Category Archives: Russia

If Russian Intelligence Did Hack the DNC, the NSA Would Know, Snowden Says

Robert Mackey writes for The Intercept:

[…] Since very few of us are cybersecurity experts, and the Iraq debacle is a reminder of how dangerous it can be to put blind faith in experts whose claims might reinforce our own political positions, there is also the question of who we can trust to provide reliable evidence.

One expert in the field, who is well aware of the evidence-gathering capabilities of the U.S. government, is Edward Snowden, the former Central Intelligence Agency technician and National Security Agency whistleblower who exposed the extent of mass surveillance and has been given temporary asylum in Russia.

“If Russia hacked the #DNC, they should be condemned for it,” Snowden wrote on Twitter on Monday, with a link to a 2015 report on the U.S. government’s response to the hacking of Sony Pictures. In that case, he noted, “the FBI presented evidence” for its conclusion that North Korea was responsible for the hacking and subsequent release of internal emails. (The FBI is now investigating the breach of the DNC’s network, which officials told the Daily Beast they first made the committee aware of in April.)

What’s more, Snowden added, the NSA has tools that should make it possible to trace the source of the hack. Even though the Director of National Intelligence usually opposes making such evidence public, he argued, this is a case in which the agency should do so, if only to discourage future attacks.

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All Signs Point to Russia Being Behind the DNC Hack

Thomas Rid writes for VICE Motherboard:

The forensic evidence linking the DNC breach to known Russian operations is very strong. On June 20, two competing cybersecurity companies, Mandiant (part of FireEye) and Fidelis, confirmed CrowdStrike’s initial findings that Russian intelligence indeed hacked Clinton’s campaign. The forensic evidence that links network breaches to known groups is solid: used and reused tools, methods, infrastructure, even unique encryption keys. For example: in late March the attackers registered a domain with a typo—misdepatrment[.]com—to look suspiciously like the company hired by the DNC to manage its network, MIS Department. They then linked this deceptive domain to a long-known APT 28 so-called X-Tunnel command-and-control IP address, 45.32.129[.]185.

One of the strongest pieces of evidence linking GRU to the DNC hack is the equivalent of identical fingerprints found in two burglarized buildings: a reused command-and-control address—176.31.112[.]10—that was hard coded in a piece of malware found both in the German parliament as well as on the DNC’s servers. Russian military intelligence was identified by the German domestic security agency BfV as the actor responsible for the Bundestag breach. The infrastructure behind the fake MIS Department domain was also linked to the Berlin intrusion through at least one other element, a shared SSL certificate.

The evidence linking the Guccifer 2.0 account to the same Russian operators is not as solid, yet a deception operation—a GRU false flag, in technical jargon—is still highly likely. Intelligence operatives and cybersecurity professionals long knew that such false flags were becoming more common. One noteworthy example was the sabotage of France’s TV5 Monde station on 9/10 April 2015, initially claimed by the mysterious “CyberCaliphate,” a group allegedly linked to ISIS. Then, in June, the French authorities suspected the same infamous APT 28 group behind the TV5 Monde breach, in preparation since January of that year. But the DNC deception is the most detailed and most significant case study so far. The technical details are as remarkable as its strategic context.

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Did Russia Really Hack the DNC to Support Trump?

Paul D. Shinkman reports for U.S. News & World Report:

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the Forum for Strategic Initiatives July 21, 2016 in Mosow, Russia. The recent hacks of the Democratic National Committee computer system and subsequent leak of its emails fits within a tidy narrative: Russian President Vladimir Putin is pleased with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump‘s friendly rhetoric toward Moscow and offered him a political boost.

Hillary Clinton‘s representatives were quick to apply this logic as a partial explanation for a scandal that undercut the process that confirmed the former secretary of state as her party’s presumed presidential nominee just days before the Democratic National Convention was set to begin.

[…] And it could be true. Russia’s hackers, both governmental and otherwise, are among the world’s best. Implicated in June in two separate attacks on the DNC computer network, Russian government-backed cyberthieves could have been in a position to forward the tens of thousands of Democratic Party emails they retrieved to WikiLeaks, which distributed the documents online over the weekend. Some, however, believe the most obvious answer may not be the right one when dealing with Russia.

