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CONFIRMED: Foreign investors flock back to Russia

Alexander Mercouris

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Growing investor confidence in the Russia as its historically high inflation rate continues to fall, and as its economy leaves recession behind it, has received dramatic confirmation with the news that for the first time Russia has overtaken India as the preferred investment option of emerging market investors.

This confirmation comes from the most authoritative possible source, an article in the Financial Times, which in recent years has been intensely critical of Russia.

Russia has taken over from India as the largest overweight position for emerging market equity funds.

The move comes despite the imposition of ever-tighter sanctions on Moscow, still low oil prices and an economy now pulling out of bitter recession but still assailed by real, inflation-adjusted interest rates of 5.2 per cent.

In contrast, India has long been a darling of foreign investors licking their lips at the prospect of the world’s second-most populous country growing at a punchy rate, assisted by the reformist zeal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“Russia is now the largest overweight position among emerging market managers for the first time since our records began in 2011, surpassing longstanding EM favourite India,” said Steven Holden, founder of Copley Fund Research, who compiled the data and confessed to “surprise” at Russia’s newfound popularity.

The average EM equity fund is now overweight Russia by 1.46 percentage points, surpassing the 1.4 percentage-point figure for India, where fund managers had an average overweight position of 4.4 per cent in early 2015, according to Copley’s numbers, as shown in the first chart.

The data are based on the holdings of 126 funds with combined assets of $300bn. Of these funds, 72.8 per cent are now overweight Russia, compared with only 60 per cent with an outsize position in India….

The article points out correctly that foreign investor interest in Russia starts from a very low base, and that Russia has overtaken India as much because of India’s recent loss of attractiveness as Russia’s rise in attractiveness.

However the article also makes it clear that the rise in investor interest in Russia is ultimately driven by Russia’s increasingly strong fundamentals

Mr Jain is among a group of investors with a genuine fervour for Russia now, which is striking given that he was “ultra bearish for 15 years”, while CIO of Switzerland’s Vontobel Asset Management, where he ran as much as $32bn. Yet now his GQG Partners Emerging Markets Equity fund has an exposure of 10.2 per cent to Russia, more than three times its index weight.

“I was publicly critical of investing in Russia. I have covered Russia for 25 years and this is the most I have had,” he said.

Nicholas Field, EM strategist at Schroders and co-manager of the group’s Global Emerging Market Opportunities fund, is another convert, with a punchier weighting of 14.2 per cent.

“A lot of the headlines one reads about Russia are about geopolitics and relations with the US and so on, but when you look at the economy you do see some things that are interesting to investors,” he said.

Mr Jain’s thesis is that the sanctions imposed on Russia by the US and EU, as well as the slide in oil prices, have been largely beneficial to foreign investors because they have forced Russian companies to delever and cut costs.

India is very expensive. It has gone from very cheap to one of the most expensive markets.  More specifically, he says Russian oil companies have been forced to develop complex drilling technology in-house, potentially helping them in the long term, while some domestic agricultural companies, such as cheesemakers, have benefited from reduced foreign competition amid Russian counter-sanctions on European food imports.

“Sanctions have been positive for the Russian corporate world. [Companies] were forced to get their act together and there was a massive cost-cutting effort,” said Mr Jain. “Because of this cost-cutting, operating profits are higher than people estimate. Corporate earnings have begun to recover after a long slump. You have to follow the corporate profits.”

He even sees positives in the travails of Otkritie and B&N Bank, two private banks that have been bailed out by the central bank and nationalised in recent weeks after running into financial difficulties.

About 4.2 per cent of Mr Jain’s fund is invested in Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank. He said: “The banking industry has seen massive consolidation. Now three banks control 70 per cent of the assets. “Sberbank is very well run, on six times earnings. How many banks make 20 per cent ROE [return on equity] in the middle of a recession? The position they have wouldn’t be allowed in many countries, and now there is tremendous credit growth and NPLs [non-performing loans] are coming off.”

Overall, he sees room for further top-line revenue growth, margin expansion and a market re-rating, given that Moscow currently trades on a price/earnings ratio of just 7.8 and has a chunky dividend yield of 4.7 per cent.

