A grave danger from the Western mainstream media’s current hysteria about “fake news” is that the definition gets broadened from the few made-up stories that are demonstrably false – often fabricated by kids to get more clicks – to include reasonable disputes about the facts of a complex controversy.
This danger has grown worse because The New York Times, The Washington Post and other major Western news organizations have merged their outrage over “fake news” with the West’s propaganda campaign against Russia by claiming without evidence that the Russian government is somehow putting out false stories to undermine Western democracy.
However, when news organizations actually track down “fake news” outlets, they are usually run by some young entrepreneurs from outside Russia who saw made-up stories as a way to increase revenue by luring in more readers eager for “information” that supports their prejudices.
Yet, a front-page Times article on Tuesday, citing “fake news” as a threat to Europe, contains what arguably is “fake news” itself by claiming that many of the purported 2,500 stories “discredited” by the European Union’s East Stratcom operation have “links to Russia” although the Times doesn’t identify those links.
The article by Mark Scott and Melissa Eddy then goes on to blur these two separate concepts: “In a year when the French, Germans and Dutch will elect leaders, the European authorities are scrambling to counter a rising tide of fake news and anti-European Union propaganda aimed at destabilizing people’s trust in institutions.”
But it is this mushing together of “fake news” and what the Times describes as “anti-European Union propaganda” that is so insidious. The first relates to consciously fabricated stories; the second involves criticism of a political institution, the E.U., which is viewed by many Europeans as elitist, remote and disdainful of the needs, interests and attitudes of average citizens.
Whether you call such criticism “propaganda” or “dissent,” it is absurd to blame it all on Russia. When it comes to “destabilizing people’s trust in institutions,” the E.U. — especially with its inept handling of the Great Recession and its clumsy response to the Syrian refugee crisis — is doing a bang-up job on its own without Russian help.
Yet, rather than face up to legitimate concerns of citizens, the E.U. and U.S. governments have found a convenient scapegoat, Russia. To hammer home this point — to make it the new “groupthink” — E.U. and U.S. leaders have financed propaganda specialists to disparage political criticism by linking it to Russia.
Even worse, in the United States, the Times and other mainstream publications – reflecting the views of the political establishment – have editorialized to get giant technology companies, like Facebook and Google, to marginalize independent news sites that don’t accept the prevailing conventional wisdom.
There is an Orwellian quality to these schemes — a plan for a kind of Ministry of Truth enforced by algorithms to weed out deviant ideas — but almost no one whose voice is allowed in the mass media gets to make that observation. Even now, there is a chilling uniformity in the endless denunciations of Russia as the root of all evil.
Though the Times’ article treats the E.U.’s East Stratcom operatives as 11 beleaguered public servants sticking their fingers in the dike to protect the citizenry from a flood of Russian disinformation, “stratcom” actually is a euphemism for psychological operations, i.e., the strategic use of communications to influence the thinking of a target population.
In this case, the target populations are the European public and – to an ancillary degree – the American people who get to absorb the same propaganda from The New York Times. The real goal of stratcom is not to combat a few sleazy entrepreneurs generating consciously false stories for profit but to silence or “discredit” sources of information that question the E.U. and U.S. propaganda.
NATO has its own Stratcom command based in Latvia that also is assigned to swat down information that doesn’t conform to Western propaganda narratives. The U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy also pour tens of millions of dollars into media operations with similar goals as do major Western foundations, such as currency speculator George Soros’s Open Society. Last December, the U.S. Congress approved and President Obama signed legislation to create an additional $160 million bureaucracy to combat “Russian propaganda.”
In other words, the West’s stratcom and “psychological operations” are swimming in dough despite the Times’ representation that these “anti-disinformation” projects are unfairly outgunned by sinister forces daring to challenge what everyone-in-the-know knows to be true.
If these “stratcom” operations were around in 2002-2003, they would have been accusing the few people questioning the Iraq-has-WMD certainty of putting out “fake news” to benefit Saddam Hussein. Now, journalists and citizens who don’t buy the full-Monte demonization of Russia and its President Vladimir Putin are put into a similar category.
Instead of trusting in the free exchange of ideas, the new attitude at the Times, the Post and other Western news outlets is to short-circuit the process by smearing anyone who questions the official narratives as a “Putin apologist” or a “Moscow stooge.”
Beyond being anti-democratic, this anti-intellectual approach has prevented serious examination of the facts behind the West’s war or words against Russia. To shut down that debate, all you need to do is to say that any fact cited at a Russian news outlet must be false or “fake news.” Any Westerner who notes the same fact must be a “Putin puppet.”
Western “stratcom” doesn’t even want to allow Russian media to criticize politicians who are criticizing Russia. The Times article lamented that “Many false claims target politicians who present the biggest obstacles to Moscow’s goal of undermining the European Union.” The Times, however, doesn’t offer any examples of such “false claims.”
Instead, the Times writes that Russian news channels had “targeted the [French] presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron, who belongs to the party and is running on a pro-European Union platform.”
But what does that mean? Is it now an act of aggression when newscasts in one country criticize a leader of another country? If so, are the European news channels that have “targeted” U.S. President Donald Trump somehow deserving of U.S. government retaliation? Doesn’t the E.U. – and by extension The New York Times – accept the idea of political disagreement and debate?
This closed-mindedness is especially dangerous – indeed existentially risky – when applied to a confrontation between nuclear-armed powers. In such a case, the maximum amount of debate should be encouraged, instead of what amounts to blacklisting dissidents in the West who won’t toe the official propaganda lines.
Disturbingly, the leading forces in this suppression of skepticism are the most prestigious newspapers in the United States and Europe. Even after the disastrous experience with the Iraq War and the bogus WMD groupthink, Western news outlets that were party to that fiasco have virtually excluded well-reported articles and documentaries that question the U.S. and E.U. narratives of the New Cold War.
For instance, there has been almost no presentation in the mainstream Western media of an alternative – and I would argue more complete and accurate – narrative of the Ukraine conflict, taking into account the country’s complex history and deep ethnic divisions.
It is essentially forbidden to refer to the violent overthrow of elected President Viktor Yanukovych three years ago as a “coup” or a “putsch” or to cite evidence of a U.S.-backed “regime change,” such as an intercepted phone call between U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt in which they discussed how to “glue” and how to “midwife” the installation of a new leadership in Kiev.
In the supposedly “free” West, you can only refer to the post-coup events in Crimea, in which the people of the largely ethnic Russia area voted overwhelmingly to secede from Ukraine and rejoin Russia, as a “Russian invasion.” No skepticism is allowed even though there were no images of Russian troops wading ashore on Crimea’s beaches or Russian tanks crashing across borders. The “invasion” supposedly happened even though no invasion was necessary because Russian troops were already in Crimea under the naval basing agreement at Sevastopol.
