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Russian-American Congress sends open letter to President Trump

Letter to the President makes a series of solid points as Russian-Americans feel the persecution of the “New Cold War” taking a toll on their lives in the USA

Seraphim Hanisch

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As an American living in the Russian Federation, I have the pleasure of having direct interaction with many Russian people from all walks of life. Many are Orthodox Christian believers who love the Church and love their own president, Vladimir Putin, and consider him as a Defender of Orthodox Christianity and Christianity everywhere in the world.

Many others are more jaded in their opinions and share skepticism of both their government and the Church, and still others hate Mr. Putin and don’t understand what the big deal about any religion is about at all.

The educational background of my friends in Russia ranges from school age kids to doctors and diplomates, and the most expert computer engineers at Kaspersky Labs, where I do a lot of my independent teaching work in the English language.

(I have incidentally met Eugene Kaspersky personally, and many of his executives, and there is a great deal that needs to be said about the insane treatment of this truly fabulous company by American politicrats. But that is for later.)

One thing that literally every person I talked to in Russia shared in common was a dislike and / or distrust of Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate in the USA.

Sometimes that dislike was mixed with fear of war with the US, and an overreaching sense that American people have completely lost their minds is common across a majority of Russians I speak to. Most of them are very interested in America, but the picture they get of us is shaped by the news media.

It is an extremely vital point to be made that the media that shapes Russia’s opinion of the United States is not the Russian state run media. At least, not alone.

The American media is piped into Russia pretty directly, so Russian people can see CNN and other major cable networks directly if they so choose.

In Moscow there are a fair number of Russian people that speak English, and at Kaspersky Labs many of them do. They understand for themselves what is going on in the USA but they suffer from a terrible lack of balanced information because the liberal networks pipe news into Russia and the conservative side doesn’t get a fair hearing.

Honestly with what Russia sees of “American Life” as presented by the liberal media, most of any propaganda work is already done. All the Russian networks have to do is rebroadcast it with translation.

Perhaps this is by design, as the liberal networks like CNN, TNT, The Learning Channel and others of this ilk paint a picture of America as a gay haven, a mecca of every sexually and mind-altering aberrant practice under the sun, and this is disgusting to a society that has largely retained some major elements of a very traditional point of view:

Drugs are NOT cool, and… Men are men, and women are glad of it!

I write all of this because it is necessary in order to give you some observed context for the issue at hand.

The Russian-American Congress in the United States sent an open letter to President Trump in the United States to express disappointment because of the difficulty in Russian-American relations.

The sentiments of the Russian-Americans in the United States and the Russian people here, as well as some of the less cynical “American Russians” here is pretty uniform – concern and disappointment, and even frustration. Here is a bit of what they have to say:

We, as Russian-Americans, are deeply affected by the recent rounds of sanctions. We can no longer rely on consulates in San Francisco and in Seattle for routine consular services. Many of us now have to fly across the country to get an appointment at the Russian Consulate in New York or Washington, D.C. for visas to visit family in Russia.

We can no longer invite our relatives to visit us because more visa applications from Russia are being rejected than ever before. The closure of the consulates and the expulsion of the diplomats have worsened our lives. And yet almost 90 percent of Russian-Americans voted for you in the hope that you would restore relations with Russia and lift the sanctions. Today, it appears that you are backing away from your campaign pledge to improve the bilateral relationship.

We do not support the present course of Russian-American relations. It cannot lead to anything good. It has become a serious obstacle to constructive dialogue. Moreover, this odious rhetoric against Russia breeds hatred toward all Russians. Five million Russian-Americans living in this country have to bear the brunt of the consequences of these reckless words and actions. Russian-Americans have come to face serious discrimination.

It does not serve the interests of America to collapse into the abyss of russophobia.

Here is the backstory in summary:

In Russia the American consulates have been closed except for the one in Moscow. This consulate is the ONLY location where Russian citizens can obtain tourist or business visas to come to the United States.

One of my friends who works at the Consulate explained that the gutting of the staff at the Embassy created an impossibly heavy workload, so the average wait time for a Russian citizen to get an American Visa is estimated to run up to six months.

By contrast, if the same Russian applies for an American Visa in a neighboring country like Latvia, the wait time can be as little as one day.