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The Hawks’ Election Strategy: Pushing a New Cold War

David Bromwich writes for The National Interest:

Image: “Bulgarian forces fire from a mobile mortar platform in a BMP-23 infantry fighting vehicle during Exercise Platinum Lion 16-4 aboard Novo Selo Training Area, Bulgaria, July 13, 2016. This multi-national exercise brings together eight NATO and partner nations for a live-fire exercise aimed to strengthen regional defense in Eastern Europe. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Kelly L. Street, 2D MARDIV COMCAM/Released)”[…] The hope is that Mrs. Clinton will put the Cold War accusation of Trump at the heart of her election campaign. The language and logical processes of these articles are shoddy, their texture is pure tabloid, and they are full of words like “stooge” and “patsy,” which the earlier writings of these opinion makers would not lead one to expect. The design calls for Mrs. Clinton to run against Trump and Putin—and to forge the closest possible linkage between the two names in the public mind—on a foreign-policy platform already signaled in such documents as the letter by fifty-one anonymous State Department workers pleading for heavier US military action against the government of Syria. Indeed, the Trump-is-Putin amalgam now defines the propaganda wing of a larger policy that was laid out in a document whose drafters were willing to sign their names: the war-party liberal and neoconservative blueprint for “Extending American Power,” published by the Center for a New American Security. Many of the people involved in these proposals are known advisers of Mrs. Clinton; and if she heeds what they are saying, her anti-Putin course is clear. Push Iran and Russia out of Syria and Iraq, take up the NATO burden in Eastern Europe, and give bigger and deadlier weapons to Ukraine.

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Vladimir Putin and Thomas Bach: The Unlikely Olympic Power Couple

Owen Gibson reports for The Guardian:

When Thomas Bach became president of the International Olympic Committee in 2013, the German lawyer who had spent a lifetime networking and politicking towards that very moment had a neat analogy up his sleeve. “The role of the IOC president is being the conductor of the worldwide orchestra of the members,” he said. “He is the conductor of a fascinating orchestra with the members who have so many strengths and you have to allow them to play the instrument they prefer and get them in harmony.”

In the wake of the IOC’s muddled, confusing and chaotic decision over which Russian athletes will be allowed to compete in Rio next month, Bach is still playing to his orchestra but most of the rest of the world is finding the result a discordant mess. Even in Russia, where there was widespread relief at avoiding the blanket ban the World Anti-Doping Agency had called for, there was criticism of inconsistencies in the IOC’s decision.

When Bach exited the auditorium in the Buenos Aires Hilton having been anointed president, a position he had targeted for decades, a phone was thrust into his hand and the first person to offer his congratulations was Vladimir Putin. As international sporting federations began the task of working out which athletes can be deemed “clean”, attention has inevitably turned to Bach’s relationship with the Russian president.

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Whether Or Not Russians Hacked DNC Means Nothing Concerning How Newsworthy The Details Are

Mike Masnick writes for Techdirt:

As you almost certainly know by now, on Friday Wikileaks released a bunch of hacked DNC emails just before the Democratic Presidential convention kicked off. While Wikileaks hasn’t quite said where it got the emails, speculation among many quickly pointed to Russian state sponsored hackers. That’s because of the revelation last month of two sets of hackers breaching the DNC’s computer system and swiping (at the very least) opposition research on Donald Trump. Various cybersecurity research firms, starting with CrowdStrike, which was hired by the DNC to investigate, pointed the finger at the Russians.

Of course, whether or not you believe that may depend on how credible you find the big cybersecurity firms like CrowdStrike, FireEye and Mandiant (the big names that always pop up in situations like this). For what it’s worth, these guys have something of a vested interest in playing up the threat of big hacks from nation-state level hackers. For a good analysis of why this finger-pointing may be less than credible, I recommend two articles by Jeffrey Carr, one noting that these firms come from a history of “faith-based attribution” whereby they are never held accountable for being wrong — and another highlighting serious questions about the designation of Russia as being responsible for this particular hack (he notes that some of the research appeared to come pre-arrived at that conclusion, and then ignored any evidence to the contrary).

