Category Archives: Russia

The Slide Toward War With Russia

The Nation writes in an Editorial:

Putin and ObamaIn recent weeks, US-Russian relations have reached a perhaps fateful and exceedingly dangerous turning point, provoked by growing tensions on multiple overlapping fronts. The CIA is reportedly readying a “cyber covert action” in retaliation for Moscow’s alleged hack of the Democratic National Committee, with Vice President Joe Biden declaring that the administration will be “sending a message” to Russian President Vladimir Putin “at the time of our choosing.” The Clinton campaign has denounced Putin for “trying to put his thumb on the scale through cyber-attacks aimed at influencing the election.”

Such a series of overt threats against Russia is almost without precedent. Ominously, many in the Russian political elite see this as a prelude to war. As Moscow’s UN ambassador observed, relations are “probably the worst since 1973.” (At the height of that year’s Arab-Israeli conflict, US military forces were placed at DEFCON 3, the second-highest level of alert.) Russia just staged a civil-defense drill involving up to 200,000 personnel and has deployed nuclear-capable missiles to its European enclave in Kaliningrad. Putin has also withdrawn from a long-
standing nuclear-security pact with the United States; in defense of the suspension, his administration pointed to a “radical change in circumstances, the emergence of a threat to strategic stability as a result of hostile actions of the United States of America.”


US Army Chief Talks Up War With Russia, Insists US Will Win

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

With some Obama Administration officials openly advocating starting a war with Russia over Syria, it is noteworthy that a lot of top Pentagon officials are treating the conflict as all but inevitable. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley hyped Russian modernization efforts, but declared that they “will lose to the American Army.

Russian officials have been cognizant of the possibility, insisting that Russia “can now fight a conventional war in Europe,” comments which Gen. Milley dismissed as “bluster, hubris, bravado.” and insisting that war with other nation-states “is almost guaranteed.”


US Hacking Russia for Revenge Could Lead to Cyberwar

Trevor Timm writes for The Guardian:

Image result for russia america cyberwarWhat’s the CIA’s brilliant plan for stopping Russian cyber-attacks on the US and their alleged interference with the US election? Apparently, some in the agency want to escalate tensions between the two superpowers even more and possibly do the same thing right back to them.

NBC News reported late last week that the CIA is working up blueprints for an “unprecedented cyber covert action against Russia”, and it sounds a lot like they’re planning on leaking documents on Vladimir Putin, just as the Russians are accused of doing to the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign.

NBC reported that former intelligence officials said “the agency had gathered reams of documents that could expose unsavory tactics by Russian President Vladimir Putin” and another former official said the US “should … expose the financial dealings of Putin and his associates”.


A Peculiar Coincidence

Craig Murray writes:

Today, Swedish prosecutors were meant to question Julian Assange in the Ecuadorean Embassy, something for which the Assange legal team has been pressing for years. They believe that once this step has been taken, prosecutors will no longer be able to keep from the scrutiny of Swedish courts the fact that there is no viable evidence whatsoever to back up the ludicrous allegations which have been made.

Frustratingly, Swedish prosecutors cancelled the interview last week, with no explanation given. Anyone would think they do not wish the investigation to progress… Then this same day Assange’s internet access is cut, WikiLeaks say by a state actor. To add to this string of coincidence, at the same time Russia Today has its bank accounts frozen by the Royal Bank of Scotland, again without explanation

This series of events are all aimed at those who seek to counter the neo-con narrative pumped out by the state and corporate media. It could be coincidence, but it looks like co-ordinated clampdown to me.


Russia Today Bank Accounts ‘Frozen In UK’

BBC News reports:

The UK has frozen all bank accounts owned by Russia’s state-run broadcaster, Russia Today (RT), its editor-in-chief has claimed.

Margarita Simonyan tweeted: “They’ve closed our accounts in Britain. All our accounts. ‘The decision is not subject to review.’ Praise be to freedom of speech!”