However with the exception of Ukraine, a Russian pretty much needs a Visa for the EU, and a trip to an EU member nation to do the visa process in any close sense.  And Russia is huge – so citizens in the far East in Vladivostok have to travel 9 hours by plane to Moscow to undergo a six-month wait Visa process.

The Russian-Americans are similarly being oppressed by the inconveniences cause by Moscow’s closing of the Russian consulates in the United States as Russia responds tit-for-tat to the American and European sanctions that are built of fantastic allegations anyway, most notably the unsubstantiated allegation that the Russian government is in some way responsible for the attempted murder on Sergey and Yulia Skripal.

Further, the Russophobia being pumped out by the American media is beginning to take a toll on American citizens who emigrated from Russia in hopes of pursuing the American dream for themselves.

This is bigotry, and unfair discrimination just as much as it is for any ethnic or race-based group in the United States.

The Russian-American Congress sent their letter to express their disappointment and concern to President Trump because the craziness in terms of all this has impacted their lives in many ways.

Here in Russia the disappointment is echoed by people like those at Kaspersky Labs, which has been singled out for extremely biased and unfair treatment to score political points.

Eugene Kaspersky has filed a lawsuit in regards to this matter against the US Department of Homeland Security. His points are completely logical and yet he is ignored the benefit of legal protections under the law as a business operator in the United States because of political expediency on the part of people like Bill Browder driving a truly insane and falsely based anti-Russia campaign.

I am a big supporter of President Trump, personally.  I voted for him as many times as I could. (wink)(Once, as a Colorado resident, which I am.)

And I would vote for him again in a heartbeat. He is a superb president on every count where he has been able to do what he feels is right. And we see this expressed in the tone of his phone contacts with President Putin and his actual personal meetings with him. Through his help the US has helped Russia avert the tragedy of ISIS terrorist attacks on its own soil, something which has gained the gratitude of the Russians and most notably President Putin himself.

But in this matter of Russian-American relations I am grieved along with the Russian people in both our nations.

I am similarly saddened because the Americans who rely on their news media to be truthful to them about world events are being given a grave disservice. Rather than seeing Russia for what it wants to be – a partner and an ally – the Americans have been getting a steady diet of propaganda that only serves the interests of those people who feel threatened by Russia asserting herself as her own sovereign nation. This is simply grievous, it has gone on much too long and it should stop.

There are some in the media – both mainstream and alternate media of which The Duran considers itself a part, that have tried to point out the notion of war brewing between the US and the Russian Federation.

While anything is possible because bad actors can start wars, I personally disagree with this notion. Russia has no aspiration for war with the United States or Europe in any way.

But the Russian Federation and its leadership are understandably frustrated with being blamed for everything under the sun, and then punished for things they have no part in, a practice that has been ongoing for several years at least.

How would you feel?

In pursuing this track of scapegoating Russia as many of the political establishment in the US and Europe have succeeded in doing, the Western powers are putting themselves at grave risk of a problem later. Not a problem with war, for Russia will not attack anyone. The only way a war will start is if the West starts it; but the scapegoating behavior is scandalous and it will not be forgotten.

Also, since it is falsely based, Russia will find her own way around it and prosper. When things get difficult in the West, its leaders will be forced to eat humble pie in some way that will not be pleasant… and it will have been totally unnecessary.

The Russian-Americans, and not a few American-Russians, are still hoping for President Trump to rise above the fray and fix this mess.

The American Congress – both parties – are full of Russiaphobes and people who are so ill-informed that they actually consider Bill Browder an expert on Russian affairs. I will place my bet that as a regular guy living here I know far more accurately what the real picture is than any rich tax evader.

In this, I echo President Putin’s statement. Together with the Russian-Americans in the USA, we say this:

“Listen to us now.”

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Orthodox Churches begin to respond forcefully to Ukrainian situation

Two jurisdictions, including one with a difficult history with Russia, move to condemn uncanonical acts in Ukraine.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Two local jurisdictions within the Eastern Orthodox Church announced their refusal to accept the legitimization of two schismatic groups in Ukraine, a move authorized by the Ecumenical Patriarch, but spurred by powers in the United States and Petro Poroshenko’s secularist-oriented Ukraine.