Readers of RussiaFeed and of The Duran will already be familiar with much of this.  By way of example, here is a recent article I wrote for The Duran on the subject of Russia’s advances in oil drilling technology (one of the subjects touched on in the Financial Times article by Rajiv Jain), whilst the rapid advance of Russian agriculture, in part as a consequence of Russia’s counter-sanctions (a subject also touched on by Rajiv Jain) was recently discussed by me on RussiaFeed here.

As for the growing strength of the Russian financial and banking system – historically the Achilles heel of Russia’s post-Soviet economy – I have discussed it many times and in many places (see for example here and here).

What is finally happening is that the international investment community – and the Financial Times – are finally catching up with the truth of all of this.

Given the enormous amount of negative “noise” from which Russia suffers and the Financial Times’s longstanding hostility to the country and its government, the article about international investors coming to Russia nonetheless and entirely unsurprisingly comes with a sting in its tail.  The growing interest in Russia is supposedly not because its long term economic prospects are good.  It is only because of Russia’s recovery from recession

Mr Field’s optimism is fuelled by the country’s economic recovery, which he expects to continue until at least the middle of 2018. “Demand has been suppressed so the recovery should continue for a while. Inflation has dropped to 3.3 per cent, which is pretty unheard of in Russia. In the next 12-24 months there is room for quite a few interest rate cuts and that can certainly boost the economy. The one thing that can upset that is another major move in the oil price,” said Mr Field.

Nevertheless, he is not a long-term bull. “We don’t think long-term structural trend growth is very high, so as much as people are buying into Russia now it’s not because it has a glorious 10 or 20 years ahead, it’s because it’s recovering.”

We are likely to hear numerous such comments over the next few months as Russia’s renewed economic growth becomes impossible to deny even by those who previously said it would never happen.

Such comments are actually meaningless.  In what sense is an economy’s successful recovery from recession a reason for doubting its future growth?

Putting that aside, the article itself provides abundant examples of the ‘structural reasons’ why strong growth in the future is likely.  To repeat again the comments which appear in the article from Rajiv Jain

…….Russian oil companies have been forced to develop complex drilling technology in-house, potentially helping them in the long term, while some domestic agricultural companies, such as cheesemakers, have benefited from reduced foreign competition amid Russian counter-sanctions on European food imports.

“Sanctions have been positive for the Russian corporate world. [Companies] were forced to get their act together and there was a massive cost-cutting effort,” said Mr Jain. “Because of this cost-cutting, operating profits are higher than people estimate. Corporate earnings have begun to recover after a long slump. You have to follow the corporate profits.”

He even sees positives in the travails of Otkritie and B&N Bank, two private banks that have been bailed out by the central bank and nationalised in recent weeks after running into financial difficulties.

About 4.2 per cent of Mr Jain’s fund is invested in Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank. He said: “The banking industry has seen massive consolidation. Now three banks control 70 per cent of the assets. “Sberbank is very well run, on six times earnings. How many banks make 20 per cent ROE [return on equity] in the middle of a recession? The position they have wouldn’t be allowed in many countries, and now there is tremendous credit growth and NPLs [non-performing loans] are coming off.”

What is cost-cutting, greater efficiency, development of new products and new technologies, high operating profits and (within the banking system) successful industry consolidation if not evidence of the economy successfully addressing its structural problems, thereby ensuring its successful long term growth in the future?  No doubt there is much more still to do, but why go on pretending that nothing is happening when it obviously is?

One of the perennial problems discussion of Russia’s economy faces is that its Western critics insist on having it both ways.  They are forced to concede that the Russian economy has successfully adapted to the harsh post-2014 economic conditions in which it found itself (low oil prices and Western sanctions) and is now recovering from a recession that most of them thought would break it, but at the same time they refuse to admit that this successful adaption of the Russian economy to these same harsh economic conditions in any way undermines their deeply critical even at times apocalyptic picture of it.

In reality an economy that could adapt so quickly and so successfully to the challenges it faced in 2014 cannot be the inefficient, corrupt, badly managed, ‘kleptocratic’ and underdeveloped ‘Zaire with snow’ economy imagined by its Western critics.

The article in the Financial Times shows that increasing numbers of fund managers, including some like Rajiv Jain and Nicholas Field who had previously bought into this dark picture, are starting to see the truth of this.

