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9 things you need to know from Vladimir Putin’s end-of-year Q&A session

The Russian President took questions for nearly 4 hours.

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From RussiaFeed

President Putin has just conducted another marathon end-of-year Q and A sessions with Russian and international journalists. Putin covered a wide variety of issues on both foreign and domestic policy matters.

Here are the key points to takeaway.

1. Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU)

President Putin was asked several questions about the speed and efficacy of EAEU integration. Putin responded positively saying that all member states including Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia and Belarus, have been working closely to modernise both physical and digital infrastructure across member states. This includes the ability to receive and track items via digital customs forms as well as joint investment projects.

Putin noted that the aggregate growth rate of the EAEU is even higher than that of the Russian Federation in isolation, which is proof positive of the fact that cooperation is mutual beneficial, while based on a model that does not threaten the sovereignty of any member state (a charge commonly levelled against the European Union).

He also responded positively to a question from a Kazakh journalist about using news media to help inform the public about the progress of the EAEU, before mentioning that far from being a reaction to EU sanctions, the EAEU was the brainchild of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev–one which predates the post-2014 sanctions from the west.

With Iran set to join the EAEU in 2018, President Putin’s positive response signifies Russia’s general optimism about the future of its role as a Eurasian leader.

Iran to join Eurasian Economic Union – diplomatic sources

2. North Korea 

President Putin stated that Russia does not accept the nuclear status of North Korea, but that one must work with a realistic attitude to de-escalate tensions in the region.

Putin also roundly condemned US provocations, questioning why this could be reasonably expected to improve the situation.

He once again referenced his analogy to Iraq and Libya, saying that when Pyongyang saw how the US destroyed two countries without the means to protect themselves, North Korea took the logical step to implement measures to do so. Putin further reminded journalists that the situation was exacerbated by the unwillingness of the US to engage in constructive talks in the past with Pyongyang which could have produced a lasting treaty for peace and de-escalation.

Putin then said that Rex Tillerson’s recent statements, indicating that Washington may be willing to discuss the matter directly with Pyongyang was a positive development, even though Washington seemed to negate Tillerson’s statement within 24 hours of him making it.

3. Syria 

Putin stated that he “had to” go to Syria in order to make his announcement regarding a partial troop withdrawal. He stated that most of the terrorist groups in Syria have been defeated and security issues involving his trip were coordinated with Russian troops in Syria in a highly professional manner.

Putin however stated that further work must still be done to destroy that which remains of the terrorist threat in Syria. He said that increasing the welfare of people is crucial to prevent terrorist in the future. Turning to the peace process, the Russian President stated,

In Syria, all the parties involved should resist the temptation to take advantage of short-term political goals.

We see that terrorists are escaping Syria to Iraq and the US doesn’t hit them because they may want to use them later against (Syrian President Bashar) al-Assad… That’s very dangerous”.

Putin further stated that while working with international partners, including the Syrian government as well as Turkey and Jordan, it is important to help actual Syrian refugees return to their homes in a post-conflict environment. He further stated that children of Russian citizens brought to Iraq and Syria by terrorists, should be re-integrated into the social life of various republics and regions of the Russian Federation.

4. Ukraine/Donbass conflict 

Putin lamented the unwillingness of the Kiev regime to implement the protocols of the MINSK II accords. He further lamented that even when the Rada (parliament) in Kiev approved a special status for Donbass in-line with MINSK II, Kiev’s forces continue to act aggressively.

He then stated that because of this, it is important that the militias of Donbass are able to defend themselves. Putin also said that he remains confident that even without Russian assistance, they will be able to do so and that it was necessary for the people of Donbass to remain armed so as to avoid a “massacre” at the hands of Kiev’s troops, ultra-nationalist (neo-Nazi) volunteers and pro-Kiev mercenaries.

