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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

Don’t meddle in Venezuela, Moscow tells coup-cheering Washington

RT | January 16, 2019

Russia has criticized the US government for bullying Venezuela and encouraging its opposition to stage a coup against President Nicolas Maduro, who was sworn in for his second term last week.

“Nations should avoid meddling in other nations’ internal affairs,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Wednesday. He said that Washington’s encouragement of opposition forces in Venezuela “has made them unwilling to seek reconciliation [with the president], which is regretful.”

Venezuela is currently in a political crisis, with the opposition-controlled National Assembly declaring President Maduro a “usurper” and its speaker, Juan Guaido, an “interim president” of the country. The move came after strong public support from Washington, which has been advocating toppling Maduro for quite some time.

Washington has targeted Maduro’s government with a series of crippling economic and personal sanctions, and reportedly considered a military intervention in the country.

The National Assembly’s mandate to represent Venezuelans remains in question. In 2017, the country reformed its parliament system by introducing a new body called the Constitutional Assembly, which is controlled by pro-government politicians. The opposition and its backers in Washington rejected the reform as a power grab and declared the new legislature illegal.

Explaining Russia’s position on the conflict, Lavrov said US involvement in Venezuela was “very alarming and indicated that the US policy of destabilizing governments it does not like remains a priority.”

Venezuela suffered years of economic and social hardships, which the opposition blames on Maduro’s poor governance. He blames the hardship on sabotage of big business and foreign interests, which want to see his socialist government ousted from power.

January 16, 2019 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , | 1 Comment

There’s More to Russia than Meets the Eye

By James V. DeLong | American Thinker | January 15, 2019

While I have only a concerned citizen’s knowledge of foreign affairs, I am baffled by the hysterical Russophobia of the MSM and the Democratic Party since the 2016 election.

As far as I can tell, there should be no real issues between Russia and the U.S. Ukraine or Crimea is freighted with questions of local ethnicity and brutal history and should be sorted out by the parties, or at most by Europe. We have no stake. As for the defense of Europe, it is not credible that Russia has designs on an entity that so outweighs it in population and wealth. Trump was right to point out that the Europeans themselves do not believe in the threat, since they are happy to shortchange defense while relying on Russia for natural gas. Why would the Russians send tanks when shutting a valve would cripple Germany?

I do not really understand why either nation is in Syria, and any Russian intervention in the 2016 election was trivial.  In any case, of course the Russians want to influence our elections. We are the world’s 800-pound gorilla (or bull in the china shop), so everyone wants to influence our elections, and who can blame these people? People all over the world live and die depending on the self-centered whims of whoever holds power in the U.S. – just ask Moammar Gaddafi (“we came, we saw, he died“). Saudis, Israelis, Europeans, Brits, and many others have been meddling for decades and will continue to do so. So grow up, MSM.

Irritated by the repetitive triviality of the press, I began searching for sources that would broaden and deepen my perspective. Indeed, I found an avalanche of web material that rarely makes it through the gatekeepers in the U.S. The quality and honesty of these varies greatly, but, to help out readers who share my unease about the information they are getting from the MSM, or even from many U.S. conservative sites, I will list a few that are worth your attention because, in my estimation, they are intelligent observers who know what they are talking about and who are trying to tell their readers the truth as they see it.

Russia Observer is the site of Patrick Armstrong, a former analyst in the Canadian Department of National Defense. He writes a column on some current issue every week or so, plus a useful biweekly “SitRep” covering many issues in terse style. His orientation as follows:

[T]he predominant theme of my career was that we had a great opportunity when the USSR disappeared to make a more cooperative world. Instead, we have steadily turned Russia into an enemy – and a much more capable one than we casually assumed in the 1990s.

So here we are today.  Paying for our arrogance, incompetence and maybe worse.

But I haven’t given up hope.

Everything Armstrong does is first-rate. His work also appears at Strategic Culture, a Russophile site that publishes dozens of authors of multifarious perspectives, but with a commonality that none is a fan of the U.S.

Irrussianality is the work of Paul Robinson, another Canadian, who teaches at the University of Ottawa. He writes every few days on “the relationship between Russia and the West; and the apparently irrational decision making processes which dominate much of international relations.” Again, everything he does is worthwhile. He also has an interesting blog roll, which I have only begun to explore.

Stephen F. Cohen is professor emeritus of Russian Studies at NYU and Princeton.  He has been working the Russian beat at The Nation for several years, warning that something has gone seriously askew, and his new book of columns, War with Russia: From Putin & Ukraine to Trump & Russiagate, demands attention. To recommend the lefty Nation seems a bit droll, but virtue is where you find it.

What will you learn from these? Not long ago, Patrick Armstrong said, in Back to the USSR: How to Read Western News:

[H]as any Western news outlet reported, say, these ten true statements?

