of leaving NATO — let alone actually doing so — would be the gift of the century for Putin,” added Stavridis.

The Times goes on to divulge the media campaign coordination when it editorialized: “Now, the president’s repeatedly stated desire to withdraw from NATO is raising new worries among national security officials amid growing concern about Mr Trump’s efforts to keep his meetings with Mr Putin secret from even his own aides, and an FBI investigation into the administration’s Russia ties.”

Still another Times report this week reinforced the theme of Trump being a national security risk when it claimed that the president’s Middle East policy of pulling troops out of Syria was “losing leverage” in the region. It again quoted Pentagon officials “voicing deepening fears” that Trump and his hawkish National Security Advisor John Bolton “could precipitate a conflict with Iran”.

That’s a bit hard to stomach: the Pentagon being presented as a voice of sanity and peace, keeping vigilance over a wrecking-ball president and his administration.

But the New York Times, Washington Post and other anti-Trump corporate media have long been extolling the military generals who were formerly in the administration as “the adults in the room.”

Generals H.R. McMaster, the former national security adviser, John Kelly, Trump’s ex-chief of staff, and James Mattis, the former defense secretary until he was elbowed out last month by the president, were continually valorized in the US media as being a constraining force on Trump’s infantile and impetuous behavior.

The absence of “the adults” seems to have prompted the US media to intensify their efforts to delegitimize Trump’s presidency.

A new House of Representatives controlled by the Democratic Party has also invigorated calls for impeachment of Trump over a range of unsubstantiated accusations, Russian collusion being prime among them. But any impeachment process promises to be long and uncertain of success, according to several US legal and political authorities.

Such a tactic is fraught with risk of failing, no doubt due to the lack of evidence against Trump’s alleged wrongdoing. A failed impeachment effort could backfire politically, increase his popularity, and return him to the White House in 2020.

Given the uncertainty of impeaching Trump, his political enemies, including large sections of the media establishment, seem to be opting for the tactic of characterizing him as a danger to national security, primarily regarding Russia. Trump doesn’t have to be a proven agent of the Kremlin – a preposterous idea. Repeated portrayal of him as an incompetent unwitting president is calculated to be sufficient grounds for his ouster.

When the Washington Post editorial board urges a state of emergency to be invoked because of “Russian meddling in US elections”, then the national mood is being fomented to accept a coup against Trump. The media’s fawning over the Pentagon and state intelligence agencies as some kind of virtuous bastion of democracy is a sinister signal for a military-police state.

January 16, 2019 Posted by | Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia | , , , | 1 Comment