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Trump to ramp up diplomatic engagement with Russia in 2018

The US president is expected to increase efforts at talking down the growing confrontation with Russia

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(Between Two Worlds) – The first week in December I received an e-mail from Foreign Affairs magazine with a featured article attached, “How to Stand Up to the Kremlin,” by Joseph Biden, Jr., and Michael Carpenter. “The Team” at Foreign Affairs [FA] told me to enjoy it and please share it. I began reading it, but pretty soon it looked a lot like a typical anti-Russian propaganda piece, and I lost interest. Then when I checked my Facebook page I was greeted with a post from a FB friend on my “wall” with this same article attached asking me to please write a blog in response. Since the “friend” was my wife, I decided to at least post back a brief response to a few of the “misleading” points in the article and gave a vague promise to perhaps respond at some point with a blog. A couple of other “friends” joined in with comments assuring me I needed to give a full response. I don’t really enjoy writing political blogs as much as I do the personal ones. For one thing it takes more work to dig up specific references. I often make notes on small cards to myself while reading such things, but I’m not very disciplined about where I keep these. So my “research” is actually searching every nook for where I put my notes. Second, as I have indicated before, my time in the academic world was not in contemporary politics or Russian history. It is my avocation, but my vocation as an academic was in another field. Then I received another e-mail from FA the next week, however, proclaiming how proud they were of this “breakout” piece. Furthermore, if I wanted to read more by their “brilliant writers” I could subscribe now at a reduced rate. I decided to respond to this breakout piece. (To read the article go tohttps://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2017-12-05/how-stand-kremlin?cid=nlc-emc-fa_paywall_free_joebiden_jf2017-20171206)

First, the article sets forth the transition from the Communism of the USSR in a very positive—even glowing—manner. I will give the full quote here:

After the Cold War, Western democracy became the model of choice for postcommunist countries in central and eastern Europe. Guided by the enlightened hands of  NATO  [5]  and the EU, many of those countries boldly embarked on the transition from dictatorship to democracy. Remarkably, most succeeded. Post-Soviet Russia also had an opportunity to reinvent itself. Many in Europe and the United States hoped that by integrating Russia into international organizations (such as the Council of Europe, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund), they could help Russia become a responsible member of the rules-based international order and develop a domestic constituency for democratic reforms. Many Russians also dreamed of creating a democratic, stable, and prosperous Russia. But that dream is now more distant than at any time since the Cold War ended.

I understand wanting to be positive about the end of the Cold War, but I think if you look at the situation in many of these former Republics you discover the transition was not as rosy as the authors indicate. I will forego examining what this transition looked like “guided by the enlightened hands” of NATO and the EU in the other Republics, however, and focus on Russia.

When Biden and Carpenter claim the “dream” of an enlightened, stable, and prosperous democracy is more distant now than ever in Russia, the authors demonstrate that they are struck with the same willful historical amnesia that many other Neocons and Liberal Interventionists have concerning the first decade after the dissolution of the USSR. The first decade of democracy in Russia was not “enlightened, stable, or prosperous.” Post Soviet Russia’s economy collapsed when democracy was implemented. The economy, according to some, fell by 80%. Readers of my blog know that I read and follow Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus at Princeton University and New York University. Cohen lived in the USSR and post-Soviet Russia for many years and was there during this time. He described it as, “The first nation ever to undergo actual de-modernization in peacetime.” Seventy-five percent of the population lived below the poverty line. There have been plenty of analyses done by economists who validate the points Cohen makes in his book, Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives, although economists differ over the exact percentages . (See also, Failed Crusadeby the same author.)

My sources are not just economists, however. I have often listened to my wife and Russian family and friends describe to me what life was like then. For them, as bad as the poverty was, it wasn’t the main battle. They simply could not get enough food or clothes. My wife tells of how they had a stash of money in a linen drawer. They would keep an eye out for a supply truck carrying any kind of goods—food, clothing, household wares—to any store in town. When such a truck appeared—day or night—a line quickly formed of people in desperate need of products and food. They were able to scrape up money, but even then there was just nothing on the shelves. For Biden and other wealthy westerners, this is simply a decade we need not mention or remember. For Russians, it can’t be forgotten.

Scholars and analysts—both from Russia and other countries—trace the blame for this economic horror to the first “democratically” elected president, Boris Yeltsin. (From the United States, for example, see the Congressional Research Service 98-725.) Yeltsin was a chronic alcoholic and also had other severe health problems, especially his heart condition. Thus, he was often absent from public view for extended periods of time.

On the other hand, Bill Clinton and the government of the United States really liked Yeltsin. Yeltsin did their bidding, and the Russian Federation was in a subservient position to the United States of America. The fortunes of the overwhelming majority of the Russian people did not matter to them. As one wag put it, Clinton believed a drunk Yeltsin was better for us than a sober anyone else. He did the bidding of the American government. For all Yeltsin’s past bravado in Russia, he “came to heel” for the Americans.

