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How the West continues to fatally misunderstand Vladimir Putin & Russia

The Duran

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Originally appeared at OffGuardian

By Tony Kevin, from a talk given to ANU Business students, June 7

Two and a half years ago, in Jan-Feb 2016, I visited Russia for a month. The result was this published book, a literary travel memoir,  Return to Moscow.  I returned  in January-February this year, 2018. I gave a public lecture in the Moscow Museum of Contemporary Russian History.

In the two years since I wrote my book, relations between Russia and the West have become worse. On the other hand, Russian relations with China, and with the whole vast Eurasian region bounded by China, Korea, Japan, the ASEAN countries, India and Pakistan, and westwards through Central Asia as far as Iran, Syria and Turkey, even with Israel, have correspondingly warmed and deepened.

For a country with a GNP allegedly similar in size to Australia’s, Russia is punching way above its economic weight in the world. I attribute this to the Russian people’s high intelligence, their national unity of purpose, and their efficient priority-setting in allocating their limited national wealth to what they see as most important. Little of Russia’s GNP goes to waste.

Their national security, despite the loss of 25% of their territory and 49% of their population when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991 – which Mr Putin has described as a geopolitical disaster – is now securely protected by Putin’s rebuilding of a credible second-strike nuclear weapons deterrent capability, that could respond to any actual or threatened surprise attack on Russia.

Also, the strategic and economic alliance with China is enormously strengthening both these great nations’ security and economic potential. They have each other’s back now.

China’s One Belt One Road initiative

China’s One Belt One Road vision is already transforming the whole Eurasian Heartland, including Russia. It is actually beginning to reshape the whole world economy, away from the historic Euro-Atlantic centred economy, to a diverse multipolar world economy.

Russia and China by virtue of their geography, size and resources, sit at the centre of this geopolitical transformation now just getting underway. The challenge for the Euro-Atlantic world, to which Australia belongs by history and alliance ties, is either to join in the building of this new world economic axis, or to stand aside and become increasingly marginalised from it.

It is going to be a very different multipolar world 10, 20, 30 years from now, with very different strategic power balances and world trading and investment patterns.

In some ways, we seem to be moving towards the world foreseen by British pre-WW1 strategic geographer Halford Mackinder in his classic 1904 book  The Geographical Pivot of History , postulating a world in contest between the Eurasian continental Heartland and the Anglo-American maritime world.

Russia’s economy is growing steadily and living standards are improving in all parts of the country, the largest country by land area in the world. Population, at around 150 million,   is at last beginning to grow again after the demographic disasters and collapse of national morale in the 1990s, the Yeltsin decade after the collapse of the Soviet system.

You will shortly see, as I did on my two recent visits, a country of high educational and cultural level, and high civility, ethical values and morale. This may surprise some of you.

You will also get a sense of the buoyant Football World Cup atmosphere. I don’t like to predict too much but I can predict this. Over the next few weeks, the spate of Western mainstream media articles hostile to the Russian hosting of the World Cup will rise to a crescendo. There will be stories alleging unsportsmanlike behaviour, unfinished stadiums and visitor facilities, tourist scams, and hostility of Russian people towards visiting football fans. None of this will be true. The Russian people will make their football visitors, players and spectators, very welcome. Any isolated acts of football hooliganism will be quickly brought under police control. The World Cup contest will be a happy experience for all.

Let me focus now on what has sadly become over the past few years my main area of expertise, the deteriorating political relationship between Russia and the Western alliance, built around NATO and the EU but also taking in Australia.

The prime movers of this hostility are the security and intelligence complexes in the US and the UK. Something similar, but not yet quite as bad, is happening now in China’s relations with the West. Again, the main cause is Western attitudes and behaviour towards China.

A key theme in my book is the contest between two Russian views of Russia’s place in the world, the Slavophile tendency versus the Westernising tendency. The giants of Russian literature, from Pushkin through Tolstoy and Turgenev and Dostoeyevsky and Anton Chekhov and Alexander Blok to Boris Pasternak, were at heart Slavophiles, believers in Russia’s unique destiny: that Russia is not just another European nation.