  1. People in Crimea are pretty happy to be in Russia.
  2. The US and its minions have given an enormous amount of weapons to jihadists.
  3. Elections in Russia reflect popular opinion polling.
  4. There really are a frightening number of well-armed nazis in Ukraine.
  5. Assad is pretty popular in Syria.
  6. The US and its minions smashed Raqqa to bits.
  7. The official Skripal story makes very little sense.
  8. Ukraine is much worse off, by any measurement, now than before Maidan.
  9. Russia actually had several thousand troops in Crimea before Maidan.
  10. There’s a documentary that exposes Browder that he keeps people from seeing.

I typed these out as they occurred to me. I could come up with another ten pretty easily. There’s some tiny coverage, far in the back pages, so that objectivity can be pretended, but most Western media consumers would answer they aren’t; didn’t; don’t; aren’t; isn’t; where?; does; not; what?; never heard of it.

Recently, at “The Blob Strikes Back,” Paul Robinson discussed Trump’s plan to withdraw from Syria:

The most recent [defense policy story] … could be well titled ‘The Blob Strikes Back’ – the ‘Blob’ being a derogatory term for the American security establishment, an amorphous being which defies easy definition and is decidedly hard to pin down, but which exerts enormous power and which seems to be impervious to outside realities, continuing along its chosen path regardless of all the disasters it confronts, and causes, along the way. … Starting wars is something the American security establishment can cope with; ending them is something which causes it real difficulties.

Stephen Cohen’s most recent column asks, “Do Russiagate Promotors Prefer Impeaching Trump to Avoiding War with Russia?“:

In large part due to … media malpractice, and despite the escalating dangers in US-Russian relations, in 2018 there continued to be no significant anti-Cold War opposition anywhere in mainstream American political life – not in Congress, the major political parties, think tanks, or on college campuses, only a very few individual dissenters. Accordingly, the policy of détente with Russia, or what Trump has repeatedly called “cooperation with Russia,” still found no significant supporters in mainstream politics, even though it was the policy of other Republican presidents, notably Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan.  Trump has tried, but he has been thwarted, repeatedly again in 2018.

Agree or disagree, the points made by these authors are serious, and they deserve attention and discussion, not oblivion. They are not made in the MSM.

For those who wish to delve, here is one more recommendation.

Vladimir Putin has a website that prints English transcripts of his torrent of speeches, communiqués, and meetings. Putin is quite available; he meets frequently with groups of all stripes and holds news conferences that last for three or four hours. As with all politicians, total candor is improbable, but, on the other hand, he must use these events to communicate with Russia’s many constituencies, so one learns at least what he wants people to think he thinks, whether or not it is what he really thinks.

The Putin of these materials is not at all the thug of the MSM. One can read his remarks at the 2017 dedication of the Wall of Sorrow, a memorial to the victims of political repression, which, with other statements, expresses a clear understanding of need to keep green the memory of the Bolshevik tragedy.

Here one can read his 2018 Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly. Like a U.S. State of the Union address, it genuflects to multifarious interest groups, but it also places great emphasis on the importance of civil society. Putin is on the same page as the American conservatives who keep saying politics is downstream from culture. The speech also contains Putin’s view of the military balance, explaining why he thinks Russia can forestall any aggression by the U.S. while spending a tenth as much.

As stated above, agree or disagree, but it is better to read Putin’s own words than to have his thoughts filtered through the MSM. His speeches are far more substantive than what one gets from our own politicians. (In any case, whom are you going to believe – Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi or Vladimir Putin? It’s not even close.)

Like Patrick Armstrong, I am appalled at the direction taken by Russian-American relations, but neither have I given up hope. Reading Armstrong and his confreres may help lead to a path out of this potentially deadly slough of misinformation.

James V DeLong is a retired lawyer, government official, and think-tank analyst.

January 16, 2019 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism | , | 1 Comment

‘Caught in the act of spying’: US citizen detained in Moscow ahead of New Year’s Eve celebrations

RT | December 31, 2018

An American citizen was apprehended during a “spying action” in Moscow, the Federal Security Service (FSB) said. He is currently being detained on suspicion of espionage.

FSB agents detained a US national named Paul Whelan on Friday during “a spying action,” the agency’s press office told TASS.

Criminal proceedings were launched against the man under Article 276 of the Russian Criminal Code, which covers the crime of espionage.

No details of the suspect’s identity or facts surrounding the operation were immediately disclosed.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said that the US Embassy in Moscow was notified of Whelan’s detention.

News of the American citizen’s arrest comes at a time of heightened tensions between the US and Russia. Washington has accused Moscow of meddling in its domestic affairs and of various spy activities.

In October, the US Ministry of Justice accused seven Russians of being GRU military intelligence officers, and charged them with hacking and committing wire fraud.

Four men belonging to that group were expelled from the Netherlands in April for allegedly attempting to hack the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Moscow denied all allegations, dismissing them as “spy mania.”

Earlier this month, a Moscow court sentenced former police officer Aleksey Zhitnyuk to 13 years in prison for providing classified data to a foreign national. The trial took place behind closed doors, and the details of the case remain unknown. However, according to media reports, he was suspected of being in contact with the CIA.

December 31, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | Leave a comment

Is there an Upside to the US Military Presence in the Southeast Asia?