On October 11th, 2018, the Ecumentical Patriarch, Bartholomew I of Constantinople, authorized his legates to pronounce two schismatic Orthodox “churches” in Ukraine to be restored to canonical communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and by extension, across the entire Orthodox world.

This move was strongly condemned by the authorities of the Russian Orthodox Church, which has the only canonically accepted church presence in Ukraine, a situation that the Ecumenical Patriarch himself agreed with only a few years ago.

Russia moved to break communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, creating a split in the Orthodox Church, but a split that at first risked Russia standing alone in their statement of disapproval of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s actions.

For a time the reaction of the other “local” Orthodox Churches was cautious, with the vast majority (excepting only the Greek Church in the USA) coming out in support of the canonical group in Ukraine, but without taking similar action to Moscow.

That appears to be changing.

On November 12 and 16, respectively, the Churches of Serbia and Poland issued strong statements. They both categorically refused to recognize the Ukrainian schismatic groups and they forbade their clergy to concelebrate with the “clergy” within these groups. The Serbs’ statement on this was as follows:

“The Assembly does not recognize the mentioned figures and their followers as Orthodox bishops and clergy and, consequently, does not accept liturgical and canonical communion with them and their supporters.”

The Polish Church made a similar announcement, but with even more force:

“The Holy Bishops’ Council forbids the priests of the Polish Orthodox Church from having liturgical and prayerful contact with the ‘clergy’ of the so-called Kiev Patriarchate and the so-called ‘Autocephalous Orthodox Church,’ which have committed much evil in the past,” the statement reads.

According to the Polish hierarchs, persons deprived of episcopal and clerical ordination cannot be leaders in establishing peace in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Only the observance of the dogmatic and canonical norms of the Church and the preservation of the centuries-old tradition will protect Orthodoxy from severe ecclesiastical consequences on an international scale. The Polish Orthodox Church prays fervently for the unity of the holy Orthodox Church and for peace for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church,” the message further reads.

And while yet officially under the omophorion of Constantinople, several Greek monasteries on Mount Athos, the Orthodox monastic republic that is the spiritual center of all of Eastern Orthodoxy, inserted special petitions in their services to pray for Metropolitan Onufry and the people of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – that is, the canonical group that is a highly autonomous, or independent, Church while yet under the Moscow Patriarchate.

This is an interesting situation because in terms of ecclesial jurisdiction, Mount Athos is actually under the Ecumenical Patriarchate. However, the monasteries there often are known for taking the hardest of hardline stances when even their own Patriarchate takes actions they feel to be wrong:

Thousands of Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox Christians go on pilgrimage to Mt. Athos, which is under the jurisdiction of Constantinople, every year. However, the Russian Church, of which the Ukrainian Church is an autonomous, self-governing part, broke communion with Constantinople on October 15, which the Ukrainian Church confirmed yesterday, due to unilateral Constantinople’s interference in ecclesiastical life in Ukraine.

We know that the majority of the abbots of the Athonite monasteries do not agree with the anti-canonical decisions of the Phanar,” Met. Anthony said.

“In several monasteries—Greek ones, by the way—they have included a special petition in the Litany of Peace in the morning and evening services: ‘For His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry with his suffering flock.,’” he explained, adding, “We are very grateful to the Athonites for their brotherly love and prayers.”

This is a story that it still developing, but the recent moves by Poland and Serbia may be outlining the path that other local Orthodox Churches will take.

That move is to deny recognition to the schismatics that Patriarch Bartholomew lifted the anathemas and depositions for. If this step were to be taken by all the local Churches that have expressed support for the canonical Ukrainian Church, the result would be not much different than where the schismatics were on October 10th:

Filaret Denisenko’s group and Makary’s group would indeed have communion with Constantinople, and presumably the Greek Orthodox Church in the USA, but with no one else.

This move would be a severe repudiation of the Ecumenical Patriarch’s repeated declaration that he has the sole authority to grant autocephaly to anyone anywhere in the Orthodox world (or even to take it away), which is a canonical absurdity.

