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How Russia will respond to new US sanctions

Group-think on Russia is usually thoughtless.

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Friday the 13th of April was full of surprises. Rocket attacks, added sanctions, accusations, hazing, assumptions without the “boring” burden of proof, and so on. Someone is getting on a real testosterone-fired high from all this gunslinging. The US freely continues tightening its sanctions screws against Russia and just about anyone who is not on “the team” or has a worldview that is not in agenda-lockstep.

Russia must now consider its response(s) in turn.

Isaac Asimov wrote “I believe in evidence. I believe in observation, measurement, and reasoning, confirmed by independent observers. I’ll believe anything, no matter how wild and ridiculous, if there is evidence for it. The wilder and more ridiculous something is, however, the firmer and more solid the evidence will have to be.”  Seems Mr. Asimov’s words simply slip through the ears of many, and dissipate in the geopolitical air.

Therefore this past Friday a bill appropriately named “On measures counteracting unfriendly actions of the United States and/or other foreign states”, was reviewed by the leaders of all factions of the State Duma. This proposed bill seeks to impose various measures as a response to American trade restrictions as well as those countries that have adopted similar restrictive measures against Russia.

The range of affected goods manufactured in the USA as well as those countries who have joined with the USA in restricting trade with Russia may include pharmaceuticals, manufactured goods, agricultural products, cigarettes and alcohol. However, there is to be no ban against importing such items “for personal use”, even if brought into Russia by non-Russians.

Additionally, there may be specific regulations concerning banning certain software, technical, and even legal and financial services. Also under consideration is suspending cooperation with the USA in the nuclear, aircraft construction, and rocket engine industries.

On the table for consideration also is for Russia to increase charges for air navigation and overflight services for the US and other countries which support unfriendly, trade restrictive sanctions. In short, the legislation under review in Russia will seek to develop a mechanism to replace goods and services of American origin.

As concerns the movement of people, there is also one item being discussed which might be a list of US citizens who will be banned from entering or doing business with Russia, the list will be determined later by the government should it feel it to be appropriate. At the same time draft legislation mentions a possible prohibition or restriction on attracting citizens of the United States and/or other foreign states, including highly qualified specialists, from employment in the Russian Federation.

Many in the duma see the proposed legislation as an incentive for the enhanced development of the Russian industrial sector and the Russian Federation’s response to what it believes are the unfriendly policies of the US and other states aimed at undermining Russia’s sovereign territorial integrity and destabilizing its economy.

Trade turnover between Russia and the United States in 2017 increased by 15.8% and amounted to 23.1 billion dollars. Russian exports to the US increased by 14.7%, to $ 10.6 billion, and imports by 16.8% percent and amounted to 12.5 billion. Therefore, America’s trade surplus with Russia for 2017 was 1.9 billion dollars to the USA’s advantage. At the start of 2018 Russian metals and mineral products led exports to the United States, and the main imports from the United States were cars, and heavy equipment.

Where will all these tit for tat sandbox tactics take us? Looking back to 2000 since Vladimir Putin became president of the Russian Federation; his record has been transparent and publicly stated both inside Russia and declaratively on the international stage. The ambition for Russia is not global hegemony or heaven forbid – European conquest.

Russia has been seeking a regional sphere of influence and interactivity with nations directly on its national borders, its geopolitical neighborhood, or through alliances directly related to its perceived national security interests. That said, it is not by any stretch of the imagination “empire building” given the reach and scope of its comparatively limited international involvements.

Since the start of this 21st Century, the Russian sphere of influence has not been achieved by conquest, domination or old-school regime-change. It has been attempted through close financial ties, direct foreign investment, free trade zones, treaties, security alliances, and a network of geopolitical agreements that closely remind me of the (pre-EU) European Economic Union.

Given the current state of affairs in this sanctions-mad world, several Russian companies have taken proactive steps to ready themselves for potential exclusion from the SWIFT interbank payments system. This is an extension of the bullying effect a politicized US Dollar, and the increasingly inclusionary/exclusionary practices, or as some have observed – the “weaponization” of the greenback. These companies include those who have recently been “sanctioned” by the USA this past month, and those who plan ahead for contingencies.

