Category Archives: Russia

This is not a new cold war but something more dangerous

Historian Robert Service writes for the Financial Times:

[…] All-out struggle between Russia and America on a cold war scale is not on the cards. What we do have, however, is a situation that is bad — and could easily worsen.

It is optimistic to expect Mr Putin to change course. For now, he gains esteem at home when bullying the neighbours. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have genuine cause for concern. In the longer term, experience suggests Mr Putin will prove a poor geostrategic thinker. He has already damaged Russian economic interests, which surely lie in securing western assistance to build up the country’s ability to cope with competition from China.

Mr Putin’s frequent diplomatic overtures for a Syrian settlement deserve serious examination. But he shows no sign of disengaging from Ukraine; and, having loosed the dogs of nationalism, he would find it hard to put them back in the kennel, even if he wanted to. This makes for a less predictable global situation than the finely tuned balance of power that prevailed during the cold war.

In some ways we now live in even more dangerous times. Sparks on distant borders can have unplanned and explosive consequences.


Is the Ukraine Situation More Dangerous than the Middle East? Interview with Stephen Cohen

Stephen F. Cohen is Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies and Politics at NYU and Princeton, and he is a contributing editor to The Nation. He is also the author of a number of books including Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War. On top of this he is a founding board member of The Committee for East-West Accord. This interview with the Thom Hartmann Show was recorded two weeks ago. You can find more interviews and articles by Professor Cohen here. (Thom Hartmann Show)

West “ignored Russian offer in 2012 to have Syria’s Assad step aside”

Julian Borger and Bastien Inzaurralde report for The Guardian:

A man walks among the rubble of collapsed buildings in Douma after what activists said were airstrikes by forces loyal to Assad earlier this year.Russia proposed more than three years ago that Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, could step down as part of a peace deal, according to a senior negotiator involved in back-channel discussions at the time.

Former Finnish president and Nobel peace prize laureate Martti Ahtisaari said western powers failed to seize on the proposal. Since it was made, in 2012, tens of thousands of people have been killed and millions uprooted, causing the world’s gravest refugee crisis since the second world war.

Ahtisaari held talks with envoys from the five permanent members of the UN security council in February 2012. He said that during those discussions, the Russian ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, laid out a three-point plan, which included a proposal for Assad to cede power at some point after peace talks had started between the regime and the opposition.

But he said that the US, Britain and France were so convinced that the Syrian dictator was about to fall, they ignored the proposal.

“It was an opportunity lost in 2012,” Ahtisaari said in an interview.


John Kerry Exaggerates Recent Russian Role in Syria: Interview with Patrick Cockburn

Patrick Cockburn is a foreign correspondent for The Independent and is the author of a number of books including The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution. In this interview he says that Russia is the main arms supplier to the Syrian government and has been for around a decade, but also argues John Kerry’s protests are exaggerated. (The Real News)

The Arctic and the Next Not-So-Cold War: Interview with James Bamford

Amy Goodman talks to investigative journalist James Bamford about his recent article: “Frozen Assets: The Newest Front in Global Espionage is One of the Least Habitable Locales on Earth—the Arctic.” Bamford is the author of a number of books including Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency and The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America. (Democracy Now!)

Frozen Assets: Inside the Spy War for Control of the Arctic

James Bamford writes for Foreign Policy:

Arctic Circle Map[…] Worth an estimated $17.2 trillion, an amount roughly equivalent to the entire U.S. economy, these resources have been trapped for eons under a dome of ice and snow. But now, with the Arctic warming faster than anywhere else on the planet, that dome is getting smaller and smaller. According to scientists at the University of Washington’s Polar Science Center, about 65 percent of the ice layer above the Lomonosov Ridge melted between 1975 and 2012. In layman’s terms, says Peter Wadhams, a professor of ocean physics at Cambridge University, this means one thing: The ice cap is in a “death spiral.”

For the countries that border the Arctic Ocean—
Russia, the United States, Canada, Norway, and Denmark (through its territory of Greenland)—an accessible ocean means new opportunities. And for the states that have their sights set on the Lomonosov Ridge—possibly all five Arctic Ocean neighbors but the United States—an open ocean means access to much of the North Pole’s largesse. First, though, they must prove to the United Nations that the access is rightfully theirs. Because that process could take years, if not decades, these countries could clash in the meantime, especially as they quietly send in soldiers, spies, and scientists to collect information on one of the planet’s most hostile pieces of real estate.

