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The deal Russia wants from Donald Trump

Any comprehensive deal for a genuine reset of relations between a Donald Trump led US and Russia will have to address the three issues that concern the Russians most. These are (1) NATO expansion; (2) anti ballistic missile defence; and (3) the US’s regime change policy.

Alexander Mercouris

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As Donald Trump edges towards the White House and calls for a deal with Russia, it might help him to assess what sort of deal the Russia would be looking for from him.

There is a vast pall of misunderstanding in the West about this subject in large part because Western coverage of Russia over the last decade has been so intense and distorted that it has distorted the understanding of even the most hardheaded of Western policy makers.

Firstly it is essential to put aside some of the common myths that become encrusted around this subject.

The Russians do not want to re-establish the USSR and nor are they seeking a sphere of influence over the former Warsaw Pact countries of Eastern Europe.  They do not expect NATO to disappear any time soon, and they do not want the EU to break up.  They have no intention of invading the Baltic States.  At some point they do want the sanctions the West has imposed on them lifted, but as I have written, this is not for them a priority.

One should also put aside some of the more nebulous claims which are commonly made about Russia.

The Russians do not think of themselves as a superpower coequal to the US, and they do not demand that they be treated like one.  There is a huge literature in the West about the offence Obama is supposed to have caused in Russia when he called Russia a “regional power”.  Some people in Russia might have been offended, but it is inconceivable that President Putin was because that is what he has repeatedly said himself.  As The Saker has written, the whole Russian defence posture is based around that concept, with Russia neither having nor aspiring to a global role.

Russian policy towards the US is not constructed around such grandiose and unrealistic schemes or nebulous feelings, which are the product of Western imagination not Russian reality, and which find no confirmation in the statements of Russia’s leaders.  It is based on tough minded calculations of Russian national interest and Russian security.

If one pays attention to what Russian leaders actually say it becomes clear that there are two overriding issues which concern them most, and which lie at the heart of the crisis in Russia’s relations with the West, and a third issue, which for the Russians is of only slightly lesser importance.

The two key issues are NATO expansion into the territory of the former USSR – which has now come to include EU expansion as well, with the Russians coming to see the EU as NATO’s Trojan Horse – and the placement of US anti ballistic missiles in Eastern Europe.

The third issue is the West’s regime change policy, first and foremost as it pertains to Russia, but also as it is applied everywhere else.

Any deal Donald Trump wants to make with Russia has to address Russian concerns about these questions, if it is to work.

Here it should be said clearly that the Russian objection to the extension of NATO into the territory of the former USSR, and the placement of anti ballistic missiles in Eastern Europe, is driven by no other consideration than the Russian belief – which nothing now can change – that these two actions are directed at themselves.  Western protestations that NATO is a source of stability in Europe and does not threaten Russia, and that the anti ballistic missile deployments in Eastern Europe are aimed not at Russia but at Iran, cut no ice in Moscow, and the sooner this fact is accepted in Western capitals the better.

Moreover the Russians are absolutely right to see NATO expansion and the anti ballistic missile deployments as directed at themselves, because the reality is of course that they are.

Not only does the shrill propaganda campaign about the fictional threat to NATO’s eastern members from Russia show that NATO is still directed at Russia, but the Ukrainian crisis, with a democratically elected government that wanted to maintain ties with Moscow violently and illegally overthrown in order to bring to power a viscerally anti Russian and pro NATO government, confirms as much.

NATO leaders always react furiously whenever a government of a NATO state seems to be edging closer to Moscow.  They should not be surprised if Moscow reacts with equal sensitivity to the far more aggressive Western attempts to overthrow neutral or pro Russian governments in order to install pro Western governments, which can be relied upon to bring their countries into NATO.

