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Turkey and Russia after the coup attempt: friends, not allies

Turkey’s ongoing rapprochement with Russia will intensify following the failed coup attempt. However it is very unlikely to lead to Turkey formally quitting NATO.

Alexander Mercouris

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The pending summit between President Erdogan of Turkey and President Putin of Russia is increasing speculation of an eastward pivot by Turkey away from its traditional alliance with the US towards Russia and the Eurasian powers.

This speculation is undoubtedly correct for the short term.  However it remains far from clear how far that pivot will go and how successful it will be.

Turkey and Russia have had a complex relationship.  Before the First World War tsarist Russia and Ottoman Turkey were traditional enemies fighting a long succession of wars against each other.  However since the establishment of the Turkish Republic by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1922 relations have alternated between short periods of friendship and longer periods of hostility.

Kemal himself for most of the period of his rule maintained very close and friendly relations with Russia.  Indeed in the 1920s and early 1930s the USSR and Turkey were often thought of as allies.  Relations however began to deteriorate towards the end of Kemal’s life and following the end of the Second World War Turkey aligned itself decisively with the West and against the USSR by joining NATO. 

In the late 1970s Bulent Ecevit, during one of his brief periods in office as Prime Minister of Turkey, visited Moscow in a way that appeared to signal an attempt to achieve a sustained improvement in relations.  The attempt – if such it was – was short-lived, and the two countries shortly after once again began to distance themselves from each other.

Relations however improved again following the coming to power in 2002 of Erdogan’s AKP party and for a time appeared to become very close.  However there was a sharp deterioration in relations at the end of last year, when the two countries fell out because of their conflicting positions in the Syrian war and following Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian SU24 aircraft near the Turkish – Syrian border.  Relations remained extremely tense until just a few weeks ago when Erdogan (to most people’s surprise) suddenly apologised for the SU24 shoot-down.  Relations have since improved, and following the recent coup attempt there has been a dramatic improvement.

This history should however serve as a warning against any idea that the two countries are natural allies or friends.  On the contrary the fact that for most of their history – including their recent history – they have been enemies, all but confirms the opposite.  It is significant that the only two periods when relations between Turkey and Russia have been close have both been periods when Turkey has had unusually strong leaders: Kemal and Erdogan.  At all other times, when the political situation in Turkey has been more normal, relations have gone back to being bad. 

That suggests that a state of conflict with Russia, rather than friendship with Russia, is Turkey’s natural or default position.  That in itself must call into doubt the prospects of a sustained friendship between the two states.

What chance however is there for a decisive pro-Russian pivot by Turkey whilst Erdogan remains in power?

The first point to say is that such a pivot would for the first time in the history of Russian – Turkish relations make economic sense.  Trade links between the two countries have burgeoned in recent years with Russia becoming a major investor in the Turkish economy and a key exporter to Turkey of energy and manufactured goods.  Turkey for its part until the recent short period of bad relations had become a major destination of Russian tourists and was becoming an important exporter of agricultural and other goods to Russia.  Russia was also becoming an important market for Turkish businesses.  To those who believe that good political relations follow trade (actually a highly debatable proposition that finds little support in historical experience) conditions for sustainably good relations between Turkey and Russia have never been better.

It is also true that Turkey has become increasingly disillusioned with the West. 

Turkey has had an association agreement with the EU since 1963.  It formally applied to join the EU in 1987.  It has however since then and to its growing frustration been obliged to witness a string of former Communist East European states, all of whom applied to join the EU after Turkey, being admitted to the EU ahead of Turkey, with Turkey constantly being put back to the end of the queue.  Turkey has so far not even managed to gain for its citizens visa free access to the EU. Some EU politicians have even recently taken to saying that they will never agree to Turkey joining the EU. 

In the meantime, as part of this seemingly endless accession process, the Turks have had to endure the usual lectures and demands for “reform” from the EU.  Not all of these reforms are popular or make much sense in Turkey.  Erdogan himself has also had to endure the indignity of being constantly mocked and ridiculed in Europe and of being patronised by EU politicians in ways he must find infuriating.  By contrast the Russians – even when they have been angry with him – have always treated Erdogan with respect as the leader of a great nation and state.

Unsurprisingly some sections of Turkish society have become increasingly disenchanted with this never-ending quest for EU membership and in recent years doubts have increasingly been voiced about whether it is even worth pursuing.  Turkey’s recent economic boom – which has shown that Turkey is perfectly able to prosper outside the EU – and the crisis in the Eurozone have meant that for the first time in decades there is a nationalist case for not joining the EU which in Turkey is gaining an increasing hearing.

