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Remember when Barack Obama was setting up back channel communications with Russia? We do…

President Barack Obama’s administration was working behind the scenes for months to forge a new working relationship with Russia.

Alex Christoforou

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Article first appeared on RussiaFeed.


As the mainstream liberal left media begins anther assault on Trump’s imaginary Russia connections, because of Bezos funded Washington Post revelations that the then President-elect’s son-in-law/advisor Jared Kushner was involved in possibly setting up back channel communications with Russia, everyone in the mainstream conveniently forgets that neo-liberal messiah Barack Obama was busy doing wth same exact thing…with the help of Henry Kissinger.

The Bloomberg article below is full of fantasy analysis about Russia annexing Crimea, invading Ukraine, and having an economy that is “tanking” due to sanctions.

2017 has proven that Bloomberg is well off the mark on so many points, but the moral of the story is poignant.

What is acceptable for Obama and Kerry is not acceptable for Trump, Kushner or Tillerson.

Via Bloomberg, December 31, 2014…

President Barack Obama’s administration has been working behind the scenes for months to forge a new working relationship with Russia, despite the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin has shown little interest in repairing relations with Washington or halting his aggression in neighboring Ukraine.

This month, Obama’s National Security Council finished an extensive and comprehensive review of U.S policy toward Russia that included dozens of meetings and input from the State Department, Defense Department and several other agencies, according to three senior administration officials. At the end of the sometimes-contentious process, Obama made a decision to continue to look for ways to work with Russia on a host of bilateral and international issues while also offering Putin a way out of the stalemate over the crisis in Ukraine.

“I don’t think that anybody at this point is under the impression that a wholesale reset of our relationship is possible at this time, but we might as well test out what they are actually willing to do,” a senior administration official told me. “Our theory of this all along has been, let’s see what’s there. Regardless of the likelihood of success.”

Leading the charge has been Secretary of State John Kerry. This fall, Kerry even proposed going to Moscow and meeting with Putin directly. The negotiations over Kerry’s trip got to the point of scheduling, but ultimately were scuttled because there was little prospect of demonstrable progress.

In a separate attempt at outreach, the White House turned to an old friend of Putin’s for help. The White House called on former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to discuss having him call Putin directly, according to two officials. It’s unclear whether Kissinger actually made the call. The White House and Kissinger both refused to comment for this column.

Kerry has been the point man on dealing with Russia because his close relationship with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov represents the last remaining functional diplomatic channel between Washington and Moscow. They meet often, often without any staff members present, and talk on the phone regularly. Obama and Putin, on the other hand, are known to have an intense dislike for each other and very rarely speak.

In several conversations with Lavrov, Kerry has floated an offer to Russia that would pave the way for a partial release of some of the most onerous economic sanctions. Kerry’s conditions included Russia adhering to September’s Minsk agreement and ceasing direct military support for the Ukrainian separatists. The issue of Crimea would be set aside for the time being, and some of the initial sanctions that were put in place after Crimea’s annexation would be kept in place.

“We are willing to isolate the issues of Donetsk and Luhansk from the issue of Crimea,” another senior administration official told me, naming two regions in Eastern Ukraine under separatist control. “If there was a settlement on Donetsk and Luhansk, there could be a removal of some sanctions while maintaining sanctions with regard to Crimea. That represents a way forward for Putin.”

Meanwhile, Kerry has been proposing increased U.S.-Russian cooperation on a wide range of international issues. Earlier this month, he invited Lavrov to a last-minute diplomatic confab in Rome to discuss the the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

After one meeting with Lavrov in Paris in October, Kerry announced that he had discussed potential U.S.-Russian cooperation on Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, Syria and Yemen. But the apparent warming was overshadowed by Lavrov’s quick denial of Kerry’s claim that Russia had agreed to assist in the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State in Iraq.

Kerry has seemed more enthusiastic about mending ties with Russia than Obama himself. After the president gave a blistering critique of Russian behavior in a major United Nations speech, saying that “Russian aggression in Europe recalls the days when large nations trampled small ones in pursuit of territorial ambition,” Kerry urged Lavrov to ignore his boss’s remarks, according to Lavrov. “Kerry said we have so many serious things to discuss that of course that was unfortunate, let’s not focus on that,” Lavrov told Russian reporters.

State Department officials insist that Kerry is clear-eyed about the challenges of trying to work with Russia, but that he believes there is no other responsible option than to see what can be accomplished.

