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New US ambassador Huntsman heads to Russia to try to stem Moscow’s growing influence




(by Maxim Suchkov – – As veteran diplomat Jon Huntsman Jr. assumes his new role as US ambassador to Russia this month, he faces a thicket of thorny issues separating the countries.

Many Russian officials see Huntsman’s appointment as an attempt by US President Donald Trump to shield himself from criticism he faces for appointing “Russia-friendly” officials to high-level positions amid the resignation scandal of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

The same line of reasoning in Moscow also applied to the nominations of Kurt Volker as special representative for Ukraine negotiations and Wess Mitchell as assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs.

Following the official announcement in July of Trump’s intent to nominate Huntsman, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, the chief Russian diplomat for the United States, praised the administration’s choice when he appeared on TV. “We’ve given our consent [as protocol requires], knowing Mr. Huntsman’s biography well and realizing that he is a top professional, a man with strong beliefs, very experienced,” Ryabkov said.

Huntsman’s nomination sparked an array of reactions from the Russian foreign policy establishment and expert community. Andrey Sushentsov, a program director at the Valdai Discussion Club, noted that Huntsman “knows how to work with difficult partners that are important to the United States.”

The nations’ bilateral relations require “great prudence” and Huntsman “will not be making any abrupt, [scandalous-like] moves,” he said.

Huntsman, a former Utah governor (2005-2009) and US ambassador to China (2009-2011), has an extensive background in diplomacy, serving in various positions under four presidents from both parties. Huntsman ran in the Republican presidential primary in 2012. In 2016, after a recording of Trump using vulgar language about women was released, Huntsman said publicly that Trump should end his campaign for president. He has also stated his conviction that Russians interfered with the 2016 election, something Trump has been unwilling to acknowledge.

Political commentator Konstantin von Eggert told the Kommersant newspaper that Huntsman will be difficult for Moscow to deal with: “Huntsman is too independent to do business with easily. It would be important for him to not make any moves that could have a negative impact on his reputation in the United States.”

An even more cautious attitude toward the new US ambassador comes from the Russian “right.” Publicist Egor Kholmogorov, a prominent voice among Russian nationalists, called Huntsman a member of the “anti-Russian hawks” camp in the United States.

But, he noted, “[Huntsman] represents a very specific type of conservatism. He is a very nuanced personality with broad business interests. … [Also], we should not forget that Huntsman is an influential man with influential people behind him.”

The overwhelming majority of those reflecting on Huntsman in Moscow feel the “China factor” in Russian foreign policy will dominate his mission.

“Huntsman is likely to be working on deterring Russia from a rapprochement with China,” said Alexey Arbatov, who heads the Center for International Security at the Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations.

When asked what Russia should expect from Huntsman regarding the Middle East, a Kremlin official speaking to Al-Monitor not for attribution expressed a similar sentiment: “Huntsman’s ambassadorship in Russia is likely to be small on the Middle East and big on China and, probably, Ukraine.” The official noted, “Even if this turns out to be true, there’s [still] enough ground to cover for the two states in the Middle East, and Ambassador Huntsman will be seen as an essential troubleshooter.”

While the ambassador won’t necessarily get to define the US-Russia agenda, both countries’ dealings in Syria and across the Middle East are constantly being watched from both embassies in the respective capitals.

In recent weeks, new hostilities have engulfed Syria, with some important developments in Deir ez-Zor and Idlib that could to a great extent define the war’s outcome. Russia’s Defense Ministry has escalated its rhetoric, accusing the United States of “leaking sensitive intelligence to terrorists” and seeing the US military base in Al-Tanf as a long-term problem for the Syrian army. All of this reveals a bitter truth: There’s no cooperation between Russia and the United States in Syria. Moscow has come to calling potentially constructive US-Russia engagements in Syria as “cooperation,” hoping its own campaign will move Washington to be more pragmatic in its attitude toward the Syrian crisis, and toward Russia itself.

The truth is, what’s happening on the ground is “coordination” at best. After Russia’s two-year campaign in Syria, Moscow and Washington each continue to pursue their own agendas, each run their respective operations in parallel, and each get to pick and target their own enemies. The world needs to recognize — if not for political reasons, then for the sake of analysis — that their list of enemies isn’t limited to the Islamic State or Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. Arguably, the only task uniting the two militaries is ensuring there’s no head-on collision. All of the communication channels that are now in place — from the working groups in Amman, Jordan, to the hotline connecting Russia’s Khmeimim and the US’ Al-Udeid air bases, to continued drawing of borderlines separating the Syrian army and US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces — is meant to safeguard the two nations from a major direct clash. This is a very important, and so-far successful, tool, and despite all the heated rhetoric, both parties appreciate the true value of such contacts. But until there are new political agreements between Russia and the United States, both will continue to forge ad hoc coalitions with regional players and unwittingly engage in battles that don’t necessarily serve their own interests. So seeking prospects for such agreements and assessing their likelihood is going to be one of Huntsman’s challenges in Moscow.