This continues to be Russia’s eternal existential debate – the question, who are we Russians? What is our specific role and responsibility in world history? I have tried in the central part of my book fairly to portray that debate, as it developed in Tsarist Russia and how it was transformed in the Soviet Communist period, and then again since the fall of Communism in 1991. I explore where the Yeltsin and Putin governments have sat in this debate.

It pains me to have to analyse, as the third section of my book on the West’s information warfare against Russia does, the negative and hostile role that the Western world, including Australia, now plays towards Russia. This third section offers my perspective as a former Australian diplomat who served in Soviet Russia 50 years ago, on how and why Russia-West relations have become so dysfunctional and dangerous in recent years.

How did such a hostile language and imagery mind-set form in the West since around 2008, of an inbuilt disdain for Russia? We are now living in a permanent default condition of Western information warfare against Russia.

In this escalating information war against Russia over the past ten years, words and images have been weaponised by the West, with the aim of discrediting, demoralising, and destabilising the Russian nation. This was at its height in the 1990s . Most of us did not realise this was happening, but Russia was at its lowest ebb. Women stopped having babies, there was widespread alcoholism among men, Russian people were emigrating,

England, always master of the dark arts of propaganda and disinformation, has played and continues to play a key role in this hidden war: London is egging on its senior partner Washington to ever more audacious lies and false claims against Russia. Only Trump offers some sort of resistance to this rampant Russophobia in Washington and London.

Under Putin, whose presidency began in 2001, Russia has been skilfully fighting back in its own defence, using adept official diplomacy, Internet channels and social media, while still trying to maintain basic norms of respect for facts and elementary good international manners.

Britain and the US have mostly abandoned those norms in recent years. Their diplomacy towards Russia now consists mostly of slanders, false-flag operations, threats and ultimatums. As Putin has put Russia back in its feet, these two key Western nations have become correspondingly more hostile to him and to Russia.

Since  2016, much has happened to set in stone the breakdown of working trust between Russia and the West. I thought things were bad then, but they are much worse now.

EU leaders have mostly, though sometimes reluctantly, followed Anglo-American Russophobic policy leads.

Only at military-to-military level, as in the Syrian War deconfliction arrangements, does some form of essential trust-based communication survive between the two militaries. The strategic balance is still very fragile.

How President Putin tries to speak to the West.

Putin has gone up twice on television in 2017 and 2018 against the smart and sexy American TV presenter Megyn Kelly. Don’t waste your time watching truncated American news versions. Watch the full-length Russian-filmed YouTube videos, to see how he deals with Megyn’s ‘gotcha’ questions politely, calmly and logically, but with occasional flashes of humour. Megyn tries desperately to stay on message, to stay hostile and confrontational, but Putin charmingly wins these amiable battles of wits. And we, the viewers, can learn a lot about his country’s priorities and concerns, if we choose to watch these entertaining interviews on YouTube.

A different kind of attraction – a bromance, actually – develops between Putin and Oliver Stone in the making of Stone’s 2017 ‘Putin Interviews’ documentary series. Stone does not try to play ‘gotcha’ with Putin. Over several conversations, the two men build a friendly relationship of mutual liking and respect. Putin opens up, and Stone learns why one should not joke with a Russian about Kubrick’s film Dr Strangelove. For Russians, the certainty of mutual assured destruction under second strike nuclear deterrence is no joking matter at all. It is the real world they inhabit. It is the world they have learned to live in, under years of constant American military pressure around their borders since around 2002, after the tough disciplined Putin in 2001 replaced the alcoholic US- compliant Yeltsin.

Putin was determined to restore Russian pride, military and economic strength, and self-respect. He has never wavered from this goal through three American Presidents George W Bush, Obama and Trump.

Russians do not see their restored nuclear deterrent under Putin as some kind of video entertainment game: it is what they see as ultimately defending their sovereignty as a nation: their preparedness to start the Doomsday Clock ticking, if pressed by the West beyond their endurance limits. They have recently shown this during the ongoing war in Syria.