By Jean Perier – New Eastern Outlook – 30.12.2018 

As of today the Southeast Asian and Asia-Pacific region have found themselves at the center of a complex international process of establishing a new regional architecture. As states carry on fighting for control over strategic sea routes that run across the region, numerous security and transitional threats would appear seemingly out of the blue.

Unsurprisingly, the United States is trying to exercise as much influence over the region as it possibly can, even in spite of the fact that over the past decades the influence that Washington exercises in Southeast Asia has significantly diminished. Speaking about the evolution of the US approach to Southeast Asia in the post-bipolar period of global composition, it should be noted that the initial goal of containing the spread of communism that Washington used to pursue has evolved into attempts of ensuring American military and economic dominance in this part of the world. These days the US couldn’t care less about communism, as it’s dead set on opposing the rise of China and Russia and their regional allies. Washington’s new approach to its global strategy became evident after the release of America’s National Defense Strategy and the Nuclear Posture Review, in which China and Russia were designated as primary geopolitical opponents of the US.

To achieve these goals, the Trump administration would concentrate its efforts on creating a 400,000 man strong force in the Asia-Pacific region to ensure that at least 50 large military bases across the region remain fully operational at all times. It goes without saying that the absolute majority of those are located in Japan.

Among the tools that allow Washington to advance its agenda in the Asia-Pacific region are large carrier strike groups. For the first time since the days of WWII, the Pentagon keeps a total of two carrier groups stationed in the Western Pacific. Additionally, the US Air Force would use strategic bombers on patrol duty over the Pacific, as Washington believes this practice to be a good demonstration of force.

The Pentagon is also actively deploying its anti-air capabilities in the Asia-Pacific region, thus provoking an arms race across the region. At present, it has 20 ships capable of bringing down both missiles and aircraft, two THAAD batteries, three PAC-3 missile battalions along with five mobile radars stationed in the region.

To ensure its primacy in the region, Washington would place a particular emphasis on expanding its cooperation with Japan and South Korea. This results in those states holding an ever increasing number of joint military exercises, with their total exceeding 30 large military games over the last 18 months.

However, as inter-Korean relations begin reaping results of goodwill shown by both Pyongyang and Seoul, along with the progress that Russia and Japan have made in resolving their territorial disputes, Southeast Asian political analysts have begun discussing the issue of Washington maintaining such a leviathanian scale of American military presence in the region and the rationale behind it.

As for the prospects of a continuous US military presence on the Korean peninsula, it’s being addressed by China that which recently began insisting on the complete withdrawal of US armed forces from South Korea as a precondition for the complete denuclearization of the DPRK. Chinese authorities are persistent in convincing Pyongyang that this should be the first demand made, since there will be no way to force Washington into leaving once a peace treaty is signed. In turn, Washington is pursuing the goal of maintaining as many troops in South Korea as possible, as those remain an important element of its China containment plan.

As for the US military presence in Japan, the public pressure applied by various civil activist groups on Japanese authorities is almost palpable. Although Tokyo hasn’t faced a massive public uproar demanding the complete withdrawal of all American servicemen from the country, the number of civil protests demanding this course of action is increasing annually. In addition, the advances that Japan and Russia made in resolving their differences on questions over the Kuril Islands may vanish overnight, should it be announced that American servicemen are here to stay in Japan. As a matter of fact, this presence contradicts the terms of the 1956 agreement between the USSR and Japan, and ever since the day it was signed any further progress has been derailed by the presence of foreign servicemen in Japanese territory. Back in the day, this fact resulted in the USSR abandoning any discussions with Tokyo over the possibility of transferring a part of the Kuril Islands to Japan, as Tokyo signed the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security with Washington back in 1960. After all, in accordance with this treaty, the Pentagon is allowed to build its naval bases all across the territory of Japan. Should it decide to build one on the Kuril Islands once they are handed over to Japan, it will trap the Russian navy in its harbors. It is quite understandable that Moscow will never allow this scenario to occur.

To get a better understanding of this deadlock, it is enough to recall the Caribbean crisis of 1962 and the deployment of Soviet ballistic missiles in Cuba. Back then, Washington reacted vigorously to Moscow’s attempt to create a direct military threat to the United States in the immediate vicinity of its borders, which brought the world toward the brink of WWIII. So what reaction should we expect from Moscow should Washington build a naval base on the Kuril Islands? Therefore, without Tokyo demanding the Pentagon to pack up and leave, no further progress in the disputes that exist between Russia and Japan can be achieved.

Of course, both Moscow and Beijing in their approach to the question of the lingering US military presence in the immediate vicinity of their shores are driven by their strategic interests. This means that Beijing is going to use any leverage it has to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for a US withdrawal, while Russia would never go as far as to consider handing over the Kuril Islands without Japan sending American servicemen home.

