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Britain and Germany: Calls for End of NATO Expansion and Dialogue with Russia

Aggressive rhetoric at Warsaw Summit cannot conceal growing doubts about the whole direction of NATO strategy.

Alexander Mercouris

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As NATO cranks up the rhetoric against Russia and deploys troops on Russia’s border, ever more insistent calls for dialogue get made.

The French, Italian, Bulgarian and Greek leaderships have all distanced themselves from the rhetoric coming out of the NATO summit in Warsaw, with all of them saying that they consider Russia a partner rather than an enemy.  Germany appears split with Merkel predictably taking a hardline but her SPD and CSU coalition partners making it quite clear they disagree with her. 

The clearest view of SPD thinking is set out in a lengthy article that recently appeared in Der Spiegel.  As has to be the case in Europe today the author of the article, Wolfgang Ischinger, has felt obliged to fill the article with lengthy denunciations of Russian policy and absurdly exaggerated claims of Russian weakness.  Whilst these ritual comments doubtless cause great offense in Russia, they should be seen for what they are: an affirmation of loyalty by the writer to the Western Alliance without which he would have no hope of being heard.  Russian writers who lived through the Soviet period will be familiar with this device.

The key point about the Der Spiegel article is that it attacks both NATO enlargement and strategic missile defense.  The key paragraphs – written in highly elliptical language which all but confirms that the article forms part of a high level discussion within the German government, are these:

“One of two key pillars of NATO’s policy from the 1990s, developing the relationship with Russia, has not been successful. The two pillars — NATO enlargement on the one hand, and a new quality of NATO-Russia relations on the other — were supposed to be equally important. That was the understanding reached in Madrid in 1997. Unfortunately, we failed to develop the second pillar as planned, while further enlargement rounds were prepared and successfully implemented. When US President George W. Bush tried to advance Ukraine’s and Georgia’s NATO membership prospects in 2008 against stiff Russian opposition, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy finally pulled the emergency brake. But by that time, the relationship with Russia was already seriously damaged, as President Putin pointed out in Munich in 2007.

In 2008, Georgia and Ukraine were promised NATO membership — without any date attached. Do we stand by this promise? Or has this become an empty pledge? If so, does this mean that we carry some responsibility for the fact that both countries have de facto lost parts of their territory since? Should we encourage both countries today to continue on the NATO track, or should we instead encourage them to follow the Finnish or Austrian models, in order to ease the situation politically and militarily, and in order to normalise their economic relationship with Russia? But would that not mean that we abandon our own principles, in particular that of the free choice of alliances? Would that not lead to a massive loss of our credibility? Or, if we invite them to stay on the NATO track, are we prepared and determined to assure the economic survival of both countries by offering sustained and comprehensive political and financial support? Are we prepared to say we will do whatever it takes in order to create a greater sense of stability and confidence in Kiev and Tbilisi? We have to confront these and other questions, even if they may require painful responses. Strategic clarity is required if we want to bring the current crisis of European security to an end.

We might also ask ourselves whether now was really the right time to take the next steps on ballistic missile defence, which has long been the subject of such heavy criticism from Russia? Would it not have been better to take a breather? Why the rush?”

Ischinger is being frankly disingenuous in his list of open questions in his key middle paragraph.  He knows perfectly well the answer to all these questions.  He also knows that the German elite also knows the answers.  The German and European publics are not willing to make the sort of political, economic and military sacrifices required to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO.  Therefore, following his logic, it is a mistake to put in jeopardy peace in Europe and the future of the NATO alliance by admitting them.  In place of NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine the Finnish and Austrian models her refers to are obviously the ones he favours for these countries, which is why he mentions them.

Not only is this a call to stop further NATO expansion but the first paragraph also clearly shows that Ischinger thinks earlier NATO expansion was misconceived and is what has caused the crisis in Europe.  In other words, despite all that Ischinger says elsewhere in his article, it is Western not Russian policy that is the problem.

Whilst NATO expansion is being criticised in Germany, it is coming in for more criticism in Britain, the one Western country that has up to now been its most vocal supporter.

The British parliament’s Defence Committee recently delivered a lengthy report on the state of British-Russian relations.  As with the Ischinger article much of the report contains the usual criticisms of Russia that have now become standard in the West.  However buried within these criticisms is a series of recommendations that point in the diametrically opposite direction.

Firstly, the report urgently calls for a resumption of a high level political dialogue with Russia and expresses dismay that this is not happening.  In doing so it makes it clear that the fault for this rests wholly with the British.

Secondly, the report expresses alarm at the lack of qualified experts of Russia advising the British government.  As I know for myself this criticism is completely valid.   The situation is indeed every bit as bad as the Committee says.  I would add that this recommendation seems to me an implicit criticism of the quality of some of the experts (who included people like Lilia Shevtsova and Peter Pomerantsev) the Committee heard from.