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Patriarch Bartholomew lifts anathemas on schismatics in Ukraine (VIDEO)

Most of the Orthodox world is in strong opposition to this move by Patriarch Bartholomew, whose motivations seem not to be of Christ.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The biggest news in the Eastern Orthodox world in recent times occurred on Thursday, October 11, 2018. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, lifted the anathemas against two schismatic Ukrainian Churches and their leaders, paving the way to the creation of a fully independent Ukrainian national Orthodox Church.

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This announcement was given in English and is shown here in video with the textual transcript following:

“Presided by His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Holy and Sacred Synod convened for its regular session from October 9 to 11, 2018 in order to examine and discuss items on its agenda. The Holy Synod discussed in particular and at length, the ecclesiastical mater of Ukraine in the presence of His Excellency Archbishop Daniel of Pamphilon and His Grace Bishp Ilarion of Edmonon, Patriarchal Exarchs to Ukraine, and following extensive deliberations decreed (emphasis added):

First, to renew the decision already made, that the Ecumenical Patriarchate proceed to the granting of autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine;

Second, to re-establish at this moment the stavropegion of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Kiev—one of its many starvorpegion in Ukraine that existed there always;

Third, to accept and review the petitions of appeal of Philaret Denisenko and Makary Maletich and their followers who found themselves in schism not for dogmatic reasons, in accordance with the canonical prerogatives of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to receive such petitions by hierarchs and other clergy of all the autocephalous Churches. Thus, the above mentioned have been canonically reinstated to their hierarchical or priestly rank, and their faithful have been restored to communion with the Church;

Fourth, to revoke the legal binding of the Synodal letter of the year 1686, issued for the circumstances of that time, which granted the right through economia to the Patriarch of Moscow to ordain the Metropolitan of Kiev elected by the clergy-laity assembly of his eparchy, who would commemorate the Ecumenical Patriarch as the first hierarch at any celebration, proclaiming and affirming his canonical dependence to the Mother Church of Constantinople;

Fifth, to appeal to all sides involved that they avoid appropriation of churches, monasteries, and other properties as well as every other act of violence and retaliation so that he peace and love of Christ may prevail.”

There are a few things that must be said about what this declaration is not before we get to the matter of what the points of actually are. The point of reference is the strict letter of the text above itself.

  • This is not a granting of autocephaly (full independent self-rule status) like the fourteen universally canonical Orthodox jurisdictions in the world. However, it is a huge step towards this status.
  • As far as Constantinople is concerned, Filaret Denisenko, the leader and “Patriarch” of the “Kyiv Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church” and Makary, the “Metropolitan” of the “Ukrainian Orthodox Autocephalous Church”, and all their faithful are now restored to communion. The statement says that this applies to “The Church” which may be trying to state that these two men (and all the faithful that they lead), are now in communion with the entirety of canonical Orthodoxy, but more likely, this may be a carefully worded statement to say they now are in communion with Constantinople alone.
  • There is an official call for the cessation of the violence directed against the Moscow Patriarchate parishes and communities, who are the only canonically recognized Orthodox Church in Ukraine, and who are also the largest by far in that country. The Kyiv Patriarchate and Uniate (Roman oriented) Greek Catholics in Ukraine have gone on record for seizing MP church properties, often by force, with neo-Nazi sympathizers and other radical Ukrainian nationalists. So this official call to cease the violence is now a matter of public record.

However, the reaction has been far less civil than the clergy wished for.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko: “Expressing his view of the Moscow Patriarchate, Poroshenko added, “This is a great victory of the God-loving Ukrainian people over the Moscow demons, the victory of Good over Evil, the victory of Light over Darkness.”’

Perhaps this is the reason Metropolitan Onuphry of Ukraine (exarch under the Moscow Patriarchate) has been labeled an enemy of Ukraine and is now receiving death threats. Very civil.

Poroshenko’s statement is all the more bizarre, considering that it has been Ukrainian ultra-nationalists that have been violently attacking Moscow – related parishes in Ukraine. This has been corroborated by news sources eager to pin the blame on Russia, such as the U.K. Guardian.

The Union of Orthodox Journalists, based in Kiev and supportive of the Moscow Patriarchate, has been under intense cyber attack since October 11th, when the EP’s announcement was issued.

Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) Chancellor, Metropolitan Anthony of Boryspil and Brovary: “What happened at the Synod in Istanbul yesterday shocked the entire Orthodox world. It seems the Patriarchate of Constantinople is consciously embarking on a path of schism in world Orthodoxy. Patriarch Bartholomew ignored the calls of the Local Churches to convene a meeting of the primates to work out a common and conciliar solution to the Ukrainian Church issue and unilaterally made very serious but erroneous decisions. I hope the Orthodox world will give this action an objective evaluation… Having received the schismatics into communion, Patriarch Bartholomew did not make them canonical, but has himself embarked on the path of schism. The schismatics remain schismatics. They did not receive any autocephaly or tomos. It seems they have lost even that independence, although non-canonical, that they had and which they always emphasized.”

Metropolitan Rostislav of the Czech Lands and Slovakia:“The Orthodox world recognizes the only canonical primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church—His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine. This fact was repeatedly mentioned and confirmed by the primate of the Great Church of Christ His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on behalf of all present at the Synaxis of the Primates of the Local Orthodox Churches that was held in Chambésy (Switzerland) from January 21 to 27, 2016. Therefore, any attempt to legalize the Ukrainian schismatics by the state authorities should be strongly condemned by all the primates of the Local Orthodox Churches.

Patriarch Irinej of Serbia wrote two letters to the Ecumenical Patriarch, advocating that the provision of a new autocephaly is possible only with the consent of all local Orthodox Churches. According to Sedmitza.ru (Translation by Pravoslavie.ru),

“In these letters, it was very clearly stated that the granting of autocephaly cannot be the prerogative the Patriarchate of Constantinople alone, that new autocephalies must be created only with the consent of all the Local Orthodox Churches, as the Holy Synod of Antioch also said in its recent statement.”

Pat. Irinej also warned the Patriarchate of Constantinople against making such major decisions unilaterally, because “it will not bring harmony and peace to the Ukrainian land, but, on the contrary, will cause new divisions and new schisms.”

The Holy Synod of Antioch, the oldest Orthodox Church, and actually the very first place where the disciples of Christ were even called “Christians” weighed in on the issue as well and they had several things to say:

“The fathers examined the general Orthodox situation. They stressed that the Church of Antioch expresses her deep worries about the attempts to change the boundaries of the Orthodox Churches through a new reading of history. She considers that resorting to a unilateral reading of history does not serve Orthodox unity. It rather contributes to the fueling of the dissensions and quarrels within the one Church. Thus, the Church of Antioch refuses the principle of establishing parallel jurisdictions within the canonical boundaries of the Patriarchates and the autocephalous Churches as a way to solve conflicts, or as a de facto situation in the Orthodox world.

To summarize, this move by Constantinople is not being warmly received by many, many people. Most of the local Churches are on record giving their reaction to this process. In brief, here is the list most of the Local Churches and a one or two word summary of their reactions.

Patriarchate of Georgia: Unilateral action is wrong; Constantinople and Moscow must cooperate and find a solution together.

Patriarchate of Jerusalem: recognizes Ukraine as a canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church alone, as do all other local Churches

Patriarchate of Alexandria and all Africa: The Church does not bow to politicians. Moscow-led church is the only canonical Church in Ukraine.

Archbishop of Cyprus: Decries the Ukrainian situation but offered to mediate a discussion between Moscow and Constantinople

Bulgarian Patriarchate: Interference of the State in Church affairs leads to serious and negative consequences for both.

Polish Orthodox Church: Metropolitan Sawa called for a council of Orthodox ruling hierarchs to discuss this situation.

Estonian Orthodox Church: Condemns Constantinople’s actions in Ukraine.

Greek Archdiocese of America: Supports Constantinople’s actions in Ukraine.

The Orthodox Church of Greece (Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus quoted): “Schismatics, as we know, are not the Church, and communion with them is forbidden by the Divine and holy canons and the Apostolic and Ecumenical Councils. Why then this persistence of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in recognizing schismatics as an autocephalous Church? To provoke schisms and divisions in the one universal and Apostolic Church of Christ?”

Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR): Ceased commemoration of Constantinople, ceased concelebration with Constantinople.

This issue has also rocked the secular geopolitical world.

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S-300 vs. F-35: Stealth and Invincible Are Not Exactly Synonyms

Israel’s high-end F-35I Adir aircraft will be checkmated by this Russian-made, state-of-the-art air-defense system.