Beyond Turkey’s disappointment with the EU there is also deepening frustration and anger with the way Turkey feels it has been treated by the US.  This centres on US treatment of Turkey during the Syrian conflict. 

Prior to the start of the conflict Turkey had built up close and very friendly relations with Syria, with Erdogan forging a strong personal bond with Syria’s President Assad.  Though it is not well remembered today, when the protests against Assad’s government in Syria began in 2011 the Turks were initially very reluctant to become involved.  Turkey was however strongly pressed to do so by the US and its other Western allies, with the result that Turkey rapidly became the chief base and staging post for Syrian rebels entering Syria to take part in the war there.

Turkey made this commitment under the impression – and assurance from its allies – that Assad’s government in Syria would quickly fall.  To Turkey’s dismay that has not only failed to happen but as the conflict in Syria has dragged on it has spread to Turkey itself.  Turkey is now the target of numerous jihadi terrorist attacks on its own soil, its large Alevi minority, which sympathises with President Assad, is deeply unhappy about the war, and a painfully negotiated settlement of the Kurdish issue with the Kurds has unravelled as Turkey has become increasingly concerned at the emergence of autonomous Kurdish controlled territories within Syria along the Turkish border.  To add insult to injury the US – Turkey’s NATO ally – has allied itself with some of these Kurdish forces in Syria despite warnings from the Turkish authorities that they are closely linked the Kurdish groups fighting the Turkish army in Turkey. 

Last but not least the conflict in Syria led to a major falling out last year between Turkey and Russia.  Not only did Turkey and Russia apparently come close this winter to an armed clash – with credible rumours the Russians threatened the Turks with nuclear weapons – but over the course of the crisis Turkey’s economic links to Russia came close to falling apart and Erdogan had to endure the personal humiliation of having the Russians publicly accuse members of his own family of illegal links to Daesh.

Not only has the Syrian conflict been a disaster for Turkey.  It has also brought home to the Turks how little the US ultimately cares about them.  It is known that Erdogan was bitterly angry, and felt personally betrayed, when US President Obama at the last moment called off the bombing strikes on Syria he had announced following the Ghouta chemical attack in August 2013.  Even more serious and unnerving for the Turks was the very tepid support Turkey got from the US and its NATO allies during the crisis in relations with Russia this winter following the shooting down of the SU24, with some German officials actually publicly blaming Turkey for the incident.

The Turks therefore already had good reasons to be angry with the US and the West before the recent coup attempt.  However that coup attempt has now made the Turks angrier still.

As I have recently written, it is unlikely the US was involved in the recent coup attempt.  The claim that it must have been involved because some of the F16 fighters involved in the coup took off from the giant air base at Incirlik is by the way wrong.  Whilst Incirlik is a US base, it is also a Turkish air force base.  The US does not control what the Turkish air force does there and is not in a position to prevent Turkish air force fighters taking off from a Turkish air force base in Turkey.

The important thing however – as I have also pointed out – is not whether the US was actually involved in the coup or not.  It is that Erdogan and public opinion in Turkey believe it was.  It is that belief which is now governing their actions and which is leading to a further sharp deterioration in relations between Turkey and the US.

The suspicions of US involvement in the coup meanwhile contrasts with clearcut Russian and Iranian opposition to it.  As I have said previously, the rumours the coup failed because of a Russian tip-off are almost certainly true.  Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek is incidentally just the latest in a long line of Russian and Turkish officials who have been given an opportunity to deny that there was a tip-off but have failed to do so.  When asked to comment about the tip-off a few days ago he stuck to what is clearly now the agreed line, which is that he didn’t know anything about it, but then went on to talk immediately of Russia’s clearcut support for Turkey.  His exact words – as reported by TASS – were as follows:

I have no information on this matter, but I’d like to note that the next day after the coup attempt the most serious backing was provided by Russia that emphasised its support to the legitimate government of Turkey. We highly value the phone call of Russian President Vladimir Putin. This support was very strong.”

(bold italics added)

It can therefore be taken as read that over the course of the next few weeks the Russians and the Turks will move much closer to each other.  Turkish anger with the US over the coup and gratitude to Russia will accelerate and intensify a process of Turkish – Russian rapprochement which was already underway before the coup.

How far however, will it go?