While the world’s attention today is focused largely on the Middle East and other obvious trouble spots, few people seem to be monitoring what’s happening in the Arctic. Over the past few years, in fact, the Arctic Ocean countries have been busy building up their espionage armories with imaging satellites, reconnaissance drones, eavesdropping bases, spy planes, and stealthy subs. Denmark and Canada have described a clear uptick in Arctic spies operating on their territories, with Canada reporting levels comparable to those at the height of the Cold War. As of October, NATO had recorded a threefold jump in 2014 over the previous year in the number of Russian spy aircraft it had intercepted in the region. Meanwhile, the United States is sending satellites over the icy region about every 30 minutes, averaging more than 17,000 passes every year, and is developing a new generation of unmanned intelligence sensors to monitor everything above, on, and below the ice and water.


War in Space May Be Closer Than Ever

Lee Billings reports for Scientific American:

The world’s most worrisome military flashpoint is arguably not in the Strait of Taiwan, the Korean Peninsula, Iran, Israel, Kashmir or Ukraine. In fact, it cannot be located on any map of Earth, even though it is very easy to find. To see it, just look up into a clear sky, to the no-man’s-land of Earth orbit, where a conflict is unfolding that is an arms race in all but name.

The emptiness of outer space might be the last place you’d expect militaries to vie over contested territory, except that outer space isn’t so empty anymore. About 1,300 active satellites wreathe the globe in a crowded nest of orbits, providing worldwide communications, GPS navigation, weather forecasting and planetary surveillance. For militaries that rely on some of those satellites for modern warfare, space has become the ultimate high ground, with the U.S. as the undisputed king of the hill. Now, as China and Russia aggressively seek to challenge U.S. superiority in space with ambitious military space programs of their own, the power struggle risks sparking a conflict that could cripple the entire planet’s space-based infrastructure. And though it might begin in space, such a conflict could easily ignite full-blown war on Earth.

The long-simmering tensions are now approaching a boiling point due to several events, including recent and ongoing tests of possible anti-satellite weapons by China and Russia, as well as last month’s failure of tension-easing talks at the United Nations.


U.S. Institute of Peace’s Hawkish Chairman Wants Ukraine to Send Russians Back in Body Bags

Lee Fang reports for The Intercept:

The United States Institute of Peace is a publicly funded national institution chartered by the U.S. government to promote international peace through nonviolent conflict resolution.

But its chairman, Stephen Hadley, is a relentless hawk whose advocacy for greater military intervention often dovetails closely with the interests of Raytheon, a major defense contractor that pays him handsomely as a member of its board of directors.

Hadley, the former national security advisor to President George W. Bush, was an advocate for the 2003 invasion of Iraq and more recently appeared in the media to call for massive airstrikes in Syria. Over the last year, he has called for escalating the conflict in Ukraine.

In a speech at Poland’s Wroclaw Global Forum in June, Hadley argued in favor of arming the Ukrainian government in part because that would “raise the cost for what Russia is doing in Ukraine.” Specifically, he said, “even President Putin is sensitive to body bags — it sounds coarse to say, but it’s true — but body bags of Russian soldiers who have been killed.”

Hadley also called for European governments to broadly boost military spending, ideally doubling it. “You know, let’s show that Europe is going to have real commitment to military forces,” he said.

The call to flood Ukraine with weapons not only contrasts sharply with the stated mission of the Institute of Peace, but many scholars believe doing so would provoke more conflict.


Putin Hurts a Think Tank by Not Banning It

Leonid Bershidsky writes for Bloomberg View:

[…] The Kirchick piece offended the staff at Moscow Carnegie Center. “The world of American Kirchick, like the world of a bad Russian TV presenter, is divided into those who work for the State Department and those who work for Putin,” editor Alexander Baunov, a polyglot ex-diplomat (also my former colleague at two Moscow publications, and assuredly no fan of Putin), posted on Facebook. “His piece is written as a complaint to the U.S. authorities: Pay attention, these guys are deviating from the party line. There’s only one excuse for the author: Americans have never lived in a totalitarian state and they haven’t developed an immunity to the urge to write such complaints.”

