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Will Putin run again for President? Here’s why he probably will and why he should

No sign of anyone else being prepared for the post, and with the international situation so tense Putin should stay

Alexander Mercouris

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This article was first published by RussiaFeed

As 2017 approaches its close, and as the Presidential election in March next year looms closer, the rumour mill in Moscow is working over time speculating about Putin’s intentions.

Whilst most expect Putin to run again, there are some suggestions that he is thinking of an exit, and is considering nominating a successor.

Names which typically get mentioned are Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s Prime Minister, who was Russia’s President between 2008 and 2012, and Lieutenant General Alexey Dyumin, who is currently the Governor of Tula Region.

I have no idea what Putin’s plans are and I doubt that any one of those speculating does either, though I am sure that the top people in the Kremlin all know.  However, I would personally be very surprised if Putin decides not to run again.

Not only does his immense popularity all but guarantee his victory, but there is no indication that anyone else is being prepared to take over from him, which I would expect to be visibly the case by now if Putin really has decided not to run.

The two candidates that most often get mentioned – Prime Minister Medvedev and Lieutenant General Dyumin – are cases in point.

Medvedev has had a low profile recently, and especially because he was President previously I would have thought that if there was a plan for him to run again steps would have been taken by now to bring him forward and to raise his profile.

As for Dyumin, he is clearly an interesting man, with an impressive record in Russia’s military and intelligence services, who apparently played an important role in the events in Ukraine and Crimea in 2014.

Moreover as an ex-military officer he is the sort of person who would be likely to appeal to what might be loosely called the “left patriotic” side of Russia’s political spectrum.

However Dyumin’s entire career up to his appointment in 2016 as the Tula Region’s Governor was in the military, intelligence and security services.

He has no background in Russia’s central civilian institutions – the Presidential Administration and the Russian government – whilst his position as Governor of the Tula Region, though a very important one, places him well outside the centre of power in the Kremlin.

Dyumin is clearly someone to watch, and his appointment as Governor of the Tula Region may have been intended to bring him closer to the Russian people and to give him experience of Russia’s civilian administration in preparation for greater things.

However it is important to remember that the Tula Region is an important centre of Russia’s defence industries, so appointing a military officer as its Governor at a time when the Russian military is in the throws of a complex period of rearmament is perhaps not quite as surprising as it is sometimes made to appear.

Regardless, it seems on the face of it unlikely that Dyumin’s time is now.

At 45 he has plenty of time ahead of him, and if at some point he is given a job in Russia’s government or in the Kremlin he will become someone to take very seriously.

However realistically, if he is being considered as a possible future President, then that looks more likely to be in 2024 than in 2018.

There are other possible candidates who might at a stretch stand in Putin’s place in the election next year.

Obvious names are Sergey Shoigu – Russia’s extremely popular and very capable Defence Minister – and Valentina Matviyenko, the ambitious chair of Russia’s Federation Council (the upper house of Russia’s parliament) who has been performing important diplomatic tasks recently.

However again I see little evidence that any of these people are being brought forward in a way that might suggest that they are being prepared to stand for President next year.

In my opinion the delay in announcing that Putin will run is probably explained by a wish to avoid the confusion that arose on the last occasion when that happened in 2011.

It is generally accepted that on that occasion the announcement was botched, giving a further spark to the street protests that took place that year.

My guess is that the Kremlin this time wants to keep the election period as short as possible so as to avoid anything like that happening again, which is why the announcement that Putin is standing again is being delayed to the last possible moment.

However in saying all this a word of caution is in order.

On the last two occasions when Russia held Presidential elections – in 2008 and in 2012 – I got the Presidential nominee in both cases wrong.

In 2008 I expected Putin to nominate his longstanding ally Sergey Ivanov, but he chose Dmitry Medvedev instead.  In 2012 I expected Medvedev to stand again, but he and Putin decided that it should be Putin who would run instead.

Obviously those mistakes make me less confident about my predictions for next year.

Of two things however I am sure.

The first is that an article which recently appeared in the Independent saying that Putin is “tired” is certainly wrong.  Bryan MacDonald has provided a detailed response, but to see why the article is wrong it is only necessary to look at what Putin has been doing over the last few days.