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Authored by Andrei Akulov via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


How effective is the S-300 PMU-2 “Favorit” that Russia has just delivered to Syria? Especially when employed against the F-35 stealth fighters that Israel intends to make more use of when attacking targets in Syria? Who has the edge? This is truly a hot topic for the press right now. It would be better, of course, to avoid the military hostilities and leave this as a theoretical, unanswered question, because no definite answer is possible until a real shootout takes place. Stealth technology includes both active and passive measures that reduce visibility and the chance of detection. Some of those are classified, as are the specifications and capabilities of the S-300. This makes it much more complicated to offer predictions or conclusions. But the known facts can be considered impartially and objectively.

Israeli officials play down the significance of the shipment of the S-300 to Syrian government forces. “The operational abilities of the air force are such that those (S-300) batteries really do not constrain the air force’s abilities to act,” said Tzachi Hanegbi, Israel’s regional cooperation minister. “You know that we have stealth fighters, the best planes in the world. These batteries are not even able to detect them.” Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in April that “if anyone attacks us, we will retaliate, regardless of S-300, S-700 or any anything else’s presence there”. The Pentagon has also cast doubt on the S-300’s effectiveness.

Let’s give the devil his due. The F-35 is a fine example of low observable aircraft with extraordinary capabilities. It’s a formidable weapon, but so is the S-300. If the worst happens, Israel’s high-end F-35I Adir aircraft will be checkmated by this Russian-made, state-of-the-art air-defense system.

A stealth aircraft is not invincible. It has its strengths and weaknesses. In Syria, Israeli F-35s will be up against a tight, integrated air-defense network with multiple radars trying to detect and track the target from different directions.

Excessive use of stealth technology restricts the combat capabilities of an aircraft like the F-35. A plane based on stealth technology does not perform exceptionally well in combat. It cannot carry many weapons because everything is hidden inside the body. Its ability to remain invisible is reduced as soon as the radar is turned on. Low frequencies can detect a stealth aircraft. A bomb bay that has been opened to launch weapons will also give the plane away.

The S-300’s 48N6E2 missiles boast single-shot kill probability of 80% to 93% for an aerial target, 40% to 85% for cruise missiles. and 50% to 77% for theater ballistic missiles. The Russian system uses the 96L6 all-altitude detector and acquisition radar, which works in L-band. It has a 300 km range and enhanced resolution. The S-300 PMU-2 version can detect and track 100 targets. The radar is said to be able to detect stealth targets.

Large wavelength radiations are reflected by “invisible” aircraft. Radar that operates in the VHF, UHF, L and S bands can detect and even track the F-35 without transmitting weapons-quality track. It is true that no accurate targeting is possible, but at least you can tell where the plane is.

The S-300’s vertically launched missiles can be re-targeted during flight. The explosion is so powerful that no kinetic kill is needed. Multiple killing elements will strike targets throughout the vicinity.

The IAF F-35s still need to be integrated with other assets in order to enhance their chances of carrying out missions. Just to be on the safe side, they will probably be escorted by electronic warfare aircraft, which are not stealth, thus giving away their position and providing the enemy with enough time to take countermeasures. Israel has only 12 F-35s, with 50 more arriving by 2024. The price tag for each is about $100 million. It’ll be a long time before they are in place and integrated into the Air Force. And twelve are simply not enough.

Besides, the aircraft still needs to be upgraded with the full operational capability of Block 3F and subsequent Block 4 software and hardware configurations.

Once the S-300s are operational, all other Israeli non-stealth planes will face huge risks any time they fly an offensive mission into Syria. It should also be taken into account that Russia will jam the radar, navigation, and communications systems on any aircraft attacking targets in Syria via the Mediterranean Sea, as Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu warned on Sept. 24, 2018.

Israel boasts a broad repertoire of standoff weapons, along with highly advanced electronic warfare systems and enhanced cyber capabilities. It also has very experienced and well trained personnel. Nevertheless, the S-300 in Syria is a deterrent to be reckoned with. Hopefully, the peace process in that war-torn country will move forward and there will be no escalation to provoke an S-300 vs. F-35 fight.

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Stephen Cohen calmly DISMANTLES establishment lackeys in debate on Russia (VIDEO)

In New York City on September 20, 2018, the Intelligence Squared hosted a debate of critical importance in helping one understand much of what we are currently seeing on the global scene.

