Voices from Russia

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Why Do Progressives Like War?

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Liberals are supposed to be anti-war, right? I went to college in the 1960s, when students nationwide were rising up in opposition to the Vietnam War. I was a Young Republican back then and supported the war through sheer ignorance and dislike of the sanctimoniousness of the protesters, some of whom were surely making their way to Canada to live in exile on daddy’s money while I was on a bus going to Fort Leonard Wood for basic combat training. I can’t even claim that I had some grudging respect for the antiwar crowd because I didn’t, but I did believe that at least some of them who weren’t motivated by being personally afraid of getting hurt were actually sincere in their opposition to the awful things that were happening in Southeast Asia.

As I look around now, however, I see something quite different. The lefties I knew in college are now part of the Establishment. They’re retired limousine liberals. Now, they call themselves progressives, of course, because it sounds more educated and sends a better message, implying as it does that troglodytic conservatives are anti-progress. However, they also did a flip on the issue of war and peace. In its most recent incarnation, some of this might be attributed to a desperate desire to relate to the Hillary Clinton campaign with its bellicosity towards Russia, Syria, and Iran, but I suspect that the inclination to identify enemies goes much deeper than that, back as far as the Clinton Administration with its sanctions on Iraq and the Balkan adventure, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and the creation of a terror-narco state in the heart of Europe. More recently, we saw the Obama meddling in Libya, Yemen, and Syria in so-called humanitarian interventions, which turned out to be largely fraudulent. Yes, under the Obama Dems, it was “responsibility to protect time” (R2P) and the entire world trembled as they let loose the drones.

Last Friday, I started to read an op-ed in the Washington Post by David Ignatius that blew me away. It began “President Trump confronts complicated problems as the investigation widens into Russia’s attack on our political system”. It then proceeded to lay out the case for an “aggressive Russia” in terms that the MSM have repeated ad nauseam. Of course, it was lacking in any evidence, as if we should regard the opinions of co-opted journalists and highly-politicised senior officials in the intelligence community as sacrosanct. Not coincidentally, these are the same people who reportedly recently been working together to undercut the White House by leaking and then reporting highly sensitive transcripts of phone calls with Russian officials.

Ignatius is well-plugged into the national security community and inclined to be hawkish, but he’s also a typical a WaPo politically correct progressive on most issues. Therefore, here was your typical liberal asserting something in a dangerous fashion that hasn’t been demonstrated and might be false. Russia is attacking “our political system!” The WaPo isn’t alone in accepting that Russia is trying to subvert and ultimately overthrow our republic. Reporting from the New York Times and on TV news makes the same assumption whenever they discuss Russia, leading to what some critics have described as mounting American “hysteria” relating to anything coming out of Moscow.

Rachel Maddow is another favourite of mine when it comes to talking real humanitarian feel-good stuff out one side of her mouth while beating the drum for war from the other side. In a bravura performance on 26 January, she roundly chastised Russia and its President, V V Putin. Rachel, who freaked out completely at Donald Trump’s election, is now keen to demonstrate that Russia has corrupted Trump and the Kremlin now controls him. She described Trump’s lord and master Putin as an “intense little man” who murders his opponents before going into the whole “Trump stole the election with the aid of Moscow” saga, supporting sanctions on Russia and multiple investigations to find the underlying cause of “Putin’s attacks on our democracy”. Per Maddow, Russia is the heart of darkness and, by way of Trump, has succeeded in exercising control over key elements in the new administration.

Unfortunately, people in the media like Ignatius and Maddow aren’t alone. Their willingness to sell a specific political line that carries with it a risk of nuclear war as fact, even when they know it isn’t, has been part of the fear-mongering engaged in by Democratic Party loyalists and many others on the left. Their intention is to “get Trump” whatever it takes, which opens the door to some truly dangerous manoeuvring that could have awful consequences if the drumbeat and military buildup against Russia continues, leading Putin to decide that his country is being threatened and backed into a corner. Moscow has indicated that it wouldn’t hesitate to use nuclear weapons if someone confronts it militarily and it faced defeat. The current wave of Russophobia is much more dangerous than the random depiction of foreigners in negative terms that’s long bedevilled a certain type of American Know-Nothing politics. Apart from the progressive antipathy towards Putin personally, there’s a virulent strain of anti-Russian sentiment among some self-styled conservatives in Congress, best exemplified by Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Graham recently said:

2017 is going to be a year of kicking Russia in the ass in Congress.

