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How ‘dangerous’ is Putin’s Russia?

Despite the xenophobic and bellicose malarkey that passes for analysis these days, the U.S. president is hardly alone in desiring to seek better relations with Russia in order to safeguard U.S. national interests and also global security more generally.

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Enough about Russia already. If one likes ballet or nineteenth century literature, one could understand having a Russia obsession. Maybe some people have an unusual affinity for snow and cold, having a particular passion for ice hockey or luge. Perhaps then, this could be comprehended. If one trades in commodities, such as gas or wheat or timber, for a living maybe one could be forgiven.

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For those of us working in the national-security field, it’s true that there are some new developments, such as another successful test of the “Kinzhal” hypersonic missile—that can strike NATO ships at ranges up to eight hundred kilometers. But the system is most likely defensive in nature and, after all, Russia’s defense spending is a paltry 11 percent (or maybe even less) of U.S. military outlays.

That figure, of course, does not include the aggregate sum of NATO allies’ arms expenditures alongside of the United States that makes the total NATO-Russia asymmetry of power even more stunningly lopsided .

READ MORE: Russia’s T-80 Tank is No Joke

Yet none of the above explanations offer a plausible explanation for how it is that almost all major U.S. newspapers have written profusely, breathlessly, and—let’s be honest—nauseatingly on this subject, for at least the last two years, without any end in sight. By now, most Americans are likely convinced that Russia is a country full of hackers, homophobes, hooligans, hookers, and, lest anyone forget, spies.

In three decades of traveling to Russia, that is not what I have seen [Я сам этого не видел]. Has all the newsprint in our American papers on Russia in these years made us any wiser?

What if all that journalistic energy had been devoted to the complex nuances of the ongoing U.S. national crises in education and health care and infrastructure, not to mention the ultra sensitive and yet somehow perennially neglected issue of racial injustice ?

Journalists can perhaps be forgiven for taking a surficial view of the bilateral U.S.-Russia relationship—crisply dividing the subject into “good guys versus bad guys,” rather than adopting the realist framework of parsing national interests that actually reveals a decent alignment.

For the most part, those writing about Russia in the American media have no special training in Russia (language, history, etc.), nor any advanced schooling in the complexities of diplomacy either.

They, therefore, consistently fail to understand that some stolen emails constitute a minute and even trivial issue when compared with a nuclear arms rivalry that will cost both countries trillions of dollars and could also pave the road to global apocalypse.

They cannot seem to grasp that a single troll factory is just the tip of the iceberg in a larger “information war” that has continued for more than half a century, but that the resulting mindless blather is of little consequence against the all too real nuclear proliferation crises that continue to roil Northeast Asia and the Persian Gulf.

These reporters and their editors somehow do not comprehend that a campaign advisors’ financial dealings from long ago or a Russian graduate student’s liaisons with conservative political groups, while perhaps titillating and reinforcing TV-constructed stereotypes, are actually several quantum leaps more insignificant than the fate of tens of millions of miserable citizens of Syria (not to mention all the refugees), awaiting a genuinely viable truce among the great and regional powers.

Let’s not even pause to review other similarly tragic situation, such as Afghanistan or Yemen, which could also benefit from U.S.-Russia strategic cooperation (or at least a cooling of hot rivalry).

Enough about Helsinki already. Well, maybe not quite. I will attempt to take this analysis on a (brief) path not yet taken. Trump made an interesting and possibly revealing remark when he stated prior to the meeting with Putin that he intended to discuss, among several other issues, China and “our mutual friend President Xi.” It remains unknown what exactly it is about China that Trump wished to discuss with Putin.

That did not come up in any of the subsequent press conferences. However, one may justifiably speculate, given the current and intense bout of Sinophobia now fashionable at the White House (on issues ranging from trade to Taiwan to North Korea) that Trump may have sought to gauge Putin’s willingness to talk about possibly shared concerns regarding China’s rise.

As it happens, such an idea would not be completely far-fetched since there are Russians that are extremely concerned about the ascent of the eastern colossus. After all, the Middle Kingdom is much more proximate to Russia than to America—to state the obvious.

Indeed, the Russian national-security commentator Alexander Chramshikin wrote a fascinating, high-profile article a few months back that starkly warned the Kremlin against its pro-China inclinations.

The piece asserted that “too actively cooperating with Peking would lead to long-term problems for Moscow [Слишком активное сотрудничество с Пекином создает Москве долгосрочные проблемы].”

In a promising and refreshingly candid discussion about European security, this Russian analyst appears to admit that Kremlin strategic actions against Europe have been quite over the top: “If the goal is to intimidate Europe, then that is senseless. Europe is so intimidated by us that it is on the verge of fainting . . . but it is not in any way threatening us.” [Если целью было запугать Запад, то это бессмысленно. Европа и так запугана нами почти до обморока . . . но она нам . . . ничем не угрожает].”

READ MORE: Calling out The Guardian’s false, anti-Russian propaganda

Yet, Chramshikin is not quite a “softy” either, as he says Russia’s intervention in Syria was absolutely necessary and he even goes so far as to say Moscow must put aside sentimental attachments and treat Kiev as a genuine enemy, such that the “farce” of the Minsk Agreement can now be finally dispensed with, once and for all.