Over the last week Putin has (1) chaired a key meeting of his military and defence industry chiefs; (2) met with Presidents Assad of Syria and Zeman of the Czech Republic; (3) is about to meet with Presidents Erdogan of Turkey, Rouhani of Iran, and Al-Bashir of Sudan; (4) has had a series of telephone conversations with President Trump of the United States, President Sisi of Egypt, King Salman of Saudi Arabia, Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel, and the Emir of Qatar; (5) has travelled to Crimea to unveil a monument to Tsar Alexander III; and has had well publicised meetings with (6) Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin (to discuss production of Russia’s supersonic TU-160 bomber); (7) the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia; and (8) the head of Russia’s taxation service.

This pace of activity does not suggest someone who is “tired”.

Irrespective of what Putin’s plans are, my clear view is that this would be completely the wrong moment for him to leave the Presidency.

Relations with the West remain extremely tense.  Vacating the Presidency to someone else will be seen as a sign of weakness in the West, and may lead to exorbitant and dangerous expectations of a change of course.  After all that is what happened when Putin left the Presidency in 2008.

Far from this reducing tensions it is easy to see how after a brief thaw this could heighten tensions further.

That too after all is what happened after Putin left the Presidency in 2008, with the so-called ‘reset’ quickly followed by the so-called ‘second Cold War’.

Far better that the Western powers should be made to understand that no change in direction or policy in Russia is going to happen, so that they eventually accommodate themselves to this fact.  Knowledge that Putin will continue to be around for a further six years is the only obvious way to do it.

The situation in the Middle East remains extremely unsettled, with all eyes on Russia to achieve a fair and equitable settlement of the Syrian war.

That requires someone with great experience and authority and supreme diplomatic skills to see the process through.  No potential successor to Putin has these qualities – all of which require long experience to acquire – to anything like the degree that Putin does.

Closer to home, the situation in Ukraine remains extremely dangerous.

The peace process in the conflict in the Donbass is at an impasse, with low level fighting on the contact line going on all the time.  Despite occasional claims of stabilisation, the pressure on living standards in the rest of Ukraine continues, with the underlying economic dynamics continuing to spiral down.

Political pressures appear to be increasing, with Poroshenko’s popularity having collapsed, and with a protest tent city once more on Maidan Square, but with no one having the authority or the popularity to take over.

In such a situation the danger of a further escalation in the conflict and of a further outbreak of violence is very real, with the Maidan government already embroiled in bitter quarrels with its former ‘friends’: Poland, Belarus and Hungary, and fully capable of restarting the war at any time.

It is probably not an exaggeration to say that it is fear of Putin that is at least in part responsible for keeping the situation in Ukraine in check, and if he goes there has to be a very real danger that a simultaneously pressured and emboldened Kiev might see this as a sign of weakness and go for broke by restarting the war.

Were such a thing to happen would an inexperienced and untried successor to Putin know how to handle it, especially given that Ukraine would probably once more have Western support?

Putin has also developed an exceptional rapport with any number of world leaders eg. Xi Jinping of China, Modi of India, Erdogan of Turkey, Salman of Saudi Arabia, Netanyahu of Israel, Sisi of Egypt, and Abe of Japan.

Such a rapport is not automatically transferable to a successor, and at a time when the international situation is so tense it looks reckless to throw this asset away.

Turning to Russia’s domestic situation, the country has now exited recession but the very tight (in my opinion over-tight) monetary policy followed by the Central Bank – which is now being criticised by no less an institution than the IMF – has slowed growth and depressed living standards even as inflation has fallen faster than expected.

Putin’s immense popularity has limited the political damage, but there can be no assurance that this will continue under a less popular successor.

More than anything else what Russia needs now is political stability so that the hard work of stabilising the economy and of reducing inflation following the oil price fall and the 2015 inflation spike is given time to bear fruit.

There are good reasons to think that sometime after 2018 things will start to improve both internationally and domestically, with the Syrian war ended, relations with China continuing to deepen, a new more amenable post-Merkel government in Germany, possibly a more civil relationship with the US, and the economy putting on growth.

That will be the time for Putin to think about going and to prepare a successor, who might be Dyumin or someone else.

To do so now by contrast looks premature and reckless, putting everything which has been achieved at risk, and I hope Putin and his colleagues recognise the fact.

 

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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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