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Vietnam’s Dangerous Courtship with Washington

On the eve of Obama’s visit to Vietnam events point towards moves for a realignment of Hanoi’s policies away from Russia and China.

Andrew Korybko

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President Obama’s upcoming visit to Vietnam will take place amidst increasing American tensions with China. Beijing recently scrambled a couple of fighter jets after an American naval ship sailed dangerously close to one of its disputed islands in the South China Sea, which was just the latest in a series of multiple provocations that have taken place all across the region ever since the US declared its Pivot to Asia in October 2011. As part of the US’s plan to “contain” China, the Pentagon envisages constructing a multilateral “China Containment Coalition” all across East, Southeast and South Asia, with the most active core of this prospective coalition being a Vietnamese-Philippine naval alliance.

With the election of Rodrigo Duterte as the President of the Philippines and his willingness to pragmatically negotiate with China, it is looking less likely that Manila will play as critical a “containment” role as the US had initially anticipated.

In response to this surprising shift in regional geopolitics, the US is expected to intensify its military-strategic relations with Vietnam, and President Obama’s visit might be just as important a catalyst for Hanoi’s pro-American pivot as Defence Secretary Carter’s visit to India was last month. Considering this, it is important to take a look at Vietnam’s recent moves with regards to China and explore the military-related avenues that it has to expand if it is to enter into a “containment” partnership with the US.

Redirecting Away From Russia

To start off, it is important to educate the reader about Vietnam’s massive arms buildup over the past couple of years.

According to the latest report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Vietnam was the eighth-largest arms importer in the world for the period 2011-2015, importing a whopping 699% more weaponry during this same period than it did in the preceding five years.

The overwhelming majority of these weapons – 93% – were Russian-made. Moscow’s willingness to supply weapons on such a scale to Vietnam bespeaks of Moscow’s traditional role in balancing rival foes, in this case Vietnam and China.  Moscow has followed the same pattern of balancing between other regional foes such as Armenia and Azerbaijan and India and China.

In and of itself this ought to mean that Vietnam’s large increase in weapons imports should not be a cause for alarm.  This is because in line with its policy of balance Russia’s weapons supplies to Vietnam are intended to reinforce the status quo between Vietnam and China in the South China Sea rather than upset it.

What is more worrying however is that Vietnam is now beginning to look elsewhere for its weaponry, in a way that might threaten the strategic balance between Vietnam and China,  just as Dmitry Medvedev warned might happen between Armenia and Azerbaijan if either of them did something similar.

The discrete presence of leading US weapons companies such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin at a large defence-related gathering in Hanoi this week shows that the US is indeed aggressively angling to eat away at Russia’s market share in Vietnam, provided of course that the restrictions the US Congress has imposed on weapons sales to Vietnam are progressively lifted.

Vietnam is encouraging these US moves.   Its Foreign Ministry has just announced that it would “welcome the United States’ acceleration to fully lift the lethal arms sales ban”.

Following In India’s Footsteps

It’s unclear why Vietnam, which has enjoyed decades-long military-technical cooperation with Russia, should be dissatisfied with its existing Moscow-provided weapons and should feel the need to solicit more weapons from its former American foe.

In just the same way that India is slowly moving away from Russian weapons, so too Vietnam might be preparing for a similar “transition” (or “rebalancing” as Vietnam’s media and its international supporters like to call it) away from reliance on Moscow.

As the saying goes, “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it”, so it is questionable why both of these countries should feel the need to turn to the US for more weapons when arms cooperation with Russia has always been very good.

The only explanation is that Vietnam, like India, is being courted by the US as part of the “China Containment Coalition”, and that Washington wants to ‘seal the deal’ with both of its newfound partners through a series of highly profitable and symbolic arms contracts.

The restoration of full US-Vietnamese relations, including in the military sphere, might appear as a superficially welcome sign for all other countries that are currently experiencing Western sanctions.   It would however be a pyrrhic victory.   