Finally, another big Middle East-related issue looming on the horizon for the two nations is the fate of the Iranian nuclear deal. Moscow is watching closely how Trump will express his displeasure with Iran. A few days ago, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov echoed Vladimir Putin’s attitude regarding the possible moves, saying the Russian president believes a United States exit from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action “would undoubtedly have negative implications.” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said last week that Moscow hopes Trump ultimately makes a well-measured decision on the agreement with Iran. If he doesn’t, the sense in Moscow is there will be another thorny issue on Huntsman’s agenda with the Russians for the course of his diplomatic tenure.

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Russia Lures International Arms Buyers With Half-Priced, More Effective Missile System

The Russian S-400 mobile long-range surface-to-air missile system costs around $500 million, vs. the $1 billion price tag for a US-made Raytheon Patriot Pac-2 battery.



Via Zerohedge

Russia has been pitching a rival missile platform that costs half of those made by US companies, reports CNBC, which has resulted in several countries dealing with the Kremlin “despite the potential for blowback.”

Sefa Karacan | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The Russian S-400 mobile long-range surface-to-air missile system costs around $500 million, vs. the $1 billion price tag for a US-made Raytheon Patriot Pac-2 battery, while a THAAD battery made by Lockheed Martin costs just about $3 billion, according to people with first-hand knowledge of a US intelligence assessment.

Nearly 13 countries have expressed interest in buying Russia’s S-400, a move that could trigger potential U.S. sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which President Donald Trump signed in August 2017. In September, the U.S. slapped sanctions on China  for buying fighter jets and missiles from Russia. However, the U.S. could grant sanction waivers. –CNBC

Turkey, meanwhile, may be hit with US sanctions over their decision to purchase the S-400 defense system, which the United States says poses a risk to its F-35 fifth generation stealth fighter platform.

Meanwhile, India called the United States’ bluff over sanctions in late Ocotber, standing its ground in its decision to buy the S-400.

One of the reasons Russian systems are generally considered less expensive than their American counterparts is because they don’t include pricey ongoing maintenance.

“When foreign militaries buy American, above and beyond the purchase, they are buying a partnership with the U.S. military,” Andrew Hunter, director of the Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told CNBC. “And that plus the maintenance and technical assistance is a big part of the cost difference.

The S-400 system made its debut in 2007, succeeding the S-200 and S-300 missile systems. According to CNBC, “the Russian-made S-400 is capable of engaging a wider array of targets, at longer ranges and against multiple threats simultaneously,” vs. US-made systems.

In terms of capability, one source noted that while there is no perfect weapon, the S-400 eclipses even THAAD, America’s missile defense crown jewel.

When asked why nations seek to buy the S-400 instead of America’s Patriot or THAAD systems, one of the people with knowledge of the intelligence report explained that foreign militaries aren’t willing to stick with the cumbersome process of buying weapons from the U.S. government. –CNBC

“Many of these countries do not want to wait for U.S. regulatory hurdles,” said a CNBC source with first hand knowledge of the assessment. “The S-400 has less export restrictions and the Kremlin is willing to expedite sales by skipping over any regulatory hurdles.

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Britain’s Enemy Is Not Russia But It’s Own Ruling Class, UN Report Confirms

In austerity Britain, who the enemy is has never been more clear.

The Duran



Authored by John Wright. op-ed via

As the UK political establishment rips itself to pieces over Brexit, a far greater crisis continues to afflict millions of victims of Tory austerity…

A devastating UN report into poverty in the UK provides incontrovertible evidence that the enemy of the British people is the very ruling class that has gone out of its way these past few years to convince them it is Russia.

Professor Philip Alston, in his capacity as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, spent two weeks touring the United Kingdom. He did so investigating the impact of eight years of one of the most extreme austerity programs among advanced G20 economies in response to the 2008 financial crash and subsequent global recession.

What he found was evidence of a systematic, wilful, concerted and brutal economic war unleashed by the country’s right-wing Tory establishment against the poorest and most vulnerable section of British society– upending the lives of millions of people who were not responsible for the aforementioned financial crash and recession but who have been forced to pay the price.

From the report’s introduction:

“It…seems patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty. This is obvious to anyone who opens their eyes to see the immense growth in foodbanks and the queues waiting outside them, the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth of homelessness, the sense of deep despair that leads even the Government to appoint a Minister for Suicide Prevention and civil society to report in depth on unheard of levels of loneliness and isolation.”