Given the substantial problems that Filaret Denisenko continues to create, such as refusing to be considered only a Metropolitan (this was the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s order), and to still consider himself a patriarch, blessing a blasphemous “icon” that is really just a monument to Ukrainian ultra-nationalism and secularism (note the neo-Nazi wolfsangel and machine guns in the upper right of this photo:

And given the ideations of Patriarch Bartholomew himself, who is also recently reported to be pushing towards creating unity with the Roman Catholic Church, while acting like a pope himself by insisting that all the local Orthodox Churches will accept his decisions, it does not look like this situation is going to go away by itself.

However, by placing the problem of the schismatics squarely in Patriarch Bartholomew’s hands (since he created the problem), the pressure created by other churches refusing to concelebrate with the Ukrainian schismatics may be enough to isolate the Ecumenical Patriarchate itself, rather than fulfilling the highly likely goal that the US, Ukraine and Patriarch Bartholomew may have had initially – to isolate Russia and create a situation where Russia is made to look like the bad guy, once again.

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How George W. Bush Corrupted America’s ‘News’-Reporting

George W. Bush and his Republicans managed to take all of America’s major ‘news’-media, and to turn them into super-prostitutes.

Eric Zuesse

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Eric Zuesse, originally posted at strategic-culture.org:


In order to understand today’s demonization of Vladimir Putin, one must go back to US President George W. Bush’s propaganda for “regime-change in Iraq” and demonization of Saddam Hussein at that time. The US regime now has come to recognize that with Putin’s high approval-ratings from the Russian public, the US aristocracy’s dream of fomenting Putin’s ouster by Russia’s voters will not work; and, so, all foreign leaders who cooperated with Russia, such as Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Viktor Yanukovych, and Bashar al-Assad, were first targeted by the US regime for “regime-change,” so as to isolate Russia and soften it up for the demanded US-takeover (‘democracy’, ‘free market’, etc., which Russia actually now already has, at least as much as America does); and, then, since that hasn’t yet worked, came the US aristocracy’s campaign to ‘protect The West’ by NATO troops and weapons surrounding Russia and forcing regime-change in Russia. It has escalated now to the point where World War III is more likely than ever it was during the Cold War.

Regime-change in Russia will thus either occur by the democratic vote of the Russian public at some distant time and produce a Russian Government that’s likely to be against the US regime in every possible way (which the current Russian Government is not), or else it will require a US-and-allied invasion of Russia, and that would destroy the world (but the US aristocracy want it anyway).

However, America’s aristocracy (or as they call it when referring to the same thing in low-income countries, “oligarchs”) — basically just its billionaires — are very impatient; they want to control the entire planet during their own lifetimes, and care little (if at all) about what will happen to the planet after they’re gone. (Look, for example, at their enormous resistance to doing anything against global burnout; protecting their fossil-fuels investments is ‘more important’.) Their ‘non-profits’ are just tax-avoidance schemes that double as PR operations for themselves and as ways to get their names in print and on big ‘non-profit’ buildings, like the Pyramids were in ancient Egypt. (Those Egyptian aristocrats wanted permanent honors, but today’s American ones want only to be recognized as being top-of-the-heap while they’re still alive; it’s a cultural difference.)

Anyway, here is how George W. Bush and his Republicans managed to take all of America’s major ‘news’-media, which were highly prostituted even before he came into office, and to turn them into super-prostitutes like the very worst of them prior to his Presidency were. That very worst was most prominently recognized as having been the neoconservative (or pro-US-imperialism) Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News Channel. Of course, it’s rotten, today, no less than it was back in 2000, and here’s a representative sample of that, displaying a classic propaganda-operation:

This particular show aired on 5 September 2015 on Fox ‘News’, and interviewed their contracted expert:

TRANSCRIPT, starting at 4:45:

4:45, Interviewer: The other place that nobody seems to want to go these days is Russia and China, and Russia and China are both the two countries that have really gotten behind Assad, and certainly try to prop him up and those kinds of things; and as we look at pictures from China’s military day parade [posted onscreen], how much of this is Russia and China trying to slough off these refugees on Europe and everybody else … to try to gain political and global capital?

McFARLAND: Well, in China I think less so, but Russia, certainly, because we’ve seen even in the last week that Russia has increased its military presence in Syria. Russia is trying to prop up the Assad government, like the Iranians are; and so Russia is sending military equipment; it’s sending it by sea, it’s sending it overland, it’s sending it by air, to try to prop up the Assad government to continue the fighting.