Since there is no legitimate reason why Vietnam would resort to importing weapons from the US when it can get from Russia all the weapons it needs to maintain the strategic naval balance with China, the only reason why Hanoi is now reaching out to Washington is that it must be genuinely interested in falling in with the US anti-Chinese strategy in a way that can only upset the regional balance with China.

US-Vietnamese collaboration against China is not just occurring out of the blue.   Hanoi has already received $18 million last year to purchase US patrol boats after US Senator John McCain pushed through legislation to loosen the arms embargo. Adding another element to the mix, Vietnam is party to the restrictive TPP trading agreement that its top export partner is pushing for throughout the region.

In other words, Vietnam has already agreed to align itself with the economic component of the US’s hegemonic Pivot to Asia, so that it predictably follows that it should do so in the military sphere as well.

Losing Balance

It is too early to say Vietnam is fully pivoting towards the US at the expense of its traditional Russian ally.  Clearly however Hanoi has thrown in its lot in with Washington in pursuing the shared objective of “containing” China.

Even if Vietnam were ever to make such an anti-Russian decision, it would take a long time for it to transition its entire military from using Russian to US weapons. 

More likely, Hanoi wants to cooperate with the US to send a signal to China whilst simultaneously strengthening its future bargaining position with Moscow.  After all, if Vietnam really wanted to break with Russia, it would have complied with US’ demands last March and barred Russia from using its airfields for military refuelling.

Instead, it appears Vietnam is looking to walk a geopolitical tightrope, balancing its historical military ties with Russia with its recent economic ones with the US.

Nonetheless, though it will take time, if Vietnam’s present pro-US course continues then the two former foes could surprisingly end up very close allies in the next decade, united by a shared desire to “contain” China. The fact this is just a hyped-up marketing gimmick from the US military-industrial complex is neither here nor there.

The most logical consequence of Hanoi’s progressive shift towards Washington will be that its relations with Beijing will suffer.  As for the US, once it senses that its dominant position in Vietnam has been restored, it will inevitably pressure Vietnam to distance itself from Russia too.

Given the series of Hybrid Wars that the US has been waging all across the world lately, it is to be expected that the US will employ some elements of this strategy in one day blackmailing Vietnam to follow the course it wants for it. Although the exact scenarios cannot be foreseen, one possibility might be for the US to exploit the TPP’s on-paper labour regulations to  foment a Colour Revolution movement in Vietnam that disguises itself as a “Solidarity”-type workers’ union to exert grassroots pressure on the Vietnamese authorities.

Concluding Thoughts

Every country has the sovereign right to choose whoever it wants to cooperate with in strategic, military, economic, and other affairs.  Countries such as China and Russia cannot however help but be alarmed by Vietnam’s recent intensification of its relations with the US.

Were it not directed against any third party, then the US-Vietnamese Strategic Partnership (as historically odd as it may seem considering the Vietnam War) would not be a threat to anyone.  The trouble is that it is intended as a threat, specifically against China, but with a long-term intention of weakening Russia’s position in Southeast Asia as well.

Moscow’s and Beijing’s diplomats will react calmly, with Russia probably avoiding direct mention of these developments at all.  However there is no doubt Moscow and Beijing are worried and will be watching events closely to see what happens next.

If Washington ramps up its relations with Hanoi in response to Duterte’s victory in the Philippines, and and seeks to replace the Philippines with Vietnam in its Pivot to Asia strategy, then this could shift the centre of the regional confrontation with China that the “containment” strategy entails from the South China Sea to the Indochinese mainland.

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Understanding the Holodomor and why Russia says nothing

A descendant of Holodomor victims takes the rest of us to school as to whether or not Russia needs to shoulder the blame.

Seraphim Hanisch

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One of the charges that nationalist Ukrainians often lodge against their Russian neighbors is that the Russian government has never acknowledged or formally apologized to Ukraine for the “Holodomor” that took place in Ukraine in 1932-1933. This was a man-made famine that killed an estimated seven to 10 million Ukrainians , though higher estimates claim 12.5 million and lower ones now claim 3.3 million.