Though as a citizen of the UK I respectfully beg to differ with the professor’s claim that such social and economic carnage seems “contrary to British values,” (on the contrary it is entirely in keeping with the values of the country’s Tory establishment, an establishment for whom the dehumanization of the poor and working class is central to its ideology), the point he makes about it being “obvious to anyone who opens their eyes,” is well made.

For it is now the case that in every town and city centre in Britain, it is impossible to walk in any direction for more than a minute before coming across homeless people begging in the street. And the fact that some 13,000 of them are former soldiers, casualties of the country’s various military adventures in recent years, undertaken in service to Washington, exposes the pious platitudes peddled by politicians and the government as reverence for the troops and their ‘sacrifice,’ as insincere garbage.

Overall, 14 million people in the UK are now living in poverty, a figure which translates into an entire fifth of the population. Four million of them are children, while, according to Professor Alston, 1.5 million people are destitute – that is, unable to afford the basic necessities of life.

And this is what the ruling class of the fifth largest economy in the world, a country that parades itself on the world stage as a pillar of democracy and human rights, considers progress.

The values responsible for creating such a grim social landscape are compatible with the 18th not 21st century. They are proof positive that the network of elite private schools – Eton, Harrow, Fettes College et al. – where those responsible for this human carnage are inculcated with the sense of entitlement and born to rule ethos that defines them, are Britain’s hotbeds of extremism.

Professor Alston:

“British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous approach apparently designed to instill discipline where it is least useful, to impose a rigid order on the lives of those least capable of coping with today’s world, and elevating the goal of enforcing blind compliance over a genuine concern to improve the well-being of those at the lowest levels of British society.”

Here, set out above in bold relief, is the barbarism that walks hand in hand with free market capitalism. It is the same barbarism that was responsible for pushing post-Soviet Russia into a decade-long economic and social abyss in the 1990s, and the values that have pushed 14 million people in the UK into the same economic and social abyss in our time.

Austerity, it bears emphasizing, is not and never has been a viable economic response to recession in a given economy.

Instead, it is an ideological club, wielded on behalf of the rich and big business to ensure that the price paid for said economic recession is borne exclusively by those least able to bear it – namely, the poor and working people. It is class war by any other name, packaged and presented as legitimate government policy.

However, in Britain’s case in 2018, this is a war like no other because, as Professor Philip Alston’s report lays bare, only one side in this war has been throwing all the punches and only one side has been taking them.

With Christmas season upon us, the scale of human suffering across the UK ensures that the elaborate ad campaigns inviting us to shop and indulge to our heart’s content – ads depicting the middle class dream of affluence and material comfort – take on the character of a provocation. In fact, they call to mind the truism that wars take place when the government tells you who the enemy is, while revolutions take place when you work it out for yourself.

In austerity Britain, who the enemy is has never been more clear.


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‘Iron’ Mike Pence Stares-Down Putin In APEC Showdown

Vice President Mike Pence and National Security Advisor John Bolton were seen shaking hands and chatting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Singapore.



Via Zerohedge

Forget the All-Blacks ‘Haka’, ignore Foreman-Frasier, Drago-Balboa, and Ortiz-Liddell, the honor of the greatest (or perhaps most awkward) staredown in history now goes to US Vice President Mike Pence…

Having been blamed for everything from Trump’s election victory to USA soccer team’s loss to England last week, Russia faced accusations all weekend and was reportedly confronted by the US contingent over “meddling.”

As The Sun reports, Pence and Putin “discussed the upcoming G20 Summit and touched on the issues that will be discussed when President Trump and President Putin are both in Argentina for the summit,” according to the vice president’s press secretary, Alyssa Farah.

An NBC reporter tweeted: “New per the @VP’s Office—> The VP’s office says Vice President Pence directly addressed Russian meddling in the 2016 election in a conversation with Vladimir Putin on Thursday in Singapore.

“The conversation took place following the plenary session this afternoon at ASEAN.”

But, it was the following clash of the titans that caught most people’s attention.

As the Russian president joined the that Pence shook Putin’s ‘deadly’ hand, met his ‘steely KGB-trained’ gaze, and desperately tried not to smile or blink for 20 seconds as Putin appeared to chat amicably with the US VP…

While Putin has (if his accusers are to be believed) grappled his opponents to death with his bare hands (remember he is a sinister KGB agent and jiu-jitsu expert); we suspect the only thing VP Pence has gripped tightly in his hands is his bible.

Sadly, John Bolton then blew the tough guy act (or is he Mike Pence’s ‘good cop’) as he does his best impression of a teenage girl meeting their popstar idol for the first time…

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