“Secretary Kerry is not advocating internally or with Russia for a reset in the relationship, and in fact in meetings he has taken a strong and at times skeptical stance,” one senior State Department official told me. “As the nation’s chief diplomat he is simply always exploring ways to make relationships more productive.”

There is also a belief among many both inside the State Department and the White House that sanctions are working. The Russian economy is tanking, albeit due largely to collapsing oil prices and not targeted punishments. One senior administration official argued that absent the sanctions, Putin might have been even more aggressive in Ukraine. Moreover, this official said, the sanctions need time to work and might yet prove to have greater effect on Putin’s decision-making in the months ahead: “We’ll see how they feel as their economy continues to deteriorate and the Ukrainian economy refuses to collapse.”

If the Russians are getting ready to cave, they aren’t showing it. Putin remains defiant and Russian military assistance to the Ukrainian rebels continues. The Russian leadership has been rejecting Kerry’s overtures both in public and private. Diplomatic sources said that Lavrov has refused to even discuss Kerry’s conditions for partial easing of sanctions. And Putin has made a hobby of bashing the U.S. in public remarks.

To many of the administration’s critics, especially Republicans on Capitol Hill, pursuing engagement with Moscow is based on naivety and wishful thinking.

“It’s a strategy worthy in the finest tradition of Neville Chamberlain,” incoming Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain told me. “I think the Russians are doing fine. Meanwhile, what price has Vladimir Putin paid? Very little.”

The legislative branch has also been active on Russia this year, but its efforts run counter to the administration’s policy and sometimes have the indirect effect of putting more roadblocks in front of the Obama-Kerry push to find a way forward.

On Dec. 18, Obama reluctantly signed a bill authorizing new Russia sanctions and military aid to Ukraine that was overwhelmingly passed by Congress. Afterward, the White House awkwardly said that the legislation did not signify any change in policy.

And this week, the State Department sanctioned four more Russian officials, but not over Ukraine. The officials were added to a list of human rights violators under the Sergei Magnitsky Act of 2012, named after the anti-corruption lawyer who died in a Russian prison. In response, the Russian foreign ministry issued a statement saying that the Magnitsky Act sanctions “place in question the prospects for bilateral cooperation in resolving the situation surrounding the Iranian nuclear program, the Syrian crisis, and other acute international issues.”

These latest punishments show that it may be impossible to de-link the problems in the bilateral relationship from the opportunities, as the Obama administration wants to do. They also show that there will always be chances for those in Washington and Moscow who want to stoke the tensions to do so, jeopardizing any progress.

Some experts believe that any plan to warm U.S.-Russian relations is unlikely to succeed because it doesn’t have the full support of either president.

“It’s very clear that between the Putin Kremlin and the Obama White House there is a very bad chemistry. Its not a question of simply distrust, it’s a question of intense dislike between the two leaders,” said Dimitri Simes, president of the Center for the National Interest.

Also, some experts feel, placing the diplomacy in the Kerry-Lavrov channel dooms its outcome, because the Russians know that Kerry himself has no power to make major decisions and Lavrov has to be careful not to be seen as cozying up to the U.S.

“The more Kerry creates a perception he has a special relationship with Lavrov, the more he puts Lavrov in a difficult position with officials in his own capital, starting with Putin,” said Simes. “It’s clear that when Kerry deals with Lavrov and hopes that because they have overlapping interests, that would allow cooperation where useful, that is not a model of relationship that Putin is prepared to accept.”

Obama has made it clear that in his last two years in office he is prepared to make big moves on foreign policy even if they face political or legislative opposition, such as normalizing relations with Cuba or pursuing a nuclear deal with Iran. But when it comes to Russia, he is unwilling to place his own credibility behind any outreach to his nemesis Putin.

The administration’s cautious engagement with Moscow is logical: Why not seek a balance in a complicated and important bilateral relationship? But by choosing a middle ground between conciliation and confrontation — not being generous enough to entice Russia’s cooperation yet not being tough enough to stop Putin’s aggression in Eastern Europe — Obama’s policy risks failing on both fronts.

 

 

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EU and Japan ink free trade deal representing over 30% of global GDP

The free trade agreement represents a victory for free trade in the face of growing protectionism

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In a bid to preserve free trade and strengthen their trade partnership, the European Union and Japan have finished a free trade zone agreement that has been sitting in the pipeline for years.

The present global economic outlook provided the needed spur to action to get the ball rolling again and now it has finally reached the end zone and scored another point for free and open trade against the growing influence of protectionism, which has been creeping up with alarming rapidity and far reaching consequences in recent months.