Turning to the power struggle in Kiev between regime leader Petro Poroshenko and former Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili, he called the former Georgian leader who is wanted as a criminal in his home country “pathetic”. He asked rhetorically why people from Ukraine aren’t able to produce a prospective new leader themselves?

He then talked of the united history of the Slavic people and how the medieval Rus formed their first state in Kiev. He mentioned that central regions of what is now Ukraine rejoined the Russian Empire in 1654 and that after wars with Ottoman Turkey, other areas (Novorossiya and Crimea) became incorporated into Russia. These areas along with parts of former Polish governed regions in the west were added to Soviet Ukraine in 1945. Putin then remarked that the 1954 transfer of Soviet Crimea to Soviet Ukraine was in fact illegal according to the Soviet laws of the era.

The conclusion that Putin drew was that while most Russians and Ukrainians see themselves as part of a wider fraternal nation, the future is up to people in Ukraine, in respect of how they would like to govern themselves. If they choose to remain totally separate from Russia, this is their choice and they will have to work to improve their conditions themselves if this is the final decision of Ukrainians.

5. Relations with China/One Belt–One Road 

President Putin stated that he welcomes the decisions taken by the ruling Communist Party of China in terms in further modernisation programmes and an increased emphasis on respectful cooperation with international partners via the One Belt–One Road initiative.

He further stated that Chinese model is similar in many ways to that which Russia is currently building internally and among Russia’s international partners.

Putin praised the fast growth of the Chinese economy and credited them to good decisions made by President Xi Jinping and his predecessors. He called China a “strategic partner of Russia” and said that Russia and China have $63 billion in trade turnover. Putin expressed his optimism that this figure is likely to increase in the very near future.

Putin stated that the EAEU and One Belt–One Road are compatible and that Russia seeks to participate in broader cooperation in Asia and that progress has been made in this area all the time.

He further stated,

“China is part of some major projects in the Arctic, we’ve just launched the first stage of the Yamal liquefied natural gas project – China is a major investor.

…We have another great project on high-speed transit, we support high-speed transit from China to Europe via Russia.”

Finally, Putin stated that irrespective of the restults of next year’s Presidential election in Russia,

“I have full confidence that cooperation with China is beyond any political agenda – we’ll remain strategic partners for a long period of time”.

6. 2018 Russian Presidential elections 

Vladimir Putin confirmed for the first time that he plans to run in the 2018 Russian Presidential elections (scheduled for March) as an independent candidate. He stated that he looks forward to engaging in dialogue with many political parties in the hopes of winning their endorsement.

Later he was asked a question directly by Ksenia Sobchak, a Presidential hopeful in the 2018 elections, but not a candidate who is widely regarded as serious. The main challengers to President Putin’s incumbency will be Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPSU) leader Gennady Zyuganov and Liberal Democratic Party of Russian (LDPR) founder and leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

However, because Sobchak has attained her fame through being a so-called ‘socialite’, much attention has been on her.

President Putin however took her to task, saying,

“I said the opposition needs positive proposals – what are you offering?

…The people you mentioned (including Aleksey Navalny) are the Russian versions of Mikhail Saakashvili… Do you want Russia moving from one Maidan-style situation to another?

…Most Russians don’t want that”.

7. US withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty

President Putin remarked on the unfortunate results of the US unilaterally withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) but said that Russia remains committed to the principles of the treaty in line with Russia’s commitment to international protocols.

He stated that when the US puts missiles close to Russia’s borders, particularly on Russia’s European borderlands, Russia will respond by taking appropriate measures in respect of defensive military mechanisms within Russia’s borders.

8. Russiagate/Donald Trump

US based ABC news asked President Putin about the ongoing ‘Russiagate’ scandal with Donald Trump, which in reality ought to be called Israelgate due to the fact that Israeli’s Prime Minister colluded directly with Trump transition team officials, in order to try and influence the foreign policy of other nations and the UN itself. While President Putin stayed clear of this issue, he said the following:

“It’s up to the American people to assess Trump, not me. But look at the markets, they are up, indicating investors trust him. We also respect the US opposition. I don’t know if Trump still has the same desire to cooperate closely with us, but I hope we can work closely on a range of issues.”