Amid the West’s current hysteria about “Russian propaganda,” U.S. and E.U. citizens are not even given the opportunity to watch well-reported documentaries about key moments in the New Cold War, including an eye-opening investigative report debunking the Western propaganda myth constructed around the death of Russian accountant Sergei Magnitsky or a well-produced historical account of the Ukraine crisis.
Western news outlets and governments even take pride in blocking such dissenting views and contrary information from reaching the American and European publics. Like East Stratcom — the E.U.’s Brussels-based 11-member team of diplomats, bureaucrats and former journalists — establishment institutions see themselves bravely battling “Russian disinformation.” They see it as their duty not to let their people hear this other side of the story.
If that is what the West’s institutions have come to — dismissing reasonable criticism and thoughtful dissent as “Russian disinformation” — is it any wonder that they are losing the confidence of their people?
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s.
WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump’s new national security adviser is on the record as wanting to deter Russia in Europe but is also capable of moderation and original thought, former CIA officer Philip Giraldi told Sputnik.
On Monday, Trump announced his selection of US Lieutenant-General Herbert R. McMaster to become National Security Advisor. His first choice, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn was forced to resign after only two weeks, allegedly for giving misleading accounts of a conversation on raising economic sanctions with Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak.
“He [McMaster] regards Russia as ‘the enemy’ and apparently believes falsely that Moscow has been the aggressor in Georgia and Ukraine,” Giraldi said. “He wants to forward deploy more US forces to Europe to deter Russia.”
However, McMaster may prove to be more moderate on the issue of confronting Iran and accepting the 2015 nuclear agreement with Tehran than his predecessor Flynn would have been, Giraldi added.
“While [McMaster] is hostile to Iran he does not share the intense hatred of that country exhibited by Flynn,” he said.
However, McMaster had the reputation of being capable of moderation and of original thought rather than accepting superficial judgments on issues, Giraldi noted.
“On the plus side, some retired senior officers that I respect greatly have told me that he is pragmatic and quite capable of thinking outside the box,” Giraldi claimed.
McMaster’s field experience as a combat soldier would also make him more reluctant to advocate charging into conflicts that could cost lives, he suggested.
“He has actual combat experience so he is not likely to act like an armchair warrior (Flynn) and will not be inclined to waste the lives of soldiers to make a political point. Whether Trump will listen to him is, of course, an unknown at this point,” the former CIA officer explained.
McMaster enjoys the strong support of arch Republican hawk Senator John McCain and US neoconservatives, Giraldi pointed out.
“He is much loved by the neoconservatives with Bill Kristol and John McCain gushing over the appointment, which should give one pause,” he stated.
McMaster’s entire career had been in the US armed forces but now he will have to factor in political and diplomatic considerations to the advice he would be asked to give, Giraldi observed.
“As national security adviser McMaster will have to consider military power as one aspect of national security rather than the be-and-end-all which is how he had to think as a general,” he said.
Philip Giraldi is executive director of the Council for the National Interest, a group that advocates more even-handed US government policies in the Middle East.
President Trump rose from the ashes of Mike Flynn at his press conference last Thursday. In a bravura performance, defiant and funny at times, the President took on the corporate media en masse.
It is a performance that should not be missed. You can savor both video and transcript at your leisure here.
Trump: “Unfortunately, much of the media in Washington, D.C., along with New York, Los Angeles in particular, speaks not for the people, but for the special interests and for those profiting off a very, very obviously broken system. The press has become so dishonest that if we don’t talk about it, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people. Tremendous disservice. We have to talk to find out what’s going on, because the press honestly is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control.”
Sounds like what many “progressives” have been saying for a mighty long time, and it deserves resounding applause from them.
Trump: “And I’ll tell you what else I see. I see tone. You know the word ‘tone.’ The tone is such hatred. I’m really not a bad person, by the way. No, but the tone is such — I do get good ratings, you have to admit that — the tone is such hatred.”
And: “Now, I will say this. I watch it. I see it. I’m amazed by it. The public gets it, you know. Look, when I go to rallies, they turn around, they start screaming at CNN. They want to throw their placards at CNN. You know.”
The bias of the press against Trump is so obvious and heavy handed that no one can miss it. I asked one friend who is an avid and careful reader of the NYT whether he could name a single pro-Trump article over the last year. He could not. Does the press believe that the public are such fools that they cannot see this tone? This is but one more sign of the contempt that the clueless Elite have for the working stiff.
Russia and Putin
The most important point of the press conference was undoubtedly Trump’s refusal to back off one inch from his desire to “get along with Russia,” what some call New Détente or Détente 2.0. It is the most important, because tension between the two nuclear powers could well lead to war and nuclear exchange. For anti-warriors of every stripe Trump’s steadfastness was good news. The Flynn episode has not changed Trump’s resolve one iota.
Trump continued. Were he to denounce Russia and Putin, he instructed the press, it would be much easier for him politically. He would be hailed by the corporate press, the elitists of both Parties, the neocons, the Hillarycons and the entire foreign policy establishment, all of whom are itching for a fight, heedless that it might lead to a nuclear exchange. So Trump’s willingness to hold to this position is hardly opportunistic.
But he went farther. Trump let the press know that the atmosphere they are creating would make it difficult to negotiate with Putin, to defeat ISIS, or to bring an end to the crises in Ukraine or Syria nurtured by the US over the last six plus years. Why? Because he would have difficulty making concessions, giving as well as taking which any negotiation or deal demands. Any concession would trigger the charge that Trump is Putin’s puppet, the crazed mantra with which we are harangued daily and for which after all these many months there is not a shred of evidence. This is the very same point that Stephen F. Cohen, Emeritus Professor of Russian History at Princeton and NYU, often makes in his weekly discussions (Jan.25 episode especially) of U.S., Russia relations with John Batchelor on WABC.
Trump: “But I want to just tell you, the false reporting by the media, by you people, the false, horrible, fake reporting makes it much harder to make a deal with Russia. And probably Putin said ‘you know.’ He’s sitting behind his desk and he’s saying ‘you know, I see what’s going on in the United States, I follow it closely. It’s going to be impossible for President Trump to ever get along with Russia because of all the pressure he’s got with this fake story.’ OK? And that’s a shame because if we could get along with Russia — and by the way, China and Japan and everyone. If we could get along, it would be a positive thing, not a negative thing.” (Emphasis, jw).
And later, Trump: “But you know what? I want to do the right thing for the American people. And to be honest, secondarily, I want to do the right thing for the world.
If Russia and the United States actually got together and got along — and don’t forget, we’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are they. There’s no upside. We’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are they. I have been briefed. And I can tell you one thing about a briefing that we’re allowed to say because anybody that ever read the most basic book can say it, nuclear holocaust would be like no other. (Emphasis, jw)… They’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are we. If we have a good relationship with Russia, believe me, that’s a good thing, not a bad thing.”