RT has previously been sanctioned by Ofcom for biased reporting on the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.


The Long History of the U.S. Interfering with Elections Elsewhere

Ishaan Tharoor writes for The Washington Post:

[…] To be sure, there’s a much larger context behind today’s bluster. As my colleague Andrew Rothnotes, whatever their government’s alleged actions in 2016, Russia’s leaders enjoy casting aspersions on the American democratic process. And, in recent years, they have also bristled at perceived American meddling in the politics of countries on Russia’s borders, most notably in Ukraine.

While the days of its worst behavior are long behind it, the United States does have a long history of interfering and sometimes interrupting the workings of democracies elsewhere. It has occupied and intervened militarily in a whole swath of countries in the Caribbean and Latin America and fomented coups against democratically-elected populists.

The most infamous episodes include the ousting of Iran’s Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953 — whose government was replaced by an authoritarian monarchy favorable to Washington — the removal and assassination of Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba in 1961, and the violent toppling of Chile’s socialist President Salvador Allende, whose government was swept aside in 1973 by a military coup led by the ruthless Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

For decades, these actions were considered imperatives of the Cold War, part of a global struggle against the Soviet Union and its supposed leftist proxies. Its key participants included scheming diplomats like John Foster Dulles and Henry Kissinger, who advocated aggressive, covert policies to staunch the supposedly expanding threat of communism. Sometimes that agenda also explicitly converged with the interests of American business.


A No-Fly Zone For Aleppo Risks a War That Could Engulf Us All

Jonathan Steele writes for The Guardian:

Much was made in this week’s Commons debate on Syria of the need for a no-fly zone over Aleppo. Given that the Syrian government and the Russians have a monopoly of air power over the city, the idea of denting or deterring it might seem attractive. Hillary Clinton also advocated such a zone in Sunday’s presidential TV debate.

In 1991 the US and Britain imposed a successful no-fly zone over northern Iraq to protect the Kurds. But they were already at war with Saddam Hussein, having just defeated him in Kuwait. Saddam was on his own internationally, despised and isolated. He had no support from Russia or any Arab allies. The last thing he wanted was to confront the US any further. Enforcing a no-fly zone (even though it had no clear UN security council authorisation) involved no risk to the US or UK. Saddam made little effort to resist and not one of their manned aircraft was shot down.

Today’s situation in Syria is different. The Syrian air force is fully engaged and will not back down in its campaign to defeat its enemies in Aleppo. After three years of military stalemate, Bashar al-Assad feels he has regained the upper hand and is determined to retake his country’s largest city.

More importantly, the Russians are also active in the air. Imposing a no-fly zone unilaterally (it would never gain a security council mandate) would be a declaration of war on Russia as well as on Assad.


What’s Up With US-Russia Relations? Interview with Stephen F. Cohen

Thom Hartmann speaks to Professor Stephen F. Cohen, contributing editor at The Nation and the author of Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives, about the current strain in US-Russia relations and the New Cold War. (Thom Hartmann Show)

Russian Hackers Expose ‘Double Standards’ at World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)

Georgi Gotev reports for EurActiv:

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) confirmed yesterday (13 September) that hackers accessed a database of confidential medical data and released the drug regimens of gymnast Simone Biles and three other top US Olympians. The Russian government was behind the move, WADA claimed.

The hackers penetrated the WADA’s athlete database and publicly revealed private medical information about three of the United States’ most famous athletes: Serena Williams, Venus Williams and Simone Biles.

The documents show that Biles, who won four gold medals in gymnastics at the Rio Olympics last month, and the Williams sisters received medical exemptions to use banned drugs.

“While it is an evolving situation, at present, we believe that access to ADAMS was obtained through spear phishing of email accounts,” WADA said in a statement.

The antidoping agency attributed the hack to Fancy Bear, a Russian cyberespionage group that forensics specialists have tied to breaches against government agencies, nonprofit organisations and corporations.