Turning to so-called Trump collusion with Russia, Putin said,

“That’s been invented by those aiming to de-legitimize Trump. These people don’t understand they are undermining their own country, they aren’t showing respect for Americans that voted for Trump”.

Finally, turning to contacts between Russian diplomats and Americans, the Russian President stated,

“It is standard practice for diplomats to talk – what’s so strange about this? Why do you have this ‘Russia spy hysteria?”

Vladimir Putin: Russiagate “invented by those aiming to de-legitimize Trump”

9. 2018 World Cup 

Putin stated that Russia has a long history of successful experiences in hosting international sporting events. He further stated that all major public infrastructure projects related to the World Cup, including the 12 World Cup stadiums in 11 Russian cities are on schedule, except for one stadium that has a 2 month delay.

Nevertheless, Putin stated that everything will be accomplished on time.

Vladimir Putin then stated that the funding for World Cup facilities is half drawn from public funds and the other half from private investors.

Other areas covered:

–There are no plans to increase taxation.

This issue will be considered again at the end of 2018

–Russia will not ban abortions 

On this issue Putin stated,

“…in most modern countries today, it is up to the woman to make this decision.

If there was a total ban, we’d eventually have a criminal trade in this – women would go abroad, there would be illegal abortions… it does immense damage to women’s health, so we have to be careful….We are willing to support pregnant women, of course”.

–Afghanistan

Russia is willing to cooperate with international partners, including the US over security concerns in Afghanistan.

–Nuclear war 

President Putin said that he felt the US decision to drop nuclear weapons on Japan in 1945 was something he disagrees with.

–Iraqi Kurds 

Putin stated that Russia has good relations with Iraq and also good relations with Iraq’s Kurdish Autonomous Region. He said that he expects Kurdish leaders to respect the decisions of the Iraqi government and that he does not foresee anything drastic happening from this point forward.

Now sit down (comfrotably) and watch 3 hours and 42 minutes of Vladimir Putin taking questions from Russian and international journalists

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Whose Money Stoked Religious Strife in Ukraine – and Who Tried to Steal It?

Was $25 million in American tax dollars allocated for a payoff to stir up religious turmoil and violence in Ukraine?

Jim Jatras

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Authored by James George Jatras via Strategic Culture:


Was $25 million in American tax dollars allocated for a payoff to stir up religious turmoil and violence in Ukraine? Did Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (unsuccessfully) attempt to divert most of it into his own pocket?

Last month the worldwide Orthodox Christian communion was plunged into crisis by the decision of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in Constantinople to recognize as legitimate schismatic pseudo-bishops anathematized by the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is an autonomous part of the Russian Orthodox Church. In so doing not only has Patriarch Bartholomew besmirched the global witness of Orthodoxy’s two-millennia old Apostolic faith, he has set the stage for religious strife in Ukraine and fratricidal violence – which has already begun.

Starting in July, when few were paying attention, this analyst warned about the impending dispute and how it facilitated the anti-Christian moral agenda of certain marginal “Orthodox” voices like “Orthodoxy in Dialogue,” Fordham University’s “Orthodox Christian Studies Center,” and The Wheel. These “self-professed teachers presume to challenge the moral teachings of the faith” (in the words of Fr. John Parker) and “prowl around, wolves in sheep’s clothing, forming and shaping false ideas about the reality of our life in Christ.” Unsurprisingly such groups have embraced Constantinople’s neopapal self-aggrandizement and support for the Ukrainian schismatics.