On the subject of the anti ballistic missile deployments in Eastern Europe, Russian leaders have expressed their concerns at length, and a careful explanation of Russian concerns has been provided to The Duran by Professor Vladimir Kozin.  I would also refer to the recent masterly study of this issue by Robert Bridge, which shows how US President Obama’s extraordinary duplicity on this issue has all but destroyed trust on arms control between Washington and Moscow.

As to why Russia objects to the US’s regime change policy, Russia would object to it even if it did not directly affect Russia, which of course it does, and even if its application had not been consistently disastrous, which of course it has been.

I explained the reason for Russia’s objection to this policy in a study I did of Russian perspectives of the Syrian crisis, which I wrote back in 2012

The key to understanding Russian policy is to look at what has happened in international relations since the end of the Cold War.  If one does then it becomes clear that a small group of states, namely the United States and Britain but also occasionally France and some other US allies (but significantly not Germany) have appropriated to themselves a licence to overthrow governments of which they disapprove.  They do this through a variety of ways such as by funding and supporting opposition movements and parties (called “democracy promotion”) as happened in Yugoslavia in 2000, by arming rebels as happened in Libya last year and in Syria this year and ultimately by launching military attacks and even invasions of the various states whose governments they want to overthrow.  Examples include Yugoslavia in 1999, Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003 and Libya and Cote d’Ivoire in 2011…..

Though the right to overthrow governments is now taken for granted by the governments of the United States and of Britain and is even passionately believed in by some of their [citizens] its existence is emphatically rejected by other governments in particular those of Russia and China.  These two countries and many others see in it a threat to the political independence of states including ultimately their own….

Russia and China have overwhelmingly strong reasons for taking this stand. Firstly the right the United States and its allies claim for themselves represents an extraordinary and extremely dangerous departure from international law as this has been applied and understood since the end of the Second World War.  Secondly it privileges a small group of very powerful states over all the others.  Moreover and significantly it is a group from which  Russia and China are excluded.  Thirdly it is a right that is very obviously targeted against Russia and China,  It has not escaped Russia’s and China’s attention even if it has escaped the attention of most people in the west that the governments the western powers target for overthrow are invariably governments that are allies or friends of Russia and China.  Lastly and perhaps most importantly, as two countries which have suffered heavily from western aggression in the last two hundred years Russia and China will never agree to any modification of international law that might allow or legitimise it.

(bold italics added)

As it happens Russia has been directly effected by the West’s regime change policy in that it is itself the constant – indeed primary – target of this policy.  This has taken the form of open and aggressively expressed Western support for members of Russia’s liberal opposition who deny the legitimacy of Russia’s government, and who the Russian authorities see as acting on the West’s behalf, and a relentless campaign of harassment and propaganda directed at the Russian government encompassing everything from the Olympic doping scandal to the sanctions, which is obviously at destabilising and delegitimising it.

Over the course of recent months Western leaders – not just in the US – have acted with hyper sensitivity over (unproven) claims of Russian interference in their countries’ internal affairs.  In the US a huge campaign is underway as a result of unproven claims of Russian interference in the US election.  Across the West – not just in the US – there is a massive campaign to suppress or silence supposed manifestations of Russian interference in the West’s internal affairs, of which the whole “fake news” hysteria forms only a part.

If Western leaders react with such hyper sensitivity to even the suspicion of Russian interference in their internal affairs, they should not be surprised that Russian leaders react with equal sensitivity to the far greater and far better documented evidence of Western interference in their internal affairs and in those of their allies.

Setting out these central Russian concerns shows how a deal between Russia and a Donald Trump administration might be possible.

None of Russia’s concerns on any one of these issues affects Western security or impinges on the US’s national interests.  Donald Trump has called NATO “obsolete” and expressed indifference about the EU’s future.  He is clearly uninterested in expanding either into the territory of the former USSR, so he has no reason to feel that he is making any serious concession by agreeing not to do so.  Similarly Donald Trump has already foresworn the whole policy of regime change.  If so then he is already in agreement with the Russians over this issue too.