I would warn against over-high expectations.  Economic links will surely strengthen.  There is talk of a free trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union, and that must now be a real possibility.  The Turk Stream gas pipeline project will surely be revived.  The Turks will lessen their support for the rebels in Syria (the state of the Turkish army following the coup anyway allows for nothing else).  There is even talk that they might join with the Russian military in joint operations against Daesh. It is by no means impossible that we could see a joint Russian-Turkish position for a Syrian settlement starting to form, with Turkey to some degree replacing the US as Russia’s main interlocutor in the negotiations to end the Syrian conflict.  Lastly Turkey could move closer towards some of the Eurasian institutions that are being created such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (in which it already has observer status) and the Eurasian Economic Union, and it might even take some initial steps towards joining them.  However actual membership of these organisations would be seen as incompatible with Turkey’s NATO’s membership, and I therefore doubt things will go that far (see below).

Simultaneously the Turks are likely to take more steps to distance themselves from the US.  They may continue for example their ongoing harassment of US personnel at the base in Incirlik.  It is not inconceivable that they might even start to float demands for the base to be closed, or for US nuclear weapons to be removed from there.  They might even revive an incendiary proposal that was briefly floated for a few days shortly before the coup of the Russians using the base to conduct operations in Syria.  The US was understandably enough horrified by this proposal, and succeeded in blocking it.  If it is now revived it will trigger serious alarm and anger in Washington.

However I doubt that Turkey will take any immediate steps to expel the US from Incirlik or to withdraw from NATO or to abandon its links to the EU.  Quite apart from the fact that taking such steps would reverse an alignment that is now 70 years old and which still has considerable support within Turkey itself, it would also antagonise the US, which would certainly at that point come to see Erdogan and his government as enemies.  I doubt that Erdogan will want that, regardless of how angry with the US he currently is.

The ongoing Russian – Turkish rapprochement will continue and will intensify.  I doubt however that there will be any formal reversal of alliances and I am sure the Russians don’t expect it.  Since their priority now must be to keep Erdogan in power as a potential partner, they might even advise against it if they feel that doing it might threaten Erdogan’s position by calling down on him the wrath of the US.

However the fact of that rapprochement will certainly have an immediate impact on the international situation, especially in Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Middle East.  It might even complicate NATO operations in the Black Sea, and lead to resistance from Turkey to any more anti-Russian posturing by NATO such as we saw recently at the NATO summit in Warsaw, something that might become increasingly important if (as seems likely) Hillary Clinton is the next US President.  The Russians will surely feel that that is quite enough for the time being.

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Airline wars heat up, as industry undergoes massive disruption (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 145.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris examine the global commercial airline industry, which is undergoing massive changes, as competition creeps in from Russia and China.

Reuters reports that Boeing Co’s legal troubles grew as a new lawsuit accused the company of defrauding shareholders by concealing safety deficiencies in its 737 MAX planes before two fatal crashes led to their worldwide grounding.

The proposed class action filed in Chicago federal court seeks damages for alleged securities fraud violations, after Boeing’s market value tumbled by $34 billion within two weeks of the March 10 crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX.

*****

According to the complaint, Boeing “effectively put profitability and growth ahead of airplane safety and honesty” by rushing the 737 MAX to market to compete with Airbus SE, while leaving out “extra” or “optional” features designed to prevent the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes.

It also said Boeing’s statements about its growth prospects and the 737 MAX were undermined by its alleged conflict of interest from retaining broad authority from federal regulators to assess the plane’s safety.

*****

Boeing said on Tuesday that aircraft orders in the first quarter fell to 95 from 180 a year earlier, with no orders for the 737 MAX following the worldwide grounding.

On April 5, it said it planned to cut monthly 737 production to 42 planes from 52, and was making progress on a 737 MAX software update to prevent further accidents.

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Via Zerohedge…

Step aside (fading) trade war with China: there is a new aggressor – at least according to the US Trade Rep Robert Lighthizer – in town.

In a statement on the USTR’s website published late on Monday, the US fair trade agency announced that under Section 301 of the Trade Act, it was proposing a list of EU products to be covered by additional duties. And as justification for the incremental import taxes, the USTR said that it was in response to EU aircraft subsidies, specifically to Europea’s aerospace giant, Airbus, which “have caused adverse effects to the United States” and which the USTR estimates cause $11 billion in harm to the US each year

One can’t help but notice that the latest shot across the bow in the simmering trade war with Europe comes as i) Trump is reportedly preparing to fold in his trade war with China, punting enforcement to whoever is president in 2025, and ii) comes just as Boeing has found itself scrambling to preserve orders as the world has put its orderbook for Boeing 737 MAX airplanes on hold, which prompted Boeing to cut 737 production by 20% on Friday.

