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Russiagate returns: another absurd conspiracy theory featuring Russia’s RISS

Reuters story of two RISS documents which supposedly ‘prove’ Russian meddling in the US election is absurd. From Reuters’ account of the documents they show the opposite.

Alexander Mercouris

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In the immediate aftermath of the US missile strike on Syria, I said that if it was intended to ease President Trump’s domestic political problems then it was a major blunder.

I said that on the contrary what the missile strike would do was dismay the President’s most vocal and intelligent supporters, whilst failing to appease his enemies.

Here is what I said

If the President believed when he launched his missiles that it would end criticism of him and obstruction of his administration by his opponents, then he will be quickly discover that it has done no such thing.  The President’s opponents have far too much invested in the narrative of Donald Trump the new Mussolini or Caligula to back off from it now.  I doubt they will even back off from the Russiagate allegations, absurd though those are.

Within a few days, once the plaudits for the missile strikes have faded, the President will quickly find that the view of him of his opponents in Washington is the same as always, and that if anything, by launching his missile strike without first consulting Congress, he has given them another stick with which to beat him with.  I note that Nancy Pelosi – one of the President’s most vehement critics – is already calling for a full debate in the House to discuss the issue of authorisation for the President’s action.

…….By contrast, if the President has not won over his critics, he has beyond question upset and demoralised the most intelligent and vocal part of his own political base.

One of the most interesting facts about the events of the last few days is that whilst Barack Obama’s liberal supporters continued to back him even as he went back entirely on the anti-war stance he appeared to hold before he was elected, Donald Trump’s supporters take their anti-war and anti-interventionist position extremely seriously, and are not prepared to compromise on it.  The result is that far from defending the President for what he has done, they have turned on him and feel betrayed.

As is clear from the above comment, unlike many people I did not expect the Russiagate allegations to go away simply because the President was launching missiles at Syria and was starting to adopt the foreign policy of Hillary Clinton and of his opponents.  Hysteria and paranoia are never dispelled in that way.

Russiagate is not driven by rational considerations, and cannot just be switched on or off as it suits some people.  If it were it would have collapsed under the weight of its own absurdity long ago.  On the contrary the paranoia and hysteria which is driving the scandal is genuine, and there is a large community of people which believes in its truth.  This includes people working in the security services, in the media and in Congress.  Highly rational people who have seen through the absurdity of the scandal, and who explain it in purely functional terms – as a device to bring President Trump to heel –  seriously underestimate the lack of rationality of some of the people they are dealing with.

Beyond that there is the further fact that the officials of the previous Obama administration need to keep the scandal going in order to keep attention focused away from their own role in getting the security services to mount surveillance on the Trump campaign during the election period, despite the lack of evidence of any wrongdoing such as would justify it.

These thoughts have been triggered by the latest twist in the Russiagate scandal, a story from Reuters which has appeared today, sourced from our old friends “three current and four former (ie. Obama administration) U.S. officials”.  The story claims the following

A Russian government think tank controlled by Vladimir Putin developed a plan to swing the 2016 U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump and undermine voters’ faith in the American electoral system,….

…two confidential documents from the think tank [provided] the framework and rationale for what U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded was an intensive effort by Russia to interfere with the Nov. 8 election. U.S. intelligence officials acquired the documents, which were prepared by the Moscow-based Russian Institute for Strategic Studies [en.riss.ru/], after the election…..

The first Russian institute document was a strategy paper written last June that circulated at the highest levels of the Russian government but was not addressed to any specific individuals.

It recommended the Kremlin launch a propaganda campaign on social media and Russian state-backed global news outlets to encourage U.S. voters to elect a president who would take a softer line toward Russia than the administration of then-President Barack Obama, the seven officials said.

A second institute document, drafted in October and distributed in the same way, warned that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was likely to win the election. For that reason, it argued, it was better for Russia to end its pro-Trump propaganda and instead intensify its messaging about voter fraud to undermine the U.S. electoral system’s legitimacy and damage Clinton’s reputation in an effort to undermine her presidency, the seven officials said.