No one – and certainly not this analyst – would accuse Patriarch Bartholomew, most Ukrainian politicians, or even the Ukrainian schismatics of sympathizing with advocacy of such anti-Orthodox values. And yet these advocates know they cannot advance their goals if the conciliar and traditional structure of Orthodoxy remains intact. Thus they welcome efforts by Constantinople to centralize power while throwing the Church into discord, especially the Russian Church, which is vilified in some Western circles precisely because it is a global beacon of traditional Christian moral witness.

This aspect points to another reason for Western governments to support Ukrainian autocephaly as a spiritual offensive against Russia and Orthodoxy. The post-Maidan leadership harp on the “European choice” the people of Ukraine supposedly made in 2014, but they soft-pedal the accompanying moral baggage the West demands, symbolized by “gay” marches organized over Christian objections in Orthodox cities like AthensBelgradeBucharestKievOdessaPodgoricaSofia, and Tbilisi. Even under the Trump administration, the US is in lockstep with our European Union friends in pressuring countries liberated from communism to adopt such nihilistic “democratic, European values.”

Perhaps even more important to its initiators, the row over Ukraine aims to break what they see as the “soft power” of the Russian Federation, of which the Orthodox Church is the spiritual heart and soul. As explained by Valeria Z. Nollan, professor emerita of Russian Studies at Rhodes College:

‘The real goal of the quest for autocephaly [i.e., complete self-governing status independent of the Moscow Patriarchate] of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is a de facto coup: a political coup already took place in 2014, poisoning the relations between western Ukraine and Russia, and thus another type of coup – a religious one – similarly seeks to undermine the canonical relationship between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Moscow.’

In furthering these twin objectives (morally, the degrading of Orthodox Christianity; politically, undermining the Russian state as Orthodoxy’s powerful traditional protector) it is increasingly clear that the United States government – and specifically the Department of State – has become a hands-on fomenter of conflict. After a short period of appropriately declaring that “any decision on autocephaly is an internal [Orthodox] church matter,” the Department within days reversed its position and issued a formal statement (in the name of Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, but clearly drafted by the European bureau) that skirted a direct call for autocephaly but gave the unmistakable impression of such backing. This is exactly how it was reported in the media, for example, “US backs Ukrainian Church bid for autocephaly.” Finally, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo weighed in personally with his own endorsement as did the US Reichskommissar for UkraineKurt Volker.

The Threat…

There soon became reason to believe that the State Department’s involvement was not limited to exhortations. As reported by this analyst in October, according to an unconfirmed report originating with the members of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (an autonomous New York-based jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate), in July of this year State Department officials (possibly including Secretary Pompeo personally) warned the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (also based in New York but part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate) that the US government was aware of the misappropriation of a large amount of money, about $10 million, from estimated $37 million raised from believers for the construction of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in New York. The State Department warning also reportedly noted that federal prosecutors have documentary evidence confirming the withdrawal of these funds abroad on the orders of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. It was suggested that Secretary Pompeo would “close his eyes” to this theft in exchange for movement by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in favor of Ukrainian autocephaly, which helped set Patriarch Bartholomew on his current course.

[Further details on the St. Nicholas scandal are available here, but in summary: Only one place of worship of any faith was destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attack in New York and only one building not part of the World Trade Center complex was completely destroyed. That was St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, a small urban parish church established at the end of World War I and dedicated to St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, who is very popular with Greeks as the patron of sailors. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attack, and following a lengthy legal battle with the Port Authority, which opposed rebuilding the church, in 2011 the Greek Archdiocese launched an extensive campaign to raise funds for a brilliant innovative design by the renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava based on traditional Byzantine forms. Wealthy donors and those of modest means alike enthusiastically contributed millions to the effort. Then – poof! In December 2017, suddenly all construction was halted for lack of funds and remains stalled to this day. Resumption would require having an estimated $2 million on hand. Despite the Archdiocese’s calling in a major accounting firm to conduct an audit, there’s been no clear answer to what happened to the money. Both the US Attorney and New York state authorities are investigating.]

