Voices from Russia

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Putin Makes an Offer to Donald Trump

00 putin mamayev kurgan memorial complex volograd russia 040915

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In a meeting with the senior staff of the FSB, President V V Putin outlined the threats facing Russia and the contours of a deal that he might do with US President Donald Trump. Whilst Trump battles the US intelligence community and the US élite, the foreign leader he most wants to deal with… Putin… addressed the senior staff of the FSB, Russia’s counter-terrorism and counter-intelligence agency, an organisation he once headed.

Whilst it’s all too tempting to contrast President Putin’s complete control of his government and intelligence services with President Trump’s struggle to achieve mastery over his own, one should resist that temptation. President Putin didn’t always have the undisputed mastery of his government and intelligence services that he has now. Only in 2003, following the arrest of the once all-powerful oligarch M B Khodorkovsky, and the subsequent expulsion from the government of individuals like former Chairman of the Government M M Kasyanov and former Minister of Foreign Affairs I S Ivanov (men beholden to Khodorkovsky and other oligarchs), did President Putin achieve the undisputed control of the Russian government and intelligence services that he has now.

The US and Russian political systems differ profoundly from each other, and one shouldn’t press the parallel between President Putin’s struggle with the oligarchs and President Trump’s current struggle with the US élite too far. Nonetheless, it does show one important fact that those frustrated by some of President Trump’s recent actions need to bear in mind… mere possession of the office of President in any political system doesn’t automatically translate into control of the government. A President who really wants to become the master of his government… as opposed to being a mere cypher for his bureaucracy… has to fight to achieve it. However, if President Putin didn’t always have the undisputed control of his government and intelligence services, he certainly has it now, and his meeting with the senior staff of the FSB serves to illustrate the fact. The meeting however also illustrates two other things:

  • the pressure Russia has been under
  • what President Putin and Russia actually want from US President Trump and the deal they want to make with him

On the question of the pressure Russia has been under, during his meeting with the FSB President Putin made this quite extraordinary comment:

Counterintelligence services also face greater demands today. Operational data show that foreign intelligence services’ activity in Russia hasn’t decreased. Last year, our counterintelligence services put a stop to the work of 53 foreign intelligence officers and 386 agents.

It bears saying that over the course of the hysterical scandal in the USA about the DNC and Podesta leaks, the fake “Trump Dossier”, and the telephone conversation between the Russian ambassador and General Flynn, so far, they’ve arrested not a single person or charged anyone with anything. Yet, here we have President Putin blandly saying that over the same period that this wave of hysteria and scandal has been underway in the USA, the FSB in Russia “stopped the work of 53 foreign intelligence officers and 386 agents”. This astonishing claim (imagine the FBI announcing it had uncovered 386 foreign agents working in the USA in the space of a single year) isn’t merely made calmly and almost in passing, with no special emphasis given to it, but it attracted almost no publicity, either from the Russian media or internationally.

President Putin’s comments on the pressure Russia has been under also highlight a further point… unlike the USA and the EU, Russia… with no assistance from the West… fought a home-grown Jihadist insurgency on its own soil. It proved remarkably successful in doing so, so that whereas when Putin became President Jihadists physically controlled large areas of Russian territory, today, they barely control any, reduced to a sporadically functioning (but still dangerous) terrorist movement. Nonetheless, as President Putin said, there’s no room for complacency or relaxation in the struggle against them:

The events and circumstances I mentioned require our security and intelligence services, especially the FSB, to concentrate their utmost attention and effort on the paramount task of fighting terrorism. We’ve already seen that our intelligence services dealt some serious blows to terrorists and their accomplices. Last year’s results confirm this… the number of terrorism-related crimes decreased. Preventive work has brought results. The FSB and other security agencies, with the National Antiterrorist Committee as coordinator, prevented 45 terrorism-related crimes, including 16 planned terrorist attacks. You deserve special gratitude for this. You need to continue your active efforts to identify and block terrorist groups’ activity, eliminate their financial base, prevent the activities of their emissaries from abroad and their dangerous activity on the internet, and take into account in this work Russian and international experience in this area. The murder of our ambassador to Turkey was a terrible crime that particularly highlighted the need to protect our citizens and missions abroad. I ask you to work together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the SVR to take additional measures to ensure their safety. Our priorities include firmly suppressing extremism. Security methods must go hand-in-hand with constant preventive work. It’s essential to prevent extremism from drawing young people into its criminal networks and to form an overall firm rejection of nationalism, xenophobia, and aggressive radicalism. In this context, of great importance is an open dialogue with civil society institutions and figures from Russia’s traditional religions.