No matter what the total was, it amounts to a lot of people that starved to death. The charge that modern-day Russia ought to apologize for this event is usually met with silence, which further enrages those Ukrainians that believe that this issue must be resolved by the Russian acknowledgement of responsibility for it. Indeed, the prime charge of these Ukrainians is that the Russians committed a genocide against the Ukrainian people. This is a claim Russia denies.

To the outside observer who does not know this history of Russia and Ukraine’s relationship, and who does not know or understand the characteristics of the Soviet Union, this charge seems as simple and laid out as that of the Native Americans or the blacks demanding some sort of recompense or restitution for the damages inflicted on these societies through conquest and / or slavery. But we discovered someone who had family connections involved in the Holodomor, and who offers her own perspective, which is instructive in why perhaps the Russian Federation does not say anything about this situation.

Scene in Kharkiv with dead from the famine 1932-33 lying along the street.

The speaker is Anna Vinogradova, a Russian Israeli-American, who answered the question through Quora of “Why doesn’t Russia recognize the Holodomor as a genocide?” She openly admits that she speaks only for herself, but her answer is still instructive. We offer it here, with some corrections for the sake of smooth and understandable English:

I can’t speak for Russia and what it does and doesn’t recognize. I can speak for myself.

I am a great-granddaughter of a “Kulak” (кулак), or well-to-do peasant, who lived close to the Russia/Ukraine border.

The word “кулак” means “fist” in Russian, and it wasn’t a good thing for a person to be called by this label. A кулак was an exploiter of peasants and a class enemy of the new state of workers and poor peasants. In other words, while under Communism, to be called a кулак was to bring a death sentence upon yourself.

At some point, every rural class enemy, every peasant who wasn’t a member of a collective farm was eliminated one way or another.

Because Ukraine has very fertile land and the Ukrainian style of agriculture often favors individual farms as opposed to villages, there is no question that many, many Ukrainian peasants were considered class enemies like my great grandfather, and eliminated in class warfare.

I have no doubt that class warfare included starvation, among other things.

The catch? My great grandfather was an ethnic Russian living in Russia. What nationality were the communists who persecuted and eventually shot him? They were of every nationality there was (in the Soviet Union), and they were led by a Ukrainian, who was taking orders from a Georgian.

Now, tell me, why I, a descendant of an unjustly killed Russian peasant, need to apologize to the descendants of the Ukrainians who killed him on the orders of a Georgian?

What about the Russian, Kazakh golodomor (Russian rendering of the same famine)? What about the butchers, who came from all ethnicities? Can someone explain why it’s only okay to talk about Ukrainian victims and Russian persecutors? Why do we need to rewrite history decades later to convert that brutal class war into an ethnic war that it wasn’t?

Ethnic warfare did not start in Russia until after WWII, when some ethnicities were accused of collaboration with the Nazis and brutal group punishments were implemented. It was all based on class up to that time.

The communists of those years were fanatically internationalist. “Working people of all countries, unite!” was their slogan and they were fanatical about it.

As for the crimes of Communism, Russia has been healing this wound for decades, and Russia’s government has made its anticommunist position very clear.

This testimony is most instructive. First, it points out information that the charge of the Holodomor as “genocide!” neatly leaves out. In identifying the internationalist aspects of the Soviet Union, Ukraine further was not a country identified as somehow worthy of genocidal actions. Such a thought makes no sense, especially given the great importance of Ukraine as the “breadbasket” of the Soviet Union, which it was.

Secondly, it shows a very western-style of “divide to conquer” with a conveniently incendiary single-word propaganda tool that is no doubt able to excite any Ukrainian who may be neutral to slightly disaffected about Russia, and then after that, all Ukrainians are now victims of the mighty evil overlords in Moscow.