This is where things get back to Ukraine. If the State Department wanted to find the right button to push to spur Patriarch Bartholomew to move on the question of autocephaly, the Greek Archdiocese in the US is it. Let’s keep in mind that in his home country, Turkey, Patriarch Bartholomew has virtually no local flock – only a few hundred mostly elderly Greeks left huddled in Istanbul’s Phanar district. (Sometimes the Patriarchate is referred to simply as “the Phanar,” much as “the Vatican” is shorthand for the Roman Catholic papacy.) Whatever funds the Patriarchate derives from other sources (the Greek government, the Roman Catholic Church, the World Council of Churches), the Phanar’s financial lifeline is the ethnic Greek community (including this analyst) in what is still quaintly called the “Diaspora” in places like America, Australia, and New Zealand. And of these, the biggest cash cow is the Greek-Americans.

That’s why, when Patriarch Bartholomew issued a call in 2016 for what was billed as an Orthodox “Eighth Ecumenical Council” (the first one since the year 787!), the funds largely came from America, to the tune of up to $8 million according to the same confidential source as will be noted below. Intended by some as a modernizing Orthodox “Vatican II,” the event was doomed to failure by a boycott organized by Moscow over what the latter saw as Patriarch Bartholomew’s adopting papal or even imperial prerogatives – now sadly coming to bear in Ukraine.

…and the Payoff

On top of the foregoing, it now appears that the State Department’s direct hand in this sordid business may not have consisted solely of wielding the “stick” of legal threat: there’s reason to believe there was a “carrot” too. It very recently came to the attention of this analyst, via an unsolicited, confidential source in the Greek Archdiocese in New York, that a payment of $25 million in US government money was made to Constantinople to encourage Patriarch Bartholomew to move forward on Ukraine.

The source for this confidential report was unaware of earlier media reports that the same figure – $25 million – was paid by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to the Phanar as an incentive for Patriarch Bartholomew to move forward on creating an independent Ukrainian church. Moreover, Poroshenko evidently tried to shortchange the payment:

‘Peter [Petro] Poroshenko — the president of Ukraine — was obligated to return $15 million US dollars to the Patriarch of Constantinople, which he had appropriated for himself.

‘As reported by Izvestia, this occurred after the story about Bartholomew’s bribe and a “vanishing” large sum designated for the creation of a Unified Local Orthodox Church in Ukraine surfaced in the mass media.

‘As reported, on the eve of Poroshenko’s visit in Istanbul, a few wealthy people of Ukraine “chipped in” in order to hasten the process of creating a Unified Local Orthodox Church. About $25 million was collected. They were supposed to go to the award ceremony for Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople for the issuing of a tomos of autocephaly. [A tomos is a small book containing a formal announcement.] However, in the words of people close to the backer, during the visit on April 9, Poroshenko handed over only $10 million.

‘As a result, having learned of the deal, Bartholomew cancelled the participation of the delegation of the Phanar – the residence of the Patriarch of Constantinople, in the celebration of the 1030th anniversary of the Baptism of Russia on July 27 in Kiev.

‘”Such a decision from Bartholomew’s side was nothing other than a strong ultimatum to Poroshenko to return the stolen money. Of course, in order to not lose his face in light of the stark revelations of the creation of the tomos of autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Peter Alexeevich [Poroshenko] had to just return those $15 million for the needs of Constantinople,” a trusted source explained to reporters.

‘For preliminary information, only after receiving the remaining sum, did Bartholomew finally give his consent to sending a delegation of the Phanar to Kiev … ‘

Now, it’s possible that the two identical figures of $25 million refer to two different pots of money (a cool $50 million!) but that seems unlikely. It’s more probable the reports refer to the same sum as viewed from the sending side (the State Department, the Greek Archdiocese) and the delivery side (Poroshenko, Constantinople).