The Reuters story then goes on to say that it was the ‘discovery’ of these two Russian strategy papers that played a central role in getting the Obama administration to conclude that the Russians had actively interfered in the US election.

There are so many problems with this story that it is difficult to know where to start.

Firstly, Reuters – or rather the former and current US officials – misrepresent or misunderstand what the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies (RISS) actually is.  It is an analytical centre carrying out foreign policy and intelligence analysis for the Russian government, not really a think tank, and it is directly subordinated to Russia’s chief foreign intelligence agency, the SVR. It website in English can be accessed here.

The RISS is not “controlled by Vladimir Putin” and the pictures of Putin meeting with its current chief Mikhail Fradkov and its former chief Reshetnikov which are mentioned in the Reuters article misconstrue the nature of the RISS’s relationship with the Russian President.

Since the RISS is directly subordinated to Russia’s chief foreign intelligence agency the SVR, its chiefs – previously Lieutenant General Reshetnikov, now former Prime Minister and SVR chief Mikhail Fradkov – are serving officials of the Russian government.   As such they are appointed to head the RISS by Putin himself in exercise of his power as Russia’s President.

That is why the Kremlin released pictures and details of the conversation between Putin and Fradkov and Reshetnikov, which took place on 31st January 2017 (see captioned picture).  As the Kremlin’s summary of the conversation shows, Putin congratulated Fradkov following his decision to appoint him chief of the RISS, whilst thanking Reshetnikov, the RISS’s outgoing chief, for his previous work, and wishing him well in his retirement.  This is Putin’s standard practice when he appoints and retires officials to an important post, and this case is no different.

The RISS’s nearest US equivalent is the Rand Corporation, though the RISS is more directly integrated into Russian state structures than is the nominally independent and in part privately funded Rand Corporation, and is far smaller.

The RISS’s chiefs – previously Reshetnikov, now Fradkov – are intelligence service professionals because since the RISS is directly subordinated to the SVR and uses classified information provided by Russia’s intelligence agencies to carry out its analyses it is a part of the Russian intelligence community.

This misunderstanding of what the RISS is probably reflects the poor state of knowledge of today’s Russia in the US and the West more than it does any deliberate intention to deceive.  Reuters interestingly seems genuinely uninformed about it.

Since there is so much uncertainty in the US as to what the RISS actually is and what it does, it regularly features in Western conspiracy theories about President Putin and Russia.  For example back in 2014 it was credited with planning Russia’s ‘takeover’ of Crimea before the Maidan coup took place, even though it is an analytical not a planning agency, and even though it appears that all it was doing was researching scenarios in case the Yanukovych government fell, which is what as the analytical agency of a Great Power’s major intelligence service it is supposed to do.

That the RISS should be carrying out analyses of US politics and of the likely outcome of the US election is not therefore surprising or sinister.  It is its job, which it was set up to do.  The same sort of analyses of the internal politics and elections of other countries – including Russia – is routinely carried out in the US by the plethora of analytical bodies and agencies that exist there, which dwarf in size and number anything which exists in Russia.

Secondly, even the Reuters story gives no indication that the RISS documents ‘prove’ Russian meddling in the US election, as regularly alleged throughout the Russiagate scandal.

All that the RISS documents are alleged to do is provide guidance to the Kremlin on how Russian media coverage of the US election should be steered in Russia’s best interests.  That suggests nothing more than a media campaign of the sort that regularly happens during elections, and which the US itself does all the time.

There is nothing surprising or sinister about this.  Nor is it illegal.

Frankly, it is bizarre – and shows how detached from reality some people have become – that it is considered sinister and dangerous that a Russian agency like the RISS should recommend to the Russian government that the Russian media put to the American people the case for electing a candidate less hostile to Russia, or that the Russian media cast doubt on the integrity of the US election process, something the US media itself regularly does.

In June 2016, when the RISS document allegedly recommending the Russian media promote candidates sympathetic to better relations with Russia that might equally well have meant Bernie Sanders as Donald Trump.

