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Greek-Russian relations at a crossroads

The political landscape of Greek-Russian relations has suddenly darkened.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras meet in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia on April 8, 2015.

What exactly is the matter? It is almost impossible to cull any accurate information enabling us to clarify the situation and shine a light on recent developments.

Let’s first sweep the picture clean of inaccurate assertions and unfounded claims. Commentators who almost always turn to the anti-Western narrative immediately took to the field. The Greek government, they claim, is trying to earn its credentials vis-à-vis NATO and the US.

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Although nobody has ever required such a demonstration of allegiance from Athens. Under the present circumstances Greece is not going to win any points with such behaviour. With the agreement at Prespa Lake and Athens yielding to FYROMacedonia’s membership in NATO, the Greek government has already earned what it could from like-minded Western European capitals.

A breakup with Russia would not have added anything to Athens’ pro-Western arsenal.

At a time when the US is blaming Germany for being friendly with Russia and other European states — namely Austria, Italy, and Hungary, among others — appear to be moving closer to Moscow, what would an anti-Russian gesture by Greece signify? How could Athens expect to capitalize on this? I cannot honestly discern any direct benefit for Greece.

Likewise, why would Washington pressure Athens to adapt such a hostile attitude? What would the Americans expect to earn at a time when the US president himself reiterates that in Vladimir Putin he sees a man he can fully understand … and make a deal with…

On the other hand, as far as bilateral relations are concerned, Athens’ relationship with Moscow has been seriously wounded — without any clear benefits for Greece. Putin has made it clear how he would react if faced with a repeated challenge: “If you squeeze a spring as far as it will go, it will snap back hard. You must always remember this”.

One should not overlook the fact that some months ago a meeting was called off between the Greek and Russian government ministries that had been aimed at fostering economic cooperation between the two countries. The reason given was the unexpected appearance at the meeting of some Crimean politicians — the Russians maintaining however that the Greek side had been forewarned and had not raised any objections at the time.

In the end the episode was brushed aside without any major repercussions, at least public ones. But it was an issue nevertheless…

At the last occurrence, culminating in the expulsion of Russian diplomats from Athens there is enough ambivalence as concerns the matter. The main issue being discussed is a possible Russian effort against the Prespa agreement, objecting in order to to nullify FYROM’s future membership in NATO. Two comments must be made here. Only Northern Macedonia can render the agreement invalid at this point, not Greece.

Even if the Greek parliament fails to ratify the agreement, the northern Macedonians will automatically become members of the Atlantic alliance. In order for that to happen the government in Skopje merely needs to satisfy the requirements set out by the Prespa agreement and stipulated by NATO. It is ridiculous to think that Russian diplomats are not fully aware of this situation. Why then, as some observers insinuate, should they try to nudge Greece into walking out of the agreement?

As for NATO, it is doubtful that the Russians do not recognize that the attitude of the US and of its president, who recently met with Russian officials and with President Putin himself in Helsinki, poses a greater threat to the cohesion of the alliance than the membership of tiny FYROM.

My opinion is that the various reports on the issue are making the matter seem much weightier than it really is. My assessment is that Moscow is much less concerned about it than is generally acknowledged.

There is, however, definitely an issue. Otherwise we would not have reached the point of repatriating diplomats. One should never overlook the fact that great powers are usually burdened by many decision-influencing centres. Sometimes they are working outside of the official process that the governments dictate. Russia can hardly be an exception. Often the tentacles of such decision-making centres reach the state machinery.

This has happened in Greece in the past, when a retired Air Force pilot attempted to bomb parts of Albania. We saw it again in the case of a fugitive from Turkey, the Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan. In the US it is very often the case that various agencies take initiatives without the knowledge of the central government authorities.

With Russia, the issue of Orthodox Christian belief is quite important. Adherence to those principles can potentially prompt actions and moves without the knowledge or approval of a central authority. Unfortunately, I am not privy to specific information, but I believe that my ideas make logical sense.

Why should the Kremlin jeopardise a carefully cultivated cordial relationship with Athens just to pursue a dead-end policy on the issue of Skopje? After all, that’s an issue of paramount importance to Greece. And it could not possibly produce any fruitful results.

There are people in northern Greece who have often involved themselves in issues of vital importance to Greece without the slightest official authorisation or coordination with the aims of the Greek state. Some of them refer to Russia as a sister Orthodox power, without having been entrusted with such authority.

On the other hand, one should not overlook the fact that Greece carries a grudge against the Kremlin for having embraced Turkey in recent months, supplying it with missiles and accepting its friendly overtures on the Syrian front, although aware of its diverse inclinations concerning the future of that region.

It is not impossible that such sentiments may have culminated in and led to the recent crisis between the two states.

