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A choice for Europe: costly US liquified gas versus cheap Russian pipeline gas

The latest anti-Russian sanctions package about to be made law by the US Congress will not materially harm the Russian economy. However it does pose a challenge for Germany and the EU: do they press on buying cheap pipeline gas from Russia or expensive liquified gas from the US.

Alexander Mercouris

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News that the Republicans and the Democrats in the House of Representatives have agreed on a new sanctions package against Russia will be deeply unwelcome news, and not just or even primarily in Moscow.

The new sanctions package will not have the big impact on the Russian economy that some are expecting.  The Russian economy has sailed through the previous far more severe sectoral sanctions which were imposed on Russia in July 2014, and the collapse in oil prices which took place in the second half of that year.  The result was only a short and shallow recession, out of which Russia is now rapidly emerging.  Indeed there are some who calculate that growth this year will be enough by itself to wipe out all the output loss during the recession, though I do not share this view.

The new sanctions in economic terms do not add significantly to the sanctions which were imposed in 2014.  They appear intended to target the personal assets of super-wealthy Russians – a deeply unpopular class still wrongly referred to as “oligarchs”, though the days of their power in Russia are long gone – and to impede Western and specifically US participation and investment in certain of Russia’s industries, first and foremost those in the extractive sector.

The days when Russian companies looked first and foremost to the West for capital and technology were however brought to an end – by the West itself – in 2014, and the new sanctions do not add materially to what happened then.

As for the “oligarchs” and the obstacles the new sanctions seem intended to place in the way of the privatisation of certain Russian companies – including interestingly the Russian maritime tanker fleet – not only will these not have any serious macroeconomic impact on Russia (with Russia’s consolidated budget apparently in surplus the idea that Russia needs to sell these companies to fill holes in its budget is wrong) but one cannot fail but note the paradox of the US Congress allying with the Russian Communist Party to impede Russian privatisations and to target Russian “oligarchs”.

For years following the coming of President Putin to power the Western and especially the US media ran a shrill campaign warning that President Putin was intent on locking Western investors out of Russia and reversing the privatisation process begun in the 1990s.   It is extremely strange therefore to see the US Congress working hard to achieve that very thing, which Putin as it happens never did.

No doubt that is why significant business sectors in the US – especially the US oil industry which has been hankering to invest in Russia – have made their unhappiness with the new sanctions clear.

Regardless of that the idea that there is insufficient capital and technology in Russia to enable the country to develop its economy successfully on the basis of its own resources is a myth, though one which obviously dies hard.

However if the macroeconomic impact of the new sanctions on Russia will be minimal, the same cannot be said of their political impact, and of the dilemma they pose Europe.

At their simplest the new sanctions will make it all but impossible for the US and Russia to establish normal inter-country relations with each other.

It was only a few years ago that the Congress – very reluctantly and under heavy pressure from the Obama administration and the US business community – rescinded the Jackson-Vanik amendment.  Since then the US has however in effect nullified that step by imposing one set of sanctions on Russia after another, starting with the Magnitsky Act sanctions and now culminating in the latest sanctions package.

The Russians have got the message, which is that normal commercial relations between Russia and the US will never happen.  The point was made very clearly by Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov in a television interview on Wednesday

We are aware that those sanctions, which are imposed now, [will not be lifted], whatever we would do. Even if we say we agree to anything and hoist a white flag, anyway hearings and motions will be in full swing.  Senators and Congresspersons will find a million excuses for not lifting anything.

This incidentally explains the tough line Russia is taking over the return of its diplomatic property, which was illegally seized by the Obama administration in a straightforward act of confiscation of what is actually the Russian state’s private property last December.  Here is what Ryabkov had to say about that

We do not allow for any conditions in order to have this property given back to us. It is not a bargaining issue. We are far from seeing merely any signs of preparations for certain deals. We see no reason why such categories should be allowed for because we just need to have ours back.