Q: To continue the refugee crisis?

MCFARLAND: Oh, sure, exactly.

They want their suckers to believe that the Government of Syria wants “to continue the refugee crisis” (which actually was resulting from the Democratic Party’s President Barack Obama’s policy, but Republican-Party billionaires want regime-change in Syria as much as Democratic-Party ones do and so this con is a bipartisan one) instead of to restore the peace and modest prosperity that had preceded the US-Saudi-Turkish-UAE-Quwaiti campaign to recruit and arm tens of thousands of jihadists into Syria to overthrow Syria’s committedly non-sectarian and highly secular Government, headed by Assad. They want their fools to believe that Assad instead of Obama sought the overthrow of Assad. But no matter how stupid their pitch is, it’s acceptable by their very conservative audience. Even when Fox News needs to cover-up evils of a Democratic Party regime in order to sic their suckers on hating Assad or any other ally of the arch-demon Putin, they do it, in order to service their Republican Party billionaires, who are just as eager to take over Russia — and its allies such as Syria — as Democratic Party billionaires are. And that’s how bad Fox ‘News’ is, and was. But now they’re all like that.

THE BACKSTORY:

Whereas back in 2002 and 2003, the US aristocracy’s biggest push for “regime change” was to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq; and whereas in 2011 the biggest push for “regime change” was to remove Muammar Gaddaffi from power in Libya; and whereas next in 2011 the biggest push for “regime change” became to remove Bashar al-Assad from power in Syria; and whereas in 2013 the biggest push for “regime change” became to remove Viktor Yanukovych from power in Ukraine; the biggest push for “regime change” now is to remove Vladimir Putin himself from power in Russia.

Media-lies have been crucial to them all; and here is how it’s done — by spreading Fox’s garbage over the rest of the major ‘news’ media:

On 2 October 2003, the media-watch organization, worldpublicopinion.org, headlined “Misperceptions, the Media and the Iraq War:Study Finds Widespread Misperceptions on Iraq Highly Related to Support for War: Misperceptions Vary Widely Depending on News Source: Fox Viewers More Likely to Misperceive, PBS-NPR Less Likely.” In fact, the people who received their news primarily through NPR or PBS exhibited the lowest rate of misperceptions at that time, and Fox News Channel viewers exhibited the highest misperceptions-rate: Whereas 77% of NPR/PBS listeners/viewers gave correct answers on all three factual news questions asked, only 20% of Fox News Channel viewers did; and whereas only 23% of the NPR/PBS audiences got one or more of these three factual questions wrong, 80% of Fox’s did.

So, the George W. Bush Administration forced NPR and PBS to adhere more fully to Bush’s (the US aristocracy’s) line. Bush lowered the best of the nation’s news-edia down to the standards that already existed for the lowest.

At NPR’s “Morning Edition” on 20 May 2005, host David Folkenflik reported about the pre-Bush culture at the Corporation for Public Broadvasting and compared it to the new culture there. He said that, the “culture gap became evident as long as two years ago. At oneclosed board meeting, according to two former CPB officials, [the Bush-appointed CPB chief Kenneth] Tomlinson suggested bringing in Fox News Channel anchor Brit Hume to talk to public broadcasting officials about how to create balanced news programs.”

Word was now out, among journalists throughout the world, that President Bush aimed to turn his country’s public broadcasting system into a domestic propaganda organ; and so, on May 30thThe New York Times headlined “Ombudsmen Rebuff Move by Public Broadcasting”, and reported — datelined May 27th from London — that: “An [international] association of news ombudsmen has rejected an attempt by two ombudsmen from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to join their organization as full-fledged members, questioning their independence. The Organization of News Ombudsmen, which represents nearly a hundred print and broadcast ombudsmen from around the world, more than half of them from the United States, voted at its annual conference here last week to change its bylaws to allow full membership only to those who work for news organizations,” which excluded representatives from CPB, because “it does not itself gather or produce news.” Observed one member, who happened to be the ombudsman from NPR, “We want members who are responsive to readers, not to governments or lobby groups.”