The Russian state technology giant Rostec is one that will now use Russia’s new equivalent to the SWIFT interbank cash transfer system called SPFS. Rostec consolidates strategically important Russian companies. It has divisions in aircraft, electronics, and armaments. It unites companies like Russian Helicopters, Kalashnikov, and Rosoboronexport. Last month, another Russian state-owned firm, Rosneft, announced it had tested the SPFS in December with Gazprom bank, and is ready to seamlessly use it if need be.

The potential exclusion of Russia from SWIFT has concerned the country’s banks since 2014, when the EU and the US introduced the first round of international sanctions against Moscow over alleged involvement in the Ukraine crisis and reunification with Crimea. Recently, the head of the Central Bank, Elvira Nabiullina, said at a meeting with President Vladimir Putin that Russia is ready, if needed, to disconnect from SWIFT and smoothly function.

It may very well be that today’s Russia is demonized mostly for its desire to put national sovereign interests ahead of globalization. That said, it has also been apparent over these past 18 years that Russia’s actions and intentions on the world stage have been congruent, openly stated and have not been nearly as opaque or unipolar as some others. They have in fact been in keeping with the guidelines and treaties set out in the charter of the UN as regards the ethical behavior of Governments, and diplomatic conduct in the international arena.

Where will we go from here now that inertia and the rules of the sandbox have taken over diplomacy? It has been said that Washington is considering announcing still further sanctions against Russia on Monday April 16th, or maybe it will change its mind and stop this circle game – who knows? Who benefits? Seems this just might be the ideal moment to dial back on the rhetoric and think this through. I believe there are a number of countries in Europe and elsewhere in the ‘sandbox gang’ who would truly appreciate in their private heart-of-hearts any de-escalation ASAP.

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Don’t Laugh : It’s Giving Putin What He Wants

The fact of the matter is that humorous lampooning of western establishment Russia narratives writes itself.

Caitlin Johnstone

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Authored by Caitlin Johnstone:


The BBC has published an article titled “How Putin’s Russia turned humour into a weapon” about the Kremlin’s latest addition to its horrifying deadly hybrid warfare arsenal: comedy.

The article is authored by Olga Robinson, whom the BBC, unhindered by any trace of self-awareness, has titled “Senior Journalist (Disinformation)”. Robinson demonstrates the qualifications and acumen which earned her that title by warning the BBC’s audience that the Kremlin has been using humor to dismiss and ridicule accusations that have been leveled against it by western governments, a “form of trolling” that she reports is designed to “deliberately lower the level of discussion”.

“Russia’s move towards using humour to influence its campaigns is a relatively recent phenomenon,” Robinson explains, without speculating as to why Russians might have suddenly begun laughing at their western accusers. She gives no consideration to the possibility that the tightly knit alliance of western nations who suddenly began hysterically shrieking about Russia two years ago have simply gotten much more ridiculous and easier to make fun of during that time.

Couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the emergence of a demented media environment wherein everything around the world from French protests to American culture wars to British discontent with the European Union gets blamed on Russia without any facts or evidence. Wherein BBC reporters now correct guests and caution them against voicing skepticism of anti-Russia narratives because the UK is in “an information war” with that nation. Wherein the same cable news Russiagate pundit can claim that both Rex Tillerson’s hiring and his later firing were the result of a Russian conspiracy to benefit the Kremlin. Wherein mainstream outlets can circulate blatantly false information about Julian Assange and unnamed “Russians” and then blame the falseness of that reporting on Russian disinformation. Wherein Pokemon Go, cutesy Facebook memes and $4,700 in Google ads are sincerely cited as methods by which Hillary Clinton’s $1.2 billion presidential campaign was outdone. Wherein conspiracy theories that Putin has infiltrated the highest levels of the US government have been blaring on mainstream headline news for two years with absolutely nothing to show for it to this day.

Nope, the only possibility is that the Kremlin suddenly figured out that humor is a thing.

The fact of the matter is that humorous lampooning of western establishment Russia narratives writes itself. The hypocrisy is so cartoonish, the emotions are so breathlessly over-the-top, the stories so riddled with plot holes and the agendas underlying them so glaringly obvious that they translate very easily into laughs. I myself recently authored a satire piece that a lot of people loved and which got picked up by numerous alternative media outlets, and all I did was write down all the various escalations this administration has made against Russia as though they were commands being given to Trump by Putin. It was extremely easy to write, and it was pretty damn funny if I do say so myself. And it didn’t take any Kremlin rubles or dezinformatsiya from St Petersburg to figure out how to write it.