The major sticking point will be arms control, with trust badly damaged as a result of Obama’s actions, and the Russians almost certainly insisting on the dismantling of the anti ballistic missile systems in Eastern Europe in return for nuclear weapons cuts.  It may not be a coincidence that it was precisely on the issue of arms control that Trump homed into in his interview with The London Times and Bild-Zeitung.

Securing however an agreement to dismantle the anti ballistic missile systems in the teeth of what is likely to be furious opposition from the Congressional leadership, much of the Republican party, and the powerful US armaments lobby, will however be a titanic challenge.

A complex and difficult negotiation lies ahead.  Even on the assumption Donald Trump succeeds in consolidating his control of the US government, it is far from clear it will succeed.  There is however one overwhelmingly point which argues in its favour: on any objective assessment what Russia wants from Donald Trump it is in the US interest for him to give.

The US loses nothing by agreeing to the things Russia wants because they in no want threaten the US’s security or that of its allies.  On the contrary it has been the pursuit of the grand geopolitical strategies of the neocons, with the policies of NATO expansion, anti ballistic missile deployment and regime that go with them, which have brought the US into an impasse.  It is in the US interest and in the interests of the US’s allies to give up on them.

Donald Trump’s comments shows that he has at least some understanding of this fact. It remains to be seen how great understanding is and whether he will be able to put into practice.

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Maria Butina, her crime: A love of the NRA and being Russian (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 61.

Alex Christoforou

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has communicated to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Russian national Maria Butina must be set free and allowed to return to Russia, after she was arrested by US officials on dubious spy charges.

Lavrov said that the US should immediately release the Russian gun activist, who is being held in the US on espionage charges, after a phone conversation with his US counterpart.

Lavrov called the charges levied against Butina “fabricated.”

In his conversation with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday, “Lavrov stressed that the actions of the US authorities that arrested Russian citizen Butina on fabricated charges are unacceptable.”

In an official statement the Russian Foreign Ministry called for her “immediate release.”

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris examine the oddly timed, out of the blue arrest of Maria Butina, who is being held by US authorities for what they claim to be a violation of the FARA act.

In reality Maria Butina’s crime is much more troubling than simply failing to register as a foreign agent.

Maria made the double mistake of being in the United States of America as a Russian citizens who loves guns, at a time when racism and bigotry against Russians and NRA supporters is surpassing McCarthyite levels.

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Via RT

The Foreign minister raised the issue during phone conversations that were made at the request of the US and aimed at “further normalization of the US-Russian relations” following the summit between the US President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Lavrov and Pompeo also discussed the process of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, as well as the situation in Syria.

The 29-year-old Russian student and a gun activist was arrested in the US about a week ago and charged with acting as a foreign agent without registering her activities with the authorities. Butina has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

On July 16, a DC Federal Court rejected Butina’s bail plea and ordered her to be placed in custody pending trial over fears that she could flee or contact Russian intelligence officials. Her lawyer says the trial is being politicized and Russian embassy staff were only allowed to visit her in jail on Thursday.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has called Butina’s arrest politically motivated, adding that it could have been aimed at disrupting the Helsinki summit between Putin and Trump. On Thursday, the ministry also launched a campaign hashtagged #FreeMariaButina on Twitter to raise awareness of her case.

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Ugly breakup at FBI: Lisa Page throws ex-lover, Peter Strzok, under the bus (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 60.

Alex Christoforou

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While Peter Strzok’s testimony put a face on the deceptive and secretive Deep State, GOP lawmakers who were present at Lisa Page’s closed-door deposition said they learned a lot of new information from the ex-FBI lawyer, and ex-lover of Peter Strzok.

Lisa Page confirmed to GOP lawmakers that the text messages sent between her and her lover Strzok “meant exactly what they said,” contrary to Strzok’s testimony.

According to The Gateway Pundit, one damning text message in particular sent from Strzok on May 19th, 2017, just two days after Robert Mueller was appointed Special Counsel, intrigued investigators and the public alike.

