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As Merkel Weakens, EU Sanctions Unity Cracks

As EU sanctions against Russia come up for renewal opposition against them builds both in Europe and Germany.

Alexander Mercouris

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The details are extremely murky but with Merkel’s position coming under increasing pressure and with growing dissatisfaction with the sanctions in France and southern Europe it is clear a battle of some kind over their pending renewal is underway.

The country at the centre – as always – is Germany.  Here there are visible signs of a split.

Merkel herself stated publicly on Tuesday through her spokesman that she wants to see the sanctions renewed unaltered. 

The fact Merkel felt obliged to make her stance public is itself a sign of conflict.  On every previous occasion when the question of renewing the sanctions has come up she has maintained her preferred Sphinx-like stance of silence.  She was able to do that previously because there was no pressure on her to change it.  The fact that on this occasion she has been forced to go public shows that disagreement with her sanctions policy is growing and that she has therefore felt the need to go public to hold the line.

As to where the disagreement with the sanctions policy in Germany is coming from, the signs of that are everywhere. 

The German business community is known to have been upset by the way the sanctions were renewed without discussion last January.  Meanwhile prominent members of Merkel’s own coalition are now making their disagreement with the policy increasingly clear.  Both leaders of the two parties who form Merkel’s coalition – Sigmar Gabriel of the SPD and Horst Seehofer of the CDU’s Bavarian sister-party the CSU – have in recent months travelled to Moscow where they have met with Putin and made known their desire to renew ties.  Gabriel moreover recently attended a “Russia Day” trade fair in the former East German town of Rostock where he met with representatives of the Russian business community and spoke for renewed ties .  As for Seehofer, his personal relationship with Merkel appears to have completely broken down.  Not only has he publicly criticised Merkel’s immigration policy but he is openly manoeuvring to become Chancellor-designate of the CDU/CSU coalition in place of Merkel in the forthcoming parliamentary elections which are due in 2018.  Seehofer in turn has become the target of public attacks from Merkel’s allies, such as Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble.

That there is an international political dimension to the public battle between Merkel and Seehofer – with relations with Russia at centre-stage – became obvious at the Munich Security Conference held back in February 2016.  Though most attention was given to Russian Prime Minister Medvedev’s speech warning of a renewed Cold War, the single most interesting event at the conference was actually the US delegation’s decision to boycott a public dinner hosted by Seehofer and the Bavarian government.  This very public snub was clearly intended to show US anger with Seehofer for his meeting with Putin in Moscow.

As Merkel publicly battles it out with Seehofer – with Gabriel lurking in the shadows – Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has been busy making a pitch of his own.  He is signalling that he wants the sanctions relaxed.

What Steinmeier appears to be proposing – at least according to this article in Der Spiegel – is that individual travel bans and asset freezes imposed on certain Russian businessmen and officials be lifted in return for Moscow’s help in organising local elections in the Donbass.

Nothing in this sort of diplomacy is ever straightforward and Steinmeier’s proposal – if it is being reported properly – is a case in point.

As Steinmeier certainly knows, it is Kiev not Moscow that is actually obstructing the holding of the local elections in the Donbass, just as it is Kiev not Moscow which has failed to implement any of the key political provisions of the Minsk II agreement.

Steinmeier undoubtedly also knows that the Russian government is completely indifferent to whether individual travel bans and asset freezes are lifted or not.

Steinmeier also probably knows that some at least of these travel bans and asset freezes will at some point almost certainly be declared illegal by the European Court of Justice on the grounds that the individuals involved have no discernible role or influence in the making of policy by the Russian government.

On the face of it what Steinmeier is therefore proposing is a deal whereby the Russians help with something they have always wanted – and which they actually demanded in Minsk – the holding of elections in the Donbass – in return for the lifting of sanctions they don’t care about and which the European Court of Justice is likely to declare illegal anyway.

That hardly looks like a serious offer and not surprisingly the Russians have shown no interest in it.  Der Spiegel effectively admits as much:

“The Russian side has already indicated that talking is not sufficient, a message consistent with Moscow’s extreme self-confidence since the beginning of Putin’s intervention in Syria…… As such, Berlin’s new approach to Russia is not without risk. Indeed, even if the EU agrees collectively to pursue such a course in relation to Moscow, there is a danger that Russia will simply reject it as being too little, too late.”