The message Stone tries to bring back to the West: that Russians are a deeply serious and truthful people, a brave people, and that Putin is the strong and able leader they are fortunate to have.

Stone returns to America, and goes on the popular liberal Stephen Colbert show to publicize his TV series and book. To watch this on YouTube is dispiriting. Stone tries to explain seriously to Colbert what he has learned from his hours conversing with Putin, on what interests the US and Russia might find they have in common, on how their relations might be improved to mutual benefit. He is met with disbelief and facetious sarcasm. The studio audience soon get into the spirit of Colbert’s game: they start to laugh mockingly with Colbert at everything Stone says. Later, mainstream American viewers express amazement and contempt for Stone’s ‘soft’ and ‘gullible’ approach to the ‘wily’ Putin.

The Washington Post sums it up thus: ‘Oliver Stone defended Vladimir Putin to Stephen Colbert. The audience laughed at him.’

This is the arrogant voice of American liberal Democratic opinion. This powerful segment of America – the liberal globalisers who support what they are most familiar with, an American-led rules-based world order – have by now almost entirely succumbed to obsessive Russophobic prejudice.

Books that convey truth about Russia.

Almost every book published in the West about Russia and Putin is misleading, but the authors cannot see this. They come from within self-indoctrinated intellectual communities that – whether physically living in the West, or even in Western journalistic and diplomatic enclaves within Russia, it makes no difference really – have internalised group mindsets of hostile Western perceptions of Russia to the point where they cannot see outside this framework. Anti-Russian assertions of belief, repeated and exchanged often enough, become the alternative reality. As Goebbels understood.

Look at these examples of titles of a few well-regarded recent books about Russia:

  • The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin,  Steven Lee Myers, 2016
  • Winter is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must be Stopped, by Garry Kasparov, 2016
  • Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin, by Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy, 2015
  • Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? by Karen Dawisha, 2015
  • Putin’s Wars: The Rise of Russia’s New Imperialism, by Marcel H Van Herpen, 2015
  • The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin, by Masha Gessen, 2013

Since at least 2008, perhaps earlier, the majority of Western commentators and writers on Russia have come to live in such a distorted mental world of their own imagining. They prefer to re-circulate their own Russian nightmare images – their own language of Russian politics – than to reckon with the reality of what is now a generally decent and serious, well-governed and well-mannered country. To these writers, Putin is simply a greedy criminal whose brutal kleptocratic regime threatens the peaceful world order.

For example: One of the leading Western journalists of this new Cold War, Luke Harding of the UK Guardian , cannot see how silly he sounds when he solemnly intones, after having been caught out in yet another evidence-free Russophobic claim:

Ah, but you must look at the whole context. You see, this is what they always do.

Most Western commentators writing about Russia today fall into this same ideological strait-jacket. They are the new Stalinists. Even when they think they are being objective and fair-minded about Russia, their superior and condescending stereotypes of Russia dull their brains and compromise their integrity.

John Le Carré understood the Cold War very well, the moral ambiguities and yet the humanity that persisted in citizens on both sides, even through the worst years. He never demonised Russia or Russians. To me one of his wisest books is The Russia House, written in 1989, the last years of Gorbachev’s rule.

Fred Schepisi’s film version made in 1990, starring Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer, is one of my favourite films.

Le Carre’s engaging anti-hero Barley Blair, and his Russian lover Katya who is played with heartrending warmth and sincerity by Michelle Pfeiffer, refuse to play the Cold War games demanded of them by the governments of their day.  We can still today, 28 years later, learn much from reading or watching The Russia House, a charming fable in which love and human decency triumph over Cold War hatred and ruthlessness.

Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago is the indispensable novel of 20th century Russia, which truthfully represents Russia’s complex and tragic past hundred years, from Tsarism to Soviet Communism and prophesying contemporary Russia. . I visited Pasternak’s home at Peredelkino two years ago. I hope that my chapter on Pasternak, I think the best chapter in my book, captures him fairly.

