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CONFIRMED: UN report says West’s anti-Russian sanctions have failed

UN report says Western sanctions have had limited economic impact; questions their legality

Alexander Mercouris

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This article was first published by RussiaFeed

Though it has gone almost entirely unreported in the Western media, a reportprovided by a UN Special Rapporteur to the UN Human Rights Council appears to the first serious attempt by an international authority to assess the effectiveness of the sanctions the Western powers have imposed on Russia.

The report’s conclusions are that the sanctions have been ineffective in that they have done only marginal damage to the Russian economy and have been significantly more costly to the EU’s economy than to Russia’s, though they have caused real hardship to many individuals both in the EU and in Russia.

Most controversial of all, the report casts doubt on the legality of the whole sanctions regime imposed by the West on Russia.

On the possible illegality of the EU’s sanctions, I discussed this as far back as 2nd October 2014 in an article I wrote for Sputnik in which I made these points

There is only one international body that is authorised under international law to impose sanctions: the Security Council of the United Nations. Its authority to impose sanctions is clearly set out in Article 41 of the UN Charter …….Any decision by the UN Security Council to impose sanctions under Article 41 has the force of law. UN Member States (including the states that make up the EU) are legally bound to enforce them.

The EU has no international legal authority to impose sanctions without obtaining a mandate from the Security Council. Doing so challenges the authority of the Security Council to impose sanctions. It also violates the rules of the World Trade Organisation.

The EU nonetheless claimed for itself this power in a 2004 position paper…….The position paper however fails to explain the legal basis upon which the EU claims this power. It refers to Article 11 of the Treaty on the European Union. This is has been replaced by Articles 21 and 24 of the amended Treaty on the European Union. Neither the original Article 11 nor Articles 21 and 24 of the amended Treaty on the European Union, however, refer to sanctions.

Reference is sometimes also made to Article 28 of the Treaty on the European Union, …..Reference is also made to Article 215 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, …..None of these provisions however say the EU has the power to impose sanctions without a mandate from the Security Council.

Compare these words in my article for Sputnik of 2nd October 2014 with these words in the report of the Special Rapporteur

10. Unilateral sanctions against the Russian Federation qualify as “unilateral coercive measures” to the extent that they have been adopted by States — or regional organizations without a mandate of the Security Council acting pursuant to Article 41 of the Charter of the United Nations (see A/HRC/30/45, para. 14).

11.  It has been rightly noted that “[t]he prevailing view among international law specialists, however, is that autonomous sanctions cannot be legal per se and thus require international legal justification for their imposition”.

12. Sanctions on the Russian Federation should be expected to comply with the procedural and substantive conditions for recourse to lawful countermeasures, as set out by the General Assembly in its resolution 56/83 on the responsibility of States for internationally wrongful acts. In particular, the International Law Commission has noted that a “State which resorts to countermeasures based on its unilateral assessment of the situation does so at its own risk and may incur responsibility for its own wrongful conduct in the event of an incorrect assessment”.

13. Moreover, as the Special Rapporteur noted in his 2016 report to the General Assembly, “[s]uch responsibility could also be engaged in a situation where, even acting with proper justification, States (or international organizations) are found to have disregarded legal preconditions for recourse to countermeasures, such as the proportionality and reversibility of the measures” (see A/71/287, para. 11).

14. The view has been widely expressed that unilateral sanctions on the Russian Federation qualify as “third-party countermeasures” under international law, to the extent that they aim at responding to grave violations of obligations owed to the international community. However, it is to be noted that the permissibility of third-party countermeasures remains unsettled in international law, and was left open in General Assembly resolution 56/83.

(bold italics added)

In other words, since the sanctions were not imposed by the UN Security Council their legality is open to doubt, even if they are viewed as “third party countermeasures”, the legality of which is anyway “unsettled”.