While the first may be purely a coincidence, the second – which is expected to not only slam Boeing’s financials for Q1 and Q2, but may also adversely impact US GDP – had at least some impact on the decision to proceed with these tariffs at this moment.

We now await Europe’s angry response to what is Trump’s latest salvo in what is once again a global trade war. And, paradoxically, we also expect this news to send stocks blasting higher as, taking a page from the US-China trade book, every day algos will price in imminent “US-European trade deal optimism.”

Below the full statement from the USTR (link):

USTR Proposes Products for Tariff Countermeasures in Response to Harm Caused by EU Aircraft Subsidies

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has found repeatedly that European Union (EU) subsidies to Airbus have caused adverse effects to the United States.  Today, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) begins its process under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 to identify products of the EU to which additional duties may be applied until the EU removes those subsidies.

USTR is releasing for public comment a preliminary list of EU products to be covered by additional duties.  USTR estimates the harm from the EU subsidies as $11 billion in trade each year.  The amount is subject to an arbitration at the WTO, the result of which is expected to be issued this summer.

“This case has been in litigation for 14 years, and the time has come for action. The Administration is preparing to respond immediately when the WTO issues its finding on the value of U.S. countermeasures,” said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.  “Our ultimate goal is to reach an agreement with the EU to end all WTO-inconsistent subsidies to large civil aircraft.  When the EU ends these harmful subsidies, the additional U.S. duties imposed in response can be lifted.”

In line with U.S. law, the preliminary list contains a number of products in the civil aviation sector, including Airbus aircraft.  Once the WTO arbitrator issues its report on the value of countermeasures, USTR will announce a final product list covering a level of trade commensurate with the adverse effects determined to exist.

Background

After many years of seeking unsuccessfully to convince the EU and four of its member States (France, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom) to cease their subsidization of Airbus, the United States brought a WTO challenge to EU subsidies in 2004. In 2011, the WTO found that the EU provided Airbus $18 billion in subsidized financing from 1968 to 2006.  In particular, the WTO found that European “launch aid” subsidies were instrumental in permitting Airbus to launch every model of its large civil aircraft, causing Boeing to lose sales of more than 300 aircraft and market share throughout the world.

In response, the EU removed two minor subsidies, but left most of them unchanged.  The EU also granted Airbus more than $5 billion in new subsidized “launch aid” financing for the A350 XWB.  The United States requested establishment of a compliance panel in March 2012 to address the EU’s failure to remove its old subsidies, as well as the new subsidies and their adverse effects.  That process came to a close with the issuance of an appellate report in May 2018 finding that EU subsidies to high-value, twin-aisle aircraft have caused serious prejudice to U.S. interests.  The report found that billions of dollars in launch aid to the A350 XWB and A380 cause significant lost sales to Boeing 787 and 747 aircraft, as well as lost market share for Boeing very large aircraft in the EU, Australia, China, Korea, Singapore, and UAE markets.

Based on the appellate report, the United States requested authority to impose countermeasures worth $11.2 billion per year, commensurate with the adverse effects caused by EU subsidies.  The EU challenged that estimate, and a WTO arbitrator is currently evaluating those claims

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Mueller report takes ‘Russian meddling’ for granted, offers no actual evidence

RT

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Via RT…


Special counsel Robert Mueller’s ‘Russiagate’ report has cleared Donald Trump of ‘collusion’ charges but maintains that Russia meddled in the 2016 US presidential election. Yet concrete evidence of that is nowhere to be seen.

The report by Mueller and his team, made public on Thursday by the US Department of Justice, exonerates not just Trump but all Americans of any “collusion” with Russia, “obliterating” the Russiagate conspiracy theory, as journalist Glenn Greenwald put it.

However, it asserts that Russian “interference” in the election did happen, and says it consisted of a campaign on social media as well as Russian military intelligence (repeatedly referred to by its old, Soviet-era name, GRU) “hacking” the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the DNC, and the private email account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair, John Podesta.

As evidence of this, the report basically offers nothing but Mueller’s indictment of “GRU agents,” delivered on the eve of the Helsinki Summit between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in what was surely a cosmic coincidence.

Indictments are not evidence, however, but allegations. Any time it looks like the report might be bringing up proof, it ends up being redacted, ostensibly to protect sources and methods, and out of concern it might cause “harm to an ongoing matter.”