As for concerns about the integrity of the US electoral system, they are a regular topic of discussion in US politics without needing Russia to encourage them, and there is nothing sinister or surprising about the fact that a Russian analytical centre should advise the Russian government to encourage discussion of the subject.

I would add that the US government regularly comments on the supposed lack of integrity of the Russian electoral system, and encourages the US media to do the same, and that this routinely happens whenever there are elections in Russia.

There is no word here of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, or of Donald Trump being blackmailed by the Russians as alleged in the Trump Dossier, or of Donald Trump being the ‘Siberian candidate’ – all things that are said during the Russiagate scandal – and Reuters admits that the two RISS documents make no reference to Russia leaking the emails of John Podesta and the DNC

Neither of the Russian institute documents mentioned the release of hacked Democratic Party emails to interfere with the U.S. election, according to four of the officials. The officials said the hacking was a covert intelligence operation run separately out of the Kremlin.

As it happens, since the RISS is a part of the Russian intelligence community carrying out analyses on the basis of classified information provided by Russia’s intelligence agencies – and is therefore presumably well-informed about what Russia’s intelligence agencies are doing – the absence of any reference in the RISS documents to collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, to Donald Trump being blackmailed by Russia, and to Russia leaking the emails of John Podesta and the DNC, is if anything evidence that none of those things happened.

Thirdly and lastly, both the former and the current chiefs of the RISS – Reshetnikov and Fradkov – say that the documents are being misrepresented.

Here is what Fradkov, the RISS’s current chief, says

Apparently, the authors of this idea failed to correspond the actual reality with the fantasies that their conspiracy theory minds covet in order to draw back the public perception to the issue of alleged Russian ‘participation’ in the US election, which has been fading away lately

Fradkov is also reported to have denied that the RISS possesses either the remit or the means to plan a large-scale disinformation campaign.

And here is what Reshetnikov, the RISS’s former chief who was in charge of the RISS when the RISS documents were allegedly written, says

Of course it’s another piece of fake news, lunacy. RISS never prepared such documents or plans and I doubt it is doing such a thing now.  this is not our job.

In summary, this is not exactly a case of ‘fake news’ since the two RISS documents almost certainly exist.  Rather it is a case of ‘no news’: an attempt to use the existence of documents that say nothing important to further the Russiagate scandal despite their apparently failing to provide any support for it.

It is characteristic of paranoia that it links together unrelated facts and that it twists facts to correspond with its pre-formed view.  The case of the RISS documents is a case in point.

The fact that the Russians were monitoring the US election closely is not surprising or even news.  Yet it is taken as proof that the Russians were meddling in the election.  Of course it is nothing of the sort.

The fact that Russia’s chief analytical agency recommended that the Kremlin encourage the Russian media to report about the election in a certain way is again taken as corroboration of Russiagate’s outlandish claims of collusion, blackmail etc.  In reality it shows if anything the opposite.

Paranoia this strong is not going to be dispelled by a few missiles lobbed at Syria.  If closing down Russiagate was indeed the reason for the missile strike, then the sooner President Trump realises that the better.

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Media meltdown hits stupid levels as Trump and Putin hold first summit (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 58.

Alex Christoforou

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It was, and still remains a media meltdown of epic proportions as that dastardly ‘traitor’ US President Donald Trump decided to meet with that ‘thug’ Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Of course these are the simplistic and moronic epitaphs that are now universally being thrown around on everything from Morning Joe to Fox and Friends.

Mainstream media shills, and even intelligent alternative news political commentators, are all towing the same line, “thug” and “traitor”, while no one has given much thought to the policy and geo-political realities that have brought these two leaders together in Helsinki.

RT CrossTalk host Peter Lavelle and The Duran’s Alex Christoforou provide some real news analysis of the historic Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki, without the stupid ‘thug’ and ‘traitor’ monikers carelessly being thrown around by the tools that occupy much of the mainstream media. Remember to Please Subscribe to The Duran’s YouTube Channel.