As for the position of today’s political elite of South Korea and Japan on this issue, it is clear that they follow the instruction of their overseas masters in addressing these issues, as both of these states have launched massive media campaigns to persuade their population that the presence of US forces is somehow not a bad thing. Washington has even given them cues as to what their media should advertise. In particular, they try to convince the world that:

  • a certain part of the population of South Korea and Japan is still supporting the strengthening of military cooperation with the United States.
  • the withdrawal of American troops will be accompanied by a substantial increase in defense spending. In particular, it is said that in South Korea in order to prevent the weakening of its combat potential, Seoul will be bound to spend no less than 30-35 billion dollars.
  • both Japan and South Korea will lose jobs should they decide to close US military bases. It’s stated that South Korea will lose more than 10,000 jobs that were created by the fact that American soldiers needed services that the Pentagon was willing to pay for. It’s estimated that Washington would spend 800 million dollars on those and thus the withdrawal of American troops is going to somehow affect the overall economic growth rates of South Korea. Should those media sources be believed, Japan with its massive industrial potential is going to suffer even greater financial losses due to the withdrawal of US forces from Japan.

Under these circumstances, the ruling political circles of South Korea and Japan have to decide whether the costs and the lost income associated with persistent tensions those two states have with their neighbors are worth the pay Washington is providing them with. It goes without saying that neither nation can hope to secure full political independence without sending American troops home. Moreover, the signing of peace treaties with their neighbors will eliminate the need to carry on the arms race that Washington initiated, as both Japan and South Korea are bound to buy expensive outdated weapons produced by the United States to the detriment of their national interests. For sure, the final word on this matter should not be left to the political elites of South Korea and Japan who are closely tied to Washington, but to the population of these countries, since they are being described as democracies by the Western media.

December 30, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism | , , , , | Leave a comment

Germany, France struggle with resurgent Russia

By M. K. BHADRAKUMAR | Indian Punchline | December 30, 2018

A German-French joint statement on Friday regarding Ukraine condemned Russia and demanded the immediate release of the sailors detained following the so-called Kerch incident in November. Moscow hit back in equally strong language summarily rejecting the Franco-German demand.

The Franco-German motivation in provoking Russia remains unclear. Maybe, a combination of circumstances would be at play. There is frustration in Berlin and Paris that 2018 is ending with Moscow rather comfortably ensconced in the Ukraine situation. Ukraine is de facto divided into two separate nations with the one in Donbass under Moscow’s tutelage. Crimea’s annexation by Russia has become irreversible, too. In sum, the February 2014 coup in Kiev has turned out to be a disaster for the Western powers – by the idiom of steak cuts, Moscow got the best cuts, including the Porterhouse (Crimea).

By the way, Moscow announced on December 28 the completion of construction of a 60-kilometre fence on Crimea’s border with Ukraine.

The West, on the other hand, is saddled with a residual Ukraine that is more of a long-term liability – politically, militarily and financially. In geopolitical terms, the West’s tensions with Russia have become hopelessly complicated and the Black Sea, in particular, has turned into a contested region. In the Barack Obama era, the turn of events in 2014 might have had a greater logic insofar as the regime change in Ukraine (sponsored originally by the European Union and navigated to its climax by the US) became a pivotal moment in post-Cold War big-power politics.

It cemented the US’ transatlantic leadership, gave NATO a new sense of direction with Russia cast as “enemy”, thwarted (from the American perspective) Moscow’s predatorial diplomatic incursions into Europe, and galvanized Ukraine’s induction into the western alliance system, thereby taking a big leap forward in the US strategy to encircle Russia.

However, the best-laid plans under Obama have gone awry. To be sure, the Russian intervention in Syria in September 2015 would have been partly at least attributable to the tensions building up in Moscow’s ties with the West, with the Kremlin assessing that without a toehold in Syria, an effective Russian presence in the Mediterranean would be unsustainable. In turn, Russia forcefully reversed the tide of the Syrian conflict, weaned Turkey away from the western camp, forged a veritable alliance with Iran and established a permanent politico-military presence on the Middle Eastern landscape.

More importantly, Hillary Clinton failed to win the 2016 US presidential election to carry forward Obama’s Ukraine agenda to its logical conclusion of containment of Russia. Donald Trump, on the contrary, takes no real interest in a concerted Western strategy over Ukraine and it is even debatable whether he sees US interests at stake in Ukraine. Thus, despite the covert axis working actively – even proactively – between the Pentagon under James Mattis (who used to be a NATO commander himself) and the hardliners among the allies in Europe, Trump has remained disinterested in turning Ukraine into a flashpoint against Russia. Trump’s support for Kiev has been by far sub-optimal.

Conceivably, Mattis’ ouster as US defence secretary will demoralize the hardliners amongst the US’ European allies. Their sense of vulnerability vis-à-vis the resurgent Russia is only increasing. Indeed, Trump’s announcement on the withdrawal from Syria has also stunned them, as they fear the spectre of a triumphalist Russia on the march.

For both Germany and France, a piquant situation also arises because the US withdrawal from Syria will expose their own covert military intervention in Syria without any UN mandate, lacking legitimacy under international law. Ironically, there is danger that without Russian acquiescence, a cover-up of the war crimes committed by the German and French forces in Syria may get exposed in the coming period, causing huge discomfort to their carefully cultivated image as the paragon of the liberal international order. Reports in the Russian press have hinted that Moscow is in a position to expose the German and French war crimes in Syria.