Lending credibility to the confidential information from New York and pointing to the probability that it refers to the same payment that Poroshenko reportedly sought to raid for himself are the following observations:

  • When Poroshenko generously offered Patriarch Bartholomew $10 million, the latter was aware that the full amount was $25 million and demanded the $15 million Poroshenko had held back. How did the Patriarch know that, unless he was informed via New York of the full sum?
  • If the earlier-reported $25 million was really collected from “a few wealthy people of Ukraine” who “chipped in,” given the cutthroat nature of disputes among Ukrainian oligarchs would Poroshenko (an oligarch in his own right) have risked trying to shortchange the payment? Why has not even one such Ukrainian donor been identified?
  • Without going into all the details, the Phanar and the Greek Archdiocese have a long relationship with US administrations of both parties going back at least to the Truman administration, encompassing some decidedly unattractive episodes. In such a history, a mere bribe for a geopolitical shot against Moscow would hardly be a first instance or the worst.

As one of this analyst’s Greek-American connections puts it: “It’s easy to comprehend the Patriarchate bowing to the pressure of State Dept. blackmail… not overly savory, but understandable. However, it’s another thing altogether if Kiev truly “purchased” their autocephalous status from an all too willing Patriarchate … which would relegate the Patriarch to ‘salesman’ status and leave the faithful wondering what else might be offered to the highest bidder the next time it became convenient to hold a Patriarchal ‘fire sale’ at the Phanar?!”

To add insult to injury, you’d think Constantinople at least could pay back some of the $7-8 million wasted on the Crete 2016 debacle to restart the St. Nicholas project in New York. Evidently the Phanar has better things to spend it on, like the demonstrative environmentalism of “the Green Patriarch” and, together with Pope Francis, welcoming Muslim migrants to Europe through Greece. Of course maybe there’s no need to worry, as the Ukraine “sale” was consistent with Constantinople’s papal ambitions, an uncanonical claim to “universal” status, and misuse of incarnational language and adoption of a breathtakingly arrogant tone that would cause even the most ultramontane proponent of the Rome’s supremacy to blush.

Finally, it seems that, for the time being at least, Constantinople doesn’t intend to create an independent Ukrainian church but rather an autonomous church under its own authority. It’s unclear whether or not Poroshenko or the State Department, in such event, would believe they had gotten their money’s worth. Perhaps they would. After all, the issue here is less what is appropriate for Ukraine than what strikes at Russia and injures the worldwide Christian witness of the Orthodox Church. To that end, it doesn’t matter whether the new illegal body is Constantinopolitan or Kievan, just so long as it isn’t a “Moskal church” linked to Russia.

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EU Army: Fact or Fiction? (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 152.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and International Affairs and Security Analyst via Moscow, Mark Sleboda discuss the possibility, and feasibility, of putting together an EU army, as French President Macron is now boasting about.

Will an EU Army replace, rival, or fold into NATO? How will the US respond to Europe’s military initiative, and how will Russia deal an EU army?

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Via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


“Insulting” – that’s how US President Donald Trump sharply reacted to the idea of a “real European army” proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron.

And it was how Macron rationalized the need for an independent military force for Europe that perhaps most irked the American leader.

Speaking on a tour of World War I battlefields in northern France last week, Macron said that Europe needed to defend itself from “China, Russia and even the United States of America”.

It was a pretty extraordinary choice of words by the French leader. To frame the US among an array of perceived foreign enemy powers was a devastating blow to the concept of a much-vaunted transatlantic alliance.

Since the Second World War, ending 1945, the concept of an American-European alliance has been the bedrock of a supposed inviolable, mutual defense pact. That nearly seven-decade alliance is now being questioned more than ever.

Macron’s call for a European army was further backed up by German Chancellor Angela Merkel who also pointedly said this week that Europe can no longer rely on the US for its defense.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has welcomed the proposal for Europe to form its own military organization, independent from Washington. No doubt, Moscow views such a development as augmenting a move towards a multipolar international order, which Russia and China, among others, have been advocating in opposition to American ambitions of unipolar dominance.