Yet, his overall conception (that is decidedly not politically correct in Moscow) may nevertheless have appeal for American conservatives since he maintains that “For us, China constitutes the most serious threat [Китай для нас—главная внешняя угроза].”

Chramshikin contends that China covets Russia’s resources and also territory. He claims that the supposed partnership between Moscow and Beijing has resulted in no benefit and only “troubles that are worse and worse because of the starkly unequal (in Beijing’s favor) bilateral relationship [вреда все больше и больше. Во-первых, из-за крайне неравноправного (в пользу Пекина, разумеется) характера двусторонних отношений].”

He views the pro-China tilt in Kremlin policy as a straight-jacket that inhibits better relations with other Asian powers, including both Japan and India, as well as the ASEAN countries. In working closely with China, he asserts that Russia is “digging its own grave [роем себе могилу].”

Above all, he is against the Kremlin having to make a dichotomous choice between the West and China, fearing that the choice may involve a dreaded capitulation to one or the other.

In the end, he seems to believe that Russia must resign itself to defense “in all directions [по всем азимутам],” noting that the newKinzhal and Sarmat missile programs are a good start on that ominous and obviously expensive project.

Again, many American strategists could be pleased to see Russian analysts opining about the “China threat” and hinting that the West is a logical partner within some kind of larger anti-China framework.

For my part, I would strongly caution against the seductions of the “Kissinger move in reverse”—if one harkens back to U.S. policy from the 1970s. First, Chramshikin may lack for an objective perspective. It is noteworthy that he presents no actual evidence regarding his assertions on Chinese revisionism with respect to Russian territory, nor Chinese foul play in commercial practices related to Russian resources.

To the contrary, it is worth asking what the Russian economy would look like today without trade and investment from China. I am told by various sources, for example, that Chinese investment in Russia is substantially underreported.

Indeed, there are signs of major new strategic synergies between Moscow and Beijing at present. Second, a related point is that Chramshikin’s perspective seems to be in the minority as most of the Russian foreign-policy elite accept the imperative for close ties with Beijing.

A rather more enlightened U.S. perspective will be one that recognizes that U.S. interests are not injured by close and continuing China-Russia cooperation, and the United States is actually more likely to be taken seriously as a partner if it ceases trying to play one Asian giant off the other—a variation of the old British colonial tactic of “ divide and rule .”

Returning to the subject of the crisis in U.S.-Russian relations, most everyone somehow considers the Helsinki summit a travesty or worse, but they are wrong.

To the contrary, the president’s decision to go ahead with the summit was actually brave and obviously supports the broader goal of world peace—not exactly a minor issue. If there was a major problem with the Summit, it was way too short.

Could the presidents be expected to make progress on nuclear arms control, nuclear proliferation, regional crises, counterterrorism, and commercial ties in the space of a few hours? Such important summits should take place over a few days not hours (and the same goes for U.S.-China summits, of course), spending more time on substantive talks and less distracted by the media circus.

American journalists, along with the “Blob” seem to want badly that American presidents spend more time with “friends” and less time with competitors.

Yet, that approach belies the obvious point that there is less to discuss among countries that are generally agreed on issues, world views, etc. In other words, U.S. presidents need to spend more time with competitors (or adversarial) regimes in order to bring about change on key issues of importance.

That would indeed constitute the “Art of the Deal” and yet the jury is still certainly out on whether this administration can “walk the walk” on that score—with doubts mounting that they have the requisite attention for detail and institutional competence.

For his part, President Trump may wish for advisors less interested in contradicting his agenda and more focused on delivering actual policy results for the American people, whether arms control agreements or creative and realistic peace proposals to mitigate regional crises.

Trump has been excoriated for daring to articulate that some U.S. policies with respect to Russia have been misguided and also for publicly laying bare his doubts about assessments by the various U.S. intelligence agencies. Yet, it has been quite common among U.S. national-security specialists to suggest that NATO expansion was a major mistake .

Was George Kennan, one of America’s greatest ever diplomats and geopolitical thinkers, a “traitor” for suggesting that such a move would engender a Russian nationalist backlash? Obvious not. Kennan’s perspective has proven prophetic and so Trump’s rendering was simply correct.

As for the intelligence agencies, an observer with vast experience (from inside the U.S. government) of U.S. intelligence practices, Russia and U.S. diplomacy generally cast serious doubt on that the intelligence community’s conclusions regarding alleged meddling in the 2016 election.

If former Ambassador James Matlock has grave doubts, then so can the American president. Indeed, anyone remotely familiar with the rather mixed record of the U.S. intelligence agencies over the last several decades should actually hope that the president would meet their conclusions with pronounced skepticism.

From a legal perspective, moreover, Daniel McCarthy rightly notes : “If Trump decides that Russia will not be our enemy, the intelligence community has no standing to challenge him. To do so, would be a coup d’état.”

Despite the xenophobic and bellicose malarkey that passes for analysis these days, the U.S. president is hardly alone in desiring to seek better relations with Moscow in order to safeguard U.S. national interests and also global security more generally.

Via National Interest

Lyle J. Goldstein is a research professor in the China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) at the United States Naval War College in Newport, RI. In addition to Chinese, he also speaks Russian and he is also an affiliate of the new Russia Maritime Studies Institute (RMSI) at Naval War College. You can reach him at [email protected].

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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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