The idea of “getting along” with other nations, even as we compete with them economically, is of course the way to peace and the very antithesis of the path the neocons and liberalcons from the Clintons to Bush to Obama have set us on these past thirty plus years of killing and destruction. And yet the “peace movement” expresses nothing but hatred for Trump and pushes for his impeachment. Some “peace” movement, that.
Back to l’affaire Flynn for a moment. Permit this writer to make a surmise, scarcely a ripple on the sea of surmises these days about the Deep State, Trump etc. Flynn did nothing illegal. Trump did not have to let him go, and it can easily be argued that Trump may have kept blood out of the water by sticking by Flynn and keeping him on. Flynn has been an asset. He is a champion of Détente 2.0 with Russia. He knows the national “intelligence” apparatus and where all its skeletons are closeted. He seems to know the deep story of the support that the Obama and Hillary forces gave to ISIS – certainly indirectly through US allies and probably also directly through the CIA, Mossad etc. But Flynn is also a man near crazed with an irrational bellicosity to Iran. That would have thrown a monkey wrench into Détente 2.0 since Russia and Iran have close ties especially in the fight against Sunni fundamentalist terrorism. So sooner or later Flynn had to go to preserve Détente 2.0. Did Trump take this opportunity to do so? And did Tillerson also crave this? It is a suspicion worth pondering. Trump has shown a cold-blooded capacity to say “you’re fired” when someone’s liabilities outweigh their assets. This writer suspects that Flynn’s time had come.
John V. Walsh can be reached at email@example.com.
Just when we thought the great national embarrassment of a UN Ambassador Samantha Power was over, we are suddenly faced with a new US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, who almost makes Ms. Power look like a giant in world affairs and diplomacy.
Addressing the UN Security Council Open Debate on Conflicts in Europe today, Ambassador Haley managed to get nearly every single point spectacularly wrong while mixing in the most banal of platitudes to further deaden the delivery.
It can be tempting to take Europe’s peace and security for granted. Europe is a continent of strong, stable democracies. And Europe is a continent of flourishing economies that benefit from close cooperation.
But Europe faces serious challenges – most acutely, Russia’s attempts to destabilize Ukraine and infringe upon Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
How exactly is Russia attempting to destabilize Ukraine? It was Russia, after all, and not the US, which called together the opposing sides two years ago to hammer out the “Minsk II” ceasefire and reconciliation agreement. Was not that in fact a stabilizing move rather than a destabilizing move?
More than three years ago, the Ukrainian people took to the streets to speak out against political oppression and corruption. These protesters demanded freedom, democracy, and respect for the rule of law, and they succeeded in creating a new Ukraine.
That is not all what happened. It was the “protestors” who started the killing. They targeted police officers to provoke a response and thus add fuel to the simmering flame of months long protests in 2014. Russian propaganda, you say? Not at all. The killers went on television to brag about it!
Here is the story of one of the cop killers, Ivan Bubenchik, as reported in Foreign Policy magazine (hardly a pro-Russia outlet) and told on camera to Ukraine’s Hromadske TV station:
To create a word of mouth effect, you have to shoot two or three [police] commanders I only picked two. And after that, there was no need to kill anyone else, so I aimed at the legs.
Does Nikki Haley support killing police officers?
Another report — this time in the BBC — told the same story. It was Nikki Haley’s peaceful protestors who started the violence by shooting at police:
The protest leaders, some of whom now hold positions of power in the new Ukraine, insist full responsibility for the shootings lies with the security forces, acting on behalf of the previous government.
But one year on, some witnesses are beginning to paint a different picture.
‘I was shooting downwards at their feet,’ says a man we will call Sergei, who tells me he took up position in the Kiev Conservatory, a music academy on the south-west corner of the square.
‘Of course, I could have hit them in the arm or anywhere. But I didn’t shoot to kill.’
Sergei says he had been a regular protester on the Maidan for more than a month, and that his shots at police on the square and on the roof of an underground shopping mall, caused them to retreat.
Does Nikki Haley believe shooting police officers is justified as long as you’re demanding “respect for the rule of law”?
In fact, the overthrow of the government in Ukraine was not at all set in motion by the Ukrainian people. It was planned in Washington and executed in the streets of Kiev, where US policymakers openly urged an overthrow of the elected Ukrainian government.
It is established fact that US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland was on the streets of Kiev with US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt meeting with the protesters, encouraging them, and handing out food. Later she was caught in a phone call with the US Ambassador plotting in detail the overthrow of the government and how to replace it with Washington’s picks.
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) was also on the streets of Kiev during the early stages of the coup. He was actively supporting the overthrow of Ukraine’s legal government. Said McCain:
We are here to support your just cause, the sovereign right of Ukraine to determine its own destiny freely and independently. And the destiny you seek lies in Europe…
Later on CNN, McCain admitted his role in the coup, stating:
What we’re trying to do is try to bring about a peaceful transition here…
How would Senator McCain react were a Russian member of parliament appear in the midst of a Washington, D.C. riot urging “a peaceful transition here”?
Trump’s Ambassador to the UN continued:
But Russia has tried to prevent the change that the Ukrainian people demanded. Russia occupied Crimea and attempted to annex this piece of Ukrainian territory – an act the United States does not recognize.
That is also demonstrably false. Russia did not “occupy” Crimea because the Russian military was already in Crimea! Russia had leased the naval base in Crimea from the Ukrainian government until 2042. The troops were already there. Russia did not attempt to annex Crimea, but rather a referendum was held in which, according to the BBC, 90 percent of the residents voted to rejoin Russia (of which they had been a part since the 18th century).
Surely this is fake news! Why would Crimeans vote to leave Ukraine and join Russia? In fact Russians make up more than 65 percent of the population of Crimea and when the US-backed coup brought to power a vehemently anti-Russian government in Kiev was it really so surprising that the people would look for the exit signs?
Russia then armed, financed, and organized separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, leading to a devastating and senseless conflict that has cost more than 10,000 lives.
Again untrue. The rebellion in eastern Ukraine was fueled by the US-backed coup in Kiev. Eastern Ukraine is predominantly Russian-speaking and in some parts of the region 96 percent voted for the president ousted with US support. As one might expect, unrest follows when one’s president is overthrown with assistance from an outside power. And it was the US who did the arming, financing, and organizing the unelected coup forces who took power in Kiev.
The scenes of destruction from the town of Avdiivka in recent weeks show the consequences of Russia’s ongoing interference in Ukraine.
Avdiivka fell under attack after the Kiev forces advanced into the no-man’s land separating the opposing sides. Ukrainian deputy defense minister Pavlovaky admitted that “meter by meter, step by step, whenever possible our boys have been advancing.”
You get the point. US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley has no clue what is happening in eastern Ukraine and so has just dusted off the dusty old talking points of the Obama Administration.