Since the new sanctions will render it impossible for the Trump administration to return the property or lift the sanctions the Russians lose nothing by taking a tough line on the question of its return.

Whilst political cooperation between the US and Russia remains possible on certain specific issues lingering hopes that one day they might one day establish a normal trading relationship are now surely dead.  Every attempt to achieve such a relationship going back to the detente era of the 1970s has ended in failure because the political opposition in the US is too strong.  As Ryabkov says, there is no reason to think that will ever change, and the Russians clearly no longer believe it will.

However it is in Europe where the new sanctions pose the greatest challenge.

Back in 2014 Angela Merkel and the EU leadership worked closely with the Obama administration to agree the sanctions that the US and the EU would jointly impose on Russia.  This was done so as to ensure that the sanctions did not directly impact on either the US’s or the EU’s fundamental economic interests, though in the event Russia’s apparently unexpected counter-sanctions hurt some EU agricultural producers badly.

The new sanctions are however being imposed without any prior discussion between the US and EU whatsoever.  No one in the US has asked for Angela Merkel’s or the EU’s opinions about them, or has shown the slightest concern for German or European interests.  Instead the sanctions are being imposed for domestic reasons, as a spin-off of the Russiagate scandal, and as part of the feud between the Democrats and the Trump administration.  The result is that they have been negotiated between Democrats and Republicans in Congress without Angela Merkel and the Europeans being consulted about them at all.

The new sanctions explicitly target Russian pipelines projects to Europe, specifically the Nord Stream 2 pipeline recently agreed between Germany and Russia.

Back in April I discussed Nord Stream 2 in detail and explained the rationale behind it – that it provides Germany and Europe with cheaper pipeline gas from Russia than gas they could obtain elsewhere – and the way that recognition of this reality amounted to a Russian victory in Europe’s decades long energy war

As the energy war between the EU and Russia heated up from the mid 2000s, demands – many of them originating in Washington and London, even though the US and UK are not significant importers of Russian gas – for the EU to ‘diversify’ its gas imports away from Russia so as to reduce the EU’s supposedly dangerous dependence on Russia steadily built up.

These led to various schemes to reduce the EU’s ‘dependence’ on Russian gas, including the importing of liquified natural gas from the Persian Gulf and the US, the building of the Nabucco pipeline across Turkey and the Caucasus to Azerbaijan, the importing of gas from the newly discovered gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean, and the importing of gas from north Africa…..

By December 2014, when South Stream was cancelled, all these disputes and conflicts had come to a head.

The European projects to ‘diversify’ away from Russian gas had all failed.

The reason was that all these projects ran into the same problem: they did not provide enough gas to reduce Europe’s need for gas from Russia, and they made no economic sense because the gas they would have provided would have been significantly more expensive than the gas supplied by pipeline from Russia.

In the meantime the Ukrainians during fraught negotiations over gas supplies from Russia over the course of the summer of 2014 once more threatened to siphon off Russian gas passing through Ukrainian pipelines destined for Gazprom’s EU customers.

Meanwhile the Russians for their part were having far more success in diversifying their gas exports to non-European customers than the Europeans were having in reducing their need for imports of gas from Russia.  Specifically in 2014 the Russians announced major projects to build two giant pipelines to supply gas to China.  Though these pipelines have been derided by Western and Russian liberal critics as making no economic sense because the Chinese will pay less for the gas than Russia’s European customers, there is no doubt the Russians will make a profit from the sales, and the fact that they will soon be selling large amounts of gas to China means that they are no longer as dependent on the Europeans as their customers as they once were.

The European country which found itself most exposed was Germany, whose large industrial sector not only requires plentiful supplies of cheap gas but which has also become more gas dependent as Germany has been closing down its coal and nuclear industries.