“Ben Nimmo, an Atlantic Council researcher on Russian disinformation, told the BBC that attempts to create funny memes were part of the strategy as ‘disinformation for the information age’,” the article warns. Nimmo, ironically, is himself intimately involved with the British domestic disinformation firm Integrity Initiative, whose shady government-sponsored psyops against the Labour Party have sparked a national scandal that is likely far from reaching peak intensity.

“Most comedy programmes on Russian state television these days are anodyne affairs which either do not touch on political topics, or direct humour at the Kremlin’s perceived enemies abroad,” Robinson writes, which I found funny since I’d just recently read an excellent essay by Michael Tracey titled “Why has late night swapped laughs for lusting after Mueller?”

“If the late night ‘comedy’ of the Trump era has something resembling a ‘message,’ it’s that large segments of the nation’s liberal TV viewership are nervously tracking every Russia development with a passion that cannot be conducive to mental health – or for that matter, political efficacy,” Tracey writes, documenting numerous examples of the ways late night comedy now has audiences cheering for a US intelligence insider and Bush appointee instead of challenging power-serving media orthodoxies as programs like The Daily Show once did.

If you wanted the opposite of “anodyne affairs”, it would be comedians ridiculing the way all the establishment talking heads are manipulating their audiences into supporting the US intelligence community and FBI insiders. It would be excoriating the media environment in which unfathomably powerful world-dominating government agencies are subject to less scrutiny and criticism than a man trapped in an embassy who published inconvenient facts about those agencies. It certainly wouldn’t be the cast of Saturday Night Live singing “All I Want for Christmas Is You” to a framed portrait if Robert Mueller wearing a Santa hat. It doesn’t get much more anodyne than that.

Russia makes fun of western establishment narratives about it because those narratives are so incredibly easy to make fun of that they are essentially asking for it, and the nerdy way empire loyalists are suddenly crying victim about it is itself more comedy. When Guardian writer Carole Cadwalladr began insinuating that RT covering standard newsworthy people like Julian Assange and Nigel Farage was a conspiracy to “boost” those people for the advancement of Russian agendas instead of a news outlet doing the thing that news reporting is, RT rightly made fun of her for it. Cadwalladr reacted to RT’s mockery with a claim that she was a victim of “attacks”, instead of the recipient of perfectly justified ridicule for circulating an intensely moronic conspiracy theory.

Ah well. People are nuts and we’re hurtling toward a direct confrontation with a nuclear superpower. Sometimes there’s nothing else to do but laugh. As Wavy Gravy said, “Keep your sense of humor, my friend; if you don’t have a sense of humor it just isn’t funny anymore.”

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EU’s ‘toothless’ response to creation of Kosovo army risks worsening the crisis – Moscow

Russia’s ambassador to the UN said that the EU could have and should have done more to stop the breakaway region from creating its own army.

RT

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The creation of Kosovo’s own 5,000-strong army is a threat to peace and security in a turbulent region and may lead to a new escalation, Russia’s UN envoy has warned, calling the EU’s lackluster response irresponsible.

Speaking at the UN Security Council emergency meeting on Kosovo, Russia’s ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzya said that the EU could have and should have done more to stop the breakaway region from creating its own army to replace its lightly armed emergency response force.

“The EU reaction to the decision by Pristina cannot be described as other than toothless. This irresponsible policy has crossed the line,” Nebenzya said, after the UNSC meeting on Monday.

The diplomat said the lack of decisive action on the part of the 28-member bloc was a “great disappointment,” adding that the EU seems to “have turned a blind eye on the illegal creation of Kosovo’s ‘army.’”

The law, approved by Kosovo lawmakers on Friday, paves the way for doubling the size of the current Kosovo Security Force and for turning it into a de facto army, with 5,000 soldiers and 3,000 reservists.