While on the campaign trail last year, Donald Trump sharply (and correctly) criticized the Obama Administration’s militaristic foreign policy. At the time Trump said:
…unlike other candidates for the presidency, war and aggression will not be my first instinct. You cannot have a foreign policy without diplomacy. A superpower understands that caution and restraint are really truly signs of strength.
He continued by calling for new people and new approaches to foreign policy:
My goal is to establish a foreign policy that will endure for several generations. That’s why I also look and have to look for talented experts with approaches and practical ideas, rather than surrounding myself with those who have perfect résumés but very little to brag about except responsibility for a long history of failed policies and continued losses at war. We have to look to new people.
Well, Mr. President, I am sorry to have to inform you of this, but when it comes to Ambassador Nikki Haley, you may technically have “new people” in positions but you most certainly do not have new ideas. You have failed former ambassador Samantha Power’s stale, regurgitated talking points. Enough!
Russia is being blamed for interfering in elections across the globe, from the US, Britain, Germany to Estonia and others. Now the tiny Balkan state of Montenegro has jumped on the bandwagon, with an even more reckless version of the ‘Russia-did-it’ trope.
This week Montenegro’s state prosecutor concluded Russian state agents were not only trying to subvert elections, but the alleged plot also involved the attempted assassination of the former prime minister, to prevent it becoming a member of NATO.
With suspiciously good timing, the far-fetched story was given dubious credibility by Britain’s Telegraph newspaper. The day before the Montenegrin prosecutor made the announcement, the Telegraph published an article in which anonymous “Whitehall sources” issued the same claims of a Russian-sponsored coup attempt in Montenegro during the country’s parliamentary elections last October.
The fact the Telegraph is a well-worn conduit for British military intelligence disinformation is relevant.
Moscow lambasted the accusations as “absurd.” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the claims were “irresponsible,” having been leveled without any supporting evidence.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted the Montenegro scenario of alleged Russian interference “is just another one in a series of groundless assertions blaming our country for carrying out cyberattacks against the entire West, interfering in election campaigns in the bulk of Western countries, as well as allegations pointing to the Trump administration’s ties with Russian secret services, among other things”.
“Not one iota of evidence has been brought forward about these groundless accusations,” added Lavrov.
The Montenegrin authorities are indeed just the latest to finger Russia as a convenient scapegoat to distract from what appears to be their own internal political problems.
The canard was perhaps given away when Montenegro’s Foreign Minister Srdjan Darmanovic commented this week: “In today’s world, such interference is not specific only for Montenegro.” The minister is clearly trying to wrap Montenegro up in the same cloth of victimhood claimed by others who are impugning Russian malfeasance.
More plausibly, the real story here is Montenegro’s controversial plans to join the US-led NATO military alliance. NATO’s civilian chief Jens Stoltenberg formally invited the country to become the 29th member of the Alliance last May.
However, that move which has been pushed by former premier Milo Djukanovic and his ruling party is widely opposed among Montenegro’s population of 620,000, with polls showing public opinion edging against membership. This public opposition partly stems from the recent history of NATO bombing former Yugoslavia and the subsequent break-up of the state which led to Montenegro’s independence in 2006.
To be sure, Russia is staunchly against Montenegro joining NATO, viewing it as another provocative eastward expansion of the military pact toward its borders. Moscow is supportive of Montenegrin political parties opposed to NATO membership but denies any underhand interference in the country’s internal affairs.
The supposed plot by Moscow to overthrow the Montenegrin government in last year’s parliamentary elections to scuttle plans to join NATO is much more likely to be a ruse by the authorities to drum up anti-Russian public sentiment – with the aim of promoting its pro-NATO cause.
What Russia is accused of hatching in Montenegro – an armed takeover of parliament and trying to assassinate the premier – is so outlandish it can hardly be taken seriously. But the far-fetched allegations are being swept along in the slipstream of a much bigger propaganda drive in the West to blame Russia for everything.
German news outlet Deutsche Welle published an article last week with the headline: “Is Moscow meddling in everything?” It goes on to ask with insinuating tone: “Does Putin decide who wins elections in the West? Many believe that he cost Clinton the US presidency; now Macron is next [in] France, and then Merkel will be in the line of fire.”
In the US, the Senate Intelligence Committee is stepping up its probe into allegations Russian cyber hackers helped Donald Trump win the presidential election on November 8. No evidence has ever been provided by US intelligence agencies to support these claims. But the allegations have taken on a life of their own, becoming coined as “fact” in the media and among Republican and Democratic politicians alike.
In Britain, parliamentarians have retrospectively cited the unproven Russian “influence campaign” for Trump to claim that Russian interference was a factor in why Britons voted unexpectedly in the referendum last June to leave the European Union.
According to American intelligence claims reported last month, Russia has interfered in the electoral process of several other European countries, including Austria, Germany, France, Bulgaria, Estonia, and Poland, as well as Ukraine.
This is in spite of the findings by German intelligence which concluded that there was no evidence that Russia hackers had targeted the country.
In the torrid climate of fake news and “fact-free” narratives, arguably the most egregious exemplar of this are the repeated claims of Russian interference in other nations’ elections. Western news media and governments have abdicated any modicum of responsible conduct to push this inflammatory narrative.
In recent days, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault issued a warning to Russia after he accused Moscow of interfering in the country’s forthcoming presidential elections. France’s top diplomat apparently based his condemnation against Russia on partisan claims made by presidential contender Emmanuel Macron that his campaign was being targeted by Russia. Macron claims his team’s computers were being attacked by hackers. Again, no evidence was provided. He also pointed to an unfavorable article in Russian news outlet Sputnik as grounds for claiming the Kremlin was out to spoil his campaign.
As in the heyday of the Cold War, and its countless Red Scare stories to keep Western populations cowering in fear, Russia has again emerged as the ultimate scapegoat.
Western states are wobbling from a lack of authority perceived by the public in governing institutions. Decades of economic and social inequality and overseas illegal wars have eroded the legitimacy of established political parties and mechanisms of governance. Western countries are groaning from discontent toward elitist, effete rulers.
The rise of populist figures, including Donald Trump in the US and anti-EU, anti-NATO parties in Europe, is symptomatic of this historical movement of mass protest.
Rather than the establishment parties and institutions, including the mainstream media, accepting that there is a popular revolt underway against a corrupt system, the convenient “explanation” is to blame the decline on Russia. The old Western order is falling apart it seems, from its own internal decay and misrule. But unable to face the truth, the ruling parties and system are desperately looking for a culprit. Russia and its alleged fiendish designs to destroy the Western order is the convenient scapegoat.
The propaganda delirium of blaming Russia for everything has become so fevered that even Montenegro’s ruling clique is emboldened to come up with the preposterous claim that Moscow is trying to assassinate its leaders.