Therefore, the German-French joint statement can be seen against the backdrop of the inflection point in Russia’s relations with Europe. What complicates matters is that German politics is in turmoil. Ukraine, no doubt, puts a dark spot on Merkel’s foreign-policy legacy, because she took a big hand personally to queer the pitch of the regime change in Kiev in 2014, but is today helplessly watching Ukraine’s steady degradation.

What are the options available with Paris and Berlin over Ukraine vis-à-vis Russia? The faultlines in their relations with Trump seriously weaken their capacity to cope with Russian resurgence. Besides, the resilience of the Franco-German axis in the post-Merkel European scenario itself remains to be seen. Although France is slated to assume the rotating presidency of the EU in January, the French President Emmanuel Macron’s political standing to lead Europe is far from convincing.

Paradoxically, the sanctions against Russia have deprived the European powers of the ability to leverage their influence with Moscow. Russia has survived the sanctions. According to a statement by the Russian energy minister Alexander Novak last week, Moscow got a windfall of additional income to the tune of $100 billion thanks to the OPEC+ matrix through the past two-year period. On the other hand, the success of the “Swamp” in Washington in blocking Trump’s plans to improve relations with Russia has only guaranteed that the Russian-American relations are in free fall. It seems unlikely that Trump will succeed in turning around the US-Russian relations in the coming two years of his presidential term. To be sure, if the Trump administration goes ahead with the jettisoning of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Treaty, European security will take a serious knock. All in all, as the 30th anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall approaches in next year, it seems that the victors and losers of the Cold War remain indeterminate.

December 30, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Syrian Kurds throw Americans under the bus

By M. K. BHADRAKUMAR | Indian Punchline | December 28, 2018

The Syrian government forces have entered the northern town of Manbij on the Turkish border earlier today. The Syrian military command announced in Damascus that the operation stemmed from the commitment to “impose sovereignty to each inch of Syrian territories and in response to calls of locals of Manbij city.”

The announcement reiterated Damascus’ twin objective of “smashing terrorism and expelling the invaders and occupiers out of Syrian soil.” The government troops have hoisted the Syrian Arab flag in Manbij.

In a highly significant move, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov promptly welcomed the development. “No doubt, this is a positive step towards stabilizing the situation,” the spokesman said. He added that the expansion of the zone of the Syrian government troops’ control “is a positive trend.”

It stands to reason that Moscow mediated between the Syrian Kurdish leadership and Damascus. There have been reports that Syrian Kurdish delegations visited Moscow this week as well as the Russian military base at Hmeimim in Syria. A senior Kurdish leader in Manbij told Reuters, “We want Russia to play an important role to achieve stability.”

Indeed, Moscow needs no prompting from anyone in this regard. The Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said on Wednesday, “The question of fundamental importance is who will assume control of the regions the Americans will vacate. It should be the Syrian government… We believe that the Syrian government is equipped to maintain stability through dialogue and interaction with all the national patriotic forces. This dialogue in the interests of all Syrians can help complete the routing of the terrorists and preclude their reappearance in Syria. It is important not to interfere with the Syrian society’s efforts on the political track.”

The fact of the matter is that while Russia welcomes Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from Syria and regards it as “important in that it can promote a comprehensive settlement of the situation” Moscow remains extremely wary of what it entails. So far, even a week after Trump’s announcement, Washington has not contacted Moscow to explain its decision.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov drew attention to this while talking to the media in Moscow today: “To the best of my knowledge… Washington wants its coalition partners to assume responsibility. French, British and German service personnel are also illegally deployed on the ground. Of course, there are also the coalition’s air forces on whom they want to shift an extra financial burden. We hope to receive specific explanations… on the assumption that the end goal of all counter-terrorist operations in Syria is to restore Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The known unknown will be the terms of any Faustian deal between Washington and Ankara with regard to the future of the Syrian territories under American control. A US military delegation is expected in Ankara. Moscow and Damascus (and Syrian Kurds) would not rule out the possibility that Pentagon commanders would work on the “neo-Ottoman” and secretly encourage Turkish revanchism. Meanwhile there are also reports that Turkish forces are moving toward the frontlines facing Manbij in “full readiness… to start military operations to liberate the town, according to Reuters.

Suffice to say, Damascus and Moscow have pre-empted Ankara in the race for Manbij. Put differently, they have created a new fact on the ground, which either Ankara has to learn to live with or use military force to change. The latter course is fraught with immense risk, apart from severely jolting the Turkish-Russian political understanding over Syria. It is unlikely that Turkey will push the envelope.

However, to my mind, Turkish President Recep Erdogan is unlikely to cross lines with the Kremlin. A high-powered Turkish delegation comprising Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, Turkish intelligence chief Hakan Fidan and the presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin is expected to travel to Moscow on Saturday. No doubt, Moscow hopes to engage Ankara constructively.

Interestingly, amidst the dramatic developments concerning Manbij today, Russian President’s Special Representative for the Middle East and African Countries, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov disclosed in Moscow today that the Guarantor States of Astana Process (Russia, Turkey and Iran) may hold a summit in Russia next week, depending on the schedule of the three presidents.