He came from a cultured and comfortably-off intelligentsia family in Moscow. He made the fateful choice to stay in Russia with his brothers, when his parents and sisters emigrated after the Civil War ended. He never saw them again. His life was tragic and heroic. He confronted and triumphed over both the cruel Stalinist state, and the Anglo-American intelligence agencies which tried to use his great work as a tool to undermine the Soviet system.

Pasternak was intensely patriotic for Russia, his motherland. He never lost his faith that Russia after all its sufferings would grow into a decent humanist country and become an inspiration to the world. I think he would be unreservedly proud of Russia today.

These days one frequently comes across passionate and illogical Russophobia in Australia’s elite government, academic and mainstream media circles, the people who basically set the parameters of Australian policy towards Russia. I have recently been characterised unfavourably by a person from within this group as one of a number of ‘contrarians, Putinists and instant experts’ in Australia. I have also been described as ‘in love with Russia’. I actually take both these remarks as compliments.

What never seems to go away nowadays in our Anglo-American national security elite world is the presumption that Western conduct is generally proper, and Russian conduct is generally improper. I see evidence of such confirmation bias now again on display, acutely, in Western government and mainstream media handling of the Skripal Affair, and of the alleged Assad Government series of three chemical weapons attacks on rebel-held areas in Syria since 2012. People filter out the sources and information elements they want to believe, and ignore the rest as presumed ‘fake news’.

It is sad that a whole people and culture can be misrepresented in such ways. This must be countered, and I am doing my best to help counter it.

The Russian and Western narratives on both these events, the Skripal Affair and the Syria War, sharply conflict. In the end, one must make a choice – one cannot split the difference, or sit on the fence – and I have made my choice. To my mind, the Russian government’s positions on the Skripal Affair and the alleged series of three Syrian Government CW attacks on rebel-occupied areas in recent years fit best with the available public evidence. The Western governments’ positions on these events are false propaganda constructs, and I am no longer prepared to take them on trust.

On every issue in contention, Western governments and mainstream media simply refuse to consider – or even to report – evidence presented by Russia. Instead, they turn their backs, or they resort to angry anti-Russian rhetoric.

The Skripal affair

The Skripals Affair, the attack on Sergey and his daughter Yulia , allegedly with lethal quick-acting Novichok (A234) poison of Soviet Russian origin, in Salisbury on 4 March, initially seemed to offer to UK Prime Minister Theresa May a politically convenient Russophobe narrative. Its falsity has been progressively exposed by the accumulation of public facts ever since. It seems now that the Skripals were victims of an anti-Russian false-flag poisoning and narrative, designed to lay a Western public opinion foundation for the false-flag alleged CW attack in Syria in Douma a month later, which led to a US and allied aerial attack on Syria.

Whoever designed the bizarre Skripal operation went so far as to tamper with the Skripal biological samples that the UK government sent some weeks later to the UN Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, for testing in OPCW’s own trusted Swiss laboratories. Theresa May had demanded a simple yes-or-no answer from OPCW: did the samples contain a Novichuk –type poison?

But the OPCW laboratory in Spiez actually did comprehensive professional sample testing and found inconvenient truths. The Skripal samples were found to contain traces of a strong temporary debilitating but non-lethal toxin called BZ, long in use by NATO, which produced the exact same symptoms as the lethal A234 Novichuk, but with recovery under good medical care expected after around 4 days. Which is what happened to Yulia.

The Spiez lab also found in the samples that OPCW was given by the UK government large freshly added concentrations of the lethal agent A234, in the Novichuk family, as well as decomposed residues of lethal A234 which had been added much earlier , soon after the samples were obtined from the Skripals. It would seem therefore that the OPCW safe chain of custody protocols had twice been seriously violated during the weeks the samples were in British government sole custody.

We only know about these sensational findings because Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov obtained them from a Spiez Lab or OPCW source, and deliberately leaked them publicly in Moscow on 14 April.

Britain, though caught red-handed, tried to deny the story, and still continues brazenly to reject or ignore it, supported by all its Western allies including Australia. At the OPCW Executive Council meeting on 18 April, every Western ambassador lined up to denounce Russia, in abusive language, for allegedly bringing the trusted OPCW inspection system into disrepute. The Council decided to suppress its own laboratory reports. The Secretariat offered an improbable cover story as to why BZ toxin had been found in samples. No explanation was offered at all for the presence of freshly added A234, in concentrations that would have certainly killed the Skripals outright if they had been exposed to it on 4 March.