The emotion is familiar to me. I have written many times that while Putin’s policies, both domestic and foreign, are not just illiberal and backward but also criminal, that doesn’t make compromise for the sake of peace impossible. Here I agree with Carnegie’s Trenin, who notes that such compromises were repeatedly made with much nastier Soviet rulers, which in the long run helped topple the Communist regime as Russians realized that the rest of the world didn’t seek to isolate them, only their own leaders did. The debate about how to handle Putin’s Russia, however, is defined by radicals on both sides, and to them I — like Baunov and his colleagues — am either Putin’s stooge at a Western media outlet or an anti-Russian Washington drone.

That falsehood benefits Putin more than anyone. He hates all foreign NGOs as State Department outposts and hotbeds of potential insurgency.


Big loser in any nuclear deal with Iran may be Russia

Agnia Grigas and Amir Handjani report for Reuters:

As Iran and six world powers edge closer to solidifying an accord that puts limits on Tehran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief, a unique opportunity presents itself for the West. The United States and its European partners could begin to decouple the unnatural Iranian-Russian alliance to reign in Moscow’s hegemonic ambitions, as well as bring Iran back into the global economic fold. Competition between Moscow and Tehran would reduce Russia’s influence in the Middle East, unlock Iran and may even serve Europe’s future interest as it looks for alternatives to Russian gas.

Iran and Russia share a complicated history rooted in both countries’ imperial past. In fact, over the past two centuries, Iran has ceded more territory to Russia than any other country. After the Second World War, the Soviet Union destabilized and encouraged separatist movements in the province of Iranian Azerbaijan, similar to what Moscow is doing in Ukraine. As recently as the 1980s, Iran backed Afghan rebels in their conflict against the Soviet Union.

The recent Russo-Iranian alliance has been more a marriage of convenience than a genuine partnership. Russia uses Iran as a geopolitical foothold in the energy-rich Persian Gulf and to poke a finger in the eye of U.S. allies in the region. In return, Iran takes advantage of Moscow’s veto power at multinational forums such as the United Nations. An Iran that is engaged with the West in areas such as energy, trade and peaceful nuclear power generation would no longer see Russia as protector of its interests. It is a fact that Iran’s fractured and vitriolic relationship with the West has driven it to form political, commercial and military ties with Russia. Those ties are still fragile, at best.’


Is the New Cold War about to get hot? Interview with Stephen Cohen

Stephen F. Cohen is Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies and Politics at NYU and Princeton, and he is a contributing editor to The Nation. He is also the author of a number of books including Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War. On top of this he is a founding board member of The Committee for East-West Accord. You can find more interviews and articles by Professor Cohen here.

NATO Gets Tough After Russia Increases Nuclear Arsenal

Europe’s peaceful period “now over,” says Polish defense minister

DW reports:

NATO Manöver in PolenSpeaking on Thursday in Poland, following the first full exercise of NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) or spearhead, Siemoniak said Europe must now do more to defend it’s itself due to the increasing number of crises erupting around the continent.

“It’s not only the Ukrainian and Russian crisis, but also [the “Islamic State”] and a number of different crises in northern Africa,” he said. “I think it’s a task for all of us to persuade the public that they should be ready to do more before it’s too late.”

NATO head Jens Stoltenberg joined Siemoniak in the Polish town of Zagan on Thursday to observe the NATO maneuvers. The Western military alliance was “implementing the biggest reinforcement of our collective defenses since the end of the Cold War,” Stoltenberg said on Wednesday.

The move came after Russia announced that it would add more than 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles to its nuclear arsenal this year.’


Tony Blair speaks at Putin’s ‘vanity forum’… and considers a job with Ukraine

Matthew Holehouse reports for The Telegraph:

Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister, appeared to be courting both sides of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict as he appeared at Vladimir Putin’s “vanity summit”, hours after being offered a job by the government of Kiev.

Mr Blair this morning appeared alongside Russian bankers and government ministers at the St Petersburg Economic Forum, a pet project of Vladimir Putin modelled on the World Economic Forum in Davos.

[…] His appearance in the region gives a tantalising indication of where Mr Blair’s interests may now lie.

His network of business interests, clients and contacts already stretches across the world, providing advice to an oil firm in Saudi Arabia, JP Morgan Chase Bank in the US, and governments in Kazakhstan, Romania and Mongolia. He has built up extensive network of contacts in China.’