When Trump arrived in Paris last weekend along with dozens of other world leaders, including Putin, to commemorate the centennial anniversary marking the end of World War I, there was a notable frostiness between Macron and the American president. Only a few months ago, Macron and Trump had appeared the best of friends in what some observers referred to as a “bromance”.

During the Paris events, Macron sought to placate Trump by saying that the European army proposal would have a “complementary” role to the US-led NATO military alliance. However, their relationship further soured when Macron later delivered a speech in which he made a veiled rebuke of Trump’s “nationalist” politics.

Days later, on returning to Washington, Trump then fired off a fusillade of angry tweets attacking Macron in very personal terms over a range of issues, including “unfair” economic trade and France’s alleged ungrateful attitude towards the US liberation of Paris from Nazi Germany during the Second World War.

The rift between the US and Europe has been brewing even before Trump’s presidency. For years, Washington has been carping that the Europeans need to spend more on military defense, claiming that the US has been shouldering the burden for too long. Trump has taken the griping to a new, higher level. Recall that he has threatened to pull out of NATO because the Europeans were “free loading” on American “protection”.

The irony is that now the French and German leaders are talking about setting up their own military defenses, Trump has blown a fuse.

Evidently, the American contention is not about “burden sharing” of defense. If Washington was genuinely aggrieved about supposedly defending Europe at too much of its own expense, then Trump, one would think, would be only too glad to hear that the Europeans were at last making their own military arrangements, and taking the burden off Washington.

This gets to the heart of the matter about the real purpose of NATO and presence of tens of thousands of US troops stationed in bases across Europe since 1945. American military presence in Europe is not about “protecting” its supposed allies. It is, and always has been, about projecting American power over Europe. In reality, American troops and bases in Europe are more functioning as an occupying force, keeping the Europeans in line with Washington’s strategic objectives of hegemony over the continent.

Macron and Merkel’s vision of a European army is probably fanciful anyway, without any real prospect of materializing. How such a new defense arrangement would work independently from the 29-member NATO alliance led by the US seems unwieldy and impractical.

But the latest tensions between Washington and European leaders over military organization demonstrate the real nature of America’s relationship to Europe. It is about domination by Washington over Europe and has little to do with partnership and protection.

When Trump and previous US presidents have urged greater military spending by Europe the ulterior agenda is for Europeans to pay more to underpin American military presence, not for Europeans to find their own independent defense arrangement.

Tensions in the transatlantic axis seem to be coming to a head, heightened by Trump’s nationalistic “America First” policy. Rivalries are sharpening over trade, US sanctions on Iran, Trump’s threats against European energy plans with Russia, the Paris Climate Accord, and squabbling over NATO expenditures.

There is nothing progressive about Macron or Merkel’s call for a European army. It is more to do with France and Germany wanting to assert themselves as great powers and to shake off American tutelage out of frustration with Trump’s domineering petulance.

Only last week, Macron caused controversy when he praised French military general Philippe Pétain who collaborated with Nazi Germany as leader of Vichy France (1940-44). Macron wants a European army to satisfy his own nationalistic ambitions of revamping French global power. This week, he spent the night onboard a refurbished French aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, from which he gave a media interview saying that being “an ally of America meant not being a vassal”. Touché!

A progressive challenge from Europe to American power would not involve setting up a new army. Instead it would involve Europeans pushing for the disbandment of NATO as an obsolete organization and for the withdrawal of US-led forces which are dangerously amassing on Russia’s border.

Nonetheless, the one positive thing to emerge from the transatlantic spat over military defenses is that it illustrates more than ever how European protection is not the real purpose of Washington’s relationship to the continent. The purpose is one of using Europe as a platform for projecting America’s power, in particular against Russia.

The recent announcement by the Trump administration that it is willing to rip up yet another nuclear arms control treaty – the INF following the ABM in 2002 – clearly shows that Washington, ultimately, has recklessly scant concern for Europe’s security with regard to a possible future war with Russia.