The result is that despite the sanctions the EU imposed on Russia on German insistence in July 2014, in June 2015 – just a few months after the cancellation of South Stream in December 2014 – and with the full backing of the German government, a new pipeline project linking Germany to Russia across the Baltic was announced, which is Nord Stream 2.  Moreover in order to ensure that this pipeline would be built the Germans agreed to Russia’s demand that it would not be subject to the EU’s Third Energy Package.

The new pipeline predictably provoked a sustained campaign of opposition from a coalition of opponents including those who claimed to be concerned about Europe’s ‘energy dependence’ on Russia, various eastern and central European states unhappy at the loss of transit fees caused by the direct supply of gas to Germany from Russia, other EU states such as Italy unhappy at the way Germany dealt directly with Russia in its own interests whilst simultaneously insisting that other EU states impose sanctions on Russia, and of course Ukraine, which risks being cut out completely as a transit state.

Opposition to Nord Stream 2 was led by the European Commission on the grounds that it was not compatible with the EU’s Third Energy Package and would increase Europe’s dependence on Russian gas.  The Germans and the Russians countered, truthfully if somewhat disingenuously, that Nord Stream 2 is not subject to the Third Energy Package since it does not cross over EU territory as it passes under the Baltic Sea

The reality is that in today’s Europe if the Germans and the Russians agree on something it is going to happen irrespective of whatever others might think or say about it.  The German government could have killed Nord Stream 2 at any time but it chose not to because that would have outraged German industry, already seething over the sanctions imposed on Russia.  That in effect all but guaranteed that despite all the objections Nord Stream 2 would go ahead.

The EU Commission has now dropped its objections to Nord Stream 2 and said Nord Stream 2 is not covered by the Third Energy Package.  This amounts to it raising the white flag, not just in relation to Nord Stream 2 but in respect of the whole energy war.  Suffice to say that it is not a coincidence that at the same time the European Commission’s case against Gazprom seems to be fizzling out.

What this means is that following more than a decade and a half of struggle the Russians have finally and conclusively won the energy war.

Not only will Nord Stream 2 be built as the Russians want – without it being subject to the Third Energy Package – but there is nothing now to stop the Russians building Nord Stream 3 or Nord Stream 4 or as many other pipelines as they want under the Baltic on the same basis.

If the Russians have won the energy war in Europe, it is however now clear that they have not won it in the US.  There powerful forces remain who still wish to disrupt the flow of Russian energy to Europe.

This explains why the new sanctions expressly target Nord Stream 2, with threats of fines of companies which participate in the project.

These actions are quite obviously intended to obstruct or if possible kill off the Nord Stream 2 project, no doubt in part for political reasons, but also in part for commercial ones, with the politically well connected shale industry in the US apparently pressing to sell maritime tanker transported US liquified natural gas to Europe in place of Russian pipeline gas.

However whilst this makes commercial sense for the US shale producers, it makes no commercial sense for the Germans and the Europeans.

In the extract from my previous article which I quoted above I discussed how all the alternatives to Russian pipeline gas which have previously been mooted – “the importing of liquified natural gas from the Persian Gulf and the US, the building of the Nabucco pipeline across Turkey and the Caucasus to Azerbaijan, the importing of gas from the newly discovered gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean, and the importing of gas from north Africa…..” – have failed because the gas they would provide would be significantly more expensive than the gas supplied by pipeline from Russia.

Of these alternatives maritime tanker transported US liquified natural gas must be one of the most expensive, both because of the way it is produced, and because of the way it must be stored and transported.

I would add that given that the US is a major net energy importer it makes little economic sense for the US to export this gas either.  However this is the project the US Congress is now committing itself to.

Here it is important to make one particular point about the US approach not just to sanctions but to US law generally.

If the threats against participation in Nord Stream 2 merely affected US companies the Germans and the Europeans would simply shrug them off and ignore them.  However over the last couple of decades the US has increasingly adopted the view that its domestic law has universal application, and can be enforced by the US authorities on anyone irrespective of nationality anywhere in the world.  That might in theory lead to European companies being fined by the US for doing things – such as participating in the Nord Stream 2 project – far from US territory, and in places such as north west Europe where the US ought to have no jurisdiction.