Still, the claim that the data came from the Russians has become something of a story itself. And, of course, who did the hack and got the info is absolutely a news story. But it’s an entirely separate one from whether or not the leaked emails contain anything useful or newsworthy. And yet, because this is the peak of political silly season, some are freaking out and claiming that anyone reporting on these emails “has been played” by Putin and Russia. Leaving aside the fact that people like to claim that Russia’s behind all sorts of politicians that some don’t like, that should be entirely unrelated to whether or not the story is worth covering.

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Does Trump Have a Subversive Partnership With Putin’s Propaganda Machine?

Jeff Stein reports for Newsweek:

The opponent wields a “firehose of falsehood” with “a shameless willingness to disseminate partial truths or outright fictions.” He “entertains, confuses and overwhelms the audience” with exaggerations and unfounded rumors. His technique is entirely new, confounding decades of conventional wisdom that says effective political messages should stay close to the truth.

Donald Trump? No, Vladimir Putin, who has piloted “a remarkable evolution in Russia’s approach to propaganda,” according to a new study from RAND, a think tank based in Santa Monica, California, which has been supplying the Pentagon and CIA with ideas since 1948. Despite ignoring past principles of propaganda, RAND says, Putin has “enjoyed some success” in his main goal: undermining Western unity, and specifically its military alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO.

His success stories: The rise of Moscow-backed right-wing “populist” movements in Europe, along with Western disunity over Ukraine, Turkey, Syria and how to deal with Syrian refugees. And now Donald Trump?

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U.S. Media Blames Putin Conspiracy for Homegrown Trump Phenomenon

Adam Johnson writes for AlterNet:

Donald Trump is the media’s favorite excuse to bash Official U.S. Enemies. His Rorschach politics that shift almost weekly allows overworked writers to project onto Trump whatever traits they need to make an analogy stick (and deadline met).

Over the past year Trump has been Nicolas MaduroJoseph Stalin, Kim Jong-Il, Saddam Hussein, an African dictator,Bashar al-Assad, Bernie Sanders, Fidel Castro, Ayatollah Khomeini, Hugo Chavez(a dozen times!), Mao Zedong, a Chinese communist (present day), a Chinese communist (1980s), Caligula, Rodrigo Duterte, Jeremy Corbyn, Pinochet, Norse god LokiBrexit, Napoleon, Barry Goldwater, Mussolini, Nero, Andrew Jackson,Voldemort, Groucho Marx, Adolf Hitler, Moqtada al-Sadr, Joseph Goebbels, L. Ron Hubbard, King George III, Richard Nixon, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Basically the entire cast of Game of Thrones, Batman vs. Superman, and Donald Trump himself. Twice.

The Daily Beast alone has accused Trump of simultaneously being a communist, a fascist, an Iraqi Shia cleric, an Iranian Shia cleric, a Republican president from the ’70s, a Russian president from the present, a Roman emperor, and a cult leader.

Put simply, Trump is whomever we need him to be.

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Will Trump Policy Unravel Traditional Neocons?

Sharmini Peries speaks to economist Michael Hudson who says Donald Trump’s divergence from the conventional Republican platform is generating indignant punditry from neocons and neoliberals alike. (The Real News)

One Russian Security Agency Raids Another, in Rare Sign of Dysfunction

Andrew E. Kramer reports for The New York Times:

Russia’s main domestic intelligence service raided the Moscow headquarters of an investigative agency on Tuesday, in a rare sign of dysfunction in the country’s domestic security services.

The raid, recalling the rivalries and infighting of the immediate post-Soviet period, played out on a main street in the capital, New Arbat, and ended with arrests of three senior prosecutors.

Agents of the Federal Security Service, or F.S.B., the main successor to the Soviet K.G.B., searched the offices of the Investigative Committee, the powerful branch of the prosecutor’s office that deals with politically hued crimes.

The raid was all the more baffling because the two agencies are generally viewed as operating in lock step to repress political dissent, crack down on organized crime and pursue other high-profile cases in the capital.