Kaliningrad: Isolated Russian Outpost Withers Under Confrontation with West

Lidia Kelly reports for Reuters:

[…] Kaliningrad is hardly the only part of Russia that is hurting. Throughout the past two years, a collapse in global prices for energy exports have created a grinding economic crisis. The rouble has fallen, raising the price of imports.

But while some parts of Russia have been partly shielded from the pain by the fall in imports, which has boosted consumption of home-made goods, Kaliningrad’s close ties to its EU neighbors means it has suffered more than other areas.

Since 2014, Russia’s overall trade volume has fallen by a third, but Kaliningrad’s has plummeted by nearly half. Industrial output, which had previously outpaced the rest of Russia, fell more than anywhere else.

Russia’s counter-sanctions included a ban on most EU food imports, wrecking an industry of processing imported meat into canned lunch meat for sale across Russia, which had accounted for nearly a fifth of Kaliningrad’s manufacturing.


What’s Behind Barack Obama’s Ongoing Accommodation of Vladimir Putin?

Glenn Greenwald writes for The Intercept:

When a major party cynically espouses a set of beliefs as a tactic for winning an election, those beliefs get entrenched in popular discourse and often endure well past the election, with very significant consequences. The most significant such rhetorical template in the 2016 election — other than the new Democratic claim that big-money donations do not corrupt the political process — is that Russia is a Grave Enemy of the U.S.; anyone who advocates better relations or less tension with Moscow is a likely sympathizer, stooge, or even agent of Putin; and any associations with the Kremlin render one’s loyalties suspect.

Literally every week ushers in a new round of witch hunts in search of domestic Kremlin agents and new evidence of excessive Putin sympathies. The latest outburst was last night’s discovery that Donald Trump allowed himself to be interviewed by well-known Kremlin propagandist and America-hater Larry King on his RT show. “Criticizing US on Russian TV is something no American, much less an aspiring prez, should do,” pronounced Fred Kaplan. Other guests appearing on that network include Soviet spy Bernard Sanders (who spoke this year to Putin crony and RT host Ed Schultz), Bill Maher (whose infiltrates American culture through his cover as a comedian hosting an HBO program), and Stephen Hawking (whom the FSB has groomed to masquerade as a “physicist” while he carries out un-American activities on behalf of Putin).

Despite the fact that Russia ceased long ago to be guided by anything resembling communism, this linking of one’s political adversaries to the Kremlin is such a potent tactic in the U.S. because of decades of Cold War rhetoric about Moscow. Referring to Putin, Matt Lauer this week asked Trump: “Do you want to be complimented by that former KGB officer?” Denouncing Trump’s praise of Putin, Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel called the Russian president “a communist leader that’s a potential enemy!” Explaining why Trump’s comments about Russia are so remarkable, the New York Times contended that “Mr. Trump has made improved relations with the Kremlin a centerpiece of his candidacy” in “a fashion that would have been unheard-of for a Republican during or immediately after the Cold War.”


Lunch with the FT: Edward Snowden, the World’s Most Famous Whistleblower

Alan Rusbridger interviews Edward Snowden in a Moscow hotel room for the Financial Times:

James Ferguson's illustration of Edward SnowdenEdward Snowden has rounded on his hosts, attacking the Kremlin’s human rights record and implicating Russia in two of the US government’s latest major security hacks.

In a Lunch with the FT — carried below — he complained Moscow had “gone very far, in ways that are completely unnecessary, costly and corrosive to individual and collective rights” and added that his greatest loyalty was still to the US.

He described the leak last month of NSA espionage tools, potentially by Russia as an “implicit threat” to the US government. Efforts by hackers called the Shadow Brokers to auction off NSA computer code used to break into foreign networks were an attempt to show Washington how vulnerable it was, he added.

Snowden insisted that all dealings with Russian officials were conducted by his lawyer. “I don’t have a lot of ties to Russia and that’s by design because, as crazy as it sounds, I still plan to leave.”


