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Why Russians believe America has been attacking them for over 25 years (PODCAST)

Stephen Cohen joins John Batchelor for another in depth look at US-Russian relations

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(TheNation) – Professor Emeritus of Politics and Russian Studies (at Princeton and NYU) Stephen F. Cohen and John Batchelor continue their (usually) weekly discussions of the new US-Russian Cold War. (Previous installments, now in their fourth year, are at TheNation.com.)

Cohen’s subject is both contemporary and historical. The most central, ramifying, and dangerous allegation of Russiagate is that “Russian attacked American democracy” during the 2016 presidential election. After 18 months, there is still no credible evidence for this allegation. On the other hand, many Russians—in the policy elite, the educated middle class, and ordinary citizens—believe that “the United States has been at war with Russia” for 25 years, a perception regularly expressed in the Russian media. They believe this for understandable reasons.

American commentators attribute such views to “Kremlin propaganda.” It is true, Cohen points out, that Russians, like Americans, are strongly influenced by what appears in the media, especially on television, and that Russian television news reporting and commentary are no less politicized than their US counterparts. But elite and middle-class Russians are no less informed and critical-minded than American ones. Indeed, they have more access to daily American news and opinions—from cable and satellite TV, US-funded Russian-language broadcasts and Internet sites, and from Russian sites, such as inosmi.ru, that translate scores of American media articles into Russian daily—than most Americans have to Russian media. (The recent censoring steps taken by the Department of Justice against RT and Sputnik might be viewed in this context.) Generally, Cohen argues, many more Russians are much better informed about Washington politics than Americans are about Moscow politics.

Above all, Russians consider the history of US policy toward post-Soviet Russia since the early 1990s, enacted by both Democrats and Republicans, particularly major episodes that they perceive as warlike and as including acts of “betrayal and deceit” in the form of promises and assurances made to Moscow by Washington and subsequently violated. Cohen briefly itemizes the main examples:

§ Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush negotiated with the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, what they thought was the end of the Cold War on the shared and often expressed premise that it would end “with no losers, only winners.” (For this crucial mutual declaration, see two books by Jack F. Matlock Jr., both presidents’ ambassador to Moscow: Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended and Superpower Illusions: How Myths and False Ideologies Led America Astray.) But in 1992, during his reelection campaign against Bill Clinton, Bush suddenly declared, “We won the Cold War,” paving the way to the triumphalism of the Clinton administration and the implication that post-Soviet Russia should be treated as a defeated adversary, as were Germany and Japan after World War II. For many knowledgeable Russians, certainly for Gorbachev himself, this was the first American betrayal.

§ For the next eight years, in the 1990s, the Clinton administration based its Russia policy on that triumphalist premise, with wanton disregard for how it was perceived in Russia or what it may portend. The catastrophic “shock therapy” economics imposed on Russia by President Boris Yeltsin was primarily his responsibility, but that draconian policy was emphatically insisted on and (meagerly) funded by Washington. The result was the near ruination of Russia—the worst economic depression in peacetime, the disintegration of the highly professionalized Soviet middle classes, mass poverty, plunging life expectancy, the fostering of an oligarchic financial elite, the plundering of Russia’s wealth, and more. There was also flagrant American “collusion” in Russian politics, particularly in Yeltsin’s 1996 reelection campaign. The Clinton administration bankrolled Yeltsin’s campaign with billions of dollars in loans through international agencies and sent a team of American experts to Moscow to advise and oversee Yeltsin’s initially failing reelection bid. That is, Washington “colluded” with Yeltsin against his presidential rivals. Later, Putin was, and continues to be, misquoted as saying that the end of the Soviet Union was “the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century.” What he actually said was that it was “one of the greatest catastrophes,” pointing to the fate of Russia in the 1990s. He was not wrong, as Cohen spelled out in articles in The Nation in the 1990s and in his book Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of Post-Russia (published in 2000 and in an expanded paperback edition in 2001). As American “advisers” encamped in Moscow and spread across the country in the 1990s, little wonder so many Russians felt they had been defeated, occupied, and plundered by a foreign power.

§ In 1999, Clinton made clear that the crusade was also a military one, beginning the still-ongoing eastward expansion of NATO, now directly on Russia’s borders in the three Baltic states, and today knocking on the doors of two other former Soviet republics, Georgia and Ukraine. That so many Russians see NATO’s unrelenting creep from Berlin to within artillery range of St. Petersburg as “war on Russia” hardly needs any comment, especially given the living memory of the 27.5 million Soviet deaths in the war against the Nazi German invasion in 1941. But herein lies yet another “betrayal and deceit,” one that has never been forgotten. In 1990, in return for Gorbachev’s agreement that a reunited Germany would be a NATO member, all of the major powers involved, particularly the first Bush administration, promised that NATO “would not expand one inch to the east.” Many US participants later denied that such a promise had been made, or claimed that Gorbachev misunderstood. But documents recently published by the National Security Archive in Washington prove that the assurance was given on many occasions by many Western leaders, including the Americans. The only answer they can now give is that “Gorbachev should have gotten it in writing,” implying that American promises to Russia are nothing more than deceit in pursuit of domination. (In any event, Cohen thinks that Washington would have violated such a treaty agreement in pursuit of pushing NATO to Russia’s borders, just as it soon violated another crucial treaty.) Later in 1999, Clinton made clear that NATO expansion was not the non-military policy it was proposed to be. For three months, US-led NATO war planes bombed tiny Serbia, Russia’s traditional Slav ally, in effect annexing its province of Kosovo. Visiting Moscow at the time, Cohen heard widely expressed shock, dismay, anger, and perception of yet another betrayal, especially by young Russians, whose views of America were rapidly changing from benign well-wisher to warlike enemy. Meanwhile, also under Clinton, Washington began its still-ongoing campaign to diminish Moscow’s energy sales to Europe, thereby also belying US wishes for Russia’s economic recovery.