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Jonathan Pie: Mr Angry of TV comedy severs links with RT

Vanessa Thorpe reports for The Observer:

[…] Jonathan Pie, the foul-mouthed creation of actor Tom Walker, has become an internet sensation since the success of his short comic films in which his television journalist melts down on screen once he is “off air”. Pie rails against hypocrisy in politics and in television newsrooms and is disillusioned with both his job and the ethics of Westminster.

But Walker told the Observer he is to cut ties with his controversial television network, RT, formerly Russia Today. The news channel is owned by the Russian state and is often criticised for operating as a propaganda tool for Vladimir Putin. Walker said that, while he was grateful for the platform RT had given Jonathan Pie, he was now ready to move on.

“When I started out I had various offers and, funnily enough, RT were the ones that offered me total artistic control, which I really wanted,” Walker said. “I was perhaps a little naive, as I did not know about RT before, but it was important to me that I would not be controlled, although I had more lucrative offers.”

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Growing NATO Buildup Echoes Cold War

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

All efforts to make this weekend’s Warsaw summit about the Brexit appear to have failed, and the US has shifted NATO’s focus back to increasing military buildups in Eastern Europe, all the while harping on about Russian “aggression” and the threat of a Russian invasion of the Baltic states.

NATO-Russia relations seem worse than at any time since the Cold War, with many fearing that the continued NATO escalation on the Russian frontier portends another protracted, and costly period of massive tensions with the Russians.

Russian officials, for their part, dismissed the buildup as part of NATO’s “anti-Russia hysteria,” saying the NATO leadership was “absolutely short-sighted” for continuing the moves. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov mocked NATO claims of Russian “aggression,” noting that “we aren’t the ones getting closer to NATO’s borders.”

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Is NATO Necessary?

Stephen Kinzer writes for the Boston Globe:

Secretary of State Dean Acheson signs the Atlantic defense treaty for the United States, April 4, 1949. Vice President Alben W. Barkley, left, and President Harry Truman converse during the signing. (AP Photo)Britain’s vote to quit the European Union was a rude jolt to the encrusted world order. Now that the EU has been shocked into reality, NATO should be next. When NATO leaders convene for a summit in Warsaw on Friday, they will insist that their alliance is still vital because Russian aggression threatens Europe. The opposite is true. NATO has become America’s instrument in escalating our dangerous conflict with Russia. We need less NATO, not more.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was founded in 1949 as a way for American troops to protect a war-shattered Europe from Stalin’s Soviet Union. Today Europe is quite capable of shaping and paying for its own security, but NATO’s structure remains unchanged. The United States still pays nearly three-quarters of its budget. That no longer makes sense. The United States should remain politically close to European countries but stop telling them how to defend themselves. Left to their own devices, they might pull back from the snarling confrontation with Russia into which NATO is leading them.

Russia threatens none of America’s vital interests. On the contrary, it shares our eagerness to fight global terror, control nuclear threats, and confront other urgent challenges to global security. Depending on one’s perspective, Russia may be seen as a destabilizing force in Europe or as simply defending its border regions. Either way, it is a challenge for Europeans, not for us. Yet the American generals who run NATO, desperate for a new mission, have fastened onto Russia as an enemy. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter preposterously places Russia first on his list of threats to the United States. Anti-Russia passion has seized Washington.

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NATO Takes Over US-Built Missile Shield, Amid Russian Suspicion

Yeganeh Torbati and Robin Emmott report for Reuters:

NATO took command of a U.S.-built missile shield in Europe on Friday after France won assurances that the multi-billion-dollar system would not be under Washington’s direct control.

The missile shield, billed as a defense against any strike by a “rogue state” against European cities, is one of the most sensitive aspects of U.S. military support for Europe. Russia says the system is in fact intended by Washington to blunt its nuclear arsenal, which the U.S. denies.

“Today we have decided to declare initial operational capability of the NATO ballistic missile defense system,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference.

“This means that the U.S. ships based in Spain, the radar in Turkey and the interceptor site in Romania are now able to work together under NATO command and control,” he said, adding that the umbrella was “entirely defensive” and “represents no threat to Russia’s strategic nuclear deterrent”.