From Russian TV Network, Little Love for Donald Trump

Zaid Jilani reports for The Intercept:

Donald Trump’s interview with Larry King on the Russian-government-funded television network RT America is being widely seen in the mainstream U.S. media as evidence of unseemly coziness between Trump and authoritarian Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

The interview came after months of claims by Democratic Party officials and news media pundits that the Russian government is trying to get Trump elected.

RT America has a long history of coverage that benefits the Russian government and is critical of the United States, as many former employees have complained.

But there’s one glaring problem with the theory that RT America and the Russian government are fond of Trump: RT America is arguably more critical of Trump than U.S. media.

The interview with King itself was far from a softball event — with the host pressing Trump on topics from releasing his tax returns to his utter lack of any strategy in the Middle East. And it’s not uncommon to see criticism of Trump on the network.


Almost Everyone Gets Russia Wrong – Apart From Obama

Trevor Timm writes for The Guardian:

These days it is en vogue in Washington DC to be itching for conflict with Russia. Politicians and pundits alike are outdoing each other for how they can describe the supposed threat Putin now poses to the west. To his credit, Barack Obama seems to be the only politician not playing into the cold war 2.0 hysteria.

[…] Obama has been generally right about Russia for years. In a 60 Minutes interview last year, correspondent Steve Kroft kept trying to get Obama to admit that Putin was asserting his dominance over the US, but as Obama calmly (and correctly) explained, what Russia is doing in Syria and Ukraine is not borne out of strength, but out of desperation. The idea of using our military purely to “show strength” against Russia in some sort of macho capacity may only make things worse.

One of Obama’s best moments during the 2012 debate was mocking Mitt Romney for calling Russia the US’s “number one geopolitical foe,” quipping “the 80s called and wants their foreign policy back.” Yet this has now been turned into an attack on Obama by the very same people who seem to be almost wishing that Russia returns to its cold war status as Enemy No1.

The Obama administration seems intent on trying to negotiate a deal with Russia in Syria. Putting aside the flawed rationale for bombing Syria at all, this seems like the entirely logical move – yet it barely gets mentioned by the various parties who are currently fanning the Russia-is-the-enemy flames.


Almost no chance U.S. elections can get hacked by the Russians

Philip Bump and Amber Phillips report for The Washington Post:

[…] Could hackers change the numbers to change our elections? The Fix spoke by phone and email with Merle King, executive director of the Center for Election Systems at Kennesaw State University to get an answer. In summary: It would be harder than we think — in part because we tend to conflate a number of very different election systems.

“One of the challenges the public has in sorting through the various threads of the current election cycle’s stories is understanding the differences between a campaign system, an election system and a voting system,” King told us.

The campaign system is the tool set used by candidates or parties to get people elected. The election system covers voter registration systems and other data centralization and is specific to jurisdictions. The voting system is the actual process of voting: the machines, the ballots and the designations of who votes where and on what. Information flows between these systems, but not always in two directions: Campaigns, for example, use voter registration data from the elections system but don’t send information back to it. So if a campaign is hacked (or if the Democratic National Committee is), there’s no risk to the voter registration database.

Confusing these systems can mean misunderstanding the threat — and the intent of the hackers.


FBI says foreign hackers penetrated U.S. state election systems

Michael Isikoff reports for Yahoo! News:

The FBI has uncovered evidence that foreign hackers penetrated two state election databases in recent weeks, prompting the bureau to warn election officials across the country to take new steps to enhance the security of their computer systems, according to federal and state law enforcement officials.

The FBI warning, contained in a “flash” alert from the FBI’s Cyber Division, a copy of which was obtained by Yahoo News, comes amid heightened concerns among U.S. intelligence officials about the possibility of cyberintrusions, potentially by Russian state-sponsored hackers, aimed at disrupting the November elections.

Those concerns prompted Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to convene a conference call with state election officials on Aug. 15, in which he offered his department’s help to make state voting systems more secure, including providing federal cybersecurity experts to scan for vulnerabilities, according to a “readout” of the call released by the department.