It’s my belief that many in the National Security State convinced themselves that Russia is indeed a major threat against the USA and not because it’s a nuclear power that can strike the USA. That appreciation, should, if anything constitute a good reason to work hard to maintain cordial relations rather than not, but it’s seemingly ignored by everyone but Donald Trump. No, the new brand of Russophobia derives from the belief that Moscow is “interfering” in places like Syria and the Ukraine. In addition, it’s a friend of Iran. That perception derives from the consensus view among liberals and conservatives alike that the US sphere of influence encompasses the entire globe as well as the particularly progressive conceit that Washington should serve to “protect” anyone threatened at any time by anyone else, which provides a convenient pretext for military interventions that they euphemistically describe as “peace missions”.

There might be a certain cynicism in many who hate Russia, as having a powerful enemy also keeps the cash flowing from the Treasury into the pockets of the beneficiaries of the military-industrial-congressional complex, but my real fear is that having been brainwashed for the past ten years, many government officials are actually sincere in their loathing of Moscow and all its works. Recent opinion polls suggest that that kind of thinking is popular among Americans, but it actually makes no sense. Though involvement by Moscow in the Middle East and Eastern Europe is undeniable, calling it a threat to US vital interests is more than a bit of a stretch as Russia’s actual ability to make trouble is limited. It has exactly one overseas military facility, in Syria, while the USA has more than 800, and its economy and military budget are tiny compared to that of the USA. In fact, Washington is most guilty of intervening globally and destabilising entire regions, not Moscow. When Donald Trump said in an interview that when it came to killing the USA wasn’t so innocent it was a gross understatement.

Ironically, pursuing a reset with Russia is one of the things that Trump actually gets right, but the new left won’t give him a break because they reflexively hate him for not embracing the usual progressive bromides that they believe are supposed to go with being antiwar. Other Moscow trashing comes from the McCain camp, which demonises Russia because warmongers always need an enemy and McCain never found a war he couldn’t support. It’d be a tragedy for the USA if both the left and enough of the right were to join forces to limit Trump’s options on dealing with Moscow, thereby enabling an escalating conflict that could have tragic consequences for all parties.

17 February 2017

Philip Giraldi

Unz Review

http://www.unz.com/pgiraldi/why-do-progressives-like-war/

When Disinformation is Truth: Dems and Progressives Jump into Bed with Neocons to Demonise Russia

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“The downside of playing chicken with a nuclear-armed Russia is the end of life as we know it”.

The anti-Russian McCarthyism that has spread out from the USA to encompass the EU, Canada, and Australia has at its core an implicit recognition that neoliberal economics and neoconservative foreign policy have failed. Recently, when I asked a European journalist why this anti-Russian hysteria took root among mainstream European political parties, he answered with a question:

Do you think they can run on their success in handling the recession and the refugees?

In other words, European voters are angry about the painful economic conditions that followed the Wall Street crash of 2008 and the destabilising surge of immigrants fleeing from Western “régime-change” wars in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan. Therefore, like the Democratic Party that doesn’t want to engage in a soul-searching self-examination about Donald Trump’s victory, the European “establishment” parties need a handy excuse to divert criticism… that excuse is Russia, a blame-shifting that allowed them to slough off nearly every recent criticism of establishment government officials as “Russian disinformation”. It doesn’t even matter anymore that the criticism may be factual. Today, they deem even truthful information “Russian disinformation” or Russian-inspired “fake news”.

We saw that in the Canadian mainstream media’s denunciations of Consortiumnews.com for running an article that pointed out that Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland misrepresented her family history to white-out her maternal grandfather’s role editing a Nazi newspaper in Poland that demonised Jews and justified the Holocaust. Virtually every mainstream outlet in Canada rallied to Freeland’s side when she dismissed our article as Russian disinformation. Only later did a few newspapers grudgingly acknowledge that our story was true and that Freeland knew it was true. Nevertheless, the attacks on us continued. They labelled us “Russian disinformationists”, with no evidence needed to support the slander and no defence allowed. Although it’s arguably a small example, the Freeland story reflects what is happening across the Western MSM. The MSM dismisses almost every independent-minded news article that questions the establishment narratives on international affairs as “Russian propaganda”. The few politicians, academics, and journalists who don’t march in the establishment’s parade are “Moscow stooges” or “Putin apologists”.

The Russian Resistance

This anti-Russian hysteria began some years ago when President V V Putin made it clear that Russia would no longer bow to dictates from Washington and Brussels. Russia bristled at the encroachment of NATO on its borders, rejected the neoconservative agenda of “regime change” wars in Muslim countries, and resisted the US-backed putsch ousting the Ukraine’s elected president in 2014. However, the anti-Russian frenzy gained unstoppable momentum with the 2016 US election. The shocking upset of their presidential choice, Hillary Clinton, by the boorish and buffoonish Donald Trump horrified Democrats, liberals, and neoconservatives. After this bitter defeat, the losers looked for scapegoats rather than order up a serious autopsy on how they lost to the “unelectable” Trump, i.e, by choosing a corporate candidate associated with neoliberal economics and neoconservative war policies. Blaming Russia became the easy excuse that could unify the various pro-Clinton camps. Therefore, the Obama administration… in an unprecedented step… sought to poison the well for its successor by having the US intelligence community put out evidence-lacking allegations about Russian “meddling” in the US election to elect Trump.