“There’s no big there there,” Strzok texted.

According to investigative reporter, John Solomon, Lisa Page confirmed that text from Peter Strzok did indeed refer to the Trump-Russia case.

Strzok knew it was a nothing-burger yet he forged ahead.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou, RT CrossTalk host Peter Lavelle, and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss how Peter Strzok’s testimony has undoubtedly contradicted Lisa Page’s cooperative deposition, as the ex-FBI lawyer is preparing to save herself, while throwing her ex-lover under the bus.

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Via The Epoch Times

Representatives John Ratcliffe and Louie Gohmert of Texas recently shared their observations of the closed-door testimony of former high-ranking FBI lawyer Lisa Page, which concluded on July 16.

One of the major questions regarding the testimony was whether it would match the one given by FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok.

But while Ratcliffe said he found a mismatch, Gohmert wouldn’t go so far.

Page and Strzok played major roles in the investigations on both 2016 presidential candidates: former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia. During the same period, Page and Strzok had an affair and exchanged thousands of text messages expressing a strong bias against Trump and in favor of Clinton.

“When I questioned Lisa Page on Friday about the anti-Trump text messages that were sent between herself and Peter Strzok, there were significant differences in her testimony and Strzok’s as it relates to what she thought some of these text messages meant,” Ratcliffe said in a July 16 tweet, shortly before the second round of questioning.

“Page gave us new information that Strzok either wouldn’t or couldn’t, confirming some of the concerns we had about these investigations and the people involved in running them,” he wrote.

On July 17, Ratcliffe expanded on his further statements about Page’s testimony. Radcliffe told Fox News…

“There are differences in their testimony.”

“In many cases, she admits that the text messages mean exactly what they say, as opposed to agent Strzok, who thinks that we’ve all misinterpreted his own words on any text message that might be negative.”

Via The Epoch Times

In one of the texts, Strzok vowed to “stop” Trump from becoming president. In another, the two discussed having an “insurance policy” in the “unlikely” event that Trump would win the election.

Strzok, who gave a closed-door testimony on June 27 and a public one on July 12, said the first message meant he and the American people would stop Trump. The second, he said previously, meant he wanted to pursue the Russia investigation aggressively, in case Trump won.

GOP lawmakers were furious with Strzok’s attitude and unwillingness to answer questions. In a scathing monologue, Gohmert even linked Strzok’s credibility to the fact that he was unfaithful to his wife.

President Donald Trump repeatedly called Strzok’s testimony a “disgrace.”

The lawmakers said Page was comparatively more cooperative.

“There were times the FBI lawyers would be reaching to the button to mute her comment, and she would answer before they could mute her comment,” Gohmert told Fox News.

He said Page didn’t contradict Strzok “so much,” but “has given us insights into who was involved in what.”

“I think she’ll be a good witness,” he said.

Page ditched her first testimony appointment on July 11, prompting GOP lawmakers to threaten her with contempt of Congress. She then agreed to appear on July 13, which gave her the opportunity to review Strzok’s public testimony before giving hers.

The lawmakers are probing the FBI’s and Justice Department’s decisions before the election, suspecting they were influenced by political considerations.

Texts between Strzok and Page suggest that the FBI initiated an offensive counterintelligence operation against the Trump campaign as early as December 2015.

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Russia makes MASSIVE progress on its ‘super-weapons’

Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle moves into serial production, nuclear-engine powered cruise missile tests continue, and more as Russia continues to outdo all Western military tech

Seraphim Hanisch

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On July 19th and 20th, The Russian Defense Ministry announced several milestones of progress in its advanced weapons systems programs. These programs were revealed to the world in March of this year, when Russian President Vladimir Putin gave the State of the Russian Federation speech.

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While at first the Western onlookers did not believe the amazing announcements of hypersonic weapons and nuclear-powered cruise missiles with unlimited range, subsequent releases and concurrent observation by the American military experts has shown these developments to be as real as Mr. Putin claimed they are.