Russia is incensed at the show of force by the United States, its Cold War rival in ex-communist-ruled eastern Europe.

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The United States and NATO Are Preparing for a Major War With Russia

Professor Michael T. Klare writes for The Nation:

NATO exercise[…] It’s hard to know where to begin when commenting on all this, given the atmosphere of Cold War hysteria. There is, first of all, the question of proportionality: are US and NATO moves on the eastern flank in keeping with the magnitude of the threat posed by Russia? Russian intervention in Crimea and eastern Ukraine is certainly provocative and repugnant, but cannot unequivocally be deemed a direct threat to NATO. Other Russian moves in the region, such as incursions by Russian ships and planes into the airspace and coastal waters of NATO members, are more worrisome, but appear to be more political messaging than a prelude to invasion. Basically, it’s very hard to imagine a scenario in which Russia would initiate an armed attack on NATO.

Then there is the matter of self-fulfilling prophecies. By announcing the return of great-power competition and preparing for a war with Russia, the United States and NATO are setting in motion forces that could, in the end, achieve precisely that outcome. This is not to say that Moscow is guiltless regarding the troubled environment along the eastern front, but surely Vladimir Putin has reason to claim that the NATO initiatives pose a substantially heightened threat to Russian security and so justify a corresponding Russian buildup. Any such moves will, of course, invite yet additional NATO deployments, followed by complementary Russian moves, and so on—until we’re right back in a Cold War–like situation.

Finally, there is the risk of accident, miscalculation, and escalation. This arises with particular severity in the case of US/NATO exercises on the edge of Russian territory, especially Kaliningrad. In all such actions, there is a constant danger that one side or the other will overreact to a perceived threat and take steps leading to combat and, conceivably, all-out war. When two Russian fighters flew within 30 feet of a US destroyer sailing in the Baltic Sea this past April, Secretary of State John Kerry told CNN that under US rules of engagement, the planes could have been shot down. Imagine where that could have led. Fortunately, the captain of the destroyer chose to exercise restraint and a serious incident was averted. But as more US and NATO forces are deployed on the edge of Russian territory and both sides engage in provocative military maneuvers, dangerous encounters of this sort are sure to increase in frequency, and the risk of their ending badly will only grow.

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After Brexit, US Hopes to Get NATO Focus Back on Russia

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

A major NATO summit is set to begin later this week in Warsaw, and while the plan was to spend the whole time harping on about “Russian aggression” and making more plans to add more ground troops to the Baltic states.

Then Brexit happened, and as with everyone else, that’s all a lot of summit goers want to talk about these days. Britain’s referendum was on leaving the EU, and not NATO, but that doesn’t mean a lot of officials aren’t predicting the move weakening the alliance, at least so far as joint NATO-EU operations go.

But with constant predictions from US officials of an imminent Russian invasion of Eastern Europe never panning out, the Obama Administration and other hawks on the Russia issue are looking to shift the focus of the summit back.

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Russia’s got a point: The U.S. broke a NATO promise

Joshua R. Itzkowitz Shifrinson reports for the Los Angeles Times:

Vladimir PutinMosscow solidified its hold on Crimea in April, outlawing the Tatar legislature that had opposed Russia’s annexation of the region since 2014. Together with Russian military provocations against NATO forces in and around the Baltic, this move seems to validate the observations of Western analysts who argue that under Vladimir Putin, an increasingly aggressive Russia is determined to dominate its neighbors and menace Europe.

Leaders in Moscow, however, tell a different story. For them, Russia is the aggrieved party. They claim the United States has failed to uphold a promise that NATO would not expand into Eastern Europe, a deal made during the 1990 negotiations between the West and the Soviet Union over German unification. In this view, Russia is being forced to forestall NATO’s eastward march as a matter of self-defense.

The West has vigorously protested that no such deal was ever struck. However, hundreds of memos, meeting minutes and transcripts from U.S. archives indicate otherwise. Although what the documents reveal isn’t enough to make Putin a saint, it suggests that the diagnosis of Russian predation isn’t entirely fair. Europe’s stability may depend just as much on the West’s willingness to reassure Russia about NATO’s limits as on deterring Moscow’s adventurism.