Not surprisingly the Europeans – the Germans and the Austrians in particular – are furious about all of this.  As they have pointed out, fresh sanctions being imposed on Russia without any consultation are directly impacting on their fundamental economic interests by obliging them to buy expensive US liquified natural gas in preference to cheaper Russian pipeline gas, thereby threatening the competitiveness of their industries.

The German government – including Angela Merkel – has made its strong objections and deep anger especially clear.

Beyond German outrage at the way in which German and European interests are being disregarded, there is also unquestionably further anger at the way the US – or at least the US Congress – is using the current political campaign against Russia to try to force the Europeans to pay a subsidy to the well-connected US shale industry by buying its gas.

So what will happen?

There is no doubt that the US Congress will vote into law its latest sanctions package, with this happening probably on Wednesday.

There has been some talk of Donald Trump vetoing the package.  However given overwhelming majorities for the sanctions package in both the Senate and the House make that unlikely.  Besides if Trump did try to exercise a veto, his veto would presumably be overridden.

It does not however necessarily follow that the sanctions package will kill Nord Stream 2.

Whilst it is all very well for the US Congress to pass a law that might theoretically threaten European companies with fines if they participate in Nord Stream 2, it is quite another matter for the US government to impose such fines on European companies which are participating in a project which is strongly backed by the German government.  That would trigger a huge row, and might lead to retaliatory action by the EU.

Significantly this episode has already provoked the Germans and the Austrians to say that they do not accept that the US has universal jurisdiction over European companies participating in legal projects in Europe far away from the US.

The EU Commission has now issued a public statement strongly condemning the whole approach being taken by the US Congress

…….the Russia/Iran sanctions bill is driven primarily by domestic considerations…..As we have said repeatedly, it is important that any possible new measures are coordinated between international partners to maintain unity among partners on the sanctions. ….We are concerned the measures discussed in the US Congress could have unintended consequences, not only when it comes to Transatlantic/G7 unity, but also on EU economic and energy security interests…This impact could be potentially wide and indiscriminate.  We therefore call on the US Congress/authorities to engage with the partners, including the EU, to ensure coordination and to avoid any unintended consequences of the measures discussed.

There is almost certainly nothing that can now be done to prevent the US Congress from voting this sanctions package into law.  However there must be a strong probability that the Trump administration will heed the EU’s call for consultation before the sanctions package is enforced, and that is likely to shield European companies that are participating in Nord Stream 2.  There seems to be enough leeway in the law to allow this, and it is difficult to believe that even the most hardline Democrats in the Congress will wish to overturn arrangements agreed between the Trump administration and the German government.

That of course depends on Merkel and the German government standing firm on this issue.  With German opinion strongly aroused on this issue, the probability however is that they will.

Regardless of that, this episode shows two further things:

Firstly, the sanctions whey they were imposed on Russia in 2014 were hailed in the West as a great display of Western unity.  On the contrary they are increasingly becoming a source of conflict and argument: within the EU – between northern Europe and southern Europe – and now between the EU and the US.

Secondly, this episode once again exposes Angela Merkel’s folly in agreeing in July 2014 to put US geopolitical objectives in Ukraine above German and EU economic interests.  Ever since Merkel’s authority has been tied to the sanctions she agreed to in July of that year, so that she now finds herself committed to a sanctions policy which is not only contrary to German interests but over which she ultimately has no control.

The result is that she – and Europe and Germany in her wake – are now hostages to decisions made not in Brussels and Berlin but in Washington and Kiev.

That is a disastrous outcome, whose consequences this latest episode are making all too clear.

As Merkel’s nemesis Vladimir Putin might one day point out to her, that is however what happens if you choose to sacrifice your nation’s interests to the demands of your friends.