Again, one is astonished to hear President Putin calmly say that his anti-terrorist agencies prevented 16 planned terrorist attacks on Russian territory in one year, as this was something everyday and normal. One has to ask what Western country has to face a terrorist assault on this scale. Over and above these “traditional” threats to Russia, Russia must also face the threat of cyberattacks, something openly talked about by former US President Obama and former US Vice-President Biden. Putin’s comments about this to the FSB are especially interesting in that they effectively confirm… although they don’t quite say… that although individual Russian agencies are responsible for ensuring their own cybersecurity, the FSB has overall responsibility for protecting Russia’s cybersecurity as a whole:

I’d like to note that the number of cyberattacks on official information resources tripled in 2016 compared to 2015. In this context, each agency must develop its segment of the state system for detecting and preventing cyberattacks on information resources and eliminating their consequences.

Whilst these comments give a clear idea of the range of the FSB’s work… showing once again that it’s an internal security agency and not an agency tasked with collecting foreign intelligence… President Putin took the opportunity of his meeting with the senior staff of the FSB to touch on foreign policy questions:

The global situation hasn’t become any more stable or better over the past year. On the contrary, many existing threats and challenges only became acuter. The military-political and economic rivalry between global and regional policy makers and between individual countries increased. We see bloody conflicts continue in a number of countries in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. International terrorist groups, essentially terrorist armies, receiving tacit and sometimes even open support from some countries, take an active part in these conflicts. The NATO summit last July in Warsaw declared Russia the main threat to the alliance for the first time since 1989, and NATO officially proclaimed containing Russia its new mission. With this aim, NATO continues its expansion. This expansion was already underway earlier, but now they believe they have even-more-serious reasons for doing so. They stepped up the deployment of strategic and conventional arms beyond the national borders of the principal NATO member states. They provoke us constantly and try to draw us into a confrontation. We see continued attempts to interfere in our internal affairs in a bid to destabilise the social and political situation in Russia itself. We also saw the recent serious flare-up in the southeast Ukraine (sic). This escalation pursues the clear aim of preventing the Minsk Agreements from going ahead. The current Ukrainian authorities are obviously not seeking a peaceful solution to this very complex problem; they decided to opt for the use of force instead. What’s more, they speak openly about organising sabotage and terrorism, particularly in Russia. Obviously, this is a matter of great concern.

These comments highlight Russia’s key areas of priority and it’s striking how far they differ from those Western commentators continuously attribute to them. There isn’t a word here about lifting sanctions, dissolving NATO or the EU, “treating Russia as an equal to the USA” on the global stage, recognising a Russian sphere of interest in Eastern Europe, “restoring the USSR”, conquering the Baltic States, or even arms control. Instead, Russia’s stated priorities are those I identified in my article of 19 January 2017:

  • ending NATO expansion especially into the territories of the former USSR
  • ending the West’s deployment of anti-ballistic missiles in Eastern Europe (“the deployment of strategic and conventional arms beyond the national borders of the principal NATO member states”)
  • ending the West’s régime-change policy, first and foremost as it pertains to Russia (“we see continued attempts to interfere in our internal affairs in a bid to destabilise the social and political situation in Russia itself”)

As I discussed in my 19 January article, in theory, it shouldn’t be difficult for President Trump to agree to all these things if he wants to do a deal with Russia because none of them affects the USA’s essential interests. Setting out these central Russian concerns shows how a deal between Russia and a Donald Trump administration might be possible. None of Russia’s concerns on any one of these issues affects Western security or impinges on the USA’s national interests. Trump called NATO “obsolete” and expressed indifference about the EU’s future. He’s clearly uninterested in expanding either into the territory of the former USSR, so he has no reason to feel that he’s making any serious concession by agreeing not to do so. Similarly, Trump has already forsworn the whole policy of régime-change. If so, then, he already agrees with Russia on this issue too.