Notwithstanding the above, there is a wider issue contributing to the current misunderstandings. Russia has always been a puzzle for anyone attempting to do business with her. They find it difficult to comprehend her reactions and behaviour. Almost all are reminded of Winston Churchill’s words describing Russia: “It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma“. What few people remember is the rest of Churchill’s phrase: “But perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest“.

Some years later he explained: “I am convinced that there is nothing they [the Russians] admire so much as strength, and there is nothing for which they have less respect than for weakness”.

No country can expect a positive appraisal if it does nothing but beg and offers little or no policy coordination. These words might adequately explain Russia’s attitude towards other countries and its posture towards various global affairs.

Via Strategic Culture

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Donald Trump open to lifting Russian sanctions

Comments in interview with Reuters indicate that the doors are not entirely slammed shut between the US and Russia regarding sanctions.

Seraphim Hanisch

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On Wednesday August 22, the latest sanctions set against Russia by the US go into effect. These sanctions have already exacted a toll on the Ruble sending it into the high sixties against the dollar last week. At the time of this writing the ruble has only slightly improved from the worst level since the announcement, and this round of sanctions is the most painful since the Ruble hit a crippling level of 83 to the dollar in late 2015.

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However, US President Trump indicated once again that the US is open to working with Russia and to making a deal which would ease sanctions in place.

This report, by both RIA Novosti and TASS offer some detail:

President of the United States Donald Trump would be ready to consider the possibility of lifting the US sanctions on Russia if Moscow begins taking joint steps with Washington, including on Syria and Ukraine, he said this on Monday in an interview with Reuters.

Trump said that the question of lifting US sanctions on Russia was not brought up during his recent meeting with Vladimir Putin, however, he stated a condition for its possible withdrawal. “I would consider it if they do something that would be good for us. But I wouldn’t consider it without that,” he said.

Trump added that at the meeting the parties talked about Israel, Syria, Ukraine, Crimea, and the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project.

The United States began imposing extensive sanctions against Russia in 2014 after the reunification of Crimea with Russia. Restrictions were subsequently expanded and updated many times, they concern both individuals and legal entities. In the following years, Washington found many other reasons for imposing sanctions against Moscow, including alleged interference in the presidential election of 2016, alleged involvement of Russian officials in violation of human rights. So far, there has been no substantive discussion on the removal of restrictions from Russia.

The Reuters interview had more to say about this:

ON HIS RECENT MEETING WITH RUSSIA’S PUTIN

“It was only Fake News that criticized. … We had a very good, I guess, close to two-hour meeting. We had another good meeting with a lot of our representatives there. We talked about Israel, we talked about insecurity for Israel, we talked about Syria, we talked about Ukraine.”

“I mentioned Crimea, sure. I always mention Crimea whenever I mention Ukraine. Putin and I had a very good discussion. It was a very — I think it was a very good discussion for both parties. I mentioned the gas pipeline going to Germany.”

ON WHETHER PUTIN ASKED TRUMP TO LIFT U.S. SANCTIONS ON RUSSIA

“No, he did not. He never brought it up.”

ON WHETHER HE WOULD CONSIDER LIFTING SANCTIONS ON RUSSIA

“No. I haven’t thought about it. But no, I’m not considering it at all. No. I would consider it if they do something that would be good for us. But I wouldn’t consider it without that. In other words, I wouldn’t consider it, even for a moment, unless something was go — we have a lot of things in common. We have a lot of things we can do good for each other. You have Syria. You have Ukraine. You have many other things. I think they would like economic development. And that’s a big thing for them.”

This interview was held the day before the new sanctions were to go into effect. President Trump actually made no direct reference to the new sanctions, but this series of statements brings up an interesting thought.

President Putin has been silent on the matter of sanctions, even though the lower level government officials have spoken out about the injustice that is a fact, given the nature and cause of the sanctions. But an anonymous observer offered the interesting thought that, contrary to appearances, the American president may be trying to project the image of “strength against Russia” that is vital for him to pass through the midterm elections without losing the House.

If he loses the House to the Democrat Party, the new House leadership would almost certainly bring impeachment proceedings against the President. While this, like Russiagate, would be an absolute farce, it would have the effect of severely impairing the President’s agenda. While the House remains in GOP hands, this at least will not happen. The source mentioned that with such a strategy in place, if the midterms went the GOP’s way then Trump would be able to lift the sanctions later.

While this seems to be a very speculative thought, it is interesting that it was suggested only hours before the Reuters interview became publicly known. It would seem possible that this was a very gentle signal of willingness on the part of the American President to continue seeking better relations with Russia.