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Airline wars heat up, as industry undergoes massive disruption (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 145.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris examine the global commercial airline industry, which is undergoing massive changes, as competition creeps in from Russia and China.

Reuters reports that Boeing Co’s legal troubles grew as a new lawsuit accused the company of defrauding shareholders by concealing safety deficiencies in its 737 MAX planes before two fatal crashes led to their worldwide grounding.

The proposed class action filed in Chicago federal court seeks damages for alleged securities fraud violations, after Boeing’s market value tumbled by $34 billion within two weeks of the March 10 crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX.

*****

According to the complaint, Boeing “effectively put profitability and growth ahead of airplane safety and honesty” by rushing the 737 MAX to market to compete with Airbus SE, while leaving out “extra” or “optional” features designed to prevent the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes.

It also said Boeing’s statements about its growth prospects and the 737 MAX were undermined by its alleged conflict of interest from retaining broad authority from federal regulators to assess the plane’s safety.

*****

Boeing said on Tuesday that aircraft orders in the first quarter fell to 95 from 180 a year earlier, with no orders for the 737 MAX following the worldwide grounding.

On April 5, it said it planned to cut monthly 737 production to 42 planes from 52, and was making progress on a 737 MAX software update to prevent further accidents.

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Via Zerohedge…

Step aside (fading) trade war with China: there is a new aggressor – at least according to the US Trade Rep Robert Lighthizer – in town.

In a statement on the USTR’s website published late on Monday, the US fair trade agency announced that under Section 301 of the Trade Act, it was proposing a list of EU products to be covered by additional duties. And as justification for the incremental import taxes, the USTR said that it was in response to EU aircraft subsidies, specifically to Europea’s aerospace giant, Airbus, which “have caused adverse effects to the United States” and which the USTR estimates cause $11 billion in harm to the US each year

One can’t help but notice that the latest shot across the bow in the simmering trade war with Europe comes as i) Trump is reportedly preparing to fold in his trade war with China, punting enforcement to whoever is president in 2025, and ii) comes just as Boeing has found itself scrambling to preserve orders as the world has put its orderbook for Boeing 737 MAX airplanes on hold, which prompted Boeing to cut 737 production by 20% on Friday.

While the first may be purely a coincidence, the second – which is expected to not only slam Boeing’s financials for Q1 and Q2, but may also adversely impact US GDP – had at least some impact on the decision to proceed with these tariffs at this moment.

We now await Europe’s angry response to what is Trump’s latest salvo in what is once again a global trade war. And, paradoxically, we also expect this news to send stocks blasting higher as, taking a page from the US-China trade book, every day algos will price in imminent “US-European trade deal optimism.”

Below the full statement from the USTR (link):

USTR Proposes Products for Tariff Countermeasures in Response to Harm Caused by EU Aircraft Subsidies

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has found repeatedly that European Union (EU) subsidies to Airbus have caused adverse effects to the United States.  Today, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) begins its process under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 to identify products of the EU to which additional duties may be applied until the EU removes those subsidies.

USTR is releasing for public comment a preliminary list of EU products to be covered by additional duties.  USTR estimates the harm from the EU subsidies as $11 billion in trade each year.  The amount is subject to an arbitration at the WTO, the result of which is expected to be issued this summer.

“This case has been in litigation for 14 years, and the time has come for action. The Administration is preparing to respond immediately when the WTO issues its finding on the value of U.S. countermeasures,” said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.  “Our ultimate goal is to reach an agreement with the EU to end all WTO-inconsistent subsidies to large civil aircraft.  When the EU ends these harmful subsidies, the additional U.S. duties imposed in response can be lifted.”

In line with U.S. law, the preliminary list contains a number of products in the civil aviation sector, including Airbus aircraft.  Once the WTO arbitrator issues its report on the value of countermeasures, USTR will announce a final product list covering a level of trade commensurate with the adverse effects determined to exist.