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Via Strategic Culture

The debate developed along three main questions. The first was on the role of NATO (“NATO is no longer fit for purpose”), the second was about Russia (“The Russian threat is overblown”), and the third was on Iran (“It’s time to take a hard line on Iran”).

To discuss these important issues, five very special guests were invited, namely: Derek Chollet, Executive Vice President of the German Marshall Fund of the United States and former US Assistant Secretary of Defense; Stephen F. Cohen, Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies and History, New York University; Reuel Marc Gerecht, Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former CIA Analyst; John J. Mearsheimer, American Political Scientist & Professor at the University of Chicago; and Kori Schake, Deputy Director-General at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Looking at the panel, one immediately notices how Cohen and Mearsheimer were invited to bring a realist point of view to the discussion, as opposed to the other three who have an interventionist view of American foreign policy, viewing the United States as the indispensable nation. Cohen and Mearsheimer have worked for years, if not decades, to explain to American and international audiences how Washington’s hegemonic policies have accelerated the end of the US unipolar moment as well as spawned chaos around the world.

Cohen, and especially Mearsheimer, are pure realists. Without going into the merits of the differences between offensive realism, defensive realism and offshore balancers, they both have a coherent vision of why American actions have provoked the results we have seen around the world since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

For those who follow Cohen and Mearsheimer and see themselves as realists when observing international relations, watching this debate was painful and frustrating, but also immensely useful for understanding today’s divisions. In fact, the other three panelists must be carefully analyzed. Derek Chollet is part of the neoliberal camp, having served in the Obama administration.

Chollet finds himself amongst the field of the imperialists who, following the debacle in Iraq in 2003, opted to subvert sovereign countries using a different set of methodologies, namely, coups d’état organized through such things as color revolutions and the so-called Arab Spring. In the name of spreading democracy, countries like Libya, Ukraine and Syria have suffered unspeakable devastation at the hands of the US and her allies.

In order to represent the full spectrum of US foreign policy, former CIA agent Reuel Marc Gerecht was brought in as a hardliner, repeating the type of neo-conservative arguments reminiscent of the Bush era. Kori Schake, a former adviser to G.W. Bush, completed the lethal neocon-neoliberal offering, representing the position of NATO and the most Russophobic and Iranophobic countries in Europe.

Looking at these guests and at the questions asked, it was obvious that positions that were diametrically opposed would emerge. Cohen and Mearsheimer argued practically in symbiosis, with slightly different perspectives but coming to the same conclusion. The United States, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, found itself the sole superpower facing no direct adversaries.

Washington’s subsequent mission was to remake the world in its own image and likeness, exporting democracy to the four corners of the world and attacking its geopolitical adversaries with soft or hard power. But this course of action, ironically, only served to accelerate the end of this unipolar moment.

Mearsheimer and Cohen tried to reiterate in their every answer how Washington has only managed to damage itself through its own foolish thinking and actions. Regarding the first question concerning NATO, both Mearsheimer and Cohen emphasized that NATO’s eastward expansion following the end of the Cold War was the main cause of instability in Europe.

The three neoliberal-neocons — who for the sake of convenience I will now call “the imperialists” — responded that it was in fact the European countries who demanded America’s presence in Europe for the purposes of protecting them against Russia.

The three imperialists brushed off or ignored Mearsheimer’s simple and straightforward riposte, borrowed from Obama and Trump’s election campaigns, that the European allies only wanted the US in Europe in order to avoid increasing their own military spending. Having apparently not heard what Mearsheimer said, the three insisted that as long as Poland and the Baltic countries demanded a US presence, Washington was obliged to respond. It was also frustrating for Cohen to explain, for the umpteenth time, how NATO’s advance towards Russia’s borders damaged relations between Russia and the US, two countries he believes should be global allies on multiple fronts.

Mearsheimer even urged the three imperialists to think of the Monroe doctrine and of how intolerable it would be for the US to have a foreign power plant itself militarily in the western hemisphere. He also recalled the Cuban missile crisis, brought on by the USSR’s military proximity to the US.

Unfortunately, the three imperialists, even when painted into a corner by Cohen and Mearsheimer’s arguments, simply ignored or glossed over them. The most aggressive imperialist of all was, unsurprisingly, the former CIA agent, who pushed the arrogant line that America’s presence in Europe is necessary not only to keep Russia at bay, but also to prevent the Europeans from descending into a Hobbesian state of nature and tearing each other apart, as happened in two world wars.