TASS, the Russian News Agency, released information on these weapons systems in separate reports:

Kinzhal

The Kinzhal hypersonic missile:

Squadrons of MiG-31 fighter jets armed with Kinzhal hypersonic missiles should enter combat duty in the Black Sea region and at other Russian fleets and flotillas, said Russian military expert Viktor Murakhovsky, the editor-in-chief of the Arsenal Otechestva magazine.

Besides, a squadron (between 12 and 16 aircraft) of MiG-31 fighter jets armed with Kinzhal hypersonic missiles entered combat duty in the Caspian Sea region in April.

“I think at least one squadron of those complexes should be deployed at any fleet, in other words – at all regions where we have fleets and flotillas. We need to deploy them in the regions of the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Northern Fleet. The Pacific region also should not be forgotten,” Murakhovsky said.

He said that such systems can become a “good instrument” against not only vessels equipped with high-precision weapons, but also for countering carrier attack groups.

“We know how expensive a carrier attack group can be. By employing this asymmetric method, which is unbelievably cheap in comparison with building a carrier attack group, we can neutralize this threat almost completely,” the expert said.

Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile trials:

The Burevestnik is an entirely new cruise missile, powered by a nuclear engine. This gives the missile unlimited range. In theory, such a missile could be launched at a target and spend days or weeks in hidden flight using advanced guidance systems, and then close on its target at the optimal time to assure destruction of that target with maximum surprise. The TASS piece goes on to say:

The Russian Defense Ministry announced that Russia was preparing to test upgraded test prototypes of the nuclear-powered Burevestnik cruise missile with an unlimited range.

According to the expert, it is highly likely that the prototype of the missile “has already made a flight.”

“Clearly, it was something like the pop-up trials of Sarmat – a launch without the nuclear-powered engine, in other words, with an ordinary missile booster, conducted in order to assess the possibility of a launch, aerodynamics and the operability of the entire system in general,” [Murakhovsky] said.

Further reporting from TASS had this to add about the Burevestnik program:

Russia is getting ready for flight tests of the Burevestnik nuclear powered cruise missile, an official at the Defense Ministry told reporters on Thursday.

“The missile’s component makeup is being improved based on clarified requirements, while ground tests continue and preparations are being made for experimental flight tests of the improved missile,” the official said.

According to the Defense Ministry, “work on an unlimited-range missile is going according to plan.”

“In the meantime, launching systems are also being designed, while technological processes to manufacture, assemble and test the missile are being improved. This range of work will make it possible to start designing a totally new sort of weapon – a strategic nuclear complex armed with a nuclear powered missile,” the ministry official noted.

[The head] of the 12th Central Research Institute at Russia’s Defense Ministry Sergey Pertsev, in turn, said that the tests of the new cruise missile equipped with a small nuclear power unit had confirmed the accuracy of the technical decisions that Russian researchers, engineers and designers had made. In addition, the tests enabled the researchers “to receive valuable experimental data necessary for specifying a number of requirements.”

“A low-flying and low-observable cruise missile carrying a nuclear warhead, with an almost unlimited range, an unpredictable trajectory and capability to bypass interception lines is invincible to all the existing and advanced air and missile defense systems,” the Russian Defense Ministry stressed.

A further use of the nuclear engine technology is also expected in the Poseidon underwater drone, Mr. Murakhovsky stated that separate systems for the craft have been successfully tested. He further noted that the next task is to design the entire layout, build a test model and begin testing the whole platform.

The Avangard Hypersonic Missile

While the Kinzhal is a Mach-10 capable hypersonic system that can be launched from a fighter, the Avangard is a Mach-20 capable system that has intercontinental reach. There is almost no footage of this system released to the public, but the concept videos show how the system works. TASS reports this status:

Russia’s Strategic Missile Force is preparing a position area for accepting the Avangard hypersonic missile system for service as part of the efforts to strengthen the country’s military security, the Defense Ministry announced on Thursday.