Background

After many years of seeking unsuccessfully to convince the EU and four of its member States (France, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom) to cease their subsidization of Airbus, the United States brought a WTO challenge to EU subsidies in 2004. In 2011, the WTO found that the EU provided Airbus $18 billion in subsidized financing from 1968 to 2006.  In particular, the WTO found that European “launch aid” subsidies were instrumental in permitting Airbus to launch every model of its large civil aircraft, causing Boeing to lose sales of more than 300 aircraft and market share throughout the world.

In response, the EU removed two minor subsidies, but left most of them unchanged.  The EU also granted Airbus more than $5 billion in new subsidized “launch aid” financing for the A350 XWB.  The United States requested establishment of a compliance panel in March 2012 to address the EU’s failure to remove its old subsidies, as well as the new subsidies and their adverse effects.  That process came to a close with the issuance of an appellate report in May 2018 finding that EU subsidies to high-value, twin-aisle aircraft have caused serious prejudice to U.S. interests.  The report found that billions of dollars in launch aid to the A350 XWB and A380 cause significant lost sales to Boeing 787 and 747 aircraft, as well as lost market share for Boeing very large aircraft in the EU, Australia, China, Korea, Singapore, and UAE markets.

Based on the appellate report, the United States requested authority to impose countermeasures worth $11.2 billion per year, commensurate with the adverse effects caused by EU subsidies.  The EU challenged that estimate, and a WTO arbitrator is currently evaluating those claims

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Mueller report takes ‘Russian meddling’ for granted, offers no actual evidence

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Via RT…


Special counsel Robert Mueller’s ‘Russiagate’ report has cleared Donald Trump of ‘collusion’ charges but maintains that Russia meddled in the 2016 US presidential election. Yet concrete evidence of that is nowhere to be seen.

The report by Mueller and his team, made public on Thursday by the US Department of Justice, exonerates not just Trump but all Americans of any “collusion” with Russia, “obliterating” the Russiagate conspiracy theory, as journalist Glenn Greenwald put it.

However, it asserts that Russian “interference” in the election did happen, and says it consisted of a campaign on social media as well as Russian military intelligence (repeatedly referred to by its old, Soviet-era name, GRU) “hacking” the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the DNC, and the private email account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair, John Podesta.

As evidence of this, the report basically offers nothing but Mueller’s indictment of “GRU agents,” delivered on the eve of the Helsinki Summit between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in what was surely a cosmic coincidence.

Indictments are not evidence, however, but allegations. Any time it looks like the report might be bringing up proof, it ends up being redacted, ostensibly to protect sources and methods, and out of concern it might cause “harm to an ongoing matter.”

‘Active measures’ on social media

Mueller’s report leads with the claim that the Internet Research Agency (IRA) ran an “active measures” campaign of social media influence. Citing Facebook and Twitter estimates, the report says this consisted of 470 Facebook accounts that made 80,000 posts that may have been seen by up to 126 million people, between January 2015 and August 2017 (almost a year after the election), and 3,814 Twitter accounts that “may have been” in contact with about 1.4 million people.

Those numbers may seem substantial but, as investigative journalist Gareth Porter pointed out in November 2018, they should be regarded against the background of 33 trillion Facebook posts made during the same period.

According to Mueller, the IRA mind-controlled the American electorate by spending “approximately $100,000” on Facebook ads, hiring someone to walk around New York City “dressed up as Santa Claus with a Trump mask,” and getting Trump campaign affiliates to promote “dozens of tweets, posts, and other political content created by the IRA.” Dozens!

Meanwhile, the key evidence against IRA’s alleged boss Evgeny Prigozhin is that he “appeared together in public photographs” with Putin.

Alleged hacking & release

The report claims that the GRU hacked their way into 29 DCCC computers and another 30 DNC computers, and downloaded data using software called “X-Tunnel.” It is unclear how Mueller’s investigators claim to know this, as the report makes no mention of them or FBI actually examining DNC or DCCC computers. Presumably they took the word of CrowdStrike, the Democrats’ private contractor, for it.