‘Active measures’ on social media

Mueller’s report leads with the claim that the Internet Research Agency (IRA) ran an “active measures” campaign of social media influence. Citing Facebook and Twitter estimates, the report says this consisted of 470 Facebook accounts that made 80,000 posts that may have been seen by up to 126 million people, between January 2015 and August 2017 (almost a year after the election), and 3,814 Twitter accounts that “may have been” in contact with about 1.4 million people.

Those numbers may seem substantial but, as investigative journalist Gareth Porter pointed out in November 2018, they should be regarded against the background of 33 trillion Facebook posts made during the same period.

According to Mueller, the IRA mind-controlled the American electorate by spending “approximately $100,000” on Facebook ads, hiring someone to walk around New York City “dressed up as Santa Claus with a Trump mask,” and getting Trump campaign affiliates to promote “dozens of tweets, posts, and other political content created by the IRA.” Dozens!

Meanwhile, the key evidence against IRA’s alleged boss Evgeny Prigozhin is that he “appeared together in public photographs” with Putin.

Alleged hacking & release

The report claims that the GRU hacked their way into 29 DCCC computers and another 30 DNC computers, and downloaded data using software called “X-Tunnel.” It is unclear how Mueller’s investigators claim to know this, as the report makes no mention of them or FBI actually examining DNC or DCCC computers. Presumably they took the word of CrowdStrike, the Democrats’ private contractor, for it.

However obtained, the documents were published first through DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 – which the report claims are “fictitious online personas” created by the GRU – and later through WikiLeaks. What is Mueller’s proof that these two entities were “GRU” cutouts? In a word, this:

That the Guccifer 2.0 persona provided reporters access to a restricted portion of the DCLeaks website tends to indicate that both personas were operated by the same or a closely-related group of people.(p. 43)

However, the report acknowledges that the “first known contact” between Guccifer 2.0 and WikiLeaks was on September 15, 2016 – months after the DNC and DCCC documents were published! Here we do get actual evidence: direct messages on Twitter obtained by investigators. Behold, these “spies” are so good, they don’t even talk – and when they do, they use unsecured channels.

Mueller notably claims “it is clear that the stolen DNC and Podesta documents were transferred from the GRU to WikiLeaks” (the rest of that sentence is redacted), but the report clearly implies the investigators do not actually know how. On page 47, the report says Mueller “cannot rule out that stolen documents were transferred to WikiLeaks through intermediaries who visited during the summer of 2016.”

Strangely, the report accuses WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange of making “public statements apparently designed to obscure the source” of the materials (p.48), notably the offer of a reward for finding the murderer of DNC staffer Seth Rich – even though this can be read as corroborating the intermediaries theory, and Assange never actually said Rich was his source.

The rest of Mueller’s report goes on to discuss the Trump campaign’s contacts with anyone even remotely Russian and to create torturous constructions that the president had “obstructed” justice by basically defending himself from charges of being a Russian agent – neither of which resulted in any indictments, however. But the central premise that the 22-month investigation, breathless media coverage, and the 448-page report are based on – that Russia somehow meddled in the 2016 election – remains unproven.

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Rumors of War: Washington Is Looking for a Fight

The bill stands up for NATO and prevents the President from pulling the US out of the Alliance without a Senate vote.

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Authored by Philip Giraldi via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


It is depressing to observe how the United States of America has become the evil empire. Having served in the United States Army during the Vietnam War and in the Central Intelligence Agency for the second half of the Cold War, I had an insider’s viewpoint of how an essentially pragmatic national security policy was being transformed bit by bit into a bipartisan doctrine that featured as a sine qua non global dominance for Washington. Unfortunately, when the Soviet Union collapsed the opportunity to end once and for all the bipolar nuclear confrontation that threatened global annihilation was squandered as President Bill Clinton chose instead to humiliate and use NATO to contain an already demoralized and effectively leaderless Russia.

American Exceptionalism became the battle cry for an increasingly clueless federal government as well as for a media-deluded public. When 9/11 arrived, the country was ready to lash out at the rest of the world. President George W. Bush growled that “There’s a new sheriff in town and you are either with us or against us.” Afghanistan followed, then Iraq, and, in a spirit of bipartisanship, the Democrats came up with Libya and the first serious engagement in Syria. In its current manifestation, one finds a United States that threatens Iran on a nearly weekly basis and tears up arms control agreements with Russia while also maintaining deployments of US forces in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and places like Mali. Scattered across the globe are 800 American military bases while Washington’s principal enemies du jour Russia and China have, respectively, only one and none.