§ President Obama came to office promising a “new era of American diplomacy,” but his approach to Russia was no different, and was arguably even more militarized and intrusive than his predecessors’. During the short-lived “reset” of relations with the Kremlin, then under President Dmitry Medvedev, Obama’s vice president, Joseph Biden, told a Moscow public audience, and then Putin himself, that Putin should not return to the presidency. (In effect, Obama and Biden were trying to “collude”—however ineptly—with their imagined partner Medvedev against Putin.) In addition to other US “meddling” under way, the administration, particularly Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, stepped up “democracy promotion” by commenting critically on the Russian parliamentary and presidential elections that followed. By 2011, the administration felt free to betray its own chosen Russian partner, Medvedev, breaking its promise not to use a UN Security Council resolution in order to depose Libyan leader Gaddafi, who was tracked by US-NATO war planes and murdered in the streets. Meanwhile, Obama, like his predecessors, pushed NATO expansion ever closer to Russia, eventually to its borders.

§ Given this history, the fateful events in Kiev in 2014 seem almost inevitable. For the anti-Russian NATO expansionists in Washington, Ukraine had always been “the biggest prize” in the march from Berlin to Russia, as Carl Gershman, head of the official US regime-change institution, the National Endowment for Democracy, candidly stated, and indeed as was clear from American involvement in Ukraine’s earlier “Orange Revolution” in 2004–05. Though the European Union partnership agreement offered to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2013 is unfailingly presented as a purely economic and “civilizational” choice, it determinedly excluded Russia as a mutual trading partner while including “military and security” provisions binding Kiev to NATO policy. Yanukovych’s overthrow by what was essentially a planned street coup in February 2014, accompanied by a demonstrative US presence on Maidan Square, led to the highly militarized new Cold War that now so endangers American and international security. Here too there was a broken US promise. Obama assured Putin that he supported the truce between Yanukovych and the street protesters brokered by three EU foreign ministers. Within hours, the protesters headed toward Yanukovych’s official residence, and he fled, yielding to the US-backed ferociously anti-Russian regime now in power and to the US-Russian proxy war in Eastern Ukraine. Certainly, Obama did not prefer real diplomacy with Russia. Repeatedly he refused, or stepped back from, Moscow’s offers of cooperation against ISIS in Syria, until finally Putin acted on his own in September 2015. Typically, Obama left office by imposing new sanctions, essentially economic warfare, on Russia—this time for the alleged but unproved allegations of Russiagate. The sanctions included an unprecedented and reckless threat of covert cyber attacks on Russia. (Assuming this is what Michael Flynn asked the Kremlin, on President-elect Trump’s instructions, not to react to, both deserve our gratitude, not persecution.)

§ It’s through this 25-year history that so many Russians perceive the meaning of Russiagate, which is reported obsessively in their media. For them, an American presidential candidate, and then president, Donald Trump, suddenly appeared proposing to end the US war against Russia for the sake of “cooperation with Russia.” The fictions of Russiagate—Russians have seen multitudes of American “contacts” with their officials, oligarchs, politicians, wheeler-dealers, and ordinary citizens ever since the Soviet Union ended—are designed to prevent Trump from ending the long “war against Russia.” When influential American media outlets denounce as “treasonous” Trump’s diplomacy with Putin regarding Syria and terrorism, for example, Russians see confirmation of their perceptions.

§ Cohen concludes by letting Americans themselves decide whether this Russian perception of US policy is correct or not. Put another way, whether Putin really is the “aggressor” presented almost unanimously by the American political-media establishment or a Kremlin leader reacting to a decades-long “American war against Russia.” Perceptions are at the core of politics, and even if Russians misperceive American intentions, has Washington given them cause to do so? In any case, when a nation-state perceives itself to be under attack, especially a nation with Russia’s history, relations with it become ever more dangerous. There is, Cohen adds, one anomaly: Putin, almost alone among high Russian officials, rarely—if ever—speaks of an “American war against Russia.” Dare we call this statesmanship? Especially in the context of bellicose statements issued almost daily by the US Congress and mainstream media?

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

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

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Via Zerohedge


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

Sefa Karacan | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Authored by John Wright. op-ed via RT.com:


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

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

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

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

From the report’s introduction:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Professor Alston:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Via Zerohedge


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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