The major sticking point will be arms control, with trust badly damaged because of Obama’s actions, with Russia almost certainly insisting on the dismantling of the anti-ballistic missile systems in Eastern Europe in return for nuclear weapons cuts. Indeed, Trump homed in on the issue of arms control in his interview with The London Times and Bild-Zeitung. However, securing an agreement to dismantle anti-ballistic missile systems in the teeth of what is likely to be furious opposition from US Congressional leadership, much of the Republican Party, and the powerful US armaments lobby, will be a titanic challenge. A complex and difficult negotiation lies ahead. Even the assumption Trump will succeed in consolidating his control of the US government is open to question, it’s far from clear he’d succeed. However, there’s one overwhelming point that argues in its favour… any objective assessment sees that what Russia wants from Trump is in the USA’s interest for him to give.

The USA loses nothing by agreeing to the things Russia wants because they in no way threaten the USA’s security or that of its allies. On the contrary, the pursuit of the grand geopolitical strategies of the neocons, with the policies of NATO expansion, anti-ballistic missile deployment, and regime-change that go with them, have brought the USA to an impasse. It is in the USA’s interest and in the interests of the USA’s allies to yield on them. Trump’s comments show that he has at least some understanding of this fact. We’ll have to wait and see how great that understanding is and whether he’d be able to put it into practise.

If he can do a deal on these fundamental issues, it isn’t difficult to see how he could also do a deal on the Ukraine, the issue that many people (wrongly, in my opinion) treat as a sticking point. As it happens, it isn’t at all difficult to see how one could do a deal on the Ukraine. In his comments to the senior staff of the FSB Putin made it clear that Russia wants the complete implementation of the Minsk Accords. Of course, that’s precisely what various officials of the Trump administration… Pence, Mattis, Tillerson, Haley, and of course Trump himself… also say. Given that this is so, provided the good will was there, it shouldn’t be difficult to agree on a deal on the Ukraine involving the complete implementation of the Minsk Accords. Everyone knows that the true reason that such a deal hasn’t happened up to now isn’t that Russia doesn’t want it. Instead, there’s no good will on the part of the Western powers, who’ve colluded with the Ukraine’s noncompliance with the Minsk Accords. Were this to change… it’d be something that’d be easy to do since everyone says that they want to see the Minsk Accords implemented… a breakthrough could quickly happen. Of course, it’s true that the Ukraine, at least in its present form, would be unlikely to survive the full implementation of the Minsk Accords. That’s why the Ukraine refuses to implement them. However, that isn’t something that… based on his own words… ought to concern President Trump. The key point is that if President Trump genuinely wants a deal on the Ukraine, the elements for it are all already there.

If Russia… as Putin’s comments to the senior staff of the FSB show… isn’t actually asking for very much (and nothing that President Trump should, in theory, find it impossible to concede)… it’s offering (as Putin’s comments to the FSB also show) what’s been on the table for a long time… coöperation in the fight against Jihadist terrorism, an issue that President Trump says is his foreign policy priority:

You must also work to take our counterterrorism coöperation with partners abroad to a new level, despite the difficulties that we see in various areas of international life. Of course, it’s a priority to intensify work with our partners in organisations such as the UN, the CSTO, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. It’s in our common interests to restore dialogue with the US intelligence services and with other NATO member countries. It wasn’t our fault that these ties ended. It wasn’t our fault that they didn’t develop. It’s very clear that all responsible countries and international groups should work together on counterterrorism because even simply exchanging information on terrorists’ financing channels and sources and on people involved in or suspected of links with terrorism can substantially improve the results of our common efforts.