A few days ago, a fully recovered Yulia Skripal appeared on Reuters television reading a prepared statement in Russian. She has said she looks forward to returning to her home country.

She clearly had not ingested Novichuk, A234. D-notices have been imposed on British media by the British Goverment, and Western mainstream media have fallen strangely silent on the Skripal story as it collapses under its own factual contradictions. I believe that more will come out on the Skripal story, because in the end truth does come out. I hope that both the Skripals, father and daughter, will sooner or later be able to return unharmed to their country, now that proof of Yulia’s life and her desire to return home has been publicly established.

Conclusion

So where do relations now stand between Russia and the West? Certainly worse that when my book was published, just 16 months ago. Putin and Lavrov and the charismatic Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova patiently state again and again their understanding of the truth of these matters, and the need for civil and business-like regular Russia-West dialogue based on mutual respect for national sovereignty, and simply on mutual good manners. Western governments’ manners towards Russia were much better during the Cold War than now.

Trump is unpredictable and irresolute. He seems most of the time to wish to be friends with Putin and Russia, but he seems powerless to defy the obsessively Russophobe lobby which effectively controls Washington. There is renewed talk now of a possible Putin-Trump summit meeting, but powerful elements of the Anglo-American strategic bureaucracy and mainstream media seem determined to derail it.

This is also the dominant message we hear in Australia from the ABC, Fairfax, The Australian, and The Guardian. The Anglo-American elite world seems to need an existential Russian enemy.

In conclusion, I urge you to read critically and widely, and to monitor reputable Russian official websites in their English versions – in particular, rt.com, the Russian global news and commentary equivalent of the BBC World Service; and the Russian Foreign Ministry website mid.ru; and the Russian Embassy websites in Washington, London and Canberra – and also trustworthy independent Western social media writers like the UK’s Craig Murray, Australia’s own Caitlin Johnstone, Vanessa Beeley on Syria, or even my own Facebook and Twitter pages, if you want to make up your own mind on what is really happening in this strange new world of Russia-West relations.

When our mainstream media will almost always distort, or simply not report at all, credible new disclosures of facts as just more pro-Russian propaganda or ‘fake news’, we must read more sources. We must question the anti-Russian stereotypes that are being served up to us. Repetition of lies does not make lies into truth.

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Akit
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Akit

Brilliant article.

regolo gellini
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regolo gellini

Considering the damage done by Yeltsin and the “Chicago Boys, the task for Mr Putin was without doubt the most difficult possible . And yet he had the guts, the stamina and the courage to wrest his country from a dangerous involution that could have destroyed it from within . All my respect and admiration for this man ! Citizens of the world, find the relevant facts as suggested in the article, fake news have already done enormous damage and caused illegal wars that we all know were imposed by the american deep state that thrive on people’s blood .… Read more »

Isabella Jones
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Isabella Jones

“Russia is not just another European nation.” I would like to know on what base, exactly, you say Russia is a European nation. It was this desire to be “European” by Gorbachev and others at that time, which drove Gorby to make the crazy decisions he did. And look at where it got Russia? Europe is an idea, a concept, a dream. It’s not a geographical place, which is why it’s borders keep changing. If Russia does try to be “European” she is finished. I spent 8 months in the Far East of Russia, and can assure the writer that… Read more »

Rick Oliver
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Rick Oliver

Thank you very much Mr Tony Kevin. A brilliant piece of work . Please understand that there certainly is a building groundswell of support for Mr Vladimir Putin and his wonderful Caucus and Military , from the world over , including little ol` me in New Zealand ! I am currently in a ” Vladimir Putin Fan Club ” headed by a beautiful lady via Facebook . For a small population in NZ and Australia , he has a very large following , growing daily I might add. Further more , I am surprised by the support coming from the… Read more »