Not surprisingly, the arguments used by the former CIA agent regarding NATO in Europe received the full accord of Kori Schake and Derek Chollet. Cohen’s reminder to those present that the coup in Ukraine was organized and financed by the West was dismissed as false and ridiculous. Derek Chollet averred: “the manifestations of the Maidan were spontaneous, invoking a greater proximity to Europe in the face of a dictator in the hands of Moscow.”

The second question was related to the first, discussing Russia and its role in the world. Once again, both Cohen and Mearsheimer had to summon all their patience and explain to the general public how Putin has always acted in reaction to Western provocations. NATO’s eastward expansion (in spite of Bush’s verbal promise to Gorbachev not to extend NATO beyond Germany) was the cause of the war in Georgia in 2008 and in Ukraine in 2014.

Of course the three imperialists denied these arguments, accusing Putin of unprovoked aggression, confirming in their mind why the US presence in Europe is needed to oppose Russia as a negative actor on the international scene. Not even Mearsheimer’s echoing of Kissinger’s strategy to divide Russia and China convinced those present that the aggressive attitude towards Moscow and Beijing was only damaging the United States, accelerating the end of the unipolar moment and forging the birth of a multipolar reality that will leave Washington isolated from the other great powers.

The three imperialists affirmed that the cooperation between Russia, China and Iran should not be surprising since dictators always confederate with each other; and besides, they say, this situation should not scare the United States, as it has the capacity to deal with multiple fronts simultaneously.

Fortunately, Cohen’s words, recalling the disasters in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya put paid to such delusional optimism, provoking laughter from the audience. Such moments served to highlight how ridiculous the imperialist arguments are. Two or three such arguments were enough to open the eyes of audience members who may not have been familiar with opposing arguments to the ones presented by the imperialists.

Two such instructive moments stand out. The first was in response to the former CIA agent, who called for a coup d’état in Iran, stating that the United States knows how to conduct these successfully. But Mearsheimer’s rejoinder, recalling the failures in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan, provoked loud applause from the audience. Mearsheimer reminded how these arguments were employed by Obama and Trump during their election campaigns to win office.

The second moment, even more effective, concerned Iran. In response to Kori Schake, who argued for greater pressure on Iran because of its alleged interference in the region in a bid to expand its influence in many neighboring countries (Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen), Mearsheimer pointed out the staggering level of hypocrisy involved, where the United States of America is the world champion of regime change and interference in the internal affairs of other countries. The strong applause that followed testified to the incontestable truth of this observation.

Unfortunately, the debate ended with most of the audience continuing to believe that NATO is of fundamental importance, Russia is an evil actor, and the US needs to place more pressure on Iran. The number of people who changed their minds before and after the debate was important (Mearsheimer and Cohen changed the attitudes of about 10% of those present regarding the first two questions) but still marginal compared to the total.

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As an online spectator, I experienced different feelings. My main frustration lay in the David-and-Goliath nature of the debate, with the arguments of Cohen and Mearsheimer contending against all the accumulated lies of the mainstream media, amplified and repeated by the three imperialists present.

The public was certainly more accustomed to hearing the imperialists’ arguments; Cohen and Mearsheimer hardly had sufficient time to overcome the audience’s conditioning. Yet a part of the public present completely changed its mind following the debate. Some people entered the hall with the conviction that NATO was indispensable and Russia aggressive, but ended up leaving with the belief that NATO is now obsolete and that Russia is not the aggressor here.

What then emerges from this whole debate is the obvious conclusion that Mearsheimer and Cohen are two formidable minds unafraid to confront, dismantle and destroy the received wisdom. Being informed is a fundamental part of our lives today. Without being properly informed we are not properly equipped to vote and elect our representatives. We are thus unable to properly shape and determine the course of events in our putative democracies.

This debate has shown how disconnected the US imperialist world is from the real world, and especially how much damage this neocon-neoliberal way of thinking has actually done, ironically succeeding in producing results opposite to those sought, only serving to accelerate the end of America’s domination over the world. As information spreads and reaches more and more people, there will be an increasing understanding of the disastrous actions of the Euro-American establishment.

Cohen and Mearsheimer are acting in service of their country, warning that the direction in which the United States is headed will only have deleterious consequences for the country’s role in the world.

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