And if you though that one summit between Putin and Trump was more than enough to send the media into code level red meltdown, POTUS Trump is now hinting (maybe trolling) at a second Putin summit.

Via Zerohedge

And cue another ‘meltdown’ in 3…2…1…

While arguments continue over whether the Helsinki Summit was a success (end of Cold War 2.0) or not (most treasonous president ever), President Trump is convinced “The Summit was a great success,” and hints that there will be a second summit soon, where they will address: “stopping terrorism, security for Israel, nuclear proliferation, cyber attacks, trade, Ukraine, Middle East peace, North Korea and more.”

However, we suspect what will ‘trigger’ the liberal media to melt down is his use of the Stalin-esque term “enemy of the people” to describe the Fake News Media once again…

 

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While US seeks to up the ante on pressure on the DPRK, Russia proposes easing sanctions

These proposals show the dichotomy between the philosophy of US and Russian foreign policy

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The United States last week accused the DPRK of violating refined petroleum caps imposed as a part of UN nuclear sanctions dating back to 2006, and is therefore submitting a proposal to cut all petroleum product sales to North Korea.

The Trump administration is keen on not only preserving pressure on North Korea over its nuclear arms development, but in increasing that pressure even as DPRK Chairman, Kim Jong-Un, is serially meeting with world leaders in a bid to secure North Korea’s security and potential nuclear disarmament, a major move that could deescalate tensions in the region, end the war with the South, and ease global apprehensions about the North’s nuclear arsenal.

Meanwhile, Russia is proposing to the UNSC sanctions relief in some form due to the North’s expressed commitment to nuclear disarmament in the light of recent developments.

Reuters reports:

MOSCOW/UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Russia’s envoy to North Korea said on Wednesday it would be logical to raise the question of easing sanctions on North Korea with the United Nations Security Council, as the United States pushes for a halt to refined petroleum exports to Pyongyang.

“The positive change on the Korean peninsula is now obvious,” said the ambassador, Alexander Matsegora, according to the RIA news agency, adding that Russia was ready to help modernize North Korea’s energy system if sanctions were lifted and if Pyongyang can find funding for the modernization.

The U.N. Security Council has unanimously boosted sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, banning exports including coal, iron, lead, textiles and seafood, and capping imports of crude oil and refined petroleum products.

China tried late last month to get the Security Council to issue a statement praising the June 12 Singapore meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and expressing its “willingness to adjust the measures on the DPRK in light of the DPRK’s compliance with the resolutions.”

North Korea’s official name is Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

But the United States blocked the statement on June 28 given “ongoing and very sensitive talks between the United States and the DPRK at this time,” diplomats said. The same day, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi about the importance of sanctions enforcement.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due to informally brief U.N. Security Council envoys along with South Korea and Japan on Friday.

Diplomats say they expect Pompeo to stress the need to maintain pressure on North Korea during his briefing on Friday.

In a tweet on Wednesday Trump said he elicited a promise from Russian President Vladimir Putin to help negotiate with North Korea but did not say how. He also said: “There is no rush, the sanctions remain!”

The United States accused North Korea last week of breaching a U.N. sanctions cap on refined petroleum by making illicit transfers between ships at sea and demanded an immediate end to all sales of the fuel.

The United States submitted the complaint to the U.N. Security Council North Korea sanctions committee, which is due to decide by Thursday whether it will tell all U.N. member states to halt all transfers of refined petroleum to Pyongyang.

Such decisions are made by consensus and some diplomats said they expected China or Russia to delay or block the move.

When asked on June 13 about whether sanctions should be loosened, Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said: “We should be thinking about steps in that direction because inevitably there is progress on the track that should be reciprocal, that should be a two-way street. The other side should see encouragement to go forward.”

The proposals of both the United States and Russia are likely to be vetoed by each other, resulting no real changes, but what it displays is the foreign policy positions of both nuclear powers towards the relative position of the DPRK and its rhetorical move towards denuclearization. The US demonstrates that its campaign of increased pressure on the North is necessary to accomplishing the goal of a denuclearized Korean peninsula, while Russia’s philosophy on the matter is to show a mutual willingness to follow through on verbal commitment with a real show of action towards an improved relationship, mirroring on the ground what is happening in politics.