This bandwagon of blaming Russia is prone to its wheels coming off – so ridiculous is it. But there’s also a danger that the anti-Russia vehicle pushed too far could explode into a full-scale war between NATO powers and Russia.
Vitaly Churkin was one of the wisest voices in international diplomacy. His voice will no longer echo in the halls of the United Nations. Articulate, polite yet commanding, wise yet affable, he oversaw some of Russia’s and the world’s most important events in a position he occupied since 2006.
Churkin had to face a great deal of hostile criticism from both the Bush and Obama administrations during his time at the UN, but he always did so with grace. He never failed to explain the Russian position with the utmost clarity.
Standing next to some of his colleagues, he often looked like a titan in a room full of school children.
His death, a day before his 65th birthday, is a tragedy first and foremost for his family, friends and colleagues. It is also a deeply sad day for the cause of justice, international law and all of the principles of the UN Charter which Churkin admirably upheld in the face of great obstacles.
His death however raises many uncomfortable questions…
Here are 5 things that must be considered:
1. A Macabre Pattern Has Emerged
Beginning in 2015, there were several deaths within the Russian Diplomatic corps and a special Russian Presidential adviser.
First there was Russia’s RT founder and special adviser to President Putin, Mikhail Lesin. He died in November of 2015 in his hotel room. Reports said that he appeared discombobulated during his last sighting before he died. Later it emerged that he died of a blunt head trauma. Drinking was blamed, but many questions were left unanswered.
Earlier last month, Andrei Malanin, a Senior Russian Diplomat to Greece was found dead in his bathroom. The causes of death remain unknown.
Just last month, Russia’s Ambassador to India, Alexander Kadakin, an always prestigious role, died of a heart attack, although no one was aware of any previous health issues.
In December of last year Russia’s Ambassador to Turkey was assassinated by a lone jihadi gunmen in an art gallery. There was no effective security as the killer simply walked up to Ambassador Andrei Karlov and shot him multiple times in the back.
Vitaly Chirkin is the highest profile member of Russia’s diplomatic corps to die in recent years.
2. A Motive For Foul Play?
Each of the recently deceased Russian Ambassadors were high profile targets for miscreants and criminals, whether state actors, mercenaries or fanatics.
Lesin was instrumental in the creation of RT, a news outlet which has come under constant attack from the western establishment.
Malanin had overseen a period of warming fraternal relations between Greece and Russia at a time when Greece is feeling increasingly alienated from both the EU and NATO.
Karlov is said to be responsible for helping to facilitate the rapprochement between Presidents Erdogan and Putin.
Kadakin oversaw a period of renewed tensions between India and Pakistan at a time when Russia was trying to continue its good relations with India whilst building good relations with Pakistan.
On the 31st of December, 2016, Churkin’s resolution on a ceasefire in Syria passed in the UN Security Council after months of deadlock. The resolution is still in force.
Anyone who wanted to derail the diplomatic successes that the aforementioned men achieved for Russia would have a clear motive to extract vengeance.
3. Who Stands To Gain?
In the matter of Karlov, any derailment of restored Russo-Turkish relations would be good for those happy for Turkey to continue her support of jihadists in Syria rather than moving towards accepting a Russian and indeed Iranian brokered peace process which respects the sovereignty of Syria as Russia and Iran always have, but Turkey has not.
In the case of Lesin, anyone wanting ‘vengeance’ for RT’s popularity would be able to say that a kind of former media boss was taken down.
For Malanin, many fear that if ‘Grexit’ happens, Russia will become an increasingly important partner for Greece. The EU would not like one of its vassal states enjoying fruitful relations with Russia, a country still under sanctions from Brussels.
For Kadakin, it is a matter of interest for those wanting Pakistan to continue favouring western powers and not wanting Russia to be able to mediate in conflict resolutions between New Delhi and Islamabad.
Churkin had come to dominate the UN in ways that his counterparts on the Security Council simply could not. No one really stood a chance in a debate with Churkin. His absence leaves open the possibility for a power vacuum that would makes other peoples’ jobs easier.
4. Where The Deaths Took Place
Each death took place on foreign soil. Mr. Karlov’s killing in particular, exposed the weakness of his security contingent. If security was that weak in a comparatively volatile place like Turkey, it goes without saying that security in states considered more politically stable would be even more lax.
Again it must be said that a non-biased detective might say that the only pattern which has emerged is that many people in the Russian diplomatic corps and related institutions have heart attacks. Maybe they eat fatty foods every day and drink and smoke too much. But if this was this case, why are the heart attacks all on foreign soil?
If all of the former Ambassadors except Karlov were really in bad health, is it really just a coincidence that none of these men had a health scare on Russian soil? Again, a pattern has emerged.
5. The Ethics of Speculation?
Many will say that it is too early to suspect foul play. Indeed, I must make it clear that this is simply speculation based on a pattern of tragic and at times unexplained events, combined with the objective reality that because of Russia’s recently elevated profile as a born-again geopolitical superpower, Russia is a bigger target for international criminals than it was in the broken 1990s or the more quiet early 2000s.
When such events happen, one’s duty is to speculate so that better health and safety precautions are taken to ensure the well-being of Russia’s important diplomats. Furthermore, if foul play is a factor, it means that such seemingly unrelated events must be investigated more thoroughly.
Russia has historically suffered from invasion, revolution and more recently from immense international pressure. The Russian people, like Russia’s ambassadors are entitled to the peace and long lives deserved by any member of a country that has suffered for too long.
© Sputnik/ Ramil Sitdikov
As the hysteria over the wholly fictional links between the Trump administration and Russia continues unabated, claims have been circulating about a supposed Russian plot to overthrow the government of Montenegro so as to prevent that country from joining NATO.
To say that the ‘evidence’ for this is thin would be an understatement. The best summary is in the Guardian :
Montenegrin police arrested a group of Serbian nationals on the eve of the 16 October vote and two Russian suspects are wanted over the alleged plot to seize parliament and assassinate former president and prime minister Milo Đukanović.
Montenegrin authorities had previously said the conspiracy was orchestrated by “Russian nationalists” but special prosecutor Milivoje Katnić went a step further on Sunday evening, suggesting that Russian authorities were involved.
“So far we have had evidence that Russian nationalist structures were behind [the plot], but now also that Russian state bodies were involved at a certain level,” Katnić told local media. “The organs of the Russian state must investigate which bodies are involved and open a criminal trial over these acts.”
A spokesman for the Russian president, Vladimir, Putin, dismissed the allegations. “These (are) absurd accusations … We do not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, including Montenegro,” Dmitry Peskov said on Monday.