Mikheil Saakashvili and The Georgian Invasion of Ukraine

Lincoln Mitchell writes for the New York Observer:

In one of the stranger developments in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, Ukrainian President Petro Poroschenko recently appointed former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili as governor of the Odessa region. Mr. Saakasvhili, who had served as his country’s President between 2004-2013, had been spending his days since leaving office alternating between being one the world’s most outspoken supporters of Ukraine’s struggle against Russia, and enjoying a hipster lifestyle of semi-retirement in Brooklyn. Meanwhile, the Georgian government has indicted Saakashvili on charges related to the violent dispersal of protests and other malfeasance.

At first glance, this seems like a very strange move by the Ukrainian President, not least because Mr. Saakashvili is not even Ukrainian. However, since taking the appointment, Mr. Saakashvili, who had been a member of Mr. Poroschenko’s Council of International Advisors, has given up his Georgian citizen to become a citizen of Ukraine. The appointment seems to indicate a belief, on the part of Mr. Poroschenko, that in a country of well over 40 million people, there is not one person who is sufficiently smart, incorruptible, loyal to the President and visionary enough to serve as governor of this key region. Additionally, in recent years, many critics of Vladimir Putin, including Ukraine’s current Prime Minister, have argued the Russian President is seeking to reconstitute the Soviet Union. Yet, now it is Ukraine’s President who is behaving as if he is not exactly clear that Georgia and Ukraine are separate countries. Saakashvili, after all, is only one of several Georgians, all previously part of his government, who are serving in very high level positions.’


Why Arming Ukraine Is a Really Bad Idea

Paul J. Saunders writes for The National Interest:

Renewed fighting in Ukraine has in turn renewed calls to arm Ukraine, including in the United States Congress. Yet there is an enormous and largely unacknowledged flaw in the argument to provide the Kiev government with lethal weapons.

Advocates of this approach assert that sending anti-tank missiles, mortars and other arms to Ukraine will help Ukrainian forces to kill more of the Russian troops fighting alongside separatist forces in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine. Since Russian president Vladimir Putin and other senior officials have repeatedly denied that Russian soldiers are in the country, they say, he must be trying to hide Moscow’s involvement from the Russian people because he fears political opposition from soldiers’ mothers (a significant political constraint during the first war in Chechnya, not to mention in Afghanistan a decade earlier) and others. If we can only kill enough of Putin’s troops, they continue, Putin will no longer be able to conceal the scale of Russia’s engagement in the conflict and will face public pressure to limit it or even to withdraw.

While this might appear logical on its face, this line of thinking ignores a fundamental reality of the politics of war-fighting that Americans should well understand from their own experiences: how many soldiers are dying in combat is considerably less important than why they are doing it.’


China enters FIFA debate and condemns US ‘geopolitical objectives’

Mark Baber reports for Inside World Football:

In a commentary, Xinhua, the official press agency of China, has claimed the indictment of FIFA officials exposes Washington’s arrogance as “world police” and also “set a bad precedent for international relations.”

Xinhua, which is a ministry-level department subordinate to the Chinese central government with its president a member of the Central Committee of the ruling Communist Party of China, said: “Although the anti-corruption storm may help the world football governing body accelerate reforms in some way, it is more like a well-designed plan to achieve some geopolitical objectives.”

Echoing similar concerns in Russian and South American media, Xinhua questions the timing of the US-led campaign “launched at a time when Sepp Blatter, who blasted the tactics used by US anti-corruption investigators, secured a fifth term as FIFA president and Russia is gearing up for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.”

Xinhua points to an article in the Financial Times which said the United States will be the biggest beneficiary in the campaign and quotes an official of the Brazilian Football Association (CBF) who “said Washington’s meddling in FIFA’s internal affairs has turned the world football governing body into an arena for world powers’ political fights, where a new Cold War will be staged.”‘


Visions of FIFA reform obscured by international politics and resentment

Owen Gibson writes for The Guardian:

Vladimir PutinDispense with the tactics board, send for the Risk-style war room. If battle lines were not already drawn jaggedly between football’s superpowers (and its many minnows who share equal voting rights) after the damning US indictment of 18 football executives on 47 corruption charges, they certainly are now.

It is a once-in-a-generation tussle for power and control of world football that will play out over the coming months and could decide whether Fifa is reformed from top to bottom or ends up an even more compromised version of the dysfunctional beast ridden by Sepp Blatter for the past 17 years.