Glenn Greenwald on the “Cold War McCarthyite Kind of Rhetoric” in U.S. Politics

Amy Goodman speaks to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept who says Democrats have adopted a “Cold War McCarthyite kind of rhetoric” by accusing many its critics of having ties to Russia. Greenwald also comments on U.S. policy towards Israel. (Democracy Now!)

Dave Zirin on Olympic Firsts, Treatment of Russian Athletes and Brazil’s Future

Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez speak to Dave Zirin, sports editor for The Nation and author of Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy, who discusses some of the biggest issues surrounding the 2016 Olympics in Rio. You can view part one of this interview here(Democracy Now!)

Ukrainian and Russian Elite Benefit From New Flare-Ups at the Border

Jaisal Noor speaks to Moscow-based political economist Aleksandr Buzgalin about how recent border confrontations distract from domestic policies as a source of internal social problems. (The Real News)

Deutsche Bank’s $10-Billion Scandal

Ed Caesar reports for the New Yorker:

The bank, beset by scandals and mismanagement, is in a precarious state.Almost every weekday between the fall of 2011 and early 2015, a Russian broker named Igor Volkovcalled the equities desk of Deutsche Bank’s Moscow headquarters. Volkov would speak to a sales trader—often, a young woman named Dina Maksutova—and ask her to place two trades simultaneously. In one, he would use Russian rubles to buy a blue-chip Russian stock, such as Lukoil, for a Russian company that he represented. Usually, the order was for about ten million dollars’ worth of the stock. In the second trade, Volkov—acting on behalf of a different company, which typically was registered in an offshore territory, such as the British Virgin Islands—would sell the same Russian stock, in the same quantity, in London, in exchange for dollars, pounds, or euros. Both the Russian company and the offshore company had the same owner. Deutsche Bank was helping the client to buy and sell to himself.

At first glance, the trades appeared banal, even pointless. Deutsche Bank earned a small commission for executing the buy and sell orders, but in financial terms the clients finished roughly where they began. To inspect the trades individually, however, was like standing too close to an Impressionist painting—you saw the brushstrokes and missed the lilies. These transactions had nothing to do with pursuing profit. They were a way to expatriate money. Because the Russian company and the offshore company both belonged to the same owner, these ordinary-seeming trades had an alchemical purpose: to turn rubles that were stuck in Russia into dollars stashed outside Russia. On the Moscow markets, this sleight of hand had a nickname: konvert, which means “envelope” and echoes the English verb “convert.” In the English-language media, the scheme has become known as “mirror trading.”


Evidence Points to Another Snowden at the NSA

James Bamford, author of The Shadow Factory, writes for Reuters:

In the summer of 1972, state-of-the-art campaign spying consisted of amateur burglars, armed with duct tape and microphones, penetrating the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. Today, amateur burglars have been replaced by cyberspies, who penetrated the DNC armed with computers and sophisticated hacking tools.

Where the Watergate burglars came away empty-handed and in handcuffs, the modern- day cyber thieves walked away with tens of thousands of sensitive political documents and are still unidentified.

Now, in the latest twist, hacking tools themselves, likely stolen from the National Security Agency, are on the digital auction block. Once again, the usual suspects start with Russia – though there seems little evidence backing up the accusation.

In addition, if Russia had stolen the hacking tools, it would be senseless to publicize the theft, let alone put them up for sale. It would be like a safecracker stealing the combination to a bank vault and putting it on Facebook. Once revealed, companies and governments would patch their firewalls, just as the bank would change its combination.

A more logical explanation could also be insider theft. If that’s the case, it’s one more reason to question the usefulness of an agency that secretly collects private information on millions of Americans but can’t keep its most valuable data from being stolen, or as it appears in this case, being used against us.