Far more important however is what the Committee says about NATO expansion.  It finally admits that Russian concerns about NATO expansion are sincere even if it says they are wrong.  More importantly it warns against expanding NATO to include states NATO is unable or unwilling to defend.  The relevant paragraph – written in extremely careful language but written in bold for added emphasis – reads as follows:

“However, in our view, we should be aware of the dangers of undermining the credibility of the Article 5 guarantee—and thus of the entire alliance—by offering NATO membership to states which a potential adversary would not believe we would go to war to defend. We should therefore make it clear that NATO would take Article 5 action in respect of any new member country before it was allowed to join the Alliance.”

It is impossible to see this as anything other than a warning against extending NATO membership to Ukraine and Georgia, two countries which in the recent past NATO has shown it is not prepared to defend.  Moreover the justification – an unwillingness to bear the sacrifices of expansion – is the same as the one made by Ischinger.

The Defence Committee report is not intended for a wide readership.  Unlike the Der Spiegel article it is therefore definitely part of an internal elite dialogue.  None of the people who sit on the Defence Committee can by any stretch be considered pro-Russian appeasers and in the rest of their report they go to inordinate lengths to make that clear.  Thus they even call for the renewal of  sanctions against Russia even whilst admitting they are not working.

Nonetheless it is striking that in two leading NATO states – Germany and Britain – calls for dialogue with Russia and a halt to further NATO expansion are – however elliptically – now being made, and that these are being justified with the same reasons.

The debate within NATO is not ended but the neocon agenda of perpetual NATO expansion and confrontation with Russia is now finally being challenged – though very late in the day – from within the heart of the NATO elite.  It seems that regardless of the outcome of the election in the US in November the high tide of NATO expansion may be over.

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Foreign Banks Are Embracing Russia’s Alternative To SWIFT, Moscow Says

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative.

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Via Zerohedge


On Friday, one day after Russia and China pledged to reduce their reliance on the dollar by increasing the amount of bilateral trade conducted in rubles and yuan (a goal toward which much progress has already been made over the past three years), Russia’s Central Bank provided the latest update on Moscow’s alternative to US-dominated international payments network SWIFT.

Moscow started working on the project back in 2014, when international sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea inspired fears that the country’s largest banks would soon be cut off from SWIFT which, though it’s based in Belgium and claims to be politically neutral, is effectively controlled by the US Treasury.

Today, the Russian alternative, known as the System for Transfer of Financial Messages, has attracted a modest amount of support within the Russian business community, with 416 Russian companies having joined as of September, including the Russian Federal Treasury and large state corporations likeGazprom Neft and Rosneft.

And now, eight months after a senior Russian official advised that “our banks are ready to turn off SWIFT,” it appears the system has reached another milestone in its development: It’s ready to take on international partners in the quest to de-dollarize and end the US’s leverage over the international financial system. A Russian official advised that non-residents will begin joining the system “this year,” according to RT.

“Non-residents will start connecting to us this year. People are already turning to us,”said First Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Russia Olga Skorobogatova. Earlier, the official said that by using the alternative payment system foreign firms would be able to do business with sanctioned Russian companies.

Turkey, China, India and others are among the countries that might be interested in a SWIFT alternative, as Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed out in a speech earlier this month, the US’s willingness to blithely sanction countries from Iran to Venezuela and beyond will eventually rebound on the US economy by undermining the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency.

To be sure, the Russians aren’t the only ones building a SWIFT alternative to help avoid US sanctions. Russia and China, along with the European Union are launching an interbank payments network known as the Special Purpose Vehicle to help companies pursue “legitimate business with Iran” in defiance of US sanctions.

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative. For one, much of Europe is dependent on Russian natural gas and oil.

And as Russian trade with other US rivals increases, Moscow’s payments network will look increasingly attractive,particularly if buyers of Russian crude have no other alternatives to pay for their goods.

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US leaving INF will put nuclear non-proliferation at risk & may lead to ‘complete chaos’

The US is pulling out of a nuclear missile pact with Russia. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty requires both countries to eliminate their short and medium-range atomic missiles.

The Duran

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Via RT


If the US ditches the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), it could collapse the entire nuclear non-proliferation system, and bring nuclear war even closer, Russian officials warn.

By ending the INF, Washington risks creating a domino effect which could endanger other landmark deals like the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and collapse the existing non-proliferation mechanism as we know it, senior lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev said on Sunday.

The current iteration of the START treaty, which limits the deployment of all types of nuclear weapons, is due to expire in 2021. Kosachev, who chairs the Parliament’s Upper House Foreign Affairs Committee, warned that such an outcome pits mankind against “complete chaos in terms of nuclear weapons.”