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A New Cold War? Interview with Sir Tony Brenton

Afshin Rattansi recently spoke to Britain’s former ambassador to Russia, Sir Tony Brenton, about the new Cold War. (Going Underground)

Putin Warns Finland Against Joining NATO

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

Following a meeting with his Finnish counterpart, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a statement warning Finland against joining NATO, warning that such a move would mean the end of Russia keeping its troops 1,500 km from their mutual border.

Putin cautioned that in joining Finland would overnight put NATO at the borders of the Russian Federation, adding that “NATO would gladly fight with Russia until the last Finnish soldier,” but that neither Finland nor Russia would benefit from such a thing.

A Finnish government report from back in April was also cautious about the idea of joining NATO, warning it would lead to a “crisis” with Russia, potentially a really economically harmful one for the Finns, who trade heavily with Russia.

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Hacked Emails Reveal NATO General Plotting Against Obama on Russia Policy

Lee Fang and Zaid Jilani report for The Intercept:

Retired U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, until recently the supreme commander of NATO forces in Europe, plotted in private to overcome President Barack Obama’s reluctance to escalate military tensions with Russia over the war in Ukraine in 2014, according to apparently hacked emails from Breedlove’s Gmail account that were posted on a new website called DC Leaks.

Obama defied political pressure from hawks in Congress and the military to provide lethal assistance to the Ukrainian government, fearing that doing so would increase the bloodshed and provide Russian President Vladimir Putin with the justification for deeper incursions into the country.

Breedlove, during briefings to Congress, notably contradicted the Obama administration regarding the situation in Ukraine, leading to news stories about conflict between the general and Obama.

But the leaked emails provide an even more dramatic picture of the intense back-channel lobbying for the Obama administration to begin a proxy war with Russia in Ukraine.

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Putin Conspiracies, Obama Nonintervention Blamed for Brexit

Adam Johnson reports for Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting:

Is Vladimir Putin Orchestrating Russian Football Hooliganism to Push Britain out of the EU?The referendum results in favor of Britain leaving the European Union seemed to have caught most Western media off guard. Betting markets and the pundit class had heavily favored a vote to keep the UK in the EU, but at around midnight on the US East Coast, it became increasingly clear Britain would be supporting “Brexit” by a roughly 52–48 percent margin. Per usual, the more cynical writers and pundits—no matter how contrived the task would be — would take the opportunity to take a story about a nationalistic British response to a pro-austerity EU, and make it about Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin.

[…] “Never let a serious crisis go to waste,” Rahm Emanuel once said. The same is true for large global shakeups like the exiting of Britain from the EU. Those who already dislike Obama or want to criticize Russia will shoehorn in a breaking story like Brexit to suit their own tangential agenda. By blaming Obama’s lack of a direct Syrian invasion and Russia’s lack of express support, these pundits are letting Britain’s own homegrown demagogues, nationalists and xenophobes off the hook—not to mention the EU’s own anti-democratic structures and pro-austerity policies that made staying with Europe a less appealing prospect.

But attributing Brexit on British rightists and European neoliberals calls into question corporate media’s leading ideologies. Better to put the blame on two individual leaders who had little or nothing to do with it.

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With NATO Exercises Encircling Russia, U.S. Might be Sleepwalking into a Doomsday Scenario: Interview with Richard Sakwa

Sharmini Peries speaks to Richard Sakwa, Professor of Russian and European Politics at University of Kent and the author of Frontline Ukraine, about U.S. destroyers and warships entering the Black Sea for the first time since the Cold War for NATO’s ten-day military exercises. (The Real News)

Euro 2016, Russia, the World Cup, Football Politics and Conflicting Interests

Barney Ronay reports for The Guardian:

[…] Ángel María Villar Llona is currently interim head of Uefa. He is officially in charge of this tournament. He will present the trophy to the winners on 10 July. His eye is on everything that passes here. Villar Llona also has another important job. In his spare time he’s the Fifa bureau chairman of Russia 2018.

Just digest that for a moment. The head of Uefa, a body tasked with resolving Russia’s and England’s disciplinary problems while at the mercy of a vast breaking wave of interests, is also Fifa head of Russia’s World Cup.