Curiously, there has been no reaction from Washington to today’s developments in Manbij. American troops have been patrolling in Manbij town and the tense front line between Manbij and adjacent towns where fighters backed by Turkey were based. Having received the orders from Washington to withdraw from Syria, the local US commanders in northeast Syria will be in a quandary.

Nonetheless, it will be a bitter pill for the Pentagon commanders to swallow that the Syrian Kurds are overnight reconciling with Damascus. This will become additional fodder for Trump’s detractors in the US, too. In fact, sniping has already begun in Washington.

On the other hand, the Syrian Kurds, who have been the US’ main allies in Syria up until recently, have openly declared that they have invited the government forces to enter Manbij. They said in a statement today, “Due to the invading Turkish state’s threats to invade northern Syria and displace its people similarly to al-Bab, Jarablus and Afrin, we as the People’s Protection Units, following the withdrawal of our forces from Manbij, announce that our forces will be focusing on the fight against ISIS on all the fronts east of the Euphrates.”

The statement added that the Syrian government forces are ”obliged to protect the same country, nation and borders” and also protect Manbij from Turkish threats. It leaves the door wide open for the Syrian government forces to eventually regain control of the entire territory vacated by the US.

Assad has offered the integration of the Kurdish fighters into the Syrian Army under separate regiments. The prospects are that Assad’s offer will find acceptance among the Kurds at some point soon. There has all along been a tacit co-habitation between the Syrian Kurdish fighters and the government forces operating in northern regions bordering Turkey. It will be recalled that Assad quietly went to the aid of the Kurdish fighters in February when the Turkish army attacked Afrin region in the northwest in February.

Clearly, it is nonsense to say that the Kurds have been “thrown under the bus”, as Trump’s critics in the US are alleging. The plain truth is that the US created the illusion in the Kurdish mind that the creation of another Kurdistan on Syrian territory, similar to the one in Iraq, could become a possibility. But, fundamentally, Kurds will reconcile with Damascus. The comfort level between the Kurds and the Russians is also appreciable, historically. Moscow has consistently held the view that the Kurds must be represented at the negotiating table in any intra-Syrian peace process. The speed with which Kurds began mending fences with Damascus only underscores that they never quite trusted the Americans and all along had kept their options open.

December 28, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Thoughts on Putin, Economic Downturns and Democracy

By Dean Baker | Beat The Press | December 26, 2018

A friend called my attention to this Project Syndicate piece by Kenneth Rogoff, a Harvard economics professor and former chief economist at the I.M.F. Rogoff  argues that Russia will need major economic reform and political reform in order for its economy to get back on a healthy growth path.

In the course of making his argument, Rogoff makes a quick and dirty case that the fact Putin was able to win re-election despite the economic downturn in 2015-2016 resulting from the collapse of world oil prices, shows that the country is not a western democracy.

“The shock to the real economy has been severe, with Russia suffering a decline in output in 2015 and 2016 comparable to what the United States experienced during its 2008-2009 financial crisis, with the contraction in GDP totalling about 4%. …..

“In a western democracy, an economic collapse on the scale experienced by Russia would have been extremely difficult to digest politically, as the global surge in populism demonstrates. Yet Putin has been able to remain firmly in control and, in all likelihood, will easily be able to engineer another landslide victory in the presidential election due in March 2018.”

First, the I.M.F. data to which Rogoff links, does not support his story of an economic collapse in Russia. The reported decline in GDP is 2.7 percent, not the 4.0 percent claimed by Rogoff. And, it is more than reversed by the growth in 2017 and projected growth in 2018. In other words, there does not seem to be much of a story of economic collapse here.

But the idea that a Russian government could not stay in power through an economic downturn, if it were democratic, is an interesting one. According to the I.M.F., Russia’s economy shrank by more than 25 percent from 1992 to 1996 under Boris Yeltsin, a close U.S. ally. Yet, he managed to be re-elected in 1996 despite an economic decline that was an order of magnitude larger than the one under Putin from 2014 to 2016. By the Rogoff theory, we can infer that Yeltsin should not have been able to win re-election through democratic means.

December 28, 2018 Posted by | Deception, Economics | | 1 Comment

US offered my family green card if I accused Kremlin of corruption – jailed Russian businessman

RT | December 27, 2018

Russian businessman Viktor Bout, jailed in the US on accusations of being an international arms dealer, said he won’t smear Russia’s honor in exchange for any type of deal with the American justice system.

There was talk about me telling the US authorities about corruption in the Kremlin. I replied: ‘What do I have to do with it at all and how am I supposed to speak about something that doesn’t exist?’

Such offers were made to him “on numerous occasions” by lawyers aligned with the US side, Bout said in a public telephone conversation with TASS.

The legal eagles also “loved talking about this with the family; with my wife, proposing different options, including a green card,” he added.

However, the entrepreneur said that exchanging him for any of the US citizens accused of crimes in Russia was never on the table.