As the FBI continued judiciously leaking details of its investigation, it casually lobbed a new grenade that will have caused apoplexy from Doha to Durban to St Petersburg, where they are already planning next month’s preliminary draw for the qualifying phase of the 2018 World Cup.

In extending its investigation into Fifa corruption to the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups it opened up a new front and increased the chances of a re-vote. But it played into already undisguised fury in Russia and elsewhere at the perception the US is acting beyond its jurisdiction as the world’s policeman and meddling in the affairs of other nations.’


Sepp Blatter’s anti-American fury echoes the new world order

Owen Gibson writes for The Guardian:

[…] Using sporting events as political tools is nothing new (see the Berlin 1936 Olympics or the 1978 World Cup in Argentina), but since the World Cup and Olympics became hugely enriched by an influx of TV and sponsorship income the game has changed.

The Formula One calendar has tilted definitively towards countries prepared to pay handsomely for its glitz, while a string of Middle East states have invested heavily in cascading tiers of sporting events as a means of projecting soft power.

As ever, Fifa and its senior executives have followed the money. If the first era of global sports politics was largely dominated by old-style European colonialism and the second by João Havelange’s Brazilian style of doing business that merged the personal, the political and the professional until they became indistinguishable, then Blatter’s latest victory confirms a new world order.

An aside in March 2013 by Fifa general secretary Jérôme Valcke, Blatter’s longtime fixer, was revealing. “I will say something which is crazy, but less democracy is sometimes better for organising a World Cup,” he said.

It is a world in which 79-year-old Blatter has aligned himself firmly with those states that see sport as a means to cement their position on the world stage and are prepared to pay handsomely for the privilege.’


The Enron of Sports: FIFA’s Upheaval, from Corruption Arrests to Rising Death Toll in Qatar

‘In what’s been described as the largest scandal in modern sports history, nine high-ranking soccer officials, including two current vice presidents of soccer’s world governing body, FIFA, were indicted along with five sports marketing executives on federal corruption charges by the U.S. Justice Department. Among those arrested in connection with the probe is Jack Warner, former vice president of FIFA, who is accused of taking a $10 million bribe to cast his ballot for South Africa to host the 2010 World Cup. Despite the arrests, FIFA is holding an election today to pick the next president of the organization. FIFA President Sepp Blatter is seeking re-election for the post he has held since 1998. Many commentators have predicted he will be re-elected, though some nations, including the United States, have vowed to vote against him. We speak to sportswriter Dave Zirin and Jules Boykoff, former professional soccer player who represented the U.S. Olympic soccer team.’ (Democracy Now!)

Khodorkovsky film focuses on Putin’s bond with Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov

Isabel Gorst reports for The Irish Times:

Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov: controls an 80,000-strong paramilitary group which has displaced Russian federal troops as the guarantor of Chechnya’s security. Photograph: Sasha Mordovets/Getty ImagesMikhail Khodorkovsky, the exiled former Russian oligarch, has released a documentary film that challenges the Kremlin to rein in Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman leader of Chechnya, claiming he rules the mainly Muslim republic in Russia’s North Caucasus as a personal feudal kingdom.

The Family , a documentary made by Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia foundation and posted online on Monday, focuses on alleged human rights abuses in Chechnya, including arbitrary arrests, kidnappings and torture.

It also explores the relationship between Vladimir Putin and the controversial Kadyrov, whom the Russian president has said he regards as “a son”.’


Russia: FIFA arrests are “obvious attempt” to stop Blatter re-election

Macedonia, the New US-Russia Battlefield

Leonid Bershidsky writes for Bloomberg:

Macedonia is a poor, landlocked Balkan country of about 2 million. To the Kremlin, it’s also the newest front in an ideological battle, with the U.S. fomenting regime change to counter Russia’s influence. As is often the case, that view is correct to the extent that Russian interests are aligned with those of a corrupt authoritarian ruler.

Here’s what Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had to say last week:

I cannot judge for sure, but it so happens objectively that these events in Macedonia are unfolding against the background of the Macedonian government’s refusal to join sanctions against Russia and an active support from Skopje for the plans to build the Turkish Stream pipeline, to which many in Brussels and across the Atlantic are opposed. We cannot get rid of this feeling that there’s some sort of a connection.

The origins of this conjecture, and Lavrov’s sarcasm, are clear. The Kremlin couldn’t help being suspicious about the timing of Macedonia’s political crisis.’