One thing is certain: a lot of policy is riding on the outcome of the midterms. How they go will shape US policy and foreign policy very strongly. This is truly a critical election approaching – for the US and for the world.

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Denmark As A Model For American Socialists?

In Denmark, everyone pays at least the 25% value-added tax (VAT) on all purchases. Income tax rates are high.

The Duran

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Authored by Lars Hedegard via The Gatestone Institute:


Here are some facts to consider before American “democratic socialists” look to Denmark for guidance, as Senator Bernie Sanders did during the 2016 presidential campaign.

First of all, Danes actually pay for their brand of socialism through heavy taxation. In Denmark, everyone pays at least the 25% value-added tax (VAT) on all purchases. Income tax rates are high. If you receive public support and are of working age and healthy enough to work, the state will require that you look for a job or it will force a job on you.

The willingness of all the Danes to pay high taxes is predicated on the country’s high degree of homogeneity and level of citizens’ trust in each other, what sociologists call “social capital.” By and large, Danes do not mind paying into the welfare state because they know that the money will go to other Danes like themselves, who share their values and because they can easily imagine themselves to be in need of help — as most of them, from time to time, will be.

Whenever politicians propose tax cuts, they are met with vehement opposition: So, you want to cut taxes? What part of the welfare state are you willing to amputate? And that ends the debate.

Danes, in contrast to American socialists gaining ground in the Democratic Party, are increasingly aware that the welfare state cannot be sustained in conditions of open immigration. A political party agitating for “no borders” could never win a Danish election. Danes do not suffer from historical guilt: they have not attacked any other country for more than two centuries and have never committed a genocide.

Moreover, there is an even deeper truth to ponder: Denmark is not really socialist but constitutes a sui generis fusion of free-market capitalism and some socialist elements. Denmark has no minimum wage mandated by law. Wages, benefits and working conditions are determined through negotiations between employers and trade unions. 67% of Danish wage-earners are members of a union, compared to 19% in Germany and 8% in France. Strikes and lockouts are common, and the government will usually stay out of labor conflicts unless the parties are unable to agree.

It is uncomplicated for enterprises to fire workers, which gives them great flexibility to adapt to shifting market conditions. To alleviate the pain, the state has in place a number of arrangements such as generous unemployment benefits and programs to retrain and upgrade redundant workers.

Danish companies must make ends meet or perish. They generally will not get handouts from the government.

Denmark is more free-market oriented than the US. According to the Heritage Foundation’s 2018 Index of Economic Freedom, Denmark is number 12, ahead of the United States (number 18). Venezuela is at the bottom, one place ahead of number 180, North Korea.

Mads Lundby Hansen, chief economist of Denmark’s respected pro-free-market think tank CEPOS, comments:

“Very high taxes and the vast public sector clearly detract in the capitalism index and reduce economic freedom. But Denmark compensates by protecting property rights, by low corruption, relatively little regulation of private enterprise, open foreign trade, healthy public finances and more. This high degree of economic freedom is among the reasons for Denmark’s relatively high affluence.”
Trish Regan recently claimed on Fox Business that Danes pay a “federal tax rate” of 56% on their income. This is misleading. The 55.8% is the levied on the marginaltax for the top income bracket, only on the part of their income above DKK 498,900 ($76,500). Any income under DKK 498,900 is taxed at lower rates. And the 55.8% marginal rate does not represent a “federal” or “national” rate. It represents the total of all taxes on income: national tax, regional tax, municipal tax and labor market tax. It does not, however, include Denmark’s 25% value-added tax (VAT), paid on all purchases.

Regan also claimed that Danes pay a 180% tax on cars. While it is true that there was once a maximum tax of 180% on care in Denmark, the vehicle tax rates have been lowered in recent years. Today, the first DKK 185,100 ($28,400) of the price of a gas- or diesel-powered car is taxed at 85%, and if the car’s price is above DKK 185,100, the remaining amount is taxed at 150% — which is of course bad enough.

Denmark’s total tax burden amounts to 45.9% of GDP, the highest of all countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

As pointed out in the Fox Business segment, all education for Danes is tuition-free, all the way through to a Ph.D. Not only that; the state will, within certain time constraints, pay students to study. For students at university level no longer living with their parents, the monthly cash grant comes to almost $1,000 per month. No fewer than 325,000 students out of a total population of 5.6 million benefit from this generous arrangement setting the state back to the tune of DKK 20.9 billion or 1% of GDP (latest 2018 figures just in and supplied by Mads Lundby Hansen). Denmark even pays student support to 20,000 foreign students.

Attempts by fiscal conservatives to cut down on payments to students have been successfully resisted by the vociferous and influential student organizations; at present it would appear impossible to muster anything like a parliamentary majority to limit the student handouts.