Bout has been in custody for a decade now, after being arrested in 2008 in Thailand during an American sting operation. He was eventually convicted in the US in 2012 on a charge of conspiring to kill American citizens, by allegedly selling weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and was handed 25 years in prison.

As for any deals with the American justice system and what it really is – the American justice system isn’t just deaf and blind, but, apparently, out of its mind.

Before hanging up, Bout expressed “full confidence” that someday he’ll be back in Russia. The 51-year-old has always maintained his innocence and insisted that he has only been involved in legitimate cargo business.

December 28, 2018 Posted by | Subjugation - Torture | , | 3 Comments

States that stood up for INF Treaty have now ‘de facto blessed’ US for scrapping it – Moscow

RT | December 22, 2018

The very same nations that blasted the White House for deciding to pull out of the landmark 1987 INF Treaty have now helped to defeat the UN resolution calling for its support, the Russian Foreign Ministry pointed out.

Russia expressed “disappointment” as a resolution in support of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty was voted down by a narrow margin in the UN General Assembly on Friday.

Forty-three states, including China and South American countries, voted for the document drafted by Russia.

Forty-six voted against the resolution, with 78 abstaining. The US’ allies in NATO and the EU voted ‘No’ despite previously speaking in favor of keeping the arms agreement intact, the Russian Foreign Ministry noted.

These countries, especially the NATO members – contrary to their own statements about the importance of the INF Treaty – acted as its opponents.

Friday’s vote shows how the US’ allies “de facto blessed” Washington for violating the INF deal, the foreign ministry stressed.

Moscow’s envoy to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya told Rossiya 1 TV channel that prior to the vote his American counterpart, Nikki Haley, sent out a letter urging everyone to vote down the Russian draft.

As the US announced its willingness to ditch the landmark INF Treaty back in October, many European politicians defended the need to keep the existing agreement and hailed its role in nuclear disarmament. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called Washington’s decision “regrettable” as the treaty is “hugely important” to the European continent.

EU foreign affairs chief, Federica Mogherini referred to the embattled treaty as the “key” and “a fundamental pillar” to European security architecture and urged for it to be “preserved and fully implemented.”

The INF Treaty bans Moscow and Washington from developing and deploying ground-based missiles with ranges from 500 to 5,500 kilometers. Both sides accuse each other of violating its terms, and likewise deny any wrongdoing.

Two weeks ago, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatened to pull the US from the deal in 60 days “unless Russia returns to compliance.”

Russia, in turn, warned that the US withdrawal from the INF Treaty will trigger an arms race across the globe.

December 22, 2018 Posted by | Militarism | , , , , , | Leave a comment

US leaves trail of bitterness in Syria

Stalingrad of Syrian war: ancient Syrian city of Raqqa after US bombing
By M. K. BHADRAKUMAR | Indian Punchline | December 21, 2018

On December 17, Ankara was notified of President Trump’s decision on troop withdrawal from Syria. During an earlier phone conversation between him and President Recep Erdogan on Dec 14, Trump had pointedly asked and elicited a positive response from the Turkish leader as to whether Turkey would have the capability to eliminate the remnants of the ISIS in the Syrian tract east of the Euphrates in the event of a US withdrawal from Syria. Erdogan reportedly “reaffirmed” Turkey’s commitment to fight the ISIS.

Ankara likely shared this information with Moscow and Tehran. The three foreign ministers met in Geneva on Dec 19 for a trilateral meeting as guarantors of the Astana format on Syria. The joint statement issued after the meeting, therefore, can be seen as indicative of Turkey’s resolve to give primacy to the trilateral format with Russia and Iran on issues concerning Syria.

To be sure, Turkey will have issues to take up with the Trump administration in the coming days and weeks. As one commentator put it, “For example, will the U.S. collect the weapons provided to the YPG? What measures will the U.S. take for preventing a chaos in the region after the withdrawal? All these require more military and political talks between Turkey and the U.S. Turkey will continue to cautiously follow the situation in Syria.”

However, senior Turkish officials have made it clear that the planned military operations against Syrian Kurds will continue to unfold. Defence Minister Hulusi Akar has been quoted by the state news agency Anadolu as saying, “Now we have Manbij and the east of the Euphrates in front of us. We are working intensively on this subject. Right now it is being said that some ditches, tunnels were dug in Manbij and to the east of the Euphrates. They (Kurds) can dig tunnels or ditches if they want, they can go underground if they want, when the time and place comes they will buried in the ditches they dug. No one should doubt this.”

Yesterday, Erdogan told the visiting Iranian president Hassan Rouhani that Ankara hopes to work closer with Tehran to end the fighting in Syria. Erdogan said at a joint press conference with Rouhani, “There are many steps that Turkey and Iran can take together to stop the fighting in the region and to establish peace. Syria’s territorial integrity must be respected by all sides. Both countries are of the same opinion regarding this.” Significantly, Erdogan also voiced Turkey’s support for Iran (“brotherly nation”) against the US sanctions.