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Europe divided over possible trade compromise with Trump

Even if a European proposal could score a trade cease fire, the war isn’t over

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US President Donald Trump has just lectured NATO on it member’s commitment performance and held a controversial meeting with the Russian President Vladimir Putin and is next week to receive EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, with trade matters being high up on the agenda.

Juncker is expected to present Trump with a package of proposals to help smooth relations and potentially heal areas of division, particularly those surrounding Europe’s trade relationship with America. Those proposals are precisely what is cropping up as another area of divergence between some members of the EU, specifically France and Germany, just after a major contention on migration has been driving discord within the Union.

This gets down to whether Europe should offer concessions to Trump on trade while Trump is admittedly describing the Union as a ‘foe’ and has initiated a trade spat with the Union by assessing trade tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Europe, spurring retaliatory tariff measures from the EU Commission.

France, specifically, is opposed to any sort of compromise with Trump on the matter, where Trump is perceived as an opponent to the Union and its unity, whereas Germany is economically motivated to seek an end to the trade dispute under the threat of a new round of tariffs emanating from the Trump administration, and is therefore seeking to find some sort of proposal that Trump will accept and therefore back down on his protectionism against the EU, and Germany in particular.

Politico reports:

Only a week before European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker flies to Washington, France and Germany are divided over how much he should offer to U.S. President Donald Trump to end a deepening trade war, say European diplomats and officials.

But, they add, Germany has the upper hand. Berlin is shaping Juncker’s agenda, suggesting three offers that he could take to Trump on July 25 to resolve the dispute, according to people familiar with the plans.

The French are uneasy about the wisdom of such a conciliatory approach, however, and publicly accuse Trump of seeking to splinter and weaken the 28-member bloc, which he has called his “foe.”

Despite Paris’ reservations about giving away too much to the increasingly hostile U.S. president, the diplomats say that the European Commission’s powerful Secretary-General Martin Selmayr supports the German attempt at rapprochement, which makes it more likely that Juncker will offer some kind of trade fix next week.

“It’s clear that Juncker can’t go to Washington empty-handed,” one diplomat said. He stressed that Juncker’s proposals would be a political signal to Washington and would not be the formal beginning of negotiations, which would have to be approved by EU countries.

European ambassadors will meet on Wednesday to discuss the scope of Juncker’s offer — and indeed whether any offers should be made at all. France’s official position is that Europe must not strike any deal with a gun to its head, or with any country that has opted out of the Paris climate accord, as Trump’s America has done.

While Berlin is terrified by the prospect of 20 percent tariffs on cars and is desperate for a ceasefire deal, France has more fundamental suspicions that the time for compromise is over and that Trump simply wants to destroy EU unity. Paris is concerned that Trump’s next target is its sacred farm sector and is putting more emphasis on the importance of preserving a united political front against Washington.

Two diplomats said Berlin has a broad menu of offers that should be made to Trump: a bilateral deal to cut industrial tariffs, a plurilateral agreement to eliminate car duties worldwide, and a bigger transatlantic trade agreement including regulatory cooperation that potentially also comes with talks on increasing U.S. beef exports into Europe.

Making such generous offers is contentious when Trump crystallized his trade position toward Brussels on CBS news on Sunday: “I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade. Now, you wouldn’t think of the European Union, but they’re a foe.”

This undiplomatic bombshell came not long after he reportedly advised French President Emmanuel Macron to quit the EU to get a better trade deal than he was willing to offer the EU28.

In announcing Juncker’s visit on Tuesday, the White House said that he and Trump “will focus on improving transatlantic trade and forging a stronger economic partnership.”

Talking to the enemy

Diplomats note that a French-led camp in Brussels reckons Trump’s goals are strategic, and that he’s not after the sort of deal Germany is offering.