For Washington, despite all the chivalrous rhetoric, Europe is not a partner nor even an ally. It is a vassal. Admittedly, thousands of American troops died while bravely fighting wars in Europe. But they are distinct from the US ruling class. At bottom, Europe is merely a battlefield for American military power, just as it was in two previous world wars. One hundred years after the end of World War I, the same callous calculus for the imperial planners in Washington is at play.

European ideas for independent defense is why Washington has reacted so furiously. It’s not willing to give up its European front.

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Zuckerberg Clings To Power While Sandberg Claims Ignorance After Damaging NYT Report

The New York Times reported that Facebook hired GOP PR firm, Defenders, to smear liberal detractors as Soros operatives. 

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Facebook executives Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg are battling backlash over an explosive investigation by the New York Times into Facebook’s mercenary damage control tactics in the wake of several major scandals.

Despite fresh calls from investors for Zuckerberg to step down in his dual role as CEO and chairman and appoint an independent director to oversee the board, the 34-year-old tech titan brushed off the suggestion during a Thursday call with journalists.

“A company with Facebook’s massive reach and influence requires robust oversight and that can only be achieved through an independent chair who is empowered to provide critical checks on company leadership,” said New York City comptroller, Scott Stringer.

Zuckerberg disagrees. “I don’t think that that specific proposal is the right way to go,” said the Facebook CEO when asked if he would consider stepping down, adding that other initiatives had been launched to “get more independence into our systems.”

The measures include creating an independent body to advise the company on decisions over whether controversial content should remain on the site.

Ultimately, he said Facebook is never going to eradicate mistakes. “We’re never going to get to the point where there are no errors,” he told reporters. “I’m trying to set up the company so that way we have our board, and we report on our financial results and do a call every quarter, but that also we have this independent oversight that is just focused on the community.” –Business Insider

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, meanwhile, is claiming ignorance – telling CBS This Morning co-host Norah O’Donnell “we absolutely did not pay anyone to create fake news – that they have assured me was not happening.”

In their Wednesday exposé – the culmination of interviews with over 50 current and former company executives, lawmakers, government officials, lobbyists and congressional staff members,the New York Times reported that Facebook had hired GOP PR firm, Defenders, which smeared liberal detractors as Soros operatives – and worked with a sister company to create negative propaganda about competitors Google and Apple.

Mr. Kaplan prevailed on Ms. Sandberg to promote Kevin Martin, a former Federal Communications Commission chairman and fellow Bush administration veteran, to lead the company’s American lobbying efforts. Facebook also expanded its work with Definers.

On a conservative news site called the NTK Network, dozens of articles blasted Google and Apple for unsavory business practices. One story called Mr. Cook hypocritical for chiding Facebook over privacy, noting that Apple also collects reams of data from users. Another played down the impact of the Russians’ use of Facebook.

The rash of news coverage was no accident: NTK is an affiliate of Definers, sharing offices and staff with the public relations firm in Arlington, Va. Many NTK Network stories are written by staff members at Definers or America Rising, the company’s political opposition-research arm, to attack their clients’ enemies. –NYT

Meanwhile, Sandberg stressed that Facebook was undertaking new security measures, telling O’Donnell: “Our strategy was to shore up the security on Facebook and make major investments there,” and that the company had made significant investments in combatting fake news and foreign influence.

“It was not what I was doing nor was it the company’s strategy to deflect, to deny or to hire PR firms to do things. That’s not the strategy. And I was part of none of that. We’ve taken great steps, we’ve made huge investments. We’ve invested a ton in AI and technology and if you were following us before the election you saw those efforts pay off. We were able to take down lots of stuff over and over, over and over because we were now focused on this,” said Sandberg.

When asked if rank-and-file employees are confident in her, Sandberg replied: “Yes, I believe so.

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