“Now the US Western allies face a choice: either embarking on the same path, possibly leading to new war, or siding with common sense, at least for the sake of their self-preservation instinct.”

His remarks came after US President Donald Trump announced his intentions to “terminate” the INF, citing alleged violations of the deal by Russia.

Moscow has repeatedly denied undermining the treaty, pointing out that Trump has failed to produce any evidence of violations. Moreover, Russian officials insist that the deployment of US-made Mk 41 ground-based universal launching systems in Europe actually violates the agreement since the launchers are capable of firing mid-range cruise missiles.

Leonid Slutsky, who leads the Foreign Affairs Committee in parliament’s lower chamber, argued that Trump’s words are akin to placing “a huge mine under the whole disarmament process on the planet.”

The INF Treaty was signed in 1987 by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The deal effectively bans the parties from having and developing short- and mid-range missiles of all types. According to the provisions, the US was obliged to destroy Pershing I and II launcher systems and BGM-109G Gryphon ground-launched cruise missiles. Moscow, meanwhile, pledged to remove the SS-20 and several other types of missiles from its nuclear arsenal.

Pershing missiles stationed in the US Army arsenal. © Hulton Archive / Getty Images ©

By scrapping the historic accord, Washington is trying to fulfill its “dream of a unipolar world,” a source within the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

“This decision fits into the US policy of ditching the international agreements which impose equal obligations on it and its partners, and render the ‘exceptionalism’ concept vulnerable.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov denounced Trump’s threats as “blackmail” and said that Washington wants to dismantle the INF because it views the deal as a “problem” on its course for “total domination” in the military sphere.

The issue of nuclear arms treaties is too vital for national and global security to rush into hastily-made “emotional” decisions, the official explained. Russia is expecting to hear more on the US’ plans from Trump’s top security adviser, John Bolton, who is set to hold talks in Moscow tomorrow.

President Trump has been open about unilaterally pulling the US out of various international agreements if he deems them to be damaging to national interests. Earlier this year, Washington withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear program. All other signatories to the landmark agreement, including Russia, China, and the EU, decided to stick to the deal, while blasting Trump for leaving.

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Converting Khashoggi into Cash

After two weeks of denying any connection to Khashoggi’s disappearance, Riyadh has admitted that he was killed by Saudi operatives but it wasn’t really on purpose.

Jim Jatras

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Authored by James George Jatras via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The hazard of writing about the Saudis’ absurd gyrations as they seek to avoid blame for the murder of the late, not notably great journalist and Muslim Brotherhood activist Jamal Khashoggi is that by the time a sentence is finished, the landscape may have changed again.

As though right on cue, the narrative has just taken another sharp turn.

After two weeks of denying any connection to Khashoggi’s disappearance, Riyadh has ‘fessed up (sorta) and admitted that he was killed by Saudi operatives but it wasn’t really on purpose:

Y’see, it was kinda’f an ‘accident.’

Oops…

Y’see the guys were arguing, and … uh … a fistfight broke out.

Yeah, that’s it … a ‘fistfight.’

And before you know it poor Jamal had gone all to pieces.

Y’see?

Must’ve been a helluva fistfight.

The figurative digital ink wasn’t even dry on that whopper before American politicos in both parties were calling it out:

  • “To say that I am skeptical of the new Saudi narrative about Mr. Khashoggi is an understatement,” tweeted Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. “First we were told Mr. Khashoggi supposedly left the consulate and there was blanket denial of any Saudi involvement. Now, a fight breaks out and he’s killed in the consulate, all without knowledge of Crown Prince. It’s hard to find this latest ‘explanation‘ as credible.”
  • California Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that the new Saudi explanation is “not credible.” “If Khashoggi was fighting inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, he was fighting for his life with people sent to capture or kill him,” Schiff said. “The kingdom and all involved in this brutal murder must be held accountable, and if the Trump administration will not take the lead, Congress must.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan must think he’s already died and gone to his eternal recreation in the amorous embraces of the dark-eyed houris. The acid test for the viability of Riyadh’s newest transparent lie is whether the Turks actually have, as they claim, live recordings of Khashoggi’s interrogation, torture, murder, and dismemberment (not necessarily in that order) – and if they do, when Erdogan decides it’s the right time to release them.

Erdogan has got the Saudis over a barrel and he’ll squeeze everything he can out of them.

From the beginning, the Khashoggi story wasn’t really about the fate of one man. The Saudis have been getting away with bloody murder, literally, for years. They’re daily slaughtering the civilian population of Yemen with American and British help, with barely a ho-hum from the sensitive consciences always ready to invoke the so-called “responsibility to protect” Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo, Libya, Syria, Xinjiang, Rakhine, and so forth.

Where’s the responsibility not to help a crazed bunch of Wahhabist head-choppers kill people?

But now, just one guy meets a grisly end and suddenly it’s the most important homicide since the Lindbergh baby.