To which I would add that as the Special Rapporteur’s discussion clearly shows, “third party countermeasures” are envisaged as unilateral actions (ie. actions taken without a mandate from the UN Security Council) taken by UN Member States.  The EU however is not a UN Member State but an international body, and its power to act is theoretically limited by the treaties which created it.  As I discussed in my article for Sputnik, none of these treaties give it authority to impose sanctions which have not been mandated by the UN Security Council.

Putting aside the important though for the moment academic question of the legality of the sanctions – which may however become very important at some future time – what of their actual economic impact?

The Special Rapporteur has much to say about this, and it will make for uncomfortable reading for the supporters of the sanctions

51. Application of the unilateral coercive measures began at the start of 2014, a time when the price of oil fell substantially. Thus, two shocks occurred simultaneously: the “oil shock” and the “sanctions shock”. In view of the complexity of the mix of those causes, it is difficult to determine the discrete impact of the sanctions shock. According to some unofficial estimates provided to the Special Rapporteur in Moscow, they may have caused at most an average reduction of 1 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the Russian Federation between 2014 and 2016. It remains that the main adverse impact of the reversal of economic fortunes was attributable to the drop in oil prices……

53. In terms of macroeconomic analysis, the combined impact of the two shocks reduced growth from 1.3 per cent in 2013 to 0.7 per cent in 2014 and to – 2.8 per cent in 2015. As a result of adaptation to the post-shock situation, there was a turnaround in economic activity already in the first quarter of 2016, with a negative growth rate of – 0.02 per cent, despite the fact that oil prices remained low. That rate moved back into positive territory in 2017 without any lifting of unilateral coercive measures. Over the past 12 months, the rouble appreciated by 15 per cent against the dollar. This is evidence of a successful adjustment…….

62. Different data are provided by the media and academic circles in source countries estimating the cost incurred through the measures by source countries, especially in the European Union.

63. The most credible approximation is of $3.2 billion a month, according to a working paper by the Centre d’Etudes Prospectives et d’Informations Internationales.  In an interview with the Special Rapporteur, European farmers and a confederation of European agricultural cooperatives deplored that the losses were attributable to a political dispute between the European Union and the Russian Federation, in which European Union farmers had no role or responsibility yet were the ones that had to “pay the price”.

64. The rough estimate of the adverse impact of the sanctions on the Russian Federation, if disentangled from the oil shock, is an average loss of 1 per cent of GDP. That seems to be a reasonable figure since, after “digesting” the oil shock, the difference between actual and potential GDP for 2017 is of about 0.80 per cent according to the International Monetary Fund.  That output gap would amount to a direct loss therefore of some $15 billion per annum for the Russian Federation or a total of $55 billion so far.

65. The resulting overall income loss of $155 billion is shared by source and target countries. Although both source and target countries can internalize those losses, it is not clear that any partner is cowed by them or indeed that any rights holder, least of all European smallholder farmers, benefits from them. Meanwhile, business opportunities are forgone, curtailing the right to development of trading partners. Even if direct losses to the Russian Federation from unilateral coercive measures were twice as high as provided in the above estimate, source countries are having to suffer equally or more from the sanctions than the country they target. They may also be more vulnerable as, unlike the Russian Federation, they do not all have a consistent international trade surplus or such high foreign exchange reserves, which, in the case of the Russian Federation, remained consistently above $300 billion since sanctions were applied.

(bold italics added)

In other words the best estimate the Special Rapporteur has found of the cost of the sanctions to the Russian economy, coming however from a European source,  is that it is no higher than $15 billion a year, or $55 billion in total, which is less than 1% of Russia’s dollar denominated nominal GDP.

It turns out that the sanctions are actually costing the EU more than they are costing Russia: $100 billion since they were introduced, as opposed to the $55 billion they are estimated to have cost Russia.

Whilst this constitutes a smaller fraction of the EU’s GDP as compared to that lost by Russia – the EU’s GDP being much larger than Russia’s – the burden is falling unequally on the EU’s weaker member states, some of whom lack Russia’s depth of financial resources, whilst it is hitting certain sectors of the EU’s economy – such as the EU’s agricultural sector – disproportionately, with EU farmers complaining that they have been caught in the crossfire of a political quarrel in which they have no part.

