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Putin Meets Lavrov and Shoigu; Responds to US Withdrawal from INF Treaty

Russia responds to the US’s withdrawal from the INF Treaty. Works on counter-measures.

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This is the official transcript of the meeting between the Russian President and Russia’s Foreign and Defense Ministers published by the Kremlin’s website.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, please provide an update on the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles, and the disarmament dossier in general. What is going on in terms of limitation of offensive arms?

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov: Mr President,

Regarding the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, as you know, it has been in force since 1988. It had an indefinite term. According to the information at our disposal, the United States has been violating the Treaty since 1999, when it started testing combat unmanned aerial vehicles that have the same characteristics as land-based cruise missiles banned by the Treaty.

The United States went on to use ballistic target missiles for testing their missile defence system, and in 2014 they began the deployment in their missile defence system positioning areas in Europe of Mk 41 vertical launching systems. These launchers are fully suitable as they are for Tomahawk intermediate-range attack missiles.

Vladimir Putin: And this is an outright violation of the Treaty.

Sergei Lavrov: This is an outright violation of the Treaty. Launchers of this kind have already been deployed in Romania, and preparations are underway to deploy them in Poland, as well as Japan.

Another matter of concern for us is that only recently, just a year ago, the United States in its 2018 Nuclear Posture Review set the task of developing low-yield nuclear weapons, and it is probable that intermediate-range missiles will serve as a means of delivery for these weapons. It was also announced only recently that this provision of the US nuclear doctrine is beginning to materialise with missiles of this kind entering production.

In October 2018, the United States officially declared its intention to withdraw from the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles. We did everything we could to save the Treaty considering its importance in terms of sustaining strategic stability in Europe, as well as globally. The last attempt of this kind was undertaken on January 15, when the US finally agreed to our request for holding consultations in Geneva.

In coordination with the Defence Ministry, we proposed unprecedented transparency measures that went far beyond our obligations under the INF Treaty in order to persuade the US that Russia was not in violation of this essential instrument. However, the US torpedoed these proposals. Instead, the US presented yet another ultimatum. It is obvious that we cannot accept it since it contradicts the INF Treaty in both letter and spirit.

With Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

With Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The US announced that it was suspending its participation in the INF Treaty, launched the official withdrawal from it, and said that it will no longer consider itself restricted by the INF Treaty. As far as we can see, this means that the US will make missiles in addition to engaging in research and development activities that have already been factored into the current budget.

There is no doubt that these developments make things worse overall in the sphere of nuclear disarmament and strategic stability. It all started with the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, when the US decided to withdraw from it in 2002, as you know all too well. This was done despite numerous initiatives by the Russian Federation at the UN General Assembly to save the ABM Treaty. The UN General Assembly passed a number of resolutions supporting the ABM Treaty. However, this did not stop the United States from withdrawing from it.

As a partial replacement for the ABM Treaty, the US and Russia signed a joint declaration that same year, 2002, on new strategic relations with a promise to settle all issues related to the so-called third positioning area of the missile-defence system being deployed in Europe at the time. The declaration provided for holding consultations as a way to reach common ground. This did not happen due to the unwillingness of the United States to take up Russia’s concerns in earnest.

In 2007, we made another gesture of good will at your instructions by coming forward with an initiative that consisted of working together to resolve the problems related to US missile defence system’s third positioning area in Europe. Once again, the US backed out of this proposal.

However, at the Russia-NATO Summit in Lisbon in 2010, we once again called for Russia, the US and Europe to work together on a continental missile-defence system. This call was not heeded. Nevertheless, two years later, in 2012, at the NATO Summit in Chicago it was NATO that called for dialogue with Russia on missile defence. However, all this good will boiled down to the US insisting that we simply come to terms with their missile defence approach, despite all the obvious risks and threats to our security posed by this approach.

Let me remind you that in 2013 Russia once again called on the US Department of State to open consultations, and came forward with concrete proposals. There was no reply. And in 2014, the United States brought the dialogue on missile defence to a halt and declared the intention to deploy its positioning areas in Europe and Asia, while also strengthening other systems, including in Alaska and on the east coast.

With Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

With Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Talking about other essential international security and strategic stability instruments, the approach adopted by the United States to performing its commitments under the universal Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons has been a matter of concern for Russia. In fact, despite numerous reminders on our part, the United States commits serious violations of the Treaty in its actions within NATO. The Treaty commits nuclear powers to refrain from transferring the corresponding nuclear technologies.

Despite these provisions, NATO engages in so-called joint nuclear missions whereby the United States together with five NATO countries where US nuclear weapons are deployed conduct nuclear weapons drills with countries that are not part of the five nuclear-weapons states. This is a direct violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Another treaty that had a special role in removing the threat of nuclear war, or, to be more precise, whose preparation was a source of hope for addressing these threats, was the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty [CTBT]. The United States did not ratify it even though doing so was among Barack Obama’s campaign promises when he ran for president.

Right now, this instrument is completely off the radar, since the United States has lost all interest in any consultations on joining this Treaty. Being a party to the CTBT and acting in good faith, Russia holds special events at the UN General Assembly every year in order to promote the Treaty and mobilise public opinion in favour of its entry into force, which requires the United States to join it, among other things.