Rarely in the history of international relations have the contours of a deal been easier to see… Russia is asking Trump for what he should have no trouble giving, and in return, they actually want to give him exactly the thing he says he wants. The biggest sticking point isn’t the Ukraine but anti-ballistic defence, although even on this issue, with the necessary goodwill, it should be possible to finesse some sort of agreement, probably based on the old 1970s concept of arms limitation and not the contemporary one of arms reduction. Whether we’d do the deal is another matter. Not only is it unclear whether Trump realises how easy the deal he wants with the Russians is, but he has to face down his many critics who don’t want a deal at all. However, the outlines of a deal, if he wants one, are there.

21 February 2017

Alexander Mercouris

The Duran

http://theduran.com/vladimir-putin-fsb-make-offer-to-donald-trump/

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

The Ukraine Blocks Commemorative Resolution for Russian Representative V I Churkin at the UN

00 russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin. 19.01.15

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Minister of Foreign Affairs S V Lavrov said of the Ukraine’s decision to block a commemorative resolution by the UN Security Council dedicated to late Russian ambassador V I Churkin:

I know how the UN works. I believe that [the Ukrainian] permanent representative wouldn’t do this on his own. This means that they ordered him to do it. This goes against Christian values. It’s beyond good and evil. Thanks to the current Ukrainian authorities, however, we’re accustomed to the fact that someone in their country treats Russians, and anyone else who refuses to dance to the tune of the neo-Nazis, precisely like that.

The Ukraine, which chairs the UN Security Council this month, cited “lack of precedent” as the reason for blocking a commemorative UN Security Council resolution for Churkin. As a result, it only released and published a press statement. If in explaining its decision, the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs meant to imply that former UNSC ambassadors didn’t have commemorative resolutions passed after their death, then, it clearly missed differences in circumstances. V I Churkin wasn’t only the longest-serving ambassador in the UN Security Council but the UK’s Ambassador to the UN Matthew John Rycroft noted that he was “a diplomatic giant” who “stood out amongst all the other 193 ambassadors”. Churkin died unexpectedly whilst on active duty, this has never happened before in the history of the UNSC, and if not for anything else (including Churkin’s enormous accomplishments), this reason alone warrants a special commemorative resolution. Sputnik reported the following details:

Earlier today, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman M V Zakharova wrote on her Facebook page that this decision is “the essence of the current Ukrainian authorities”. Kremlin spokesman D S Peskov also commented that the Ukraine’s behaviour “isn’t at all as important as the loss that Russia’s diplomacy suffered”.

Russian ambassador to the UN V I Churkin passed away on Monday 20 February in New York. Churkin was the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the UN and its representative in the UN Security Council from April 2006. The diplomat would have been 65-years-old on Tuesday 21 February.

21 February 2017

Sergei Gladysh

The Duran

http://theduran.com/breaking-ukraine-blocks-commemorative-resolution-vitaly-churkin-un/

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

As Seen by Vitaly Podvitsky… “I Speak for Great Russia”

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Churkin had a chat with Hamad, the representative of Qatar in the UN Security Council. Vitaly Ivanovich stood up, letting him understand that the conversation was over, put his hand on his shoulder, and said:

I have a meeting with Jafari, the Syrian representative, about this resolution. However, I’d like to remind you that your state didn’t even exist when the Russian fleet sailed in the Persian Gulf two centuries ago. Sometimes, history plays out as farce, so don’t become a hero in a farce at a time when laughter is inappropriate. What’s happening today is a tragedy.

France24 TV showed this confrontation, during which Churkin reminded the Qatari representative:

You’re only a guest in the Security Council. Therefore, show some respect. Any road, I don’t grovel to you. I speak in the name of Great Russia, and I speak only with other Great Powers.

Another one who fell at his post…

We mourn Churkin.

20 February 2017

Vitaly Podvitsky Masterskaya Karikatury

Facebook

Editor:

I met Vitaly Ivanovich once… it was nine years ago in New York City at St Nick’s Cathedral. A priest-friend introduced us. Trust me, it was a short affair, about a minute or two. We exchanged pleasantries and he encouraged me to continue supporting the Rodina. That was all… no more. He had more important fish to fry, of course.

