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US supply of Javelin anti-tank missiles adds fuel to fire in Ukraine

Jingoistic US policy is pushing Ukraine back towards total war that goes spread beyond Donbass

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(Truthdig) – Dec. 18 was a day like any other in the Donbas region, the flashpoint of a grinding civil war between the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian separatists. That afternoon, a girl was badly wounded by a shell fired by Ukrainians into the separatist-held Golmovsky. A few hours later, a hail of Grad rockets fired by pro-Russian forces poured down on the Ukrainian-controlled town of Novoluhanske, killing eight civilians in the middle of a community celebration and damaging over 100 buildings. The shelling continued into the night, killing three in the pro-Russian town of Stakhanov, including a 94-year-old woman.

Artillery exchanges like this have become a tragic routine in Donbas. Though the killing has slowed since the heaviest fighting, which occurred in 2015, over 10,000 have fallen in the conflict, and at least 1.4 million have been turned into refugees. With the war entering its fourth year, a decision by the Trump administration virtually ensured that the news from Donbas will grow dramatically worse. Last month, the State Department approved the transfer of $50 million worth of lethal weapons to the Ukrainian military. Along with a shipment of M107A1 Barrett sniper rifles, the United States will be delivering 35 FGM Javelin anti-tank launching systems and 210 missiles.

Though the Javelin has scarcely been tested against the latest models of Russian tanks, advocates of the arms transfer have insisted that the missiles will save lives by deterring the Russians. After a meeting last June with House Majority Leader Paul Ryan and Sen. John McCain, Andriy Parubiy, who is the speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament (and a veteran Nazi activist), presented the Javelins as a game changer. “If we’d burned several hundred Russian tanks [in 2015], it would have been an important step toward restoring peace in our country’s east,” Parubiy declared.

But others who have witnessed the grueling war of attrition from the front lines dread the prospect of new arms on the battlefield. Brian Milakovsky, a Fulbright scholar who is working with an aid organization on the Ukrainian side of Donbas, told me the Javelins would provoke Russia to escalate its military involvement and dramatically deepen suffering on both sides.

“In the time I’ve been in the Donbas there have been escalation events that, when the dust settled, seemed attributable to the separatists trying to improve their positions. There have also been escalations related to the Ukrainians trying to improve theirs,” Milakovsky said. “No one can ever be certain who starts shooting, but you can triangulate a lot of sources and get a sense for it. What I worry about with U.S. arms is how they could inspire more such attempts, which often blow up into artillery duels that damage front-line communities on both sides. Giving just enough arms to make that possible, but not enough to actually change the balance in the war, doesn’t seem responsible to me.”

According to Milakovsky, Russia’s massive military presence gives it an automatic advantage that renders any infusion of outside arms futile. “I think Russia will always be able to pour more arms into the region considering how much of their standing army is positioned just across the border,” he explained. “Both sides are so dug in for a big fight that every escalation is like throwing matches around in dry grass. No one seems to actually want a big war, but no one can accept major moves in the front line either, and they will respond accordingly.”

Milakovsky is hardly alone in this view. “On both sides, we repeatedly heard calls to resume this war. And we thought: If the war returns, no one of those with whom we spoke will survive,” correspondents from the Russian opposition paper Novaya Gazeta wrote in a dispatch from the front lines of Donbas in 2016. Even mainstream American analysts like Council on Foreign Relations fellow Charles Kupchan have warned that “sending lethal weapons to Ukraine is a recipe for military escalation and transatlantic discord.”

Back in 2015, when Kupchan served in Barack Obama’s National Security Council, the then-president made a rare departure from conventional Beltway foreign policy wisdom and rejected pressure to ship lethal arms to Ukraine. The plan to up-arm Ukraine had been developed by the Brookings Institution and the NATO-funded Atlantic Council and was advanced by Congress in the form of a provision by Sen. McCain that would have required the U.S. to budget 20 percent of all aid to Ukraine for offensive weapons.

Obama’s refusal to authorize the arms shipment kept alive the Minsk II peace process, along with the prospect of U.N. peacekeepers deploying to Donbas, a proposal endorsed by Russia. It also infuriated U.S. neoconservatives and more than a few anti-Russian liberals. But once the 2016 presidential campaign got underway, the bipartisan war party was confident its demands would be met.

Once the Democratic and Republican conventions rolled around, both parties’ draft platforms contained nearly identical language promising arms to Ukraine. The arms transfer had been a personal priority of Hillary Clinton, a top recipient of weapons industry cash, since early 2015. Only hours after the Republican National Convention rang its opening bell, however, a Donald Trump foreign policy adviser named J.D. Gordon ordered the RNC to alter its pledge for “lethal weapons” to a call for “appropriate assistance” to the Ukrainian military. Though Trump said later that he was unaware of the change, Gordon claimed the candidate had demanded it to conform to his stated support for detente with Russia.