In this he works directly with Vitaly Mutko, longstanding Russian sporting-political powerbroker and Villar Llona’s close friend and associate. Mutko was in Marseille on Saturday night and could be seen waving to the Russian fans at pitchside shortly before they rioted. Igor Lebedev, a Russian FA executive committee member, has since said: “If Mutko had been with the fans in the stands and was not an official, he would have also have got into the fight with the England fans.” Mutko has denied that this is the case. He is also, in all seriousness, Russia’s minister for sport.

Villar Llona is more familiar as the longstanding head of the Spanish FA. During his tenure Spain and Russia have formed an allegiance on governance issues. Plus, apparently, a kind of loyalty. Last year Villar Llona was fined 25,000 Swiss francs (£18,000) by Fifa’s ethics committee for refusing to cooperate sufficiently with the Michael Garcia investigation into alleged corruption surrounding Russia’s World Cup bid.

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NATO Finalises Military Build-Up To Counter Russia

Bryan McManus reports for AFP:

NATO foreign ministers were on Thursday finalising the alliance’s biggest military build-up since the end of the Cold War to counter what they see as a more aggressive and unpredictable Russia.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the two-day meeting would address “all the important issues” to prepare for a “landmark” summit in Poland in July.

There, NATO leaders will formally endorse the revamp which puts more troops into eastern European member states as part of a “deter and dialogue” strategy, meant to reassure allies they will not be left in the lurch in any repeat of the Ukraine crisis.

“We will discuss how NATO can do more to project stability… and at the same time address how NATO can continue to adapt to a more assertive Russia to find the right balance between defence and dialogue,” Stoltenberg told reporters.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, attending the Brussels talks, said NATO was building a “robust” defensive posture on its eastern flank and urged member states to meet pledges to increase defence spending.

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Montenegro Receives NATO Invite, Rousing Russian Concerns

The Associated Press reports:

Over Russia’s angry objections, NATO agreed Thursday to expand for only the seventh time in its history, inviting the Balkan nation of Montenegro to become its 29th member.

The decision is still subject to formal approval by the U.S. Senate and the alliance’s other national parliaments.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said it was the “beginning of a new secure chapter” in the former Yugoslav republic’s history.

Montenegro’s prime minister, Milo Dukanovic, who attended the signing of an accession protocol at NATO headquarters in Brussels, said his country, bombed by NATO warplanes 16 years ago, would stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the other members of the U.S-led alliance.

You can count on us at any time,” said Dukanovic.

Russia has accused NATO of trying to encircle it and friendly nations like Serbia, and vowed to do what’s necessary to defend its national security and interests.

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Is War With Russia Possible? Interview with Stephen F. Cohen

Contributing editor to The Nation Professor Stephen F. Cohen and John Batchelor continue their weekly discussions about the new US-Russian Cold War. Cohen laments that in recent weeks the Obama administration appears to have been undermining cooperation with Moscow on three Cold War fronts: Syria and Ukraine, while also escalating NATO’s military presence near Russia’s borders. (The John Batchelor Show)

Escalations in a New Cold War

Jonathan Marshall writes for Consortium News:

President Barack Obama meets with President Vladimir Putin of Russia on the sidelines of the G20 Summit at Regnum Carya Resort in Antalya, Turkey, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015. National Security Advisior Susan E. Rice listens at left. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)If the United States ever ends up stumbling into a major conventional or nuclear war with Russia, the culprit will likely be two military boondoggles that refused to die when their primary mission ended with the demise of the Soviet Union: NATO and the U.S. anti-ballistic missile (ABM) program.

The “military-industrial complex” that reaps hundreds of billions of dollars annually from support of those programs got a major boost this week when NATO established its first major missile defense site at an air base in Romania, with plans to build a second installation in Poland by 2018.

Although NATO and Pentagon spokesmen claim the ABM network in Eastern Europe is aimed at Iran, Russia isn’t persuaded for a minute. “This is not a defense system,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday. “This is part of U.S. nuclear strategic potential brought [to] . . . Eastern Europe. . . Now, as these elements of ballistic missile defense are deployed, we are forced to think how to neutralize emerging threats to the Russian Federation.”