Fox Business is right that a great many Danes are on public transfer payments. Government figures from 2017 indicate that 712,300 Danes of working age (16-64) — not including recipients of student benefits — get public financial support. But Regan’s claim that most Danes do not work is ludicrous. According to Statistics Denmark, 69.9% of Danes aged 16-64 are active in the labor market.

How can Denmark pay for its comprehensive welfare state, which includes free medical care regardless of the severity of your condition? Regan claims that Denmark is “heavily in debt.” Not so. As it turns out, Denmark is among the least indebted countries in the world, even when compared to other Western countries. The Danish government’s gross debt stands at 35.9% of GDP. Compare that to, e.g., The United Kingdom (86.3 %), The United States (108%), Belgium (101%), Canada (86.6%), France (96.3%), Germany (59.8%), The Netherlands (53.5%), Italy (129.7%), Spain (96.7%) and even Switzerland (41.9%).

Comparing Denmark to the US, Madsen notes that the latter has a problem with fiscal sustainability that may necessitate tax increases. Denmark enjoys what he labels fiscal “oversustainability” (“overholdbarhed”).

At a time when socialism appears to be popular among certain sections of the American population, its proponents would do well not to cite Denmark as a model. The Danish fusion of free-market capitalism and a comprehensive welfare state has worked because Denmark is a small country with a very homogeneous population. This economic and social model rests on more than 150 years of political, social and economic compromises between peasants and landowners, business-owners and workers, and right- and left-leaning political parties. This has led to a measure of social and political stability that would be hard to emulate in much larger and more diverse counties such as the United States.


Lars Hedegaard, President of the Danish Free Speech Society, is based in Denmark.

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Ron Paul: Protectionism Abroad and Socialism at Home

One of the most insidious ways politicians expand government is by creating new programs to “solve” problems created by politicians.

Ron Paul

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Authored by Ron Paul via The Ron Paul Institute for Peace & Prosperity:


One of the most insidious ways politicians expand government is by creating new programs to “solve” problems created by politicians. For example, government interference in health care increased health care costs, making it difficult or even impossible for many to obtain affordable, quality care. The effects of these prior interventions were used to justify Obamacare.

Now, the failures of Obamacare are being used to justify further government intervention in health care. This does not just include the renewed push for socialized medicine. It also includes supporting new laws mandating price transparency. The lack of transparency in health care pricing is a direct result of government policies encouraging overreliance on third-party payers.

This phenomenon is also observed in foreign policy. American military interventions result in blowback that is used to justify more military intervention. The result is an ever-expanding warfare state and curtailments on our liberty in the name of security.

Another example of this is related to the reaction to President Trump’s tariffs. Many of America’s leading trading partners have imposed “retaliatory” tariffs on US goods. Many of these tariffs target agriculture exports. These tariffs could be devastating for American farmers, since exports compose as much as 20 percent of the average farmer’s income.

President Trump has responded to the hardships imposed on farmers by these retaliatory tariffs with a 12 billion dollars farm bailout program. The program has three elements: direct payments to farmers, use of federal funds to buy surplus crops and distribute them to food banks and nutrition programs, and a new federal effort to promote American agriculture overseas.

This program will not fix the problems caused by Tramp’s tariffs. For one thing, the payments are unlikely to equal the money farmers will lose from this trade war. Also, government marketing programs benefit large agribusiness but do nothing to help small farmers. In fact, by giving another advantage to large agribusiness, the program may make it more difficult for small farmers to compete in the global marketplace.

Distributing surplus food to programs serving the needy may seem like a worthwhile use of government funds. However, the federal government has neither constitutional nor moral authority to use money taken by force from taxpayers for charitable purposes. Government-funded welfare programs also crowd out much more effective and compassionate private efforts. Of course, if government regulations such as the minimum wage and occupational licensing did not destroy job opportunities, government farm programs did not increase food prices, and the Federal Reserve’s inflationary policies did not continuously erode purchasing power, the demand for food aid would be much less. By increasing spending and debt, the agriculture bailout will do much more to create poverty than to help the needy.

Agriculture is hardly the only industry suffering from the new trade war. Industries — such as automobile manufacturing — that depend on imports for affordable materials are suffering along with American exporters. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka (who supports tariffs) has called for bailouts of industries negatively impacted by tariffs. He is likely to be joined in his advocacy by crony capitalists seeking another government handout.

More bailouts will only add to the trade war’s economic damage by increasing government spending and hastening the welfare–warfare state’s collapse and the rejection of the dollar’s world reserve currency status. Instead of trying to fix tariffs-caused damage through more corporate welfare, President Trump and Congress should pursue a policy of free markets and free trade for all and bailouts for none.

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