The Los Angeles Times media critic David Shaw took a broad historical view of this matter, headlining May 29th “There’s a ‘Nuclear Option’ for PBS’ Woes” opining that no PBS at all would be better than a PBS that’s a propaganda organ for the White House, and reminding readers: “The Bush administration is not the first to challenge the independence of PBS. Back in the 1970s, the Nixon administration was so estranged by PBS coverage of Watergate and the Vietnam War that it stacked the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting with Nixon sympathizers. ‘There were tremendous fights, with the Nixon administration trying to prevent public television from doing any public affairs programming at all,’ Lawrence Grossman, the former president of PBS, subsequently told the New York Times. The Bush administration, which has already accomplished the heretofore seemingly impossible by becoming even more media-averse than the Nixon administration, seems determined to surpass the wizard of Whittier and Watergate in bringing the CPB to heel as well.”

Mr. Shaw, like other major-media commentators about the national media, had previously stood by in silence, during 2002 and 2003, while America’s major media cavalierly spread amongst the US public, as virtually unchallenged, the false rumors coming from the Bush Administration, and from its allies such as the Bush-Administration-financed group of exiles, the Iraqi National Congress, saying that Iraq’s leader Saddam Hussein had been proven to be storing huge quantities of weapons of mass destruction and to be working in cahoots with Al Qaeda to threaten the United States. However, now, just a few years later, these very same “news” media were so frightened at the rising extent of this Administration’s control over their “news,” that these commentators were publicizing what those fascists were doing to force them, ‘journalists,’ into a military lock-step. This change in atmosphere was stunning; America’s press were now trying to extricate themselves from the prison they had only recently helped to construct for themselves. They didn’t think that they might get caught up in the prison that they had helped construct to contain the general public.

The United States had entered historic new territory after nearly 50 years of aristocratic/theocratic mass-indoctrination of the American people, which had occurred with the full support and cooperation of the nation’s presslords. There was now doubt; the old arrangements finally started to become questioned. Things were no longer settled. This was a real change of mentality. Only recently, there had been a total passivity of the US press: it propagandized for the President’s Medicaid prescription drug plan; it propagandized for his fabricated accusations against “Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction”; it served as an extension of the White House press office on many other of the President’s fraud-based programs. But this passivity was now finally replaced by a rising fear within the press, that the US might be transforming into a fascist state, which could threaten the press itself. The presslords themselves were at last becoming disturbed.

However, this President was already near to his goal of a totalitarian lock-down. Consequently, what could the press do, at such a late date? They had already given him the rope to hang not just the public, but themselves. He took it. The American press that stenographically transmitted to the American public the US government’s lies about “Saddam’s WMD” is continuing as if it hadn’t been sufficiently compliant. America’s great victories in overthrowing Gaddafi and Yanukovych are now supposed to be followed by Assad, and then Putin.

And European nations take this leadership as their own, instead of abandoning the US, abandoning NATO, and abandoning the US-controlled EU; abandoning all the mega-corporate, US-aristocracy-controlled, international-corporate fascist system — and now they willingly take in the millions of refugees from the bombs that the US had dropped in Libya and Syria, and that the US-installed rabidly anti-Russian government in Ukraine is dropping onto the areas of the former Ukraine that have rejected the US-imposed (in February 2014government in Kiev.

And the next target is Putin.

So: that’s the backstory behind the lie that Putin instead of Obama caused those millions of refugees pouring into Europe.

And, in German ‘news’ media, Bashar al-Assad and ISIS are being blamed for it, because practically no German is so media-deluded (like America’s conservatives are) as to think that Putin is to blame for it; and here is a German who states in very clear terms how rotten he thinks Germany’s ‘news’ media are (though America’s obviously are even worse) with those German media blaming “that the reasons for refugee-flows are Syrian President Bashar Assad and ISIS” instead of that “America is the cause of all these problems, American foreign policy.”

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Italy Throws Down the Gauntlet to Challenge the Brussels Establishment

The Italian government has rejected the EU’s calls to revise its draft budget for 2019 that includes a 2.4% deficit of GDP.

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Authored by Arkady Savitsky via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The EU has had a lot of trouble on its hands, as its members, such as Poland and Hungary, are openly challenging the established order. This time it’s a very serious situation, because Brussels is facing defiance from Italy, the 3rd largest national economy in the eurozone and the 8th largest global economy in terms of nominal GDP. It has a population of over 60 million. It is also a Europhile country and the bloc’s founding member.