However obtained, the documents were published first through DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 – which the report claims are “fictitious online personas” created by the GRU – and later through WikiLeaks. What is Mueller’s proof that these two entities were “GRU” cutouts? In a word, this:

That the Guccifer 2.0 persona provided reporters access to a restricted portion of the DCLeaks website tends to indicate that both personas were operated by the same or a closely-related group of people.(p. 43)

However, the report acknowledges that the “first known contact” between Guccifer 2.0 and WikiLeaks was on September 15, 2016 – months after the DNC and DCCC documents were published! Here we do get actual evidence: direct messages on Twitter obtained by investigators. Behold, these “spies” are so good, they don’t even talk – and when they do, they use unsecured channels.

Mueller notably claims “it is clear that the stolen DNC and Podesta documents were transferred from the GRU to WikiLeaks” (the rest of that sentence is redacted), but the report clearly implies the investigators do not actually know how. On page 47, the report says Mueller “cannot rule out that stolen documents were transferred to WikiLeaks through intermediaries who visited during the summer of 2016.”

Strangely, the report accuses WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange of making “public statements apparently designed to obscure the source” of the materials (p.48), notably the offer of a reward for finding the murderer of DNC staffer Seth Rich – even though this can be read as corroborating the intermediaries theory, and Assange never actually said Rich was his source.

The rest of Mueller’s report goes on to discuss the Trump campaign’s contacts with anyone even remotely Russian and to create torturous constructions that the president had “obstructed” justice by basically defending himself from charges of being a Russian agent – neither of which resulted in any indictments, however. But the central premise that the 22-month investigation, breathless media coverage, and the 448-page report are based on – that Russia somehow meddled in the 2016 election – remains unproven.

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Rumors of War: Washington Is Looking for a Fight

The bill stands up for NATO and prevents the President from pulling the US out of the Alliance without a Senate vote.

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Authored by Philip Giraldi via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


It is depressing to observe how the United States of America has become the evil empire. Having served in the United States Army during the Vietnam War and in the Central Intelligence Agency for the second half of the Cold War, I had an insider’s viewpoint of how an essentially pragmatic national security policy was being transformed bit by bit into a bipartisan doctrine that featured as a sine qua non global dominance for Washington. Unfortunately, when the Soviet Union collapsed the opportunity to end once and for all the bipolar nuclear confrontation that threatened global annihilation was squandered as President Bill Clinton chose instead to humiliate and use NATO to contain an already demoralized and effectively leaderless Russia.

American Exceptionalism became the battle cry for an increasingly clueless federal government as well as for a media-deluded public. When 9/11 arrived, the country was ready to lash out at the rest of the world. President George W. Bush growled that “There’s a new sheriff in town and you are either with us or against us.” Afghanistan followed, then Iraq, and, in a spirit of bipartisanship, the Democrats came up with Libya and the first serious engagement in Syria. In its current manifestation, one finds a United States that threatens Iran on a nearly weekly basis and tears up arms control agreements with Russia while also maintaining deployments of US forces in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and places like Mali. Scattered across the globe are 800 American military bases while Washington’s principal enemies du jour Russia and China have, respectively, only one and none.

Never before in my lifetime has the United States been so belligerent, and that in spite of the fact that there is no single enemy or combination of enemies that actually threaten either the geographical United States or a vital interest. Venezuela is being threatened with invasion primarily because it is in the western hemisphere and therefore subject to Washington’s claimed proconsular authority. Last Wednesday Vice President Mike Pence told the United Nations Security Council that the White House will remove Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro from power, preferably using diplomacy and sanctions, but “all options are on the table.” Pence warned that Russia and other friends of Maduro need to leave now or face the consequences.

The development of the United States as a hostile and somewhat unpredictable force has not gone unnoticed. Russia has accepted that war is coming no matter what it does in dealing with Trump and is upgrading its forces. By some estimates, its army is better equipped and more combat ready than is that of the United States, which spends nearly ten times as much on “defense.”