Under the deal, Japan will scrap tariffs on some 94% of goods imported from Europe and the EU in turn is canning 99% of tariffs on Japanese goods.

Between the European Union and Japan, the trade deal impacts about 37% of the world’s GDP, making it one of the largest and impactful of such agreements.

The Japan Times reports:

Top European Union leaders and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe signed an economic partnership agreement Tuesday in Tokyo, a pact that will create a massive free trade zone accounting for 37 percent of the world’s trade by value.

European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker hastily arranged their visit to Tokyo after Abe was forced to abruptly cancel plans to attend a July 11 signing ceremony in Brussels in the aftermath of flooding and mudslides in western Japan.

Japanese officials said the signing is particularly important to counter intensifying protectionism worldwide triggered by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Negotiations on the pact between Japan and the EU, which started in 2013, had stagnated for a time but regained momentum after Trump took office in January 2017.

“We are sending a clear message that we stand together against protectionism,” Tusk said at a joint news conference with Abe after they signed the agreement.

“The relationship between the EU and Japan has never been stronger. Geographically we are far apart, but politically and economically we could be hardly any closer,” Tusk said. “I’m proud today we are taking our strategic partnership to a new level.”

Tusk stressed that the EU and Japan are partners sharing the same basic values, such as liberal democracy, human rights and rule-based order.

Abe also emphasized the importance of free and fair trade.

“Right now, concerns are rising over protectionism all around the world. We are sending out a message emphasizing the importance of a trade system based on free and fair rules,” he said.

The pact will create a free trade bloc accounting for roughly 30 percent of the world’s gross domestic product. Japan and the EU hope to have the agreement, which still needs to be ratified by both parties, come into force by March.

Under the EPA, tariffs on about 99 percent of Japan’s exported goods to the EU will eventually be eliminated, while duties on 94 percent of EU’s exported items to Japan will be abolished, according to the Foreign Ministry.

The EPA will eliminate duties of 10 percent on Japan’s auto exports to the EU seven years after the pact takes effect. The current 15 percent duties on wine imports from the EU will be eliminated immediately, while those on cheese, pork and beef will be sharply cut.

In total, the EPA will push up domestic GDP by 1 percent, or ¥5 trillion a year, and create 290,000 new jobs nationwide, according to the government.

“The world is now facing raging waves of protectionism. So the signing ceremony at this time is particularly meaningful,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said earlier this month on condition of anonymity.

“The impact for Japan is big,” the official said.

Fukunari Kimura, an economics professor at Keio University, said the EU is now trying to accelerate the ratification process.

“This is a repercussion of President Trump’s policies. They will try to ratify it before Brexit in March of next year,” he said in an interview with The Japan Times last week.

But the deal has raised concerns among some domestic farmers, in particular those from Hokkaido, the country’s major dairy producer.

According to an estimate by the Hokkaido Prefectural Government, the EPA will cut national production in the agriculture, fishery and forestry industries by up to ¥114.3 billion a year, with Hokkaido accounting for 34 percent of the predicted losses.

“The sustainable development of the prefecture’s agriculture, forestry and fisheries industries is our top priority. We need to make efforts to raise our international competitiveness,” Hokkaido Gov. Harumi Takahashi said during a news conference July 10.

Japan and the EU had reached a basic agreement on the EPA in December.

Tokyo also led negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact after Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal in January 2017.

In March, 11 countries including Japan signed the so-called TPP11, or a revised TPP pact that does not include the U.S.

“The Japan-EU EPA is another important step for Japan to strengthen its trade relationship with key trading partners, and demonstrate that trade liberalization is alive and well, even if the United States is taking a different stance,” wrote Wendy Cutler, a former acting deputy U.S. Trade Representative, in an email sent to The Japan Times last week.

“The EU deal also reduces Japanese dependence on the U.S. market and thus increases its leverage to resist unreasonable trade demands by the United States,” she wrote.

According to the Foreign Ministry, the EU, which accounts for 22 percent of the world’s GDP, was the destination for 11.4 percent of Japanese exports in 2016. In the same year, the figure for the U.S. was 20.2 percent and 17.7 percent for China.

In 2016, Japan’s exports to the EU totaled ¥8 trillion, while reciprocal trade was ¥8.2 trillion.