When it was time for Yeltsin to run for re-election in the summer of 1996, however, the Clinton Administration realized there was a severe problem. Polls across the board showed his approval ratings in the single digits. The best they saw was around 6%. This was not the time for the guiding hands of “enlightened” NATO or the EU. This was time for the heavy hand of American politics to take over. A well-known article in Time magazine (July 15, 1996) entitled, “Rescuing Boris,” describes how President Clinton sent a team of “advisors” to Russia to make sure Boris was re-elected. They were paid $250,000 plus expenses. They were provided a driver, bodyguards and an interpreter on call at all times. While they misrepresented themselves to the Russians in the street, posing as Americans selling American TV antennas, their identity was pretty clearly known to insiders. Cohen has said that he was there during that time and he and most everyone knew that they were there and why they were there. They stayed in the President Hotel in Moscow, which is far above what anyone could expect in Russia at the time. It was equipped with all the security and gadgetry needed. According to them, they had to teach the Russian advisors how to use public opinion research to craft speeches and other presentations. Find out what people “in the street” want and then write Yeltsin’s speeches to promise to address their problems and provide for their wants.

There was also another side to the plan. They had to teach the Russians the art of political misdirection, deceit and confusion. The primary advisor they directed was Tatiana Dyachenko, Yeltsin’s daughter who was in her mid-thirties at the time. It took quite a while for them to teach her and others the “dirty tricks” of politics. Tatiana seemed somewhat taken aback that this is how democracy is supposed to work. Eventually she and the others caught on. In addition to getting Yeltsin to craft his speeches to say what the people wanted to hear, they published false dates for opposition rallies and conferences, falsified documents supposedly from the Communist opponent Zyuganov, and most people here believe on election day they used bribery, false documentation of votes and good old ballot box stuffing. In addition to these efforts on the ground in Russia, President Bill Clinton had convinced the International Monetary Fund to grant Russia $10.2 million dollars for an “emergency infusion.” With the influx of the cash, Yeltsin could make it appear that financial problems were over.

Now, some Russians involved with the campaign disagree that it was the American leadership that tipped the election for Yeltsin. They believe the egotistical Americans claimed far more of the credit by a long shot than they deserved. The point here, however, is not who was most responsible for Yeltsin’s 13 point victory that year. What needs to be reiterated is the pride the Americans took in controlling and manipulating the Russian election. As Time concluded, “Democracy triumphed—and along with it came the tools of modern campaigns, including the trickery and slickery Americans know so well.” (See also the LA Times, “Americans Claim Role in Yeltsin Win,” July 09, 1996.) So when Americans of privilege and political contacts like Joseph Biden, Jr. cry foul and whine incessantly about the Russians and their president supposedly tampering with the American election, it rings hollow with many Russians and not a few Americans who remember how far our meddling went. Hypocrisy is alive and well in this piece of which Foreign Affairs is so proud.

I and others, however, are not so willing to grant the presupposition of Biden and Carpenter (not to mention a HOST of others) that the evidence is clear that the Russians tampered with our election anyway. They still offer no concrete evidence of Trump “colluding” with the Russians or that there was any hacking done under the direction of Vladimir Putin. First, we still read in many publications of the “conclusions” of the Intelligence agencies which have been long used by the main stream media, especially the New York Times and theWashington Post. They state this as if it is fact, apparently believing the adage that if you tell a lie long enough, people will accept it as truth—in fact the one telling it may even begin to accept it as truth. The bases for such claims have been severely distorted. It was not 17 intelligence agencies as was reported for many months. James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence, reluctantly admitted it was “hand picked analysts” from the FBI, CIA, and the National Security Agency. In other words, it was only three agencies, but it really was not the full power of those agencies. The “investigators” were agents who already believed the Russians did it, and that is why they were picked. Yet even the conclusions of their report are also distorted in the MSM. The analysts do give reasons that it is possible the Russians did it and why they think they did, but they conclude, “Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be fact.” The report itself states that they have nothing evidentiary. Further, William Binney, former National Security Agency Technical Director, did further research and gives technical reasons why he concludes with certainty it was not a Russian hack. His main reason is that the download speed was such that it had to be a USB download, not a “hack” from the outside. He actually investigates the specifics of what happened and states clearly from his research the Russians had nothing to do with it. As far as I can tell the bulk of the MSM did not report any of his findings.

Second, Biden’s whining about the Russians tampering with our elections is sheer hypocrisy given the bold claims of the United States in using every trick in the proverbial book to keep an unhealthy, alcoholic President in office in Russia even though everyone involved knew the devastation his leadership had brought and would continue to bring on the Russian people. The plight of the Russian people are of absolutely no concern to the authors, and they should drop the pretense of “enlightened” NATO. Foreign Affairs magazine is supposed to be an academically oriented and responsible publication. Yet they promote this wonderful article as a reason I should subscribe?

I started with the history and background which Biden and Carpenter omit because the history of international relations is important. American analysts trying to reach a certain level of popularity like to start at whatever historical point suits the conclusions they have already determined they will reach. So it is not uncommon to find omissions of the real background to how democracy came to Russia and how much effort and money we put into keeping the Russian people as far from prosperity and stability as possible. Now that I’ve given a brief historical review of what Biden and Carpenter chose to omit (and smooth over with that talk of the guidance of the “enlightened hands” of NATO and EU), in Part 2 of my blog I will point to factual errors made and misleading conclusions drawn by Biden and Carpenter in their description of the conditions in Russia at the present time. As one who lives here, and actually watches and reads what really does go on here, my evaluation is quite different.

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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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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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Via RT…


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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