The assessment that the sanctions have shaved off about 1% of Russia’s GDP is probably correct, but it needs to be heavily qualified.

The sanctions did cause the Russian economy real problems in the late autumn of 2014, when Russian companies found themselves facing heavy loan repayments on their foreign debt at a time of a cash shortage and a declining rouble caused by the oil price fall. With Western creditors refusing to roll over loans there was therefore a rush to convert roubles into euros and dollars to repay the loans, increasing the downward pressure on the rouble still further, and causing it in late December 2014 to crash.

The Central Bank and the Finance Ministry however acted quickly to plug the gap – which because of the size of their reserves they could easily do – so that after a brief wobble the situation was quickly brought back under control.

Since then the main effect of the sanctions has been to force Russian companies and banks to continue paying off their foreign debt more quickly than they would otherwise have done, with however nothing remotely like the temporary payment crisis of late December 2014 ever happening again.

Whilst this process of paying off debt has no doubt kept the rouble lower than it might otherwise have been, and has undoubtedly reduced investment in the Russian economy whilst it has been taking place, its ultimate effect once the loan repayment process is completed will be to leave Russian companies unburdened by debt, and therefore in a much stronger financial position going forward than the one in which they would otherwise have been if the sanctions had never been imposed.

With the Central Bank claiming that Russian banks will have paid off their foreign debt by the end of this year, this deleveraging process now looks to be drawing to a close, which is no doubt one reason why despite the continued high interest rates there has been a significant investment recovery in Russia this year.

In other words the effect of the sanctions on the Russian economy was to deepen what was by Russia’s historic standards still a relatively shallow recession caused by the oil price fall.  However they have also made the Russian economy come out of the recession in a better condition than the one it would have been in if they had not been imposed.

The result is that though Russia’s economy may be 1% smaller today than it would have been if the sanctions had not been imposed, the sanctions have created the conditions which will cause Russia’s economy in future to grow faster, and become bigger and stronger, than would have been the case if the sanctions had not been imposed.

Of course all this would not have happened if economic policy had not been competent and successful.  Here is what the Special Rapporteur has to say about that

55. The reasons why the impact of economic sanctions on the enjoyment of human rights was not more severe in the country seem related to the following facts:

(a) The Government applied very effectively a counter-cyclical policy by letting the rouble float and by increasing the share of the State sector to substitute for the sanction imposed ban on foreign funding for the corporate sector beyond 30 days, by reducing considerably the rate of inflation through conservative management of the economy and by ex-post compensation of inflation losses incurred by pensioners;

(b) The economy demonstrated great resilience and a capacity to adapt to new circumstances through Government-assisted restructuring to promote local funding of projects formerly funded by external sources;

(c) The diversification of the economy away from oil was given new impetus;

(d) Emphasis on research was increased, returning to an earlier stage when, in many sectors, including space technology, the Russian Federation was at the forefront (it should be noted that, according to Russian officials, cooperation with the United States in advanced space technology was maintained, including for the supply of engines for spacecraft, despite the ban on the export of advanced drilling technology by the United States); this enabled the Russian Federation to enhance its oil production in the Arctic by developing its own capacities for horizontal drilling and its production of shale oil, for which it had previously relied on foreign partners;

(e) Effective import substitution technologies were put in place, in particular in agriculture, to dispense with imports from the European Union that were the subject of retaliatory measures;

(f) A policy was quickly introduced to pivot towards other partners in Asia and other regions.

To this list of measures I would add the further measures the Russian authorities have taken since the sanctions to strengthen Russia’s financial system, which is the Achilles heel of Russia’s economy.  These measures require a separate discussion, but briefly the high interest rates to reduce inflation and encourage saving, and the Central Bank’s clearing up of the banking system through its policy of closing down Russia’s weakest banks, are just two.

These measures to strengthen the financial system are essential if the financial system is to fund Russia’s economic growth in the future, as in the absence of large scale investment from the West it will have to do.  They are the government’s and the Central Bank’s main priority at the moment.