The Italian government has rejected the EU’s calls to revise its draft budget for 2019 that includes a 2.4% deficit of GDP, which could dangerously boost the nation’s public debt. The ruling coalition in Rome, which is made up of the League and the populist Five Star Movement, has decided to increase borrowing so that it can fund its campaign promises, such as lowering the retirement age and increasing welfare payments.

Last month the European Commission claimed that these spending targets went against EU rules. Rome is burdened by the second-highest amount of public debt in the eurozone. There’s a 131.8% difference between borrowing and economic output there, but the government believes it will achieve substantial economic growth, while the EU’s predictions for Italy are rather gloomy. Nov. 13 was the deadline for submitting a revised draft budget. Rome did not comply. Now the EU leadership is threatening it with sanctions it until it falls into line. Italy could be slapped with a fine of €3.4 billion.

The Italian government takes an independent stance on a multitude of issues. It is seen as Russia-friendly in its calls for lifting, or at least easing, the sanctions against the Russian Federation. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte believes Moscow should be re-admitted to the G7. The Italian PM visited Moscow in late October,  hailing Russia as an essential global player and inviting Putin to visit Italy. Despite the EU-imposed punitive measures that are in place, Mr. Conte signed a slew of trade and investment agreements. Last year, Russia’s parliamentary majority party, United Russia, and Italy’s Lega Nord (Northern League), a ruling coalition member, signed a cooperation agreement. The regional council in Veneto, where Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini holds a strong position, recognized Crimea as part of Russia in 2016.

Austria is another Russia-friendly EU member. Even the recent “spy scandal” that was obviously staged by outside forces to spoil that bilateral relationship, has failed to damage that rapport. “We are a country that has good contacts with Russia, we are aimed at dialogue, it will not change in the future,” said Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, speaking to reporters on Nov .14. The conservative People’s Party and the far-right Freedom Party — the members of the ruling coalition — are well-disposed toward Moscow. They don’t support the EU sanctions policy.

Hungary is another Russia-friendly EU member. Last month, the European parliament voted to initiate the Article 7 sanctions procedure against Hungary. The government led by PM Victor Orban has been accused of silencing the media, targeting NGOs, and removing independent judges. Launching the procedures stipulated under that article  opens the door to sanctions. Hungary could eventually be temporarily deprived of its EU voting rights. In reality, the country is being punished for refusing to take in migrants.

This is the second time Article 7 procedures have been launched. The first time was last year, when the European Commission set that article into motion against Poland over its judicial reforms. A unanimous vote is required to suspend Hungary’s voting rights and introduce sanctions. That move is likely to be blocked by Poland. It turn, Hungary said it would stand by Warsaw should the EU launch procedures to punish it. The two nations are united in their efforts to support each other and fend off Brussels’ encroachments at a time when the bloc is undergoing the most difficult times in its history.

Hungary, Poland, and Russia are trying to draw Europe’s attention to the threat to democracy and peace emanating from Ukraine — a problem that has been largely hushed up by the EU leadership.

Slovakia is another EU member state to nurture what some call “special ties” with Russia. It has never been happy with the sanctions against Moscow and has openly said so. Last month, its new prime minister, Peter Pellegrini, called on the EU to revise the sanction policy.

A diplomatic row was also staged in Greece but, as in case of Austria, it may have clouded those historically close ties but has failed to sever them. Cyprus has always been friendly toward Moscow, but Nicosia and Athens are not in a position to protect their independence, as both are heavily indebted and dependent on foreign loans.

The battle between Brussels and Rome comes at a time when Europe is preparing for the European Parliament elections in May 2019. Punitive measure taken by the EU against Italy will most certainly lead to growing public support of that government that is standing up to pressure in order to defend its people. It will increase the number of Italian Eurosceptics who win seats. With so many countries dissatisfied with the EU leadership, it’s hard to predict the outcome. There will soon be other people at the helm who hold quite different views on the problems faced by the EU, as well as on the bloc’s future. Everything may change, including the relationship with Russia and the sanctions that have become so unpopular and have resulted in many national leaders openly challenging the wisdom of such policy imposed by a powerful few.

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