Despite the softened language on lethal arms, the RNC plank hardly was part of a George McGovern-style peace platform. Gordon inserted language demanding “increasing sanctions, together with our allies, against Russia unless and until Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are fully restored.” What’s more, the platform slammed Russia for “occupying parts of Ukraine and threatening neighbors from the Baltic to the Caucasus.” But the minor tweak was enough to inspire The Huffington Post to proclaim in a headline, “The Real Winner At The GOP Convention Is Vladimir Putin.”

A vicious backlash was brewing against Trump’s moves toward detente, and when Clinton’s campaign went down in flames, “Russiagate” erupted. Desperate for evidence of Trump-Russia collusion, Democrats latched on to the dossier produced by Christopher Steele, a former agent of Britain’s MI5 who was funded by a law firm closely tied to Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. According to the error-laden dossier, “the TRUMP team had agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue” in exchange for a Russian promise to sabotage Clinton’s campaign.

In March, when the House Intelligence Committee opened its investigation into allegations of Russian meddling in the U.S. election, ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff zeroed in on the conspiracy theory. “Now is it possible that the removal of the Ukraine provision from the GOP platform is a coincidence?” Schiff wondered aloud. “It is possible. But it is also possible, maybe more than possible, that they are not coincidental, not disconnected and not unrelated and that the Russians use the same techniques to corrupt U.S. persons that they employed in Europe and elsewhere.”

Schiff’s diatribe before a congressional gallery packed with camera crews made him an overnight star of the Russiagate drama. He had once been “a milquetoast moderate,” as journalist Ryan Lizza put it, but through his grandstanding, the once obscure centrist suddenly “emerged as an unlikely face of Democratic resistance to the new President”—a “liberal hero,” according to Lizza. There was more to Schiff’s burgeoning obsession with Russian meddling than his own sense of vanity, however.

Since entering Congress in 2002, Schiff hasn’t met a war he didn’t like. He has backed the invasion of Iraq, cheered on NATO’s regime change operation in Libya, heartily endorsed the U.S.-Saudi war on Yemen, clamored for direct U.S. intervention in Syria and lent his signature to virtually every AIPAC-crafted resolution that has landed on his desk.

And the arms industry has rewarded Schiff handsomely, pumping over $70,000 into his campaign coffers in 2016. Schiff’s largest donor this past campaign cycle, at $12,700 [individuals plus PACs], was Northrop Grumman, the defense giant. Raytheon—the manufacturer of the Javelin anti-tank missile system—was close behind it, with $10,000 in contributions [PACs]. In all, arms giants accounted for over one-sixth of Schiff’s total donations.

Back in 2013, Schiff was treated to a $2,500-per-head campaign fundraiser by a Ukrainian-born, California-based arms merchant named Igor Pasternak. The war in Donbas has been a boon for Pasternak, earning him a lucrative contract to supply the Ukrainian State Border Guard with integrated surveillance systems, and a subsequent deal to help replace the Ukrainian military’s AK-47 rifles with a version of the M-16.

Given Schiff’s history, it was little surprise when he thrust himself headlong into the paranoid theater of Russiagate. By casting suspicion on every attempt at diplomacy and driving the resurgence of Cold War hostility between Washington and Moscow, he was poised to deliver another cash cow to his benefactors in the arms industry.

This year’s budget-busting National Defense Authorization Act reflected the Russia panic that gripped Washington. The legislation was filled with provisions for expensive new programs aimed at countering Russian influence and even ferrying Ukrainian soldiers to American hospitals. Though the shipment of Javelins had been left out, the pressure on the White House was about to rise again.

In November 2017, Schiff summoned J.D. Gordon, the former Trump campaign aide, to be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee. Citing House staffers, Politico reported that Schiff was investigating “whether Trump campaign officials made the Republican Party platform more friendly to Russia as part of some broader effort to collude with the Kremlin.” Robert Mueller, the leader of the federal investigation into Russian meddling, was also expected to probe Gordon for answers about the platform change.

At the time, Trump was under pressure from his envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, to send the Javelins to Kiev. A veteran neoconservative activist, Volker was still listed as the executive director of the McCain Institute for International Affairs when he was installed in Trump’s State Department. Among the McCain Institute’s financial backers was the BGR group, whose designated lobbyist, Ed Rogers, was a lobbyist for Raytheon—the company that would reap a windfall profit from the Javelin sale.

Cornered, Trump risked inviting more allegations of collusion by refusing to arm Ukraine. As Andrew Weiss, a Russia analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told reporter John Hudson, “Overall, I see this discussion [on Trump-Russia collusion] as fitting within a broader effort by people within the national security bureaucracy to box Trump in on Ukraine.”

In November, just weeks before caving in to the pressure to send the Javelins to Kiev, Trump was widely ridiculed when he warned that “people will die” because of Russiagate. But in Donbas, where a war-weary population lives on the brink of another bloodbath, the president could prove his critics wrong in a way they never imagined.

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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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