It is difficult to avoid the impression that Steinmeier’s proposal – if Der Spiegel is reporting it correctly – is really just a tactic intended to hold the EU sanctions coalition together by giving the doubters the impression that Germany is willing to show flexibility when in reality it is showing none. 

That Merkel and Steinmeier are struggling to hold the EU sanctions coalition together is admitted by Der Spiegel:

“More and more EU member states have begun questioning the strict penalty regime, particularly given that it hasn’t always been the Russians who have blocked the Minsk process……. Indications are mounting that getting all 28 EU members to approve the extension of the sanctions at the end of June might not be quite so simple.  Berlin has received calls from concerned government officials whose governments have become increasingly skeptical of the penalties against Russia but have thus far declined to take a public stance against them.”

Der Spiegel then follows up with a long list of European countries which are making clear their growing exasperation with the sanctions policy: Austria, Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal, Hungary, the Czech Republic and France.

That there is a growing revolt across Europe against the sanctions policy has in fact become obvious over the last few weeks.  The Italians, the Slovaks and the Greeks have made public their insistence that there be no automatic renewal of the sanctions in June such as happened in January.  In Italy the local council in Veneto has voted to recognise Crimea’s unification with Russia.  In France the National Assembly recently voted to lift the sanctions, though with only a small number of deputies voting. The powerful French farming lobby is known to be very unhappy with the sanctions and at a time of growing unrest in France with Presidential elections pending opposition to the sanctions in France is hardening.

That it is this growing anger across Europe with the sanctions that lies behind Steinmeier’s proposal is again confirmed by Der Spiegel.  It explains it this way:

“Berlin’s argument is that, in a Europe where those in favour of sanctions and those opposed to sanctions are drifting ever further apart, it is necessary to find a way to keep the EU on the same page. Two weeks ago, Steinmeier warned that, with Brussels set to vote on an extension of the penalties soon, resistance to doing so is growing within Europe. It is becoming more difficult, he said, to arrive at a uniform EU position on the issue, which is necessary since the sanctions extension must be passed unanimously. The German line is that Putin must not be given the impression that he can divide the EU.  “The highest priority is that of preserving the EU consensus,” says Gernot Erler of the SPD, who is the German government’s special coordinator for Russia policy. “If we have to pay a price for that, we should be prepared to do so. The worst outcome would be the disintegration of European unity and the EU losing its role.””

Why Steinmeier should be taking this approach is an interesting question.  Like Gabriel he is a member of the SPD.  He is said to have once been close to the SPD’s former leader and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder who is a known friend of Putin’s and of Russia’s.  Until the start of the Ukrainian crisis it was widely assumed Steinmeier shared Schroder’s views.

There have been claims that Steinmeier’s views on Russia have hardened over the course of the Ukrainian crisis and that he is now – like Merkel – a hardliner.  It was for example widely reported that he had a difficult meeting with Putin in Moscow shortly after the G20 summit in Brisbane in the autumn of 2014, when supposedly to his dismay (and Merkel’s) he found Putin and the Russians completely immoveable.

Against that Steinmeier has spoken for Russia’s eventual readmission to the G7 – another proposal the Russians are completely uninterested in – and his latest proposal for relaxing the sanctions puts him publicly at odds with Merkel – who has come out strongly against any relaxation of the sanctions – and the US – which also strongly opposes any relaxation of the sanctions.