Iran doesn’t yet have missiles capable of striking Europe, nor does it have any interest in targeting Europe. The missiles it does have are notoriously inaccurate. Their inability to hit a target reliably might not matter so much if tipped with nuclear warheads, but Iran is abiding by its stringently verified agreement to dismantle programs and capabilities that could allow it to develop nuclear weapons.

The ABM system currently deployed in Europe is admittedly far too small today to threaten Russia’s nuclear deterrent. In fact, ABM technology is still unreliable,despite America’s investment of more than $100 billion in R&D.

Nonetheless, it’s a threat Russia cannot ignore. No U.S. military strategist would sit still for long if Russia began ringing the United States with such systems. That’s why the United States and Russia limited them by treaty — until President George W. Bush terminated the pact in 2002.

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The U.S. Army’s War Over Russia

Mark Perry reports for Politico:

Gettyarmy.jpgDuring the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864, a unit of Robert E. Lee’s army rolled up some artillery pieces and began shelling the headquarters of Union commander Ulysses S. Grant. When one of his officers pleaded that Grant move, insisting that he knew exactly what Lee was going to do, Grant, normally a taciturn man, lost his temper: “Oh, I am heartily tired of hearing about what Lee is going to do,” he said. “Some of you always seem to think he is going to turn a double somersault, and land in our rear and on both of our flanks at the same time. Go back to your command and try to think what we are going to do ourselves, instead of what Lee is going to do.”

The story was recalled to me a few weeks ago by a senior Pentagon officer in citing the April 5 testimony of Army leaders before a Senate Armed Services Subcommittee. The panel delivered a grim warning about the future of the U.S. armed forces: Unless the Army budget was increased, allowing both for more men and more materiel, members of the panel said, the United States was in danger of being “outranged and outgunned” in the next war and, in particular, in a confrontation with Russia. Vladimir Putin’s military, the panel averred, had outstripped the U.S. in modern weapons capabilities. And the Army’s shrinking size meant that “the Army of the future will be too small to secure the nation.” It was a sobering assessment delivered by four of the most respected officers in the Army—including Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, his service’s leading intellectual. The claim is the prevailing view among senior Army officers, who fear that Army readiness and modernization programs are being weakened by successive cuts to the U.S. defense budget.

But not everyone was buying it.

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NATO Seeks Bigger Black Sea Fleet to Target Russia

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

Already picking fights with Russia in the Baltic Sea, and deploying ever growing numbers of ground troops in Eastern Europe, NATO’s latest focus in needling Russia is a major increase in naval presence in the Black Sea.

It makes sense from the position of NATO hawks. After all, the Black Sea includes one of Russia’s most historically important ports, at Sevastopol, and NATO is eager to contest Russia’s ownership of the Crimean Peninsula, in which that port is located.

It’s not going to be simple, however, as the effort will mostly have to come without the direct involvement of either the United States or Britain, NATO’s two biggest navies, and the two nations most eager to stick it to Russia.

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Obama Administration Split on Using Syria as Proxy War Against Russia

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

obama-putin-syria-intervention-civil-war-middle-east-diplomacy-proxy-warWith US officials gleefully planning a massive escalation in Syria the moment the ceasefire collapses, many in the Obama Administration are being more direct about their desire to turn the Syrian Civil War into a proxy war against Russia, and more vocal when they see obstacles.

Officials familiar with the debate are now openly describing National Security Advisor Susan Rice as a “fly in the ointment,” claiming she has effectively vetoed plans by other officials to escalate the war even further, and target Russia more directly with arms shipments.

President Obama had previously rejected the notion of a proxy war, but with others in the administration hyping Syrian moves against al-Qaeda as ceasefire violations, they are now suggesting that not starting a proxy war would be a sign of “timidity,” and might anger Saudi Arabia.

Which doesn’t mean Obama is going to take the bait, but historically accusing him of timidity or suggesting the lack of an unwise military action would be criticized by a major ally have been successful in sucking the US into such efforts, and the hawks within the administration seem very genre-savvy to that end.

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