The Kremlin Opens to the World as Putin Orders Greater Access

Howard Amos reports for The Moscow Times:

For much of the Soviet period, Moscow’s Kremlin was heavily guarded and shrouded in mystery. Few people apart from high-ranking officials or foreign dignitaries ever got the chance to pass through the gates built into the towers along its redbrick walls. The rare visitors that made it inside were struck by its “terrifying emptiness.”

Some restrictions were lifted with the fall of the Soviet Union. But a set of eight new decrees signed by President Vladimir Putin earlier this month means previously off-limit areas of the seat of Russian political power are likely be opened to the public in 2017.

“The Kremlin has been sacred, closed, secret and locked for most of the last 150 years,” says Catherine Merridale, a British author who has written a history of the buildings and their inhabitants. “Opening up the Kremlin has a huge psychological impact.”

The decision by Putin is expected to be popular among ordinary Russians and is likely to fuel an increase in the number of tourists visiting the already busy site, which is the official residence of the Russian president.


Trump’s ‘Extreme Vetting’ Test for Immigrants, His Position on NATO and Russia and his Campaign Head’s $13m Scandal in Ukraine

Amy Goodman speaks to Matt Taibbi, award-winning journalist with Rolling Stone magazine, Phyllis Bennis, author of Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror and Linda Sarsour, director of the first Muslim online organizing platform, MPower Change. They join Amy Goodman to talk about a  number of issues including Donald Trump’s vow to institute “extreme vetting” of visa applicants, his position on NATO and Russia, and his campaign head’s $13 million scandal in Ukraine. (Democracy Now!)

Democrats’ Tactic of Accusing Critics of Kremlin Allegiance Has Long, Ugly History

Glenn Greenwald writes for The Intercept:

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, meets U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on her arrival at the APEC summit in Vladivostok, Russia, Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel,Pool)A frequent weapon for Democrats in the 2016 election is to publicly malign those they regard as critics and adversaries as Russia sympathizers, Putin stooges, or outright agents of the Kremlin. To put it mildly, this is not a new tactic in U.S. political discourse, and it’s worth placing it in historical context. That’s particularly true given how many people have now been targeted with this attack.

Strongly insinuating that the GOP nominee, Donald Trump, has nefarious, possibly treasonous allegiances to Moscow has migrated from Clinton-loyal pundits into the principal theme of the Clinton campaign itself. “The depth of Trump’s relationship with the Kremlin is revealing itself by the day,” her website announced yesterday, and vital “questions” must be answered “about Trump’s cozy relationship with Russia.” The Clinton campaign this weekend released a 1-minute video that, over and over, insinuates Trump’s disloyalty in the form of “questions” – complete with menacing pictures of Red Square. Democrats cheered wildly, and really have not stopped cheering, ever since the ex-Acting CIA Director (who, undisclosed by the NYT, now works for a Clinton operative) went to The New York Times to claim “that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.”

But this smear tactic extends far beyond Trump. It is now used to vilify anyone perceived to be an impediment to Clinton’s victory. When WikiLeaks published thousands of DNC emails shortly before the Democratic Convention, which ultimately forced the resignation of four top officials, it was instantly asserted that it was The Russians who gave them those emails (even though The Washington Post cited an intelligence official as saying that “the intelligence community . . . has not reached a conclusion about who passed the emails to WikiLeaks” and “We have not drawn any evidentiary connection to any Russian intelligence service and WikiLeaks — none”). Democrats not only treated this evidence-free conspiracy theory as Truth, but – following the Clinton campaign – proceeded to smear WikiLeaks as a Kremlin operation.


The Time Is Ripe for Détente, 2.0

Jefrey Taylor writes for The Atlantic:

On July 20, Donald Trump shocked the Western politico-military establishment when he told The New York Times that the United States would protect Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, the three formerly Soviet Baltic countries that joined NATO in 2004, from a Russian attack only if they have “fulfilled their obligations to us.” In one fell stroke, Trump proposed to jettison the alliance’s foundational Article 5, which guarantees collective defense, in favor of some impromptu financial calculus. Then, during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention two days later, he declared NATO “obsolete” for failing to “properly cover terror,” adding that “many member countries [are] not paying their fair share [into the alliance]. As usual, the United States has been picking up the cost.”