Never before in my lifetime has the United States been so belligerent, and that in spite of the fact that there is no single enemy or combination of enemies that actually threaten either the geographical United States or a vital interest. Venezuela is being threatened with invasion primarily because it is in the western hemisphere and therefore subject to Washington’s claimed proconsular authority. Last Wednesday Vice President Mike Pence told the United Nations Security Council that the White House will remove Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro from power, preferably using diplomacy and sanctions, but “all options are on the table.” Pence warned that Russia and other friends of Maduro need to leave now or face the consequences.

The development of the United States as a hostile and somewhat unpredictable force has not gone unnoticed. Russia has accepted that war is coming no matter what it does in dealing with Trump and is upgrading its forces. By some estimates, its army is better equipped and more combat ready than is that of the United States, which spends nearly ten times as much on “defense.”

Iran is also upgrading its defensive capabilities, which are formidable. Now that Washington has withdrawn from the nuclear agreement with Iran, has placed a series of increasingly punitive sanctions on the country, and, most recently, has declared a part of the Iranian military to be a “foreign terrorist organization” and therefore subject to attack by US forces at any time, it is clear that war will be the next step. In three weeks, the United States will seek to enforce a global ban on any purchases of Iranian oil. A number of countries, including US nominal ally Turkey, have said they will ignore the ban and it will be interesting to see what the US Navy intends to do to enforce it. Or what Iran will do to break the blockade.

But even given all of the horrific decisions being made in the White House, there is one organization that is far crazier and possibly even more dangerous. That is the United States Congress, which is, not surprisingly, a legislative body that is viewed positively by only 18 per cent of the American people.

A current bill originally entitled the “Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act (DASKA) of 2019,” is numbered S-1189. It has been introduced in the Senate which will “…require the Secretary of State to determine whether the Russian Federation should be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism and whether Russian-sponsored armed entities in Ukraine should be designated as foreign terrorist organizations.” The bill is sponsored by Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado and is co-sponsored by Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

The current version of the bill was introduced on April 11th and it is by no means clear what kind of support it might actually have, but the fact that it actually has surfaced at all should be disturbing to anyone who believes it is in the world’s best interest to avoid direct military confrontation between the United States and Russia.

In a a press release by Gardner, who has long been pushing to have Russia listed as a state sponsor of terrorism, a February version of the bill is described as “…comprehensive legislation [that] seeks to increase economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on the Russian Federation in response to Russia’s interference in democratic processes abroad, malign influence in Syria, and aggression against Ukraine, including in the Kerch Strait. The legislation establishes a comprehensive policy response to better position the US government to address Kremlin aggression by creating new policy offices on cyber defenses and sanctions coordination. The bill stands up for NATO and prevents the President from pulling the US out of the Alliance without a Senate vote. It also increases sanctions pressure on Moscow for its interference in democratic processes abroad and continued aggression against Ukraine.”

The February version of the bill included Menendez, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland and Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina as co-sponsors, suggesting that provoking war is truly bipartisan in today’s Washington.

Each Senator co-sponsor contributed a personal comment to the press release. Gardner observed that “Putin’s Russia is an outlaw regime that is hell-bent on undermining international law and destroying the US-led liberal global order.” Menendez noted that “President Trump’s willful paralysis in the face of Kremlin aggression has reached a boiling point in Congress” while Graham added that “Our goal is to change the status quo and impose meaningful sanctions and measures against Putin’s Russia. He should cease and desist meddling in the US electoral process, halt cyberattacks on American infrastructure, remove Russia from Ukraine, and stop efforts to create chaos in Syria.” Cardin contributed “Congress continues to take the lead in defending US national security against continuing Russian aggression against democratic institutions at home and abroad” and Shaheen observed that “This legislation builds on previous efforts in Congress to hold Russia accountable for its bellicose behavior against the United States and its determination to destabilize our global world order.”

The Senatorial commentary is, of course, greatly exaggerated and sometimes completely false regarding what is going on in the world, but it is revealing of how ignorant American legislators can be and often are. The Senators also ignore the fact that the designation of presumed Kremlin surrogate forces as “foreign terrorist organizations” is equivalent to a declaration of war against them by the US military, while hypocritically calling Russia a state sponsor of terrorism is bad enough, as it is demonstrably untrue. But the real damage comes from the existence of the bill itself. It will solidify support for hardliners on both sides, guaranteeing that there will be no rapprochement between Washington and Moscow for the foreseeable future, a development that is bad for everyone involved. Whether it can be characterized as an unintended consequence of unwise decision making or perhaps something more sinister involving a deeply corrupted congress and administration remains to be determined.

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