According to Katnić, a key witness, Aleksandar Sinđelić, a nationalist Serb, was invited to Moscow by Eduard Sismakov, a member of “Russian military structures”, to be cleared for the mission. Sismakov, using the alias Shirakov, “asked him to work first to prevent Montenegro from entering Nato. That is the sole motivation of these structures,” Katnić said. Montenegrin prosecutors suspect 25 people, mostly Serbs, of links to the alleged coup, and are searching for two Russians, including Sismakov, who is believed to be the main organiser.
In other words the entire weight of the claim of Russian involvement in the supposed coup rests on the supposed connection between the plotters and an individual identified as “Eduard Sismakov”. As to who Eduard Sismakov is, he has been identified by the BBC as a former deputy military attache to Poland.
It is just about conceivable that some fiery people in this small but proud Balkan Slav country with its tradition of friendship towards Russia might have come up with some crackbrained plan to overthrow the government in order to prevent it joining NATO. Given the long history of close contacts between Montenegro and Russia it is also just possible that they might have met with some people in Russia and got support from them. To construct from these facts a wild theory of a Russian plot to overthrow the government of Montenegro is however little short of absurd. Yet as leaks from the usual ‘anonymous officials’ to the Daily Telegraph show, the British government is trying to give credence to the whole affair.
It is barely conceivable that anyone in any senior position in Moscow would seriously contemplate the idea of a coup in Montenegro. Though the Russians would obviously prefer that Montenegro did not join NATO, the country is too small and too distant from Russia for this to be a serious issue for them. It beggars belief that anyone in authority in Moscow would take the totally reckless and irresponsible step of ordering a coup in a traditionally friendly country in order to prevent something which for Russia ultimately does not matter.
Moreover for the Russians to plan a coup in another country would be for them an extraordinary step to say the least. Whilst the US has a long history of organising or backing coups in foreign states going all the way back to the coup in Iran in 1953, the Russians have not played any role in any coup in Europe since the Czech coup of 1948. Nor have they engaged in much coup making elsewhere. The coup in Afghanistan in 1978 which they were once widely believed to have organised is now known to have caught them by surprise.
Given their traditional aversion to organising coups in other countries – and their lack of know-how in how to do it – it is scarcely conceivable that the Russians would attempt such a thing in Montenegro where the benefits are small and the risks are so obviously great.
In Montenegro itself the government’s plan to join NATO has come in for a great deal of criticism, and there are reports that the opposition to the government is claiming that the whole coup plot is a fiction fabricated by the government in order to discredit it.
I do not know whether that is true or not. However it is altogether more likely than the farfetched claims about Russian involvement in the plot which the Montenegro authorities are making.
MOSCOW – The appointment of US Army Lt. Gen. Herbert Raymond McMaster as the US president’s national security adviser poses a 100-percent danger to Russia, first deputy chairman of Russia’s Federation Council Committee on Defense and Security Franz Klintsevich told Sputnik on Tuesday.
McMaster’s appointment was announced on Monday by US President Donald Trump.
“McMaster is… a 100-percent threat to Russia from the US, and it’s not getting weaker or smaller. Defense and intelligence wing of Washington will carry out a Russophobic policy,” Klintsevich said.
The former administration’s trend in US way of treating Russia remains unchanged, Klintsevich said.
Earlier in the day, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia was patiently waiting for Washington to form its position toward Moscow.
McMaster is known to be supportive of necessity of ready army forces to “prevent the aggressor from doing what Russia has in Ukraine,” according to his report entitled “Continuity and Change. The Army Operating Concept and Clear Thinking About Future War,” published in 2015.
The appointment of McMaster comes after Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn resigned over information that he inadvertently briefed Vice President Michael Pence and other White House officials with incomplete information about his phone conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States before Trump’s inauguration.
Vitaly Churkin, who served as Russia’s permanent representative to the United Nations since 2006, “died suddenly” in New York, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced.
The announcement “of the untimely passing away of Ambassador Vitaly Churkin this morning” was met with shock when it was delivered during a session at the UN headquarters.
“He was a dear colleague of all of us, a deeply committed diplomat of his country and one of the finest people we have known,” a UN official who delivered the news to her colleagues said.
The moment of silence in Churkin’s memory was announced at the UN.
President Putin has expressed his condolences to Churkin’s family and to all Russian diplomats.
“He was an outstanding person. He was brilliant, bright, a great diplomat of our age,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told RT, adding that the news of Churkin’s death was “completely shocking.”
Churkin fell ill in his office at Russia’s UN mission and was taken to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, where he died Monday, AP reported, citing Russia’s deputy UN ambassador, Vladimir Safronkov. The cause of death wasn’t immediately known, the agency reported.
“He has been such a regular presence here that I am actually quite stunned. Our thoughts go to his family, to his friends and to his government,” Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for the UN secretary-general’s office said, as quoted by Reuters. […]
“He was a strong-willed, resolute, and dutiful person, who was admired by his colleagues and envied by his enemies,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told RT.
Russia’s UN Ambassador spared no effort and devoted his life and strength “to the fight for a brighter future for this world,” Ryabkov said, adding that Churkin’s death is “a great loss not only for diplomacy, but for the country in general.”
The profession of a diplomat “has become much more hectic than it used to be in the past,” Churkin said earlier this month in an interview with RT, which was one of his last. “It is stressful,” he said.
“Unfortunately, the world has not become more stable than it used to be,” Churkin told RT’s Aleksey Yaroshevsky.
Before he was appointed to represent Russia at the UN in May 2006, the diplomat served as ambassador to Belgium, ambassador to Canada, and liaison ambassador to NATO and the Western European Union (WEU).
In the 2000s he was ambassador at large at Russia’s Foreign Ministry, while in the early 1990s he served as the special representative of the Russian president to the talks on the former Yugoslavia.
As Democrats compete to become the new War Party – pushing for a dangerous confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia – some constituents are objecting, as Mike Madden did in a letter to Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
Dear Senator Klobuchar, I write with concern over statements you have made recently regarding Russia. These statements have been made both at home and abroad, and they involve two issues; the alleged Russian hack of the presidential election and Russia’s actions in the aftermath of the February 22, 2014 coup in Kiev.
U.S. intelligence services allege that President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign to denigrate Hillary Clinton and help elect Donald Trump. The campaign is purported to include the production of fake news, cyber-trolling, and propaganda from Russian state-owned media. It is also alleged that Russia hacked the email accounts of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, subsequently providing the emails to WikiLeaks.
Despite calls from many quarters, the intelligence services have not provided the public with any proof. Instead, Americans are expected to blindly trust these services with a long history of failure. Additionally, the former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, and the former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, John Brennan, have both been known to lie to the public and to Congress, Mr. Clapper doing so under oath.
Meanwhile, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange maintains the emails did not come from Russia (or any other state actor) and his organization has an unblemished record of revealing accurate information in the public interest that would otherwise remain hidden. While responsible journalists continue to use the word ‘alleged’ to describe the accusations, Republicans with an ax to grind against Russia, and Democrats wishing to distract from their own failings in the campaign, refer to them as fact. Indeed, on the ‘Amy in the News’ page of your own website, Jordain Carney of The Hill refers to the Russian meddling as “alleged”.