It could be that Merkel and Steinmeier are playing a game of hard cop/soft cop.  However the merest hint of a relaxation of the sanctions of the sort that Steinmeier is proposing is enough to enrage the US, which begs the question of why – if Merkel and Steinmeier are in agreement – Steinmeier is agreeing to take the heat for her in this way.  Already neocon attacks on Steinmeier are appearing, such as this recent one in an article published by The Atlantic Council which all but accuses him in amazingly intemperate language of colluding in a Russian hybrid war campaign to destabilise Germany, weaken Merkel and split the Western alliance:

“Even in the face of these subversive actions, Germany has made it a matter of policy to minimize Russia’s negative approach to the West. For example, at the 2016 Munich Security Conference, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev made the disturbing declaration that the world is “rapidly rolling into a period of a new Cold War.” German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier refused to acknowledge Moscow’s belief that we are once again in a Cold War, and took upon himself to clarify the Russian position in order to downplay Medvedev’s adversarial language: “What Medvedev meant to say is that we need to avoid a new Cold War.” Despite such belligerent statements by Moscow, Germany continues to work very hard to avoid provoking Putin while also encouraging other Western countries to compromise with Russia.

Current German policy continues to seek compromises that cater to Russian interests despite Moscow’s blatantly harmful behaviour. This year, the NATO-Russia Council convened for the first time since April 2014. NATO had suspended the meetings two years ago as a consequence of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. However, despite Russia’s continued aggression in Ukraine, the NATO-Russia Council was held again last month because it was a priority for Germany. Steinmeier also recently declared his support to bring Russia back to the G8 grouping of states. Such policies not only cater to Russian interests, but also drastically weaken the overall European response to the Ukraine crisis.

Although the German government is aware of subversive Russian actions in its country, it continues to pursue policies in Russia’s favor. Germany’s policies of avoiding criticism and catering to Moscow are inconsistent with German national interests. Russia is actively seeking to harm Germany, destabilize the country, and weaken Chancellor Merkel. By downplaying Russia’s deliberately harmful actions, by apologizing for belligerent Russian rhetoric, and by emphasizing compromises despite Russia’s continued aggression in Ukraine, Germany is ignoring a major threat to its own security.”

Possibly Steinmeier is trying to take an intermediate position between Merkel on the one hand and people like Gabriel and Seehofer on the other.  Steinmeier and Gabriel are old rivals and with the SPD slumping in the opinion polls it may be that Steinmeier is positioning himself to take over from Gabriel by pitching himself as someone who though willing to be flexible with the Russians is not prepared to sell out to them.  The furious attack on him in the article published by The Atlantic Council shows how difficult he may find that to be.

Regardless of what Steinmeier’s personal motives are, it is surely no coincidence that Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU Commission President who is known to be close to Steinmeier, has suddenly announced that he is travelling to Russia to attend the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, which Western officials and businesspeople had previously boycotted in 2014 at the time of the Crimean crisis.  No doubt whilst there Juncker will use the opportunity to talk to the Russian leadership who will all be there.  No doubt his task – given him by Steinmeier and by others – is to explore ways with the Russians to help the Europeans get themselves out of the hole they have dug themselves into.

Despite all the intrigues in Germany and the protests against the sanctions across Europe, it remains overwhelmingly likely the sanctions will be renewed in June without being softened. 

Merkel’s authority has become bound up with the sanctions to an extent she undoubtedly never imagined when she forced the EU to impose them in July 2014.  Were they to be relaxed or lifted now, with the Ukrainian conflict still unresolved and against her publicly stated opposition, her authority in Europe and in Germany would be shattered. 

Despite the recent slump in Merkel’s popularity (concerning which see the recent article by my colleague Alex Christoforou) it is likely she remains politically strong enough for the moment to ensure that the sanctions line holds and that this June the sanctions are renewed.

As for the intrigues that are swirling around Merkel – both in Germany and in Europe – it is impossible for an outsider who is not party to them to know all that is going on.  However it is not necessary to do so.  The fact that the intrigues are taking place at all tells its own story. 

Though Merkel’s hard line on the sanctions for the moment is just about holding, it is cracking – and not just in Europe but in Germany too.

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

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 145.

Alex Christoforou

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

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

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

*****

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

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

*****

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

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

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Via Zerohedge…

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

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

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

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

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

Below the full statement from the USTR (link):

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

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

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

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

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

Background

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

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

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

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

RT

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Via RT…


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

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

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

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

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

‘Active measures’ on social media

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

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

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

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

Alleged hacking & release

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rumors of War: Washington Is Looking for a Fight

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

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Authored by Philip Giraldi via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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