What gives?

Is it because Khashoggi was part of the MSM aristocracy, on account of his relationship with the Washington Post?

Was it because of his other, darker, connections? As related by Moon of Alabama: “Khashoggi was a rather shady guy. A ‘journalist’ who was also an operator for Saudi and U.S. intelligence services. He was an early recruit of the Muslim Brotherhood.” This relationship, writes MoA, touches on the interests of pretty much everyone in the region:

“The Ottoman empire ruled over much of the Arab world. The neo-Ottoman wannabe-Sultan Recep Tayyip Erdogan would like to regain that historic position for Turkey. His main competition in this are the al-Sauds. They have much more money and are strategically aligned with Israel and the United States, while Turkey under Erdogan is more or less isolated. The religious-political element of the competition is represented on one side by the Muslim Brotherhood, ‘democratic’ Islamists to which Erdogan belongs, and the Wahhabi absolutists on the other side.”

With the noose tightening around Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS), the risible fistfight cock-and-bull story is likely to be the best they can come up with. US President Donald Trump’s having offered his “rogue killers” opening suggests he’s willing to play along. Nobody will really be fooled, but MbS will hope he can persuade important people to pretend they are fooled.

That will mean spreading around a lot of cash. The new alchemy of converting Khashoggi dead into financial gain for the living is just one part of an obvious scheme to pull off what Libya’s Muammar Kaddafi managed after the 1988 Lockerbie bombing: offer up some underlings as the fall guys and let the top man evade responsibility. (KARMA ALERT: That didn’t do Kaddafi any good in the long run.)

In the Saudi case the Lockerbie dodge will be harder, as there are already pictures of men at the Istanbul Consulate General identified as close associates of MbS. But they’ll give it the old madrasa try anyway since it’s all they’ve got.Firings and arrests have started and one suspect has already died in a suspicious automobile “accident.” Heads will roll!

Saving MbS’s skin and his succession to the throne of his doddering father may depend on how many of the usual recipients of Saudi – let’s be honest – bribery and influence peddling will find sufficient pecuniary reason to go along. Saudi Arabia’s unofficial motto with respect to the US establishment might as well be: “The green poultice heals all wounds.”

Anyway, that’s been their experience up to now, but it also in part reflects the same arrogance that made MbS think he could continue to get away with anything. (It’s not shooting someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue, but it’s close.) Whether spreading cash around will continue to have the same salubrious effect it always has had in the past remains to be seen.

To be sure, Trump may succeed in shaking the Saudi date palm for additional billions for arms sales. That won’t necessarily turn around an image problem that may not have a remedy. But still, count on more cash going to high-price lobbying and image-control shops eager to make obscene money working for their obscene client. Some big American names are dropping are dropping Riyadh in a sudden fit of fastidiousness, but you can bet others will be eager to step into their Guccis, both in the US and in the United Kingdom. (It should never be forgotten how closely linked the US and UK establishments are in the Middle East, and to the Saudis in particular.)

It still might not work though. No matter how much expensive PR lipstick the spinmeisters put on this pig, that won’t make it kissable. It’s still a pig.

Others benefitting from hanging Khashoggi’s death around MbS’s neck are:

  • Qatar (after last year’s invasion scare, there’s no doubt a bit of Schadenfreude and (figurative) champagne corks popping in Doha over MbS’s discomfiture. As one source close to the ruling al-Thani family relates, “The Qataris are stunned speechless at Saudi incompetence!” You just can’t get good help these days).

Among the losers one must count Israel and especially Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. MbS, with his contrived image as the reformer, was the Sunni “beard” he needed to get the US to assemble an “Arab NATO” (as though one NATO weren’t bad enough!) and eliminate Iran for him. It remains to be seen how far that agenda has been set back.

Whether or not MbS survives or is removed – perhaps with extreme prejudice – there’s no doubt Saudi Arabia is the big loser. Question are being asked that should have been asked years ago. As Srdja Trifkovic comments in Chronicles magazine:

“The crown prince’s recklessness in ordering the murder of Khashoggi has demonstrated that he is just a standard despot, a Mafia don with oil presiding over an extended cleptocracy of inbred parasites. The KSA will not be reformed because it is structurally not capable of reform. The regime in Riyadh which stops being a playground of great wealth, protected by a large investment in theocratic excess, would not be ‘Saudi’ any longer. Saudia delenda est.”

The first Saudi state, the Emirate of Diriyah, went belly up in 1818, with the death of head of the house of al-Saud, Abdullah bin Saud – actually, literally with his head hung on a gate in Constantinople by Erdogan’s Ottoman predecessor, Sultan Mahmud II.

The second Saudi state, Emirate of Nejd, likewise folded in 1891.

It’s long past time this third and current abomination joined its antecedents on the ash heap of history.

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