The deal provides tariff relief for both parties and can improve the quantity of trade between them, expand the economy and create many jobs. It also helps to further diversify their trade portfolios in order to mitigate the prospect of a single global trade partner wielding too much influence, which in turn provides a certain amount of cover from any adverse actions or demands from a single actor. In this way, current trade dependencies can be reduced and free and diversified trade is further bolstered.

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The man behind Ukraine coup is now turning Greece against Russia (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 57.

Alex Christoforou

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On July 11, Greece said it would expel two Russian diplomats and barred the entry of two others.

The Duran reported that the formal reason is alleged meddling in an attempt to foment opposition to the “historic” name deal between Athens and Skopje paving the way for Macedonia’s NATO membership. Moscow said it would respond in kind.

Nothing like this ever happened before. The relations between the two countries have traditionally been warm. This year Moscow and Athens mark the 190th anniversary of diplomatic relations and the 25th anniversary of the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation between the Russian Federation and the Hellenic Republic. They have signed over 50 treaties and agreements.

Greek news daily, Kathimerini says the relationship started to gradually worsen behind the scenes about a couple of years ago. What happened back then? Geoffrey Pyatt assumed office as US Ambassador to Greece. Before the assignment he had served as ambassador to Ukraine in 2013-2016 at the time of Euromaidan – the events the US took active part in. He almost openly contributed into the Russia-Ukraine rift. Now it’s the turn of Greece. The ambassador has already warned Athens about the “malign influence of Russia”. He remains true to himself.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris connect the dots between the Ukraine coup and Greece’s recent row with Russia, and the man who is in the middle of it all, US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt.

Remember to Please Subscribe to The Duran’s YouTube Channel.

Via Sputnik News

Actions similar to the expulsion of Russian diplomats from Greece do not remain without consequences, said spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova.

“We have an understanding that the people of Greece should communicate with their Russian partners, and not suffer from dirty provocations, into which, unfortunately, Athens was dragged,” Zakharova said at a briefing.

“Unfortunately, of course, we are talking about politics. Such things do not remain without consequences, do not disappear without a trace. Of course, unfortunately, all this darkens bilateral relations, without introducing any constructive principle,” she added.

On July 11, the Greek Kathimerini newspaper reported that Athens had decided to expel two Russian diplomats and ban two more from entering the country over illegal actions that threatened the country’s national security. The publication claimed that the diplomats attempted to intervene in a domestic issue, namely the changing of the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to the Republic of North Macedonia, the agreement for which was brokered by Skopje and Athens last month.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has vowed to give a mirror response to Greece’s move.

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Russia just DUMPED $80 billion in US debt

The US Treasury published a report naming those countries that are the largest holders of US bonds. The list includes 33 countries, and for the first time Russia is no longer in it.

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Russia has stopped “inching towards de-dollarization” as I wrote about on July 3rd, and has now energetically walked out of the list of largest holders of US government bonds, hence this update. For the two months ending in May 2018, Moscow has offloaded more than $80 billion in US Government debt obligations.

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The $30 billion “minimum” listing Rubicon has been crossed by Russia.

As of the end of May, Russia had bonds worth only $ 14.9 billion. For comparison: in April, Russia was on the Treasury list with bonds totaling $48.7 billion. Even then it was offloading US$ debt securities as Russia owned in March over $96 billion. At the end of 2017, Russia had US treasury securities worth $102.2 billion. It is anyones guess what Russia will own when the June and July figures are released in August and September – probably less than today.

This simply serves as a confirmation that Russia is steadfastly following a conservative policy of risk diversification in several areas such as financial, economic, and geopolitical. The US public debt and spend is increasingly viewed as a heightened risk area, deserving sober assessment.

So where have all the dollars gone? The total reserves of the Russian Central Bank have not changed and remain at approximately the equivalent of $ 457 billion, so what we are seeing is a shift of assets to other central banks, other asset classes, just not US$ government bonds.

During the same time (April-May) as this US$ shift happened, the Russian Central Bank bought more than 1 million troy ounces of gold in 60 days, and continues.

For comparison sake, the maximum Russia investment in US public debt was in October 2010 totaling $176.3 billion. Today it is $14.9 billion.

The largest holders of US government bonds as of May are China ($ 1,183.1 billion), Japan ($ 1048.8 billion), Ireland ($ 301 billion), Brazil ($ 299.2 billion), Great Britain ($ 265 billion).

Using the similar conservative metrics that the Russian Central Bank has been rather successfully applying through this geopolitically and economically challenging period with the US and the US Dollar, it may not stretch the imagination too much that other countries such as China may eventually follow suit. Who will finance the debt/spend then?

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