Remember the Servant of God Vitaly in your prayers if you would… we’re Christians; that’s what we do…

We know neither the time nor the hour

Вечная ему память

BMD  

Monday, 20 February 2017

Washington Wants Coalition of Sunni Régimes to Fight Iran

00 Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Iranian counterpart Ali Akbar Salehi. 06.12

Minister of Foreign Affairs S V Lavrov and his Iranian counterpart Ali Akbar Salehi in 2012

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The Saudis can’t even defeat the poorly-equipped Houthis in Yemen… good luck fighting a well-trained well-armed Moscow-backed military. We know it’s a badly abused cliché, but we really did laugh out loud after reading that Washington is “working to create a military alliance of Sunni Arab nations” to “counter” Iran. Close your eyes and imagine NATO. Are you seeing visions of an incompetent useless dinosaur that can’t tell the difference between a wedding party and a terrorist pow-wow? Now, clear your mind and imagine a NATO-like coalition with Egypt, Jordan, the KSA, and the UAE as members. Imagine that this coalition of medieval failures had one mission and one mission only… to provoke a war with Iran.

Typical. Washington finally realised that Americans have zero interest in starting a war with Iran, despite years of tireless propaganda portraying Tehran as an existential threat to humanity… or Israel, but what’s the difference, right? They’ve tried everything… even lobbing accusations that one can easily debunk with a simple Google search. Hey, wait a minute… maybe, our medieval Sunni allies would fight Iran for us? That’d be swell. Isn’t that what friends are for? This is true desperation seeping out of Washington’s adult diapers.

Iran isn’t Syria. It doesn’t have to worry about appeasing 1,000 different ethnic and religious groups. It’s a proud country with a long history of fighting off foreign parasites. A Sunni war against Iran would’ve likely been a disaster even ten years ago. Today? It’d be suicidal. Russia is Tehran’s dependable political and military ally, and the idea that Washington would somehow drive a wedge between Moscow and Tehran is ludicrous. Russia would do everything it could to help Iran fight off Sunni fanatics, for the same reason it intervened in Syria… if Washington’s “moderates” were to overrun the Middle East, Russia would be next.

Forget the fact that Iran already deploys Russian-made S-300 SAMs, or that Russia and Iran coördinated a miraculous military campaign to turn the tables in Syria in less than a year… an experience that’d be invaluable if there were a Sunni-led war against Iran. Just for a moment, consider that Russia has gone so far as to ask Washington to acknowledge Hizbullah as a crucial part of anti-ISIS efforts in Syria. Hizbullah! The very name sends shivers up the crooked spines of every Israel First blowhard with an American passport.

People worry that Moscow would abandon Tehran? For Russia, Iran is a holy grail of business opportunities and security coöperation. There’s one takeaway from Syria… Washington loves to stir up trouble in countries that can’t defend themselves. However, when a formidable force such as Russia steps into the ring, the Americans run for the hills (crying foul, of course). Even with full support from Washington and Israel (Israel would stay in the shadows, to keep up appearances), the KSA, Qatar, and the UAE would get a Russian-backed Persian beating that they’d never forget. The icing on the cake would be that this “anti-Iran” bloc includes some of the most autocratic states on earth… anti-women, anti-democratic, anti-everything… it’d be a true joy to watch Washington claim that the KSA and Qatar were fighting Iran to protect democracy in the Middle East.

Of course, we’re probably getting ahead of ourselves. Following NATO’s model, this coalition of medieval head-choppers would first surround Iran with defensive military bases. Then, the provocations and (more) sanctions would begin. It won’t work. Iran isn’t Iraq. It isn’t Libya. It isn’t Syria. It already has the full backing of Russia. If Washington were smart, it’d take note.

18 February 2017

Rudy Panko

Russian Insider

http://russia-insider.com/en/washington-wants-coalition-sunni-regimes-fight-iran-tehran-would-completely-crush-them/ri18978

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