Going underground: The subterranean splendor of the Moscow metro

From Russia Behind the Headlines:

Eighty years ago, on May 15, 1935, the very first line of the Moscow metro was officially unveiled. Running from Sokolniki to Park Kultury, the line was just 11 kilometers long and featured 13 stations. But from its humble beginnings, the Moscow metro has since expanded to become the world’s busiest underground rail system outside Asia, with over 9 million journeys made on the network every day.

Today there are 196 stations in the capital’s subway system (44 of which are cultural heritage sites), and the network is continuing to expand: This year seven new stations will open. The trains run along 12 lines with a total length of 327.5 kilometers, with many connecting stations having signs in English. Since trains arrive at the stations at an average of one every two minutes, there is never any need to worry about missing a departing train.

However, the Moscow metro is far from merely functional. The system is considered the most beautiful metro in the world, with the opulent decoration of many of its older stations leaving newcomers astounded. Many visitors have compared grand stations such as Komsomolskaya and Novoslobodskaya to underground palaces, and guided tours of the network are popular with tourists. The Moscow metro even has its own museum, located at the Sportivnaya station.’


The Palace of the Soviets: A Brief History

Nazi Collaborators Triumph Over Communists in Ukraine

Leonid Bershidsky writes for Bloomberg:

<p>Everything must go.</p>
 Photographer: Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty ImagesIt’s goodbye Lenin, hello Nazi collaborators in Ukraine these days. Laws signed into effect by President Petro Poroshenko require the renaming of dozens of towns and hundreds of streets throughout the country to eliminate Soviet-era names. At the same time, Ukraine will begin to honor groups that helped Hitler exterminate Ukrainian Jews during World War II.

Ukrainians’ desire for a European identity and a break with the country’s Soviet past is Poroshenko’s biggest political asset, but these latest steps should worry the country’s Western allies.

A law Poroshenko signed May 15 bans all Soviet and Nazi symbols, even on souvenirs, and criminalizes “denying the criminal character” of both totalitarian regimes. It bans place names, monuments and plaques glorifying Soviet heroes, Soviet flags and communist slogans. Statues of Lenin have been toppled in many Ukrainian cities since the “revolution of dignity” last year, but the new law goes further. ‘


Why Mr. Kerry Went to Sochi: Interview with Stephen Cohen

Cole Delbyck writes for The Nation:

John Kerry and Vladimir Putin‘Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent sitdown with Russian President Vladmir Putin in Sochi has ushered the Ukrainian crisis onto a new and far more public stage. The Nation’s Stephen Cohen joined The John Batchelor Show to comment on the long-awaited meeting of the minds, as well as the competing strategies for stability in the Ukraine.

It was not certain, Cohen explained, that Putin would make time to meet with Kerry. But prior to Kerry’s visit, Angela Merkel met with Russian leaders to stress the importance of a non-military solution. Cohen speculated that “Merkel and Putin must have decided that this was the last chance to actually implement the Minsk agreement and compel Kiev…to negotiate with the rebels in the East.” Kiev’s close ties to Washington, Cohen said, were likely on Putin’s mind when he “agreed to meet with Kerry, seeking that commitment…to get Kiev to the negotiating table.”’


Neocons 2.0: The problem with Peter Pomerantsev

Mark Ames writes for Pando Daily:

pomerantsevIn his opening statement last month before a US Congressional Committee hearing titled “Confronting Russia’s Weaponization of Information,” the Russian-born British author Peter Pomerantsev served his Republican-led audience a piping hot  serving of neocon alarmism. Quoting “the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), General Philip M. Breedlove,” Pomerantsev described Russia’s 2014 takeover of Crimea as “the most amazing information warfare blitzkrieg we have ever seen in the history of information warfare.” To which Pomernatsev added his own chilling warning:

“To put it differently, Russia has launched an information war against the West – and we are losing.”

The hearing was put on by Orange County neoconservative Republican Ed Royce; the purpose of the hearings was to drum up fear about Russia’s “unprecedented” information war on the West — a propaganda battle which obviously exists, but whose dimensions and dangers are being cynically exaggerated — and then convert that fear into budget money for US propaganda and NGOs to subvert Kremlin power.