The key point to grasp is that these steps – which are putting Russia in a better position to grow its economy in future – have in part at least been induced by the sanctions, and would either have been delayed or would not have happened at all without them.

One of the great paradoxes of the sanctions is that instead of weakening Russia they have provided the Russian government with the political cover to do things it needed to do, such as float the rouble and limit food imports, and which it probably had long wanted to do, but which it was previously too frightened to do because they would have been unpopular with certain influential sections of the population.

In his report the Special Rapporteur briefly touches on this

56. As in many other countries targeted by sanctions, there was a “rally around the flag” reaction, which led the population to accept the inconveniences caused by the unilateral coercive measures.

All of this calls into question the underlying assumption upon which the sanctions were based.

Briefly Western policy makers grossly underestimated the size, sophistication and flexibility of the Russian economy when they imposed the sanctions, and assumed that the sanctions would cause the Russian economy to go into a tailspin, forcing President Putin to back down over Crimea and Ukraine or risk popular protests or even an oligarch led coup.  Instead, as the Special Rapporteur’s report shows, the Russian economy has successfully adjusted to the sanctions, whilst President Putin’s popularity remains at stratospheric levels.

Western policy makers made this mistake because their views of the Russian economy and of Russian society were formed during Russia’s ‘disaster years’ of 1989 to 1998, with their negative perceptions since then reinforced by the relentlessly negative and often grossly inaccurate way news about Russia is reported by the Western media and the West’s intelligence agencies.

The Special Rapporteur briefly touches on this

58. The Russian case study offers an opportunity to review the effectiveness of unilateral coercive measures applied by large advanced economies against one another. The example of the Russian Federation demonstrates the expected versatility of a relatively well-off country with a variety of resources, a highly trained population and a multiplicity of trading partners……..

60. In a context of globalization, for a country like the Russian Federation, which is fully integrated into the world economy, measures for trade diversion — whether through protectionism or through unilateral coercive measures — can be self-defeating if they lead to a “beggar-thy-neighbour” policy. It is fortunate therefore that the retaliatory measures themselves were limited in scope.

61. Furthermore, in such a globalized context, one must not lose sight of the possible backlash of unilateral measures, even without retaliation. Thus, for instance, one of the largest banks in the Russian Federation, Sberbank, has a part of its capital in equities of which one third is owned by foreign investors from sanctioning countries. Thus, when the bank cannot obtain foreign financing above 30 days for its clients, its profits are affected, which, in turn, reduces the price of its shares and causes losses for their owners also in source countries. Furthermore, every year the State floats internationally 10-year eurodollar bonds that are reserved for foreign purchasers and are heavily subscribed. In addition, every week it auctions other shorter-term bonds in roubles that are also subscribed by foreign buyers. Rationing of foreign loans to the Russian economy is therefore of limited effectiveness……

66. The wave of globalization that has engulfed the Russian Federation has spread the value chain across its borders with Europe and to a lesser extent has stretched to the United States. It is therefore becoming realistically impossible to disentangle the links of that value chain in a way that would introduce a clean cut of those links situated in the Russian Federation without weakening the rest of the chain through what has misleadingly been referred to come to as “surgically accurate” measures.

(bold italics in the original)

In other words, totally isolating an economy as large and sophisticated as Russia’s is realistically impossible, and would be completely self-defeating if it were ever attempted.  Even the limited ‘targeted’ sanctions which were imposed on Russia have had negative effects on the countries which imposed them, and have been largely unsuccessful because of Russia’s “variety of resources, highly trained population and multiplicity of trading partners”.

I said that the UN Special Rapporteur’s report would make uncomfortable reading for the sanctions’ supporters, and so it has proved.  The best indicator of this is that there have already been claims that Russia funded his report, claims which the Special Rapporteur has categorically denied .