Iran is also upgrading its defensive capabilities, which are formidable. Now that Washington has withdrawn from the nuclear agreement with Iran, has placed a series of increasingly punitive sanctions on the country, and, most recently, has declared a part of the Iranian military to be a “foreign terrorist organization” and therefore subject to attack by US forces at any time, it is clear that war will be the next step. In three weeks, the United States will seek to enforce a global ban on any purchases of Iranian oil. A number of countries, including US nominal ally Turkey, have said they will ignore the ban and it will be interesting to see what the US Navy intends to do to enforce it. Or what Iran will do to break the blockade.

But even given all of the horrific decisions being made in the White House, there is one organization that is far crazier and possibly even more dangerous. That is the United States Congress, which is, not surprisingly, a legislative body that is viewed positively by only 18 per cent of the American people.

A current bill originally entitled the “Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act (DASKA) of 2019,” is numbered S-1189. It has been introduced in the Senate which will “…require the Secretary of State to determine whether the Russian Federation should be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism and whether Russian-sponsored armed entities in Ukraine should be designated as foreign terrorist organizations.” The bill is sponsored by Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado and is co-sponsored by Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

The current version of the bill was introduced on April 11th and it is by no means clear what kind of support it might actually have, but the fact that it actually has surfaced at all should be disturbing to anyone who believes it is in the world’s best interest to avoid direct military confrontation between the United States and Russia.

In a a press release by Gardner, who has long been pushing to have Russia listed as a state sponsor of terrorism, a February version of the bill is described as “…comprehensive legislation [that] seeks to increase economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on the Russian Federation in response to Russia’s interference in democratic processes abroad, malign influence in Syria, and aggression against Ukraine, including in the Kerch Strait. The legislation establishes a comprehensive policy response to better position the US government to address Kremlin aggression by creating new policy offices on cyber defenses and sanctions coordination. The bill stands up for NATO and prevents the President from pulling the US out of the Alliance without a Senate vote. It also increases sanctions pressure on Moscow for its interference in democratic processes abroad and continued aggression against Ukraine.”

The February version of the bill included Menendez, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland and Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina as co-sponsors, suggesting that provoking war is truly bipartisan in today’s Washington.

Each Senator co-sponsor contributed a personal comment to the press release. Gardner observed that “Putin’s Russia is an outlaw regime that is hell-bent on undermining international law and destroying the US-led liberal global order.” Menendez noted that “President Trump’s willful paralysis in the face of Kremlin aggression has reached a boiling point in Congress” while Graham added that “Our goal is to change the status quo and impose meaningful sanctions and measures against Putin’s Russia. He should cease and desist meddling in the US electoral process, halt cyberattacks on American infrastructure, remove Russia from Ukraine, and stop efforts to create chaos in Syria.” Cardin contributed “Congress continues to take the lead in defending US national security against continuing Russian aggression against democratic institutions at home and abroad” and Shaheen observed that “This legislation builds on previous efforts in Congress to hold Russia accountable for its bellicose behavior against the United States and its determination to destabilize our global world order.”

The Senatorial commentary is, of course, greatly exaggerated and sometimes completely false regarding what is going on in the world, but it is revealing of how ignorant American legislators can be and often are. The Senators also ignore the fact that the designation of presumed Kremlin surrogate forces as “foreign terrorist organizations” is equivalent to a declaration of war against them by the US military, while hypocritically calling Russia a state sponsor of terrorism is bad enough, as it is demonstrably untrue. But the real damage comes from the existence of the bill itself. It will solidify support for hardliners on both sides, guaranteeing that there will be no rapprochement between Washington and Moscow for the foreseeable future, a development that is bad for everyone involved. Whether it can be characterized as an unintended consequence of unwise decision making or perhaps something more sinister involving a deeply corrupted congress and administration remains to be determined.

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