“The Russian defense industry has completed developing the Avangard missile system with the principally new armament – the gliding cruise warhead. Industrial enterprises have switched to its serial production,” the Defense Ministry said.

“A set of organizational and technical measures is underway in the position area of the Dombarovsky large unit of the Strategic Missile Force to accept the Avangard missile system for operation,” it added.

The development of new strategic weapon systems “is aimed at increasing Russia’s defense capability and preventing any aggression against our country and its allies,” the Defense Ministry stressed.

The infrastructural facilities of the large unit’s position area have already been prepared for the missile system’s operation, the ministry said.

“The position area has been prepared in geodesic and engineering terms to accommodate the missile system. Work is underway to build new and reconstruct old facilities to provide for the operation and the combat use of the system. Technical and utility supply lines are being modernized and electric power, communications and command and control cables are being laid. Work has been arranged to train personnel and prepare armament, military and special hardware,” Russia’s Defense Ministry said.

Deputy Commander of Russia’s Strategic Missile Force for Armament Sergei Poroskun has said that the Avangard hypersonic missile system features combat capabilities that “make it possible to reliably breach any anti-missile defenses.”

The Okhotnik attack drone

The Okhotnik (“Hunter”) attack drone is now being viewed as a prototype for Russia’s “sixth-generation” fighter plane. TASS describes this in more detail:

According to [a defense industry] official, although the sixth generation fighter jet project “has not yet taken full shape, its main features are already known.”

“First of all, it should be unmanned and capable of performing any combat task in an autonomous regime. In this sense, Okhotnik will become the prototype of the sixth generation fighter jet,’ the source said, adding that the drone will be able to “take off, fulfill its objectives and return to the airfield.”

“However, it will not receive the function of decision-making regarding the use of weapons – this will be decided by a human,” he said.

TASS was unable to officially confirm the information at the time of the publication.

Another defense industry source earlier told TASS that the prototype of Okhotnik (Hunter) was ready and would start test flights this year.

The Russian Defense Ministry and the Sukhoi Company signed a contract for developing the 20-ton Okhotnik (Hunter) heavy unmanned strike aircraft in 2011. The drone’s mock-up model was made in 2014. According to unconfirmed reports, composite materials and anti-radar coating were used to create the Okhotnik. The drone is equipped with a reaction-jet propulsion and is supposed to develop a speed of 1000 kilometers per hour.

Peresvet laser weapons systems

TASS reported that the Russian military forces are now training for the use of the Peresvet combat laser system:

Russian Aerospace Force has accepted for service the laser complexes Peresvet and the military are now taking drills that involve the novel combat technologies, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Thursday.

“The Peresvet laser complexes have been placed at sites of permanent deployment,” the report said. “Active efforts to make them fully operational are underway.”

“To ensure their proper functioning, the necessary infrastructures and specialized facilities for housing the complexes and duty crews have been built,” the ministry said.

The crews assigned to the Peresvets have taken upgrader courses at the Alexander Mozhaisky Military-Space Academy in St Petersburg.

The Russian military strategy of “asymmetric response.”

The overall defense strategy is termed an “asymmetric response”, and Mr. Murakhovsky explained the principle in this way:

“This is an asymmetric response, in which new classes of weapons are created, instead of new types within the framework of the existing systems. Other states are not expected to have anything of this kind [in the near future],” he said.

The expert described this response as “quite an efficient one, all the more so because it requires no additional investment – all the works are being carried out within the framework of the state procurement program.”

He added that unlike the Soviet Union, Russia avoids being dragged into a direct arms race and searches for cutting-edge solutions instead of simply increasing the number of weapons.

“The development of counter-weapons to those arms [may be possible] in distant future, but it does not mean that they can be created at all,” Murakhovsky added.

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