A French government official said that Washington quite simply wants to shift the EU off the stage: “Trump’s objective is that there are two big blocs: The United States and China. A multipower world with Europe as a strong player does not fit in.”

France’s Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire this month also issued a stark warning that Trump is seeking to drive a wedge between France and Germany — courting Paris, while simultaneously attacking Berlin’s trade surplus with the U.S. “In this globalized world, European countries must form a bloc, because what our partners or adversaries want is to divide us,” Le Maire said at an economic conference in Aix-en-Provence. “What the United States want, that’s to divide France and Germany.”

Despite these remarks from Le Maire, Anthony Gardner, former ambassador to the EU under the Barack Obama administration, said that he suspects the full magnitude of the threat has not sunk in. “Europe wake up; the U.S. wants to break up the EU,” he tweeted on Sunday. “Remember Belgium’s motto: L’union fait la force. [Unity creates strength]. Especially on trade. No side deals.”

One EU diplomat insisted that Brussels is not blind to these dangers in the run-up to Juncker’s visit.

Trump thinks that Europe is “too big to be controllable by DC, so it’s bad for America. Simple logic. And therefore the only deal that will bring the president to stop the trade war is the deal that breaks up the European market. I don’t quite think that’s the legacy Juncker is aiming for,” the diplomat said.

Europe is source of a deep frustration for Trump, as it runs a massive goods surplus with the U.S., at $147 billion in 2016. In particular, the U.S. president blames Germany’s mighty car exporters for this imbalance.

Leveling the field is not easy, however. With its market of 510 million consumers, Europe not only has the clout to stand up to the United States, but is increasingly setting global standards — particularly on food. This not only limits U.S. exports in Europe but also means that the European model is used in a broader trading ecosystem that includes Canada, Mexico and Japan.

New world order

Marietje Schaake, a liberal Dutch member of the European Parliament, observed that the U.S. trade strategy meshed with Trump’s political agenda.

“You could say there’s a new transatlantic relation emerging, of nationalists, populists and protectionists,” she said, pointing out that Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin has cast doubt on America’s commitment to supporting European security.

Trump’s opposition to the EU partly builds on an long-standing American discomfort about the EU’s economic policies.

“We already saw problems during the negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, where the U.S. didn’t like EU demands such as on geographical indications [food name protections], and certainly didn’t like that we had ambitious requests in areas like public procurement,” said Pascal Kerneis, managing director of the European Services Forum and a member of the now defunct TTIP advisory group.

Kerneis said that Trump’s trade attacks are shifting the tensions to a completely new level: “He’s attacking on all fronts, hoping to break our unity, particularly between Germany and France.”

France particularly fears that Trump’s duties on Spanish olives could only be the first salvo on Europe’s whole system of farm subsidies.

EU lawmaker Schaake said that France is right to worry about a conflagration. “Once we give in in one area, he will attack at the next one,” she said. “If we allow Trump to play Europeans against each other, sector by sector, it will be a losing game.”

Even if Europe goes about capitulating to Trump’s gripes about the Union, whether it gets back to NATO defense spending or the trade deficit, the question remains whether this will satiate Trump’s political appetite and result in an improved trade perspective and politically acceptable position with Washington, and France’s concern that the matter runs deeper and has a foreign policy agenda behind it, and that caving to Trump’s pressure will only end in defeat for the EU would therefore appear reasonable.

But Germany is staring down the barrel of a possible new round of tariffs that would hurt some of their largest industries and is therefore under a lot of pressure to find a solution, or at least some sort of agreement that could deescalate the situation.

However, Germany’s recent record of resolving international issues is such that Germany is really only scoring cease fire agreements, rather than ending the real political conflicts, referring mainly to the immigration issue which recently resulted only in diffusing some inter Union tensions, but without resolving the problem itself.

In this context, Germany could promise the moon and stars to Trump, possibly avert further trade tensions, but yet fail to address the core political and trade conflicts that have already broken out. Essentially, then, such a compromise would only serve to function as damage control, while leaving Germany and the Union at a further disadvantaged political position relative to the States at the political table.

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