However, Ankara is yet to make an official statement regarding Trump’s Syrian pullout plan. All three countries – Turkey, Russia and Iran – seem skeptical about Trump’s clout to enforce his decision overcoming resistance from the Pentagon. From such a perspective, the resignation of Defence Secretary James Mattis on December 20 will come as confirmation that Trump is indeed forcing his political will, exercising his presidential prerogative to take foreign policy decisions as well as insisting on his supreme authority as commander-in-chief to decide on issues of war involving the US armed forces.

Unlike Turkey and Iran, Russia has voiced opinions on Trump’s withdrawal plans. President Vladimir Putin stated at a press conference in Moscow on Dec 20:

“As concerns the defeat of ISIS, overall I agree with the President of the United States. I already said that we achieved significant progress in the fight against terrorism… There is a risk of these and similar groups migrating to neighbouring regions… We know that, we understand the risk fully. Donald is right about that, and I agree with him.”

“As concerns the withdrawal of American troops, I do not know what that is. The United States have been present in, say, Afghanistan, for how long? Seventeen years, and every year they talk about withdrawing the troops. But they are still there. This is my second point.”

“Third… The current issue on the agenda is building a constitutional committee… We submitted the list to the UN… Maybe not by the end of this year but in the beginning of the next the list will be agreed and this will open the next stage of the settlement, which will be political settlement.”

“Is the presence of American troops required there? I do not think it is. However, let us not forget that their presence… is illegitimate… The military contingent can only be there under a resolution of the UN Security Council or at the invitation of the legitimate Syrian Government…. So, if they decide to withdraw their troops, it is the right decision.”

Overall, Putin commended Trump’s decision, while keeping fingers crossed that as the focus is shifting to the political process will gain traction. Putin didn’t mince words in calling the US intervention in Syria as a violation of international law and UN Charter. The Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov who spoke later in a TV interview was also quite upfront: “The American presence on the Syrian soil is not conductive to attaining the goals of a political and diplomatic solution.” (TASS )

Neither Russia nor Turkey and Iran would expect a cooperative attitude from the American side in a near term over Syria. The US has a stony heart when it comes to Syria’s reconstruction – although it caused immense destruction in that country during its occupation. The US military will be leaving behind a trail of bitterness in Syria. The three other protagonists understood perfectly well that Pentagon commanders were fighting a secretive geopolitical war against each of them. “Good riddance” – that must be the refrain in Ankara, Moscow and Tehran.

December 21, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation | , , , , | Leave a comment

Ukraine plans another incursion into Kerch Strait, hopes NATO ships will join in – top official

RT | December 20, 2018

Kiev is considering sending its Navy ships through the Kerch Strait again, a high-ranked official said weeks after a tense standoff between Russian and Ukrainian vessels in the area.

Another passage by Ukrainian Navy ships through the Kerch Strait which connects Black and Azov Seas might take place very soon, according to Alexander Turchinov, head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council. “I think that this issue cannot be delayed,” he told BBC News Ukraine on Wednesday.

Turchinov, who briefly served as interim president after the Western-backed 2014 Euromaidan coup in Kiev, didn’t mince his words while explaining the rationale between the action. To him, Russia is after “seizing the Azov Sea,” install new maritime borders and “legitimize the occupation of Crimea.”

The only antidote to the plan is “to show to the entire world that Ukraine has not lost its position in the Azov Sea.” Turchinov was speaking several weeks after three Ukrainian ships attempted to break through the strait which Russia had closed on safety reasons.

On November 25, three Ukrainian Navy vessels, including two combat-ready gunboats, entered the Kerch Strait without getting proper clearance first, according to Moscow. After ignoring multiple warnings and demands to stop, they were fired upon and seized by the Russian coast guard, while the sailors were taken to custody.

This time, the official said he hopes Ukraine will not be left alone in the next endeavor. “It would be very logical if NATO ships which we invited [to visit] the Azov Sea ports make sure that Russia complies with international law,” he said, lamenting the military bloc provided no response yet.

Nevertheless, Turchinov hopes that “during the next passage of Ukrainian warships through the Kerch Strait they will at least send their observers to us.” Kiev had also invited officials from OSCE and other international bodies to be on board Ukrainian ships to prove “that Ukraine and its sailors do not violate any laws and international rules.”

The latter phrase sounds odd given that Moscow had accused Ukrainian sailors of deliberately violating Russia’s maritime borders in the Kerch Strait and breaking specific rules of passing through the narrow, complex water area. Top Russian officials maintained that this was a premeditated and provocative act plotted by the Ukrainian government.

Turchinov’s BBC interview was predictably met with little praise in Moscow. “This was just an announcement of another provocation,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Wednesday, calling it “utterly irresponsible.” She noted the inflammatory remark came at the time when “many Ukraine’s partners try to defuse tensions in this situation and seek ways of de-escalation.”

It also comes several days after the UN General Assembly passed a Ukrainian resolution, condemning the presence of the Russian military in the Crimean Peninsula and the surrounding waters of the Black Sea and the Azov Sea. 66 countries supported the non-binding resolution but 72 abstained from voting altogether.

December 20, 2018 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism | , , | 1 Comment