A congressional commission to investigate the alleged Russian hacking is not necessary. Even if all the allegations are true, they are altogether common occurrences, and they certainly don’t rise to the level of “an act of aggression”, “an existential threat to our way of life”, or “an attack on the American people” as various Democratic officials have characterized them. Republican Senator John McCain went full monty and called the alleged meddling “an act of war”.
Joining War Hawks
It is of concern that you would join Senator McCain and the equally belligerent Senator Lindsey Graham on a tour of Russian provocation through the Baltics, Ukraine, Georgia, and Montenegro. The announcement of your trip (December 28, 2016) on the ‘News Releases’ page of your website renewed the unproven claim of “Russian interference in our recent election”. It also claimed that the countries you were visiting were facing “Russian aggression” and that “Russia illegally annexed Crimea”.
It is unfortunate that these claims have become truisms by sheer repetition rather than careful examination of the facts. Russia has not invaded eastern Ukraine. There are no regular units of the Russian military in the breakaway provinces, nor has Russia launched any air strikes from its territory. It has sent weapons and other provisions to the Ukrainian forces seeking autonomy from Kiev, and there are most certainly Russian volunteers operating in Ukraine.
However regrettable, it must be remembered that the unrest was precipitated by the February 22, 2014 overthrow of the democratically elected president Viktor Yanukovych which, speaking of meddling, was assisted by U.S. State Department, other American government agencies, and one Senator John McCain. The subsequent military and paramilitary operations launched by the coup government against the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk were described by President Putin as “uncontrolled crime” spreading into the south and east of the country. In American parlance, both the interim coup government in Kiev and the current government of President Petro Poroshenko have engaged in “killing their own people”.
Ignoring the Details
If Russia’s actions are to be considered “aggression” or an “invasion”, one must find a whole new word to describe what the United States did to Iraq in 2003. If, like your colleague Senator McCain, you hold the annexation of Crimea to be illegal under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, I urge a closer look.
On February 21, 2014, an agreement brokered by the European Union was signed between President Yanukovych and the leaders of three major opposition parties. The agreement contained terms for a cessation of violence, immediate power sharing, and new elections. Smelling blood in the water, the opposition in Maidan Square did not withdraw from the streets or surrender their illegal weapons as agreed, but instead went on the offensive. Yanukovych, under threat to his life, fled Kiev along with many others in his Party of Regions.
Nor did the opposition party leaders honor the agreement. The next day, they moved to impeach Yanukovych, however they failed to meet several requirements of the Ukrainian Constitution. They failed to indict the president, conduct an investigation, and have that investigation certified by the Constitutional Court of Ukraine. Instead, they moved directly to a vote on impeachment and, even on that count, they failed to obtain the required three-fourths majority vote. So, even though the Budapest Memorandum did offer assurances of Ukrainian security and territorial integrity in exchange for surrender of Soviet-era nuclear weapons on its soil, the sovereign government of Ukraine had fallen in a violent unconstitutional putsch.
Yanukovych remained its legitimate president-in-exile and he, along with the prime minister of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, requested Russian intervention on the peninsula to provide security and protect the human rights of ethnic Russians threatened by the new coup government and neo-Nazi elements within it.
One can now see how real that threat was by looking to eastern Ukraine where the Ukrainian military and neo-Nazi paramilitaries such as the Azov Battallion, have moved with force against the defenders of the Donbass region whose people seek autonomy from a government in Kiev that they do not recognize. Approximately 10,000 people have died in the Donbass War, whereas only six people were killed during the period of annexation (February 23-March19, 2014) in Crimea.
While the Donbass War drags on, Crimea remains stable today. The popular referendum conducted on March 16, 2014 lent legitimacy to the subsequent annexation. Official results claimed 82% turnout with 96% of voters favoring reunification with Russia. Independent polling conducted in the early weeks of March 2014 found 70-77% of all Crimeans favored reunification. Six years prior to the crisis in 2008, a poll found that 63% favored reunification. Even though many ethnic Ukranians and Tatars boycotted the election, rejoining Russia was clearly the will of the majority of Crimean people.
President Putin, characterizing the situation in Ukraine as a revolution, claimed that Russia had no agreements with the new state and therefore no obligations under the Budapest Memorandum. He also cited Chapter I: Article 1 of the United Nations Charter, which calls for respect for the principle of self-determination of peoples. The 1975 Helsinki Accords, which affirmed post-World War II borders, also allowed for the change of national boundaries by peaceful internal means.
The Kosovo Precedent
It is also useful to consider parallel occurrences in Kosovo. In 1998 ethnic cleansing by Serbian troops and paramilitaries led to a NATO intervention without U.N. authorization. There is little question that the move was illegal, but legitimacy was claimed due to the urgent humanitarian need. Ten years later, Kosovo would declare independence from Serbia and the disputed matter would end up before the International Court of Justice. In 2009 the United States provided the Court with a statement on Kosovo that read in part: “Declarations of independence may, and often do, violate domestic legislation. However, this does not make them violations of international law.”
The United States should accept the Russian annexation of Crimea both as a pragmatic matter, and one of principle. In 1990, during negotiations for the re-unification of Germany, the United States promised that there would be no eastward expansion of NATO. That promise has now been broken three times and eleven new nations have been added to the alliance. Ukraine has also entered in partnership with NATO, and at various times, full membership has been discussed. Russia has consistently expressed its disapproval. According to your website, an objective of your trip was “to reinforce support for NATO”. If this weren’t provocative enough, your three-senator delegation went to a front-line military outpost in Shirokino, Ukraine to incite an escalation to the Donbass War. Senator Graham told the assembled soldiers “Your fight is our fight, 2017 will be the year of offense”. The leader of your delegation, Senator McCain, said “I am convinced you will win and we will do everything we can to provide you with what you need to win”.
After the speeches were given, you are seen in a video of the New Year’s Eve event accepting what appears to be a gift from one of the uniformed soldiers. With all of the furor over former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s resignation, and possible violation of the Logan Act, for discussing alleviation of sanctions with a Russian ambassador, this appears to be a far more serious offense. Not only did your delegation advocate for a foreign policy that was not aligned with that of acting President Obama, it was also contrary to President-elect Trump’s approach to the region. And the results of your advocacy have the potential to be far more deadly than the mere alleviation of sanctions.
Sincerely, Mike Madden St. Paul, Minnesota
According to the New York Times, «a Trump administration official» has accused Russia of violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty). The statement was supported by the Defense Department. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain chimed in, saying «Russia’s deployment of nuclear-tipped ground-launched cruise missiles in violation of the INF treaty is a significant military threat to US forces in Europe and our NATO allies». According to him, Russian President Vladimir Putin was «testing» Trump.