Apart from the INF Treaty, there is the Strategic Offensive Arms Treaty [START] that remains in force. It is also essential for preserving at least some measure of strategic stability and global parity. It is also under threat, since its effective functioning has come into question after the recent move by the United States to remove from accountability under the treaty 56 submarine based Trident launchers and 41 heavy bombers by declaring them converted into nun-nuclear.

This is possible under the treaty, but the other party has the right to make sure that once converted these weapons cannot be reconverted back into nuclear arsenals.

Vladimir Putin: An inspection has to be carried out.

Sergei Lavrov: Yes, an inspection. And there have to be technical means to persuade us that these systems cannot be reconverted and returned into the nuclear arsenal.

Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.

We have been holding talks since 2015 to make sure that the United States complies with its obligations on this matter. So far, there have been no results. The technical solutions we have been offered so far cannot persuade us that more than 1,200 warheads, which is an enormous amount, cannot be returned to the nuclear arsenal. Unfortunately, repeated proposals by Russia to launch talks on extending the Strategic Offensive Arms Treaty beyond 2021, when its first term is set to expire, have fallen on deaf ears in the United States. All we hear is that the decision on the New START has yet to be taken.

All in all, the situation is quite alarming. Let me reiterate that the decision taken by the United States on the INF Treaty is of course a matter of serious concern for the entire world, especially for Europe. Nevertheless, the Europeans followed in the footsteps of the United States with all NATO members speaking out in explicit support of the position adopted by the United States to refrain from any discussions on mutual concerns. All we hear are groundless ultimatums requiring us to take unilateral measures without any evidence to support unfounded accusations.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you.

Mr Shoigu, what is the Defence Ministry’s view on the current situation? And what do you propose in this regard?

Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu: Mr President, it is obvious to us, despite the murky language that we hear, that apart from openly conducting research and development on the production of intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles, there have been actual violations of the INF Treaty, and this has been going on for several years. To put it simply, the United States has started producing missiles of this kind.

In this connection, we have the following proposals regarding retaliatory measures.

First, we propose launching in the coming months research and development, as well as development and engineering with a view to creating land-based modifications of the sea-based Kalibr launching systems.

Second, we propose launching research and development, followed by development and engineering to create land-based launchers for hypersonic intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles.

We ask you to support these proposals.

Vladimir Putin: I agree. This is what we will do. Our response will be symmetrical. Our US partners announced that they are suspending their participation in the INF Treaty, and we are suspending it too. They said that they are engaged in research, development and design work, and we will do the same.

I agree with the Defence Ministry’s proposals to create a land-based version of the Kalibr launchers and work on a new project to develop a land-based hypersonic intermediate-range missile.

At the same time, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that we must not and will not let ourselves be drawn into an expensive arms race. I wanted to ask you, would it be possible to finance these initiatives using the existing budget allocations to the Defence Ministry for 2019 and the following years?

Sergei Shoigu: Mr President, we closely studied this matter, and will propose adjustments to the 2019 budget in order to be able to carry out these initiatives within the limits set by the state armaments programme and the defence procurement orders for 2019 without going over budget.

With Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.

With Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Vladimir Putin: This should not entail any increases in the Defence Ministry’s budget.

Sergei Shoigu: Yes.

Vladimir Putin: Good.

In this connection, there is one more thing I wanted to ask you. Every six months we hold meetings in Sochi to discuss the implementation of the state defence order with the commanders of the Armed Forces and the defence sector representatives.

Starting this year, I propose modifying this format. I want to see how efforts to deploy our systems are progressing. This refers to the Kinzhal hypersonic air-launched ballistic missile, the Peresvet combat laser weapon, which has already been delivered to the army, and the Avangard system, which is now in serial production, having completed the test phase. I want to see how the production of the Sarmat missile is advancing alongside preparations for placing it on combat duty.

Several days ago, you reported to me on the completion of a key stage in testing the Poseidon multipurpose strategic unmanned underwater vehicle. We have to look at how these efforts are advancing.

We are aware of the plans by some countries to deploy weapons in outer space. I want to hear a report on how this threat can be neutralised.

There is another important topic I wanted to raise with both the Foreign Ministry and the Defence Ministry.

For many years, we have been calling on numerous occasions for holding meaningful disarmament talks on almost all aspects of this matter. In recent years, we have seen that our partners have not been supportive of our initiatives. On the contrary, they always find pretexts to further dismantle the existing international security architecture.

In this connection, I would like to highlight the following considerations, and I expect the Foreign Ministry and the Defence Ministry to use them as guidance. All our proposals in this area remain on the table just as before. We are open to negotiations. At the same time, I ask both ministries not to initiate talks on these matters in the future. I suggest that we wait until our partners are ready to engage in equal and meaningful dialogue on this subject that is essential for us, as well as for our partners and the entire world.

Another important consideration I would like to share with the senior officials of both ministries. We proceed from the premise that Russia will not deploy intermediate-range or shorter-range weapons, if we develop weapons of this kind, neither in Europe nor anywhere else until US weapons of this kind are deployed to the corresponding regions of the world.

I ask the Foreign Ministry and the Defence Ministry to closely monitor developments and promptly submit proposals on ways to respond.

<…>

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Tom Welsh

Very interesting and useful information. Even though it does feel rather like looking down the barrel of a 122 mm cannon.

AM Hants
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AM Hants

Brilliant report of the discussion. So needs sharing.

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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

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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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