What is true to say is that the Special Rapporteur – Idriss Jazairy – though obviously highly qualified – his UN profile reads as follows: “Mr. Jazairy has extensive experience in the fields of international relations and human rights with the Algerian Foreign Ministry, the UN human rights system and international NGOs. He was formerly the head of a UN specialized agency, IFAD. He holds a M.A. (Oxford) in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, and an M.P.A. (Harvard). He also graduated from the Ecole nationale d’Administration (France)” – is Algerian, and is therefore a citizen of a non-aligned country.  That makes him less vulnerable to US disfavour than other officials of UN agencies who are citizens of countries aligned to the US.

This puts the Special Rapporteur in a similar position to that of the unnamed Indian army officer who headed the UN investigation into the attack on the humanitarian convoy in Syria near Aleppo on 19th September 2016, which effectively cleared the Russians of claims they had been involved in that incident.

The Special Rapporteur’s report should not of course be the final word on this question.  As he himself says in his report, it is remarkable that the Western powers have failed to carry out a review of the effectiveness of the sanctions since they were imposed, even though the need for such a review is obvious

67. The unilateral coercive measures are intended to serve as a deterrent to the Russian Federation in the context of the prevailing political standoff in the region. They do however carry unintended effects on producers that have nothing to do with the situation, both in Europe and among the most vulnerable groups in the Russian Federation. The Special Rapporteur considers that, after three years of implementation of unilateral coercive measures targeting the Russian Federation, a review of their effectiveness in achieving their proclaimed goal is overdue.

68. The Special Rapporteur recommends that the review be engaged upon without delay in the search for effectiveness in the pursuit of desired outcomes and in a way that spares innocent civilians in source and target countries from unintended adverse human rights impacts.

Needless to say the reason no such review has taken place, or will take place, is because if it ever did take place it would simply confirm what the Special Rapporteur is saying in his report, which is that the sanctions are failing.  That of course is a truth the supporters of the sanctions do not want to face.

I will finish this discussion of the Special Rapporteur’s report with two further observations:

(1) Though the sanctions have not hurt the Russian economy in the way their authors intended, they have as the Special Rapporteur has pointed out caused real hardship to the individuals they have targeted.  Moreover it appears that this hardship is being aggravated by the unaccountable and arbitrary way in which they are being administered.  The Special Rapporteur’s report provides an example

……..a Russian businessman whose spouse was hospitalized in a western European clinic, found out upon attempting payment of her medical bill that his western bank account had been blocked and could not be drawn upon even for such humanitarian items of expenditure. This is all the more surprising since competent European Union authorities are committed to taking into account the “fundamental rights of designated persons and entities when granting exemptions” as provided by the European Union Guidelines on implementation and evaluation of restrictive measures (sanctions) in the framework of the European Union Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Unfortunately there is practically no possibility that the Special Rapporteur’s report will cause the EU to review its procedures so as to change the harsh and arbitrary way in which the sanctions are being administered.

(2) Though the authors of the sanctions of course refuse to admit their failure, I have no doubt that in private there is much anger and frustration that they have not produced the results expected of them.

Though obviously I do not know this for a fact, I strongly suspect that part at least of the reason for the latest sanctions law recently passed by the US Congress is anger caused by the failure of the existing sanctions.  As has now become standard (North Korea being another case in point) the response of those who called for the sanctions is not to admit their error and the failure of the sanctions but to demand more and more sanctions in the hope that that way they can be made to work.

The reality is that European opinion has now become too disillusioned with the existing sanctions to countenance significant further sanctions over and above the existing sanctions, especially given that the new sanctions which are being proposed would be directly contrary to the EU’s fundamental economic interests.  In Germany at least the talk is now increasingly of the need for a roadmap so that the existing sanctions can reduced and eventually lifted.  The recent German elections will only strengthen that talk.

Such talk will of course make the supporters of the sanctions even more angry, and even less willing to face the truth that the sanctions are failing, which is set out in the Special Rapporteur’s report.

That truth however cannot be denied forever.  The only question is how long it will take before it is accepted.  Past experience suggests that will take long.

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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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