The statement was immediately used by hawks as a pretext for instigating tensions. For instance, Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, said he sees little reason for the US to continue adhering to the INF treaty in light of alleged Russia’s «violations». He has recommended building up US nuclear forces in Europe, which currently include about 200 bombs that can be delivered by aircraft. The US withdrew land-based nuclear-armed missiles from Europe as part of the INF deal.
The Treaty eliminated all ground-based nuclear and conventional missiles, as well as their launchers, with ranges of 500–1,000 kilometers (310–620 mi) (short-range) and 1,000–5,500 km (620–3,420 mi) (intermediate-range). Signed in December 1987 by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the INF deal is accredited with significantly reducing the threat of nuclear confrontation and accelerating the end of the Cold War.
By May 1991, 2,692 missiles were eliminated, followed by 10 years of on-site verification inspections. The document did not cover sea-launched missiles. It stands as the only arms treaty to eliminate an entire class of US and Russian weapons – nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles of intermediate range.
Last year, the State Department reported Russia was in violation of its treaty obligations not to possess, produce or flight-test a ground-launched cruise missile with a range of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers, or to possess or produce launchers for such missiles. «The administration is undertaking an extensive review of Russia’s ongoing INF treaty violation in order to assess the potential security implications for the United States and its allies and partners», said Mark Toner. The alleged violations had been mentioned in the 2014 and 2015 compliance reports.
No specifics have been released about which exactly Russian weapon is the source of the violation. The only thing it has said is that an unspecified Russian ground-launched cruise missile breaches the agreement. Supposedly, the missile in question is the SSC-8, a ground-based adaptation of the Kalibr missiles that were battle tested in Syria striking targets in Syria, nearly 1,000 miles away, from the Caspian Sea. Despite all the statements with accusations, no compelling evidence of the Russian non-compliance has ever been produced.
It should be noted that even if the missile has been tested, there is no violation. The INF Treaty allows the testing of sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs) from ground-based platforms if they are fixed. Article VII (para 11) states, «A cruise missile which is not a missile to be used in a ground-based mode shall not be considered to be a GLCM if it is test-launched at a test site from a fixed land-based launcher which is used solely for test purposes and which is distinguishable from GLCM launchers».
Russia, in turn, has accused the US of violating the pact. In a nutshell, it cites the following examples of non-compliance:
– The use of target missiles with characteristics similar to those of intermediate and shorter-range ballistic missiles during ballistic missile defense (BMD) tests. With its operational range (1,100 km) Hera qualifies as an intermediate ballistic missile and hence violates Item 1, Article 6 of the INF Treaty.
– The deployment in Romania and Poland of Mk-41 Aegis Ashore launchers capable of firing ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCMs). A US mid-range weapon launched from Poland would require only a short flight time to reach beyond the Urals.
– US unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or armed drones such as the MQ-1 Predator, fall under the INF Treaty definition of GLCMs. Moscow claims that their operational ranges (1,100 km) and lack of pilot mean that drones of this type are very similar to shorter-range cruise missiles.
It’s worth noting that the US plans to arm tactical aviation in Europe with modernized B61-12 guided warheads will virtually nullify all the benefits of the INF Treaty from the point of view of Russia’s security. The aircraft could fly from bases in Lithuania, Estonia and Poland to Russia’s largest cities in 15-20 minutes – not that much longer than the flight time of the missiles scuttled by the INF treaty.
The Special Verification Commission (SVC) envisioned by the INF treaty is a forum to confidentially address compliance concerns. It was convened last November for the first time since 2003 to produce no results. The opportunities provided by this venue should not be squandered. It would be much more fruitful to start serious discussions within the framework of the SVC than make public statements not backed up by facts. The accusations obviously pursue the aim of whipping up tensions to spoil the RF-US relationship at the time it has a chance to improve.
The INF treaty is under serious and increasing stress. Failure to resolve the dispute could threaten the agreement and impede further efforts to reduce Russia and US nuclear arsenals in the years ahead. The parties could use the SVC venue to consider additional confidence-building measure and information exchanges that take into account technological and political developments that have occurred recently. The Open Skies Treaty could be used for the purpose. Its observation capabilities could be upgraded. The NATO-Russia Council could serve as another mechanism to address specific security concerns.
The issue has been debated since 2014 but before this statement no one has officially accused Russia of violating the INF. It should be noted that this time the issue was raised immediately after the Flynn’s resignation from the position of national security adviser. Revelations about alleged ‘Russia connections» of the people who belong to the Trump’s team are hitting US media headlines. The statement about the INF violation is made against the background of the White House’s statement stressing the need to «return» Crimea to Ukraine and the ballyhoo raised over the alleged dangerous maneuvering of Russian aircraft in the Black Sea. These are provocative statements doomed to be rejected by Moscow but they pursue a definite purpose. Evidently, some powerful circles in the US have launched a well-orchestrated campaign to prevent the improvement of Russia-US relations.
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has said that 2017 is going to be “the year of kicking Russia in the ass” as he threatened Moscow with a new round of sanctions over Moscow’s alleged US election interference.
Speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Sunday, the Republican senator referred to accusations by both Republicans and Democrats: that Kremlin-backed hackers conspired to rig the 2016 US presidential election at the expense of Hillary Clinton, adding that a bipartisan investigation is due to get underway.
“If you’re worried that we’re not going to look long and hard at what Russia did in our election because Trump won and the Republicans are in charge, you don’t need to worry about that,” the South Carolina lawmaker told delegates from around the world. “I promise everybody in this room that Congress is going to take a long, hard look at what Russia did to undermine our elections, so they’ll be better prepared when they come your way.”
If the investigation turned up any evidence of Russian interference there would be consequences, Graham warned.
“So we’ve introduced Russia sanctions for interfering in our election, apart from what they did in Crimea, we’re going to have a vote on it. It’s going to be bipartisan, we’re going to get north of 75 votes and my goal is to put it on Trump’s desk and I hope he will embrace the idea that as the leader of the free world, he should be working with us to punish Russia.”
Graham said he believed Moscow would try to influence the upcoming elections in Europe. “To our German friends, you’re next. To our friends in France, they’re coming after you. And to my friend Mr. Lavrov, I hope you finally suffer some consequences for what you and your regime have been doing to democracies, and 2017 is going to be the year of kicking Russia in the ass in Congress,” he told delegates at the Bayerischer Hof Hotel on Sunday.
Moscow has consistently denied all allegations of any state-backed hacking while cybersecurity and intelligence experts have said there is no evidence for these claims.
“If I was the Chinese and I wanted to make it look like the Russians did it, I would use Russian language within the code, I would use Russian techniques of breaking into the organization,” cybersecurity pioneer John McAfee told RT in December, adding that “there simply is no way to assign a source for any attack.”