John Vu
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John Vu

Strong man = Few talented new leaders if any

AM Hants
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AM Hants

Interesting article, over on Stalkerzone:

Did Putin give Ukraine an ultimatum and why is the US afraid most of all?

http://www.stalkerzone.org/why-did-putin-give-ukraine-an-ultimatum-and-why-is-the-us-afraid-most-of-all/

Kent Betts
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Kent Betts

The article fails to explain how or what the West misunderstands. Putin looted $45 billion from the budget for the Sochi games. Russia’s great claim to moral praise is that they didn’t poison people in England, or put radioactive poison in a former FSB agent’s tea, or put dioxin into the scrambled eggs of a candidate for the presidency of Ukraine. Perhaps the obvious dictatorship of Russian politics will prove fatal, just not for the West.

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CIA Director and NYT Accidentally Expose Skripal Poisoning Hoax – DUCKGATE (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 189.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the stunning, inadvertent, admission by the New York Times and CIA Director Gina Haspel that much of what we know from the Salisbury-Skripal poisoning is pure fabrication and manipulation.

‘Duckgate’, as it is now being dubbed, was used to trick US President Trump into expelling 60 Russian Diplomats over false photographic evidence presented to him by Haspel, as it was provided to her by UK authorities.

The manipulation of POTUS Trump, courtesy of CIA Director Haspel, the UK government (and accidentally documented on by the NYT), has now blown open some serious holes into the entire narrative that Sergei and Yulia Skripal were poisoned by Russian agents with the deadly Novichok nerve agent.

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Via The Blogmire…


(SEE UPDATE AT THE BOTTOM)

Well this is interesting.

I had intended to put up a new thread for people who want to continue commenting on the Salisbury and Amesbury cases, as the last piece I did on it has reached an unmanageable 1,500+ comments. But just as I was about to do so, I was alerted to an important piece over on the Moon of Alabama website, entitled, “CIA Director Used Fake Skripal Incident Photos To Manipulate Trump“.

The gist of the piece is as follows. Back in April 2018, the Washington Post published an article about the decision taken by the United States to expel 60 Russian diplomats in the wake of the Salisbury poisoning. According to the authors, the day after the decision was made, President Trump reacted in anger when he found out that the French and the Germans were expelling just four diplomats each:

“The next day, when the expulsions were announced publicly, Trump erupted, officials said. To his shock and dismay, France and Germany were each expelling only four Russian officials — far fewer than the 60 his administration had decided on. The President, who seemed to believe that other individual countries would largely equal the United States, was furious that his administration was being portrayed in the media as taking by far the toughest stance on Russia.”

Mr Trump, it seems, believed that he had been misled by officials, as the piece goes on to say:

“Growing angrier, Trump insisted that his aides had misled him about the magnitude of the expulsions. ‘There were curse words,’ the official said, ‘a lot of curse words.’”

Whether Mr Trump was misled about the magnitude of the expulsions is impossible to say without a transcript of that meeting. What does seem certain, however, is that he was misled in another, far more important way, as Moon of Alabama goes on to point out.

In an article in today’s New York Times about the head of the CIA, Gina Haspel, an extraordinary piece of information is revealed — albeit unwittingly, it would seem, by authors who probably have no idea of its significance. Pointing to that same meeting mentioned in the Washington Post article, in which Mr Trump was persuaded to expel 60 diplomats, here is the NYT’s account of what took place:

“During the discussion, Ms. Haspel, then deputy C.I.A. director, turned toward Mr. Trump. She outlined possible responses in a quiet but firm voice, then leaned forward and told the president that the “strong option” was to expel 60 diplomats.

To persuade Mr. Trump, according to people briefed on the conversation, officials including Ms. Haspel also tried to show him that Mr. Skripal and his daughter were not the only victims of Russia’s attack.

Ms. Haspel showed pictures the British government had supplied her of young children hospitalized after being sickened by the Novichok nerve agent that poisoned the Skripals. She then showed a photograph of ducks that British officials said were inadvertently killed by the sloppy work of the Russian operatives [my emphasis].”