The promoters of this Russia-did-it narrative merged with the “#Resistance” movement to do whatever was necessary to push Trump out of office. It didn’t seem to matter to them that they had very little evidence that the Russians actually did meddle in the election. The chief claim was that the Russians gave WikiLeaks the Democratic emails revealing the DNC’s sabotage of Senator Bernie Sanders’s campaign and the emails of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta exposing the contents of Clinton’s hidden speeches to Wall Street and some pay-to-play features of the Clinton Foundation. WikiLeaks denied getting the material from the Russians, but… more to the point… there was no evidence of collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign, as even Obama’s Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman acknowledged. The WikiLeaks disclosures also weren’t a major factor in Clinton’s defeat, which she primarily blamed on FBI Director James Comey briefly reopening the investigation of her using a private email server while Secretary of State. Still, the absence of evidence didn’t deter Democrats, liberals, and neocons from spinning a vast Russian conspiracy theory that ties together Trump’s past business dealings in Russia with the notion that somehow Putin foresaw that Trump would become US President, an eventuality that nearly every American pundit considered impossible as recently as last year. However, sceptics of the Trump/Russia conspiracy… if they dare note that Putin would need the world’s best Ouija board to foresee Trump’s victory… must then prove that they are not “Russian propaganda/disinformation agents” for having these doubts.

New McCarthyism and Maddow

Given the emergence of this New Cold War, I suppose it made sense that we’d soon have a New McCarthyism, although it may have come as a surprise that the liberals and the MSM are leading this witch-hunt, albeit with important assistance from neocons, who’ve long engaged in smearing the patriotism of anyone who doubted their geopolitical genius. Remember back in 1984 when US Ambassador to the UN Jeane Kirkpatrick, an early neocon, denounced traitorous Americans who “blame America first”. However, it appears now that their hatred of Trump blinds so many liberals (and even progressives) that they haven’t thought through the wisdom of their new alliance with the neocons… or the fairness of smearing fellow Americans as “Putin apologists”.

Meanwhile, MSM news organisations have abandoned even the pretence of professional objectivity in their propagandistic approach toward anything related to Russia or Trump. For instance, I’d defy anyone reading New York Times’ coverage of Russia to assess it as fair and balanced when it’s clearly snarky and sneering. It also turns out that this New McCarthyism is profitable for its leading practitioners. On Monday, the New York Times reported that ratings for MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow are soaring with her frequent anti-Russian rants. It wrote:

Now, rattled liberals are surging back [to network television], seeking catharsis, solidarity, and relief.

The NYT cited a Kentucky woman who explained why she became a devotee of Maddow:

She’s always talking about the Russians!

Frankly, for the past dozen years, I’ve wondered about Maddow. I first heard her on the radio in August 2005 when she was a summer fill-in at Air America reporting on President George W Bush’s Katrina fiasco, which she partly blamed on the deployment of Louisiana National Guard units to Iraq so they couldn’t help evacuate flooded New Orleans. It was clear that Maddow was talented and her excoriation of the Iraq War was on point, although… by summer 2005… it didn’t require a huge amount of journalistic courage to slam Bush over the Iraq War. As I watched, her career rose through a regular Air America gig, to her show on MSNBC, and then to stardom as an anchor on the network’s election coverage, I always wondered whether she’d put her lucrative corporate acceptance at risk and go against the grain at a tough journalistic moment. Now, Maddow’s behaviour in becoming a modern-day MSM Joe McCarthy put my doubts to rest. She’s riding high in the ratings by keeping her whip-hand coming down hard on the bash-Russia steed. She’s putting her career and her politics ahead of journalism. Like so many other Democrat/liberal/neocon activists, Maddow not only ignores the evidentiary gaps in the Russia-did-it conspiracy theory, but she seems oblivious to the dangers of her opportunism. By stirring up this McCarthyistic frenzy, she and her “never-Trump” allies make a rational policy toward a nuclear-armed Russia nearly impossible. Thus, she contributes to the real risk of a hot war with Russia that could lead to the annihilation of life on the planet.

Thin-Skinned Trump

One of the bitter ironies here is that Trump’s critics correctly noted that his thin-skinned temperament made him unfit to possess the nuclear button, but they now egg him on into a mano-a-mano confrontation with Putin. If Trump doesn’t get the better of Putin in every situation, Trump faces renewed pummelling for “selling out” to the Russians. Already, neocon Senator Lindsey Graham declared:

2017 is going to be a year of kicking Russia in the ass in Congress.