Trump’s various offenses aside, on his latter point, there can be no doubt: of NATO’s 28 member states, only five spend the recommended 2 percent or more of their GDP per year on defense; Estonia is the sole Baltic country to meet the 2-percent benchmark.* The United States, meanwhile, covers 72.2 percent of NATO’s budget. Though even President Barack Obama has complained about NATO’s European “free riders”—given that the EU’s GDP may exceed that of the United States, the critique seems reasonable—Trump, by suggesting that a future U.S. president may, amid a hypothetical crisis of unprecedented magnitude, evaluate treaty obligations by consulting the alliance’s balance sheet alone is unprecedented. Add to that Trump’s apparent personal affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusations from Democrats (even if they turn out to be groundless) that his business interests might predispose him to act in Russia’s interests, and his invitation (possibly proffered sarcastically) that Russia intervene in the U.S. presidential campaign by ferreting out Hillary Clinton’s illegally deleted emails, and you end up with a media maelstrom of his own making.

Yet the very questions Trump has raised about relations between Washington and Moscow—whether a de facto new Cold War is inevitable, and whether there’s any way out of this potentially catastrophic standoff—are worth asking. The ensuing debate would demand serious consideration by policymakers, a willingness to see matters from the Russian perspective, and, given the stakes, the involvement of the American public. After all, during the Cold War, public sentiment about the Soviet Union, and, by extension, the likelihood of nuclear war, influenced national politics in ways scarcely imaginable these days. Present circumstances require a similar reexamination now.


Biden Urges Ukraine President to Avoid Escalating Tensions With Russia

Reuters reports:

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a memorial service for three slain Baton Rouge police officers at Healing Place Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S. July 28, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan BachmanU.S. Vice President Joe Biden spoke by phone on Friday with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and urged him “to do his part” to avoid escalating tensions with Russia, the White House said.

Biden noted that the United States has urged the Russian side to do the same, the White House said in a statement. Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused Ukraine of trying to provoke a conflict over Crimea, which Moscow seized and annexed in 2014.


We Should Be Shocked, Shocked, at Reports of Russian Interference in US Elections

William Greider writes for The Nation:

NSA_headquarters_ap_imgThe Clinton political team is sputtering in righteous indignation over Russia’s supposed cyber attack on the Democratic National Committee and the leak of the DNC’s embarrassing e-mails. Their outrage was further inflamed by Donald Trump’s wicked suggestion that Czar Putin should do more of this mischievous hacking.

How dare Moscow tamper with our sacred elections in the home of the brave, land of the free! Republicans suspect Trump may have violated national-security laws. Perhaps the FBI should investigate.

Does anyone remember that America’s techno-spies at the National Security Agency were listening to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone calls? Or that the CIA frequently interferes, sometimes quite brutally, in the politics of other nations? The agency says it no longer assassinates popular leaders it doesn’t like. But it still picks leaders for people in lesser countries—often tinpot dictators in uniforms—or wrecks their fragile economy if they resist.

Cyber espionage is a serious threat, no question. But who is the villain? When the US Treasury secretary pressured Beijing to stop its relentless invasions of US government and industry computers, the People’s Dailyshoved back. Washington, it said, is the “real ‘hacking empire.’”


Russian News May Be Biased – But So Is Much Western Media

Dr. Piers Robinson writes for The Guardian:

As tensions continue to escalate with Russia, increasing attention is being paid in western media to what are frequently described as the “propaganda” activities of Vladimir Putin’s regime. The Sun headlines“Putin’s glamorous propaganda girls who front a new UK-based news agency ‘that aims to destabilise Britain’” in reference to the recent establishment of Sputnik News in Edinburgh, while the Mail describes how “Vladimir Putin is waging a propaganda war on the UK”.