If you’re late joining the party, and don’t understand what is so extraordinary about this, let me spell it out plainly and unambiguously:

Firstly, there were no dead ducks as a result of poisoning. None. Zilch. Nada!

Secondly, there were no children sickened by nerve agent. None. Zilch. Nada!

Yet even though there were no dead ducks, and no sick children, Mr Trump was apparently persuaded by the head of the CIA to expel 60 diplomats after being shown pictures of dead ducks and sick children.

In addition to the extraordinary nature of this revelation, there is also a huge irony here. Along with many others, I have long felt that the duck feed is one of the many achilles heels of the whole story we’ve been presented with about what happened in Salisbury on 4th March 2018. And the reason for this is precisely because if it were true, there would indeed have been dead ducks and sick children.

According to the official story, Mr Skripal and his daughter became contaminated with “Novichok” by touching the handle of his front door at some point between 13:00 and 13:30 that afternoon. A few minutes later (13:45), they were filmed on CCTV camera feeding ducks, and handing bread to three local boys, one of whom ate a piece. After this they went to Zizzis, where they apparently so contaminated the table they sat at, that it had to be incinerated.

You see the problem? According to the official story, ducks should have died. According to the official story children should have become contaminated and ended up in hospital. Yet as it happens, no ducks died, and no boys got sick (all that happened was that the boys’ parents were contacted two weeks later by police, the boys were sent for tests, and they were given the all clear).

And yet despite the fact that no ducks died and no children were made sick, the director of the CIA (a.k.a. the Canard Invention Association), allegedly using information given to her agency by the British Government, showed the President of the United States pictures of dead ducks and sick children, apparently from Salisbury, to persuade him to take extreme action (Note: You can read more about the duck feed and all the other holes in the official story here). In other words, Mr Trump was lied to, and in a big way, and with potentially huge consequences.

I have no reason to doubt the authenticity of the claims made in the New York Times piece, since the purpose of inserting the bit about the ducks and the children was to cast Gina Haspel as a strong leader, rather than to cast doubt on the Skripal story. My guess is that Mr Trump might be quite interested to know that he was misled, either by the director of the CIA and/or the British Government. It might even make him wonder this: if no less a person than the President of the United States was given a false version of events, what are the chances that the rest of the story stacks up?

As ever, someone got some ‘splaining to do.  Discuss among yourselves.


PS. An aside. The Independent, which is apparently a publisher of news, has picked up on this storyhere. In their piece, they basically repeat what was said in the New York Times about how Gina Haspel persuaded Mr Trump using the dead ducks and sick children pics. But here’s the thing. Whilst it doesn’t surprise me that writers in the likes of the Washington Post or New York Times might not know too many details regarding the Salisbury case, the Independent knows full well that there were no dead ducks and no sick children. And so since they are writing about it, they must know that either the CIA director or the British Government, or both, knowingly misled the US President. Yet they say nothing about this in their piece. Why? Simply because they are not journalists, but stenographers, and they have no intention of informing their readers of what is true and what is real. I’m not sure how they live with themselves, but somehow they manage.


UPDATE: The Guardian has published an article (18th April), in which the director of public health at Wiltshire Council, Tracy Daszkiewicz, was asked to comment on the New York Times report. Here is what she said:

“There were no other casualties other than those previously stated. No wildlife were impacted by the incident and no children were exposed to or became ill as a result of either incident [my emphasis].”

So according to Ms Daszkiewicz, not only were no children made ill (which we already knew), but nor were any exposed to the substance. How does this accord with the official narrative? In that scenario, Mr Skripal gave bread to three boys, one of whom ate a piece, less than half-an-hour after his hands had become contaminated. In which case, they would undoubtedly have been exposed to it. Then again, if he wasn’t contaminated at that time … well, that would agree with Ms Daszkiewicz’s assessment, but it would have another consequence involving cans and worms!

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

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 145.

Alex Christoforou

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Via Zerohedge…

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

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

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

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

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

Below the full statement from the USTR (link):

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

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

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

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

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

Background

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

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

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

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

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Via RT…


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

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

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

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

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

‘Active measures’ on social media

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

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

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

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

Alleged hacking & release

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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