The move did not go down well even with Kosovo’s usual backers, with both NATO and the EU voicing their indignation. NATO’s General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg called the decision “ill-timed” and lamented that Kosovo’s authorities had ignored “the concerns expressed by NATO.”

The EU’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, has echoed those concerns, saying in a statement that the mandate of Kosovo’s forces “should only be changed through an inclusive and gradual process” in accordance with the state’s constitution.

The only nation to openly applaud the controversial move was the US, with its ambassador to Kosovo, Phillip Kosnett, saying that Washington “reaffirms its support” for the upgrade as it is “only natural for Kosovo as a sovereign, independent country” to have a full-fledged army.

The Kosovo MPs’ decision has drawn anger in the Serbian capital Belgrade and provoked a strong response from Moscow, which calledon the UN mission in Kosovo to demilitarize the area in accordance with UNSC resolution 1244, and to disband any armed units.

Nebenzya pointed out that the UN resolution does not allow any Kosovo Albanian military units to be present in the region’s territory. He accused Western countries, including members of the NATO-led international peacekeeping force (KFOR), of “condoning and supporting” the violation by Pristina of the resolution.

It is feared that the army, though a relatively small force, might inflame tensions in the region and impede attempts at reconciliation between Pristina and Belgrade. Serbia has warned that it might consider an armed intervention if the army becomes a threat to the 120,000-strong Serb minority in Kosovo.

“The advance of Kosovo’s army presents a threat to the peace and security in the region, which may lead to the recurrence of the armed conflict,” Nebenzya stated.

In addition to creating its own army, Kosovo in November hit Serbia with a 100 percent import tariff on goods, defying calls by the US and the EU to roll the measure back.

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Ukraine’s President Says “High” Threat Of Russian Invasion, Urges NATO Entry In Next 5 Years

Poroshenko is trying desperately to hold on to power, even if it means provoking Russia.

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Via Zerohedge


Perhaps still seeking to justify imposing martial law over broad swathes of his country, and attempting to keep international pressure and media focus on a narrative of “Russian aggression,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko denounced what he called the high “threat of Russian invasion” during a press conference on Sunday, according to Bloomberg.

Though what some analysts expected would be a rapid flair up of tit-for-tat incidents following the late November Kerch Strait seizure of three Ukrainian vessels and their crew by the Russian Navy has gone somewhat quiet, with no further major incident to follow, Poroshenko has continued to signal to the West that Russia could invade at any moment.

“The lion’s share of Russian troops remain” along the Russian border with Ukraine, Poroshenko told journalists at a press conference in the capital, Kiev. “Unfortunately, less than 10 percent were withdrawn,” he said, and added: “As of now, the threat of Russian troops invading remains. We have to be ready for this, we won’t allow a repeat of 2014.”

Poroshenko, who declared martial law on Nov. 26, citing at the time possible imminent “full-scale war with Russia” and Russian tank and troop build-up, on Sunday noted that he will end martial law on Dec. 26 and the temporarily suspended presidential campaign will kick off should there be no Russian invasion. He also previously banned all Russian males ages 16-60 from entering Ukraine as part of implementation of 30 days of martial law over ten provinces, though it’s unclear if this policy will be rescinded.

During his remarks, the Ukrainian president said his country should push to join NATO and the EU within the next five years, per Bloomberg:

While declining to announce whether he will seek a second term in the office, Poroshenko said that Ukraine should achieve peace, overcome the consequences of its economic crisis and to meet criteria to join the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization during next five years.

But concerning both his retaining power and his ongoing “threat exaggeration” — there’s even widespread domestic acknowledgement that the two are clearly linked.

According to The Globe and Mail:

While Mr. Poroshenko’s domestic rivals accuse him of exaggerating the threat in order to boost his own flagging political fortunes — polls suggest Mr. Poroshenko is on track to lose his job in a March election — military experts say there are reasons to take the Ukrainian president’s warning seriously.

As we observed previously, while European officials have urged both sides to exercise restraint, the incident shows just how easily Russia and the West could be drawn into a military conflict over Ukraine.

Certainly Poroshenko’s words appear designed to telegraph just such an outcome, which would keep him in power as a war-time president, hasten more and massive western military support and aid, and quicken his country’s entry into NATO — the latter which is already treating Ukraine as a de facto strategic outpost.

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