If Trump doesn’t go along, he will face battering from the likes of Maddow, the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, and pretty much every MSM news outlet. Therefore, Trump may have no political choice but to get tough. However, what happens when Putin pushes back? In the past when I’ve made this point about the recklessness of Russia-bashing, they’ve told me that I’m being alarmist, that “kicking Russia in the ass” and baiting Trump to join in the kicking won’t lead to a nuclear war, that the Russians aren’t that stupid. Yeah, let’s hope not. On the upside of this anti-Russia strategy, the anti-Trump activists insist it is the most promising route to get rid of Trump, which they view as justifying almost any action. It’s not for them to prove that Trump did conspire with Putin to rig the US presidential election; it’s enough to raise the suspicion and use it to push for Trump’s impeachment.

As someone who’s covered national security scandals since the 1980s, I’m familiar with the kind of evidence needed to make serious allegations. For instance, when Brian Barger and I wrote the first story about Nicaraguan Contra drug trafficking in 1985 for the AP, we had about two-dozen sources plus documents. Most of the sources were insiders… i.e., inside the Contra movement and inside the Reagan administration… who described how they ran the operation. We had this evidence before we made any public accusation. In the case of the Russia-Trump conspiracy theory, the US intelligence community presented almost no evidence of Russian “hacking”. It admits that it has no evidence of Trump’s collusion with the Russians. As far as we know, no one has found an insider who can describe how this alleged conspiracy occurred. That isn’t to say that some evidence might not eventually surface that confirms the Russia-Trump suspicions, but that’s true of all conspiracy theories. Who knows, maybe Joe McCarthy was right about all those Communists inside the US Government secretly working for the Kremlin? Maybe, he did have a real list of names. That’s what “witch hunts” are all about… investigations designed to prove a point whether true or not.

In this current case, however, the downside isn’t “just” the destruction of people’s careers and a few imprisonments. The downside of playing chicken with a nuclear-armed Russia is the end of life as we know it. At such a moment, journalists and politicians should demand the highest standards of proof, not no proof at all. Sometimes, I envision the argument that I’d hear as the mushroom clouds begin rising over US and Russian cities. If not incinerated in the first moments of the cataclysm, the “smart” people of the US MSM (and their liberal and neocon allies) would insist that it wasn’t their fault… it was someone else’s fault, blame-shifting to the end. Therefore, as the Democrats and liberals join with the neocons in launching this New McCarthyism over Russia… with people like Maddow leading the charge… what’s arguably the most depressing fact is that there appears to be no Edward R Murrow, an MSM journalist with a conscience, anywhere on the horizon.

13 March 2017

Robert Parry

Consortium News

https://consortiumnews.com/2017/03/13/when-disinformation-is-truth/

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

KPRF Gosduma Deputy Kalashnikov: “Aid the DNR to Liberate Everything Up to Odessa”

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KPRF Gosduma Deputy L I Kalashnikov was on the talk-show Воскресный вечер (Voskresny vecher: Sunday Night):

We should round-up all war criminals in the Ukraine up to President Poroshenko and give them all a fair trial. I’m sure Mariupol also will secede, as will Kharkov and Zaporozhye, too. When they tell me, “Russia shouldn’t be there, no, it shouldn’t… we shouldn’t go there”. I’ll tell you, man-to-man, not as a deputy… we should be there. Why, in Panama, the Americans removed Ortega and threw him in the slam, they didn’t hesitate. Today, the USA is already in the Ukraine, in Asia, and elsewhere; it didn’t hesitate to nick our citizen Bout in Thailand and put him in the slam… we just watched them do it. We must go in there and nab Poroshenko… we have a legit criminal case against those who cut down our people, burned them like in the ovens at Auschwitz at the Odessa Dom Profsoyuzov. Why should we wait for a Ukrainian court to act? No! We shouldn’t! My constant thought is, “Why should we make such excuses as, ‘The Ukraine isn’t ours, it’s a foreign state’”. Well, Panama was a foreign state and Mexico was a foreign state, but the Americans weren’t afraid to act there, so, why are we hesitating? Of course, the President can’t say this; Peskov can’t say this… but I must say that we aren’t fools. Our people want us to go there; it’s our kinsmen in the Donbass. We need to intervene to aid the DNR to liberate everything up to Odessa and make the Ukraine normal again.

6 March 2017

Politnavigator

http://www.politnavigator.net/v-gosdume-prizvali-pomoch-dnr-zabrat-vsjo-do-odessy.html

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Putin Makes an Offer to Donald Trump

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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/

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