How convenient is this when the evil overlords in Kyiv don’t want their citizens to know what they are doing?

We saw this on Saturday – taken to a very high peak when President Petro Poroshenko announced the new leading “Hierarch” of the “Ukrainian National Church” and said not one single word about Christ, but only:

“This day will go down in history as the day of the creation of an autocephalous Orthodox church in Ukraine… This is the day of the creation of the church as an independent structure… What is this church? It is a church without Putin. It is a church without Kirill, without prayer for the Russian authorities and the Russian army.”

But as long as Russia is made the “problem”, millions of scandalized Ukrainians will not care what this new Church actually does or teaches, which means it is likely to teach just about anything.

Russia had its own Holodomor. The history of the event shows that this was a result of several factors – imposed socialist economics on a deeply individualized form of agrarian capitalism (bad for morale and worse for food production), really inane centralized planning of cropland use, and a governmental structure that really did not exist to serve the governed, but to impose an ideology on people who really were not all that interested in it.

Personal blame might well lay with Stalin, a Georgian, but the biggest source of the famine lay in the structures imposed under communism as a way of economic strategy. This is not Russia’s fault. It is the economic model that failed.

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Mueller Finally Releases Heavily Redacted Key Flynn Memo On Eve Of Sentencing

Alex Christoforou

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Via Zerohedge


Having initially snubbed Judge Emmet Sullivan’s order to release the original 302 report from the Michael Flynn interrogation in January 2017, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has finally produced the heavily redacted document, just hours before sentencing is due to be handed down.

The memo  – in full below – details then-national security adviser Michael Flynn’s interview with FBI agents Peter Strzok and Joe Pientka, and shows Flynn was repeatedly asked about his contacts with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and in each instance, Flynn denied (or did not recall) any such conversations.

The agents had transcripts of Flynn’s phone calls to Russian Ambassador Kislyak, thus showing Flynn to be lying.

Flynn pleaded guilty guilty last December to lying to the FBI agents about those conversations with Kislyak.

The redactions in the document seem oddly placed but otherwise, there is nothing remarkable about the content…

Aside from perhaps Flynn’s incredulity at the media attention…

Flynn is set to be sentenced in that federal court on Tuesday.

Of course, as Christina Laila notes, the real crime is that Flynn was unmasked during his phone calls to Kislyak and his calls were illegally leaked by a senior Obama official to the Washington Post.

*  *  *

Full document below…

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Don’t Laugh : It’s Giving Putin What He Wants

The fact of the matter is that humorous lampooning of western establishment Russia narratives writes itself.

Caitlin Johnstone

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Authored by Caitlin Johnstone:


The BBC has published an article titled “How Putin’s Russia turned humour into a weapon” about the Kremlin’s latest addition to its horrifying deadly hybrid warfare arsenal: comedy.

The article is authored by Olga Robinson, whom the BBC, unhindered by any trace of self-awareness, has titled “Senior Journalist (Disinformation)”. Robinson demonstrates the qualifications and acumen which earned her that title by warning the BBC’s audience that the Kremlin has been using humor to dismiss and ridicule accusations that have been leveled against it by western governments, a “form of trolling” that she reports is designed to “deliberately lower the level of discussion”.

“Russia’s move towards using humour to influence its campaigns is a relatively recent phenomenon,” Robinson explains, without speculating as to why Russians might have suddenly begun laughing at their western accusers. She gives no consideration to the possibility that the tightly knit alliance of western nations who suddenly began hysterically shrieking about Russia two years ago have simply gotten much more ridiculous and easier to make fun of during that time.

Couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the emergence of a demented media environment wherein everything around the world from French protests to American culture wars to British discontent with the European Union gets blamed on Russia without any facts or evidence. Wherein BBC reporters now correct guests and caution them against voicing skepticism of anti-Russia narratives because the UK is in “an information war” with that nation. Wherein the same cable news Russiagate pundit can claim that both Rex Tillerson’s hiring and his later firing were the result of a Russian conspiracy to benefit the Kremlin. Wherein mainstream outlets can circulate blatantly false information about Julian Assange and unnamed “Russians” and then blame the falseness of that reporting on Russian disinformation. Wherein Pokemon Go, cutesy Facebook memes and $4,700 in Google ads are sincerely cited as methods by which Hillary Clinton’s $1.2 billion presidential campaign was outdone. Wherein conspiracy theories that Putin has infiltrated the highest levels of the US government have been blaring on mainstream headline news for two years with absolutely nothing to show for it to this day.

Nope, the only possibility is that the Kremlin suddenly figured out that humor is a thing.

The fact of the matter is that humorous lampooning of western establishment Russia narratives writes itself. The hypocrisy is so cartoonish, the emotions are so breathlessly over-the-top, the stories so riddled with plot holes and the agendas underlying them so glaringly obvious that they translate very easily into laughs. I myself recently authored a satire piece that a lot of people loved and which got picked up by numerous alternative media outlets, and all I did was write down all the various escalations this administration has made against Russia as though they were commands being given to Trump by Putin. It was extremely easy to write, and it was pretty damn funny if I do say so myself. And it didn’t take any Kremlin rubles or dezinformatsiya from St Petersburg to figure out how to write it.

“Ben Nimmo, an Atlantic Council researcher on Russian disinformation, told the BBC that attempts to create funny memes were part of the strategy as ‘disinformation for the information age’,” the article warns. Nimmo, ironically, is himself intimately involved with the British domestic disinformation firm Integrity Initiative, whose shady government-sponsored psyops against the Labour Party have sparked a national scandal that is likely far from reaching peak intensity.

“Most comedy programmes on Russian state television these days are anodyne affairs which either do not touch on political topics, or direct humour at the Kremlin’s perceived enemies abroad,” Robinson writes, which I found funny since I’d just recently read an excellent essay by Michael Tracey titled “Why has late night swapped laughs for lusting after Mueller?”

“If the late night ‘comedy’ of the Trump era has something resembling a ‘message,’ it’s that large segments of the nation’s liberal TV viewership are nervously tracking every Russia development with a passion that cannot be conducive to mental health – or for that matter, political efficacy,” Tracey writes, documenting numerous examples of the ways late night comedy now has audiences cheering for a US intelligence insider and Bush appointee instead of challenging power-serving media orthodoxies as programs like The Daily Show once did.

If you wanted the opposite of “anodyne affairs”, it would be comedians ridiculing the way all the establishment talking heads are manipulating their audiences into supporting the US intelligence community and FBI insiders. It would be excoriating the media environment in which unfathomably powerful world-dominating government agencies are subject to less scrutiny and criticism than a man trapped in an embassy who published inconvenient facts about those agencies. It certainly wouldn’t be the cast of Saturday Night Live singing “All I Want for Christmas Is You” to a framed portrait if Robert Mueller wearing a Santa hat. It doesn’t get much more anodyne than that.

Russia makes fun of western establishment narratives about it because those narratives are so incredibly easy to make fun of that they are essentially asking for it, and the nerdy way empire loyalists are suddenly crying victim about it is itself more comedy. When Guardian writer Carole Cadwalladr began insinuating that RT covering standard newsworthy people like Julian Assange and Nigel Farage was a conspiracy to “boost” those people for the advancement of Russian agendas instead of a news outlet doing the thing that news reporting is, RT rightly made fun of her for it. Cadwalladr reacted to RT’s mockery with a claim that she was a victim of “attacks”, instead of the recipient of perfectly justified ridicule for circulating an intensely moronic conspiracy theory.

Ah well. People are nuts and we’re hurtling toward a direct confrontation with a nuclear superpower. Sometimes there’s nothing else to do but laugh. As Wavy Gravy said, “Keep your sense of humor, my friend; if you don’t have a sense of humor it just isn’t funny anymore.”

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