Most recently in the Times, a study by an MPhil student at the University of Oxford, Monica Richter, is reported to confirm that people who watch the 24-hour English-language news channel Russia Today (RT) are more likely to hold anti-western views. The tone of the Times article is clear: RT uses unqualified and “obscure” experts, is frequently sanctioned by Ofcom for bias and failure to remain impartial and, worst of all, actually seems to be “turning viewers against the west”. Perhaps the intended subtext of this particular news story is to warn people off watching non-western media for fear of betraying their home country in some way.

Whatever the accuracy, or lack thereof, of RT and whatever its actual impact on western audiences, one of the problems with these kinds of arguments is that they fall straight into the trap of presenting media that are aligned with official adversaries as inherently propagandistic and deceitful, while the output of “our” media is presumed to be objective and truthful. Moreover, the impression given is that our governments engage in truthful “public relations”, “strategic communication” and “public diplomacy” while the Russians lie through “propaganda”.


The World’s Best Cyber Army Doesn’t Belong to Russia

James Bamford, author of The Shadow Factory, writes for Reuters:

A National Security Agency data gathering facility in Bluffdale, about 25 miles (40 km) south of Salt Lake City, Utah, December 16, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

[…] Unlike the Defense Department’s Pentagon, the headquarters of the cyberspies fills an entire secret city. Located in Fort Meade, Maryland, halfway between Washington and Baltimore, Maryland, NSA’s headquarters consists of scores of heavily guarded buildings. The site even boasts its own police force and post office.

And it is about to grow considerably bigger, now that the NSA cyberspies have merged with the cyberwarriors of U.S. Cyber Command, which controls its own Cyber Army, Cyber Navy, Cyber Air Force and Cyber Marine Corps, all armed with state-of-the-art cyberweapons. In charge of it all is a four-star admiral, Michael S. Rogers.

Now under construction inside NSA’s secret city, Cyber Command’s new $3.2- billion headquarters is to include 14 buildings, 11 parking garages and an enormous cyberbrain — a 600,000-square-foot, $896.5-million supercomputer facility that will eat up an enormous amount of power, about 60 megawatts. This is enough electricity to power a city of more than 40,000 homes.

In 2014, for a cover story in Wired and a PBS documentary, I spent three days in Moscow with Snowden, whose last NSA job was as a contract cyberwarrior. I was also granted rare access to his archive of documents. “Cyber Command itself has always been branded in a sort of misleading way from its very inception,” Snowden told me. “It’s an attack agency. … It’s all about computer-network attack and computer-network exploitation at Cyber Command.”


On Eve of Olympics, Top Investigator Details Secret Efforts to Undermine Russian Doping Probe

David Epstein reports for Pro Publica:

In a blistering public critique on the eve of the Olympics, the former chief investigator for the World Anti-Doping Agency claims his efforts to investigate Russian doping were repeatedly delayed by WADA’s president, who preferred to privately settle matters with Russian officials.

Jack Robertson, who left the agency in January, said he was forced to leak information to the media in order to pressure WADA president Sir Craig Reedie to act and, even then, he says, the agency sat on credible allegations that suggested Russian doping extended far beyond track and field.

Ultimately, Robertson says, the investigation delays have allowed the president of the International Olympic Committee — who has reportedly been supported by Vladimir Putin — to claim that the committee didn’t have enough time to determine whether it should ban all Russian teams. The result is that Russia may still have one of the largest delegations in Rio.

In a wide-ranging Q&A, Robertson, speaking publicly at length for the first time, reserved his harshest criticisms for Reedie, a former elite badminton player and chair of the British Olympic Committee. Reedie also holds the potentially conflicting role of vice president of the IOC. (WADA gets a large chunk of its funding from the IOC.) The revelations of systemic Russian doping are an enormous embarrassment for the IOC, as well as a diplomatic problem, since the IOC president and Putin are, according to The Guardian, “the unlikely Olympic power couple.”