What made Pomerantsev’s lobbying appearance with the neocons so disturbing to me is that he’s not the sort of crude, arrogant meat-head I normally identify with homo neoconius. Pomerantsev’s book, “Nothing is True and Everything is Possible”, is the most talked-about Russia book in recent memory. His many articles on the Kremlin’s “avant-garde” “information war” and its “political technologists” have been hits in the thinking-man’s press: Atlantic Monthly, London Review of Books... His insights into the strategic thinking behind the Kremlin’s “information wars” are often sharp and illuminating; and yet there’s always been something glaringly absent in Pomerantsev’s writings. Not so much what he puts in, but all that he leaves out. Glaring omissions of context, that had me start to question if Pomernatsev wasn’t manipulating the reader by poaching the rhetoric of leftist critical analysis, and putting it to use for very different, neocon purposes . . . as if Pomerantsev has been aping the very sort of “avant-garde” Kremlin political technologies he’s been scaring the Ed Royces of the world with.

And then of course there’s the larger nagging question—what the Hell is a presumed journalist/writer like Pomerantsev, who claims to have been most influenced by literary figures like Christopher Isherwood, doing lobbying the US and UK governments to pass bills upping psychological warfare budgets and imposing sanctions on foreign countries? Where does the independent critical analysis stop, and the manipulative lobbying begin?’


US Special Ops raid killing five ISIS chiefs had to be coordinated with Syria and Russia

DEBKAfile reports:

US Delta raid - from CNN reconstructionThe US Delta Special Operations raid that killed ISIS oil chief Abu Sayyaf Saturday, May 16, could not have taken place without prior US coordination with Damascus and Moscow, DEBKAfile’s military sources report. The National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan announced after the raid: “The US government did not coordinate with the Syrian regime, nor did we advise them in advance of the operation.” But that statement did not preclude a possible US notice of the coming raid to Moscow, which then passed it on to Damascus.

The operation therefore fixed more than one new Middle East landmark: Not only did the US put its first boots on the ground in Syria, but the US, Russia and the Assad regime seem to be pulling together for the first time against the Islamic State – much in the same way as Washington is funneling its cooperation with Iran against ISIS through Baghdad.

Our military sources note that the area of operation – Al-Amar some 20 km southeast of Deir El-Zour in eastern Syria – is bristling with Syrian air defense units, while Russian air defense facilities cover the distance from there to Damascus.  How likely is it that they all missed the helicopters which dropped US troops?’


The Years of Stagnation and the Poodles of Power

Adam Curtis wrote on his BBC blog back in 2012:

Everybody is always remarking about how stuck our society feels these days. The music doesn’t change, the political parties are all exactly the same, and films and TV dramas are almost always set in the past.

We are also stuck with an economic system that is not delivering the paradise that it once promised – but is instead creating chaos and hardship. Yet no-one can imagine a better alternative, so we remain static – paralysed by a terrible political and cultural claustrophobia.

I want to tell the story of another time and another place not so long ago that was also stifled by the absence of novelty and lacking a convincing vision of the future. It was in the Soviet Union in the late 1970s and 1980s. At the time they called it “the years of stagnation”.

There are of course vast differences between our present society and the Soviet Union of thirty years ago – for one thing they had practically no consumer goods whereas we are surrounded by them, and for another western capitalism was waiting in the wings to fill the vacuum. But there are also echoes of our present mood – a grand economic system that had once promised heaven on earth had become absurd and corrupted.

Everyone in Russia in the early 1980s knew that the managers and technocrats in charge of the economy were using that absurdity to loot the system and enrich themselves. The politicians were unable to do anything because they were in the thrall of the economic theory, and thus of the corrupt technocrats. And above all no-one in the political class could imagine any alternative future.

In the face of this most Soviet people turned away from politics and any form of engagement with society and lived day by day in a world that they knew was absurd, trapped by the lack of a vision of any other way.

But in the late 1970s a post-political generation rose up in Russia who retreated from all conventional political ideologies, both communist and western capitalist, and instead turned to radical avant-garde culture – in music and in literature – to try and protest against the absurdity of the system. I want to focus on their story – because it is fascinating and forgotten (and they produced some great music) – but also because of what happened to them when the Soviet Union collapsed.

Despite the differences between east and west, I think that the fate of that post-political generation does offer a glimpse of what happens in a stagnant political culture when a door finally opens on a different kind of future. Especially as some of the choices they made were very unexpected – and the outcomes sometimes very sad.’