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The Putin-Trump call: first move towards friendship?

Donald Trump acted with great skill and showed unexpected diplomatic mastery in his first conversation with Russia’s President.

Alexander Mercouris

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The single most important fact known for certain about US President Trump’s and Russian President Putin’s first telephone conversation, with took place yesterday Saturday 28th January 2017, is that it lasted for a whole hour.

That is an unusually long time for two busy leaders such Trump and Putin to spend talking to each other.  It shows that they not only took the call seriously but that they used it to discuss the full range of US-Russia relations, and – perhaps most important of all – to become acquainted with each other.

The last is important because both Trump and Putin are known to be individuals to whom trust and personal contact matter highly.

The importance of trust to both Trump and Putin was discussed in an interesting article by the British journalist Piers Morgan, who is a personal friend of Trump’s, who however has also obtained some unusual (for a British journalist) insight into Putin’s personality as a result of information given him to him about Putin by former US President Bill Clinton

Never break your word to him (Donald Trump -AM). Trump’s a very loyal guy, as I can personally attest. I’d bet very good money that if you keep your word to him, he will keep his to you. Remember, you don’t have to like him to do good business with him. Bill Clinton once told me that when he met with Vladimir Putin, they would eventually throw everyone else out of the room and go hard at each other until they reached points of agreement. Pertinently, Clinton said Putin never reneged on any of those personal agreements. His handshake was his bond. Trump is from that same old school of business dealings. And don’t gloat if you do get what you want tomorrow. Again, Clinton told me that the key aspect to his dealings with Putin was not to claim ‘victory’ or make him lose face back home in Russia. I would strongly recommend you adopt a similar philosophy with President Trump.

Piers Morgan is absolutely right in saying that Putin places an exceptionally high value on honest dealing and trust.  Anyone who has followed Putin’s career closely is aware of the exceptional importance of trust to him.  A key reason why Putin’s personal relationship with former US President Obama collapsed so completely was because – as a result of Obama’s record of broken promises – Putin decided he could no longer trust him.

The fact that someone like Piers Morgan who knows Trump well says that for Trump trust and honest dealing are equally important, is a good sign for Trump’s and Putin’s future relationship.

As for the contents of the first ever conversation between Trump and Putin, the Kremlin has provided an unusually detailed summary

Vladimir Putin congratulated Donald Trump on taking office and wished him every success in his work.

During the conversation, both sides expressed their readiness to make active joint efforts to stabilise and develop Russia-US cooperation on a constructive, equitable and mutually beneficial basis.

Mr Putin and Mr Trump had a detailed discussion of pressing international issues, including the fight against terrorism, the situation in the Middle East, the Arab-Israeli conflict, strategic stability and non-proliferation, the situation with Iran’s nuclear programme, and the Korean Peninsula issue. The discussion also touched upon the main aspects of the Ukrainian crisis. The sides agreed to build up partner cooperation in these and other areas.

The two leaders emphasised that joining efforts in fighting the main threat – international terrorism – is a top priority. The presidents spoke out for establishing real coordination of actions between Russia and the USA aimed at defeating ISIS and other terrorists groups in Syria.

The sides stressed the importance of rebuilding mutually beneficial trade and economic ties between the two counties’ business communities, which could give an additional impetus to progressive and sustainable development of bilateral relations.

Mr Putin and Mr Trump agreed to issue instructions to work out the possible date and venue for their meeting.

Donald Trump asked to convey his wishes of happiness and prosperity to the Russian people, saying that the American people have warm feelings towards Russia and its citizens.

Vladimir Putin, in turn, emphasised that the feeling is mutual, adding that for over two centuries Russia has supported the United States, was its ally during the two world wars, and now sees the United States as a major partner in fighting international terrorism.

The two leaders agreed to maintain regular personal contacts.

The conversation took place in a positive and constructive atmosphere.

The single most important words in this summary are those in the last few paragraphs.

Trump – most unusually for a US President – went out of his way to wish “happiness and prosperity to the Russian people” and to assure Putin that “the American people have warm feelings towards Russia and its citizens”.

That is exactly the right way to get on the right side of Putin, who has had to endure decades of criticism, abuse and lectures, not just of himself but also of Russia, from US and Western leaders.  Such warm words from a US President are not something Putin has been hearing recently, and he was clearly moved by them, as the warm way he reciprocated shows

Vladimir Putin, in turn, emphasised that the feeling is mutual, adding that for over two centuries Russia has supported the United States, was its ally during the two world wars, and now sees the United States as a major partner in fighting international terrorism

The reference to the “two centuries Russia has supported the United States” refers to Russia’s support to the American colonists during the American War of Independence, and to the US during the civil war.

Note that Putin also referred to Russia being the US’s ally during the two world wars, as opposed to saying that it was the US which had been Russia’s ally.

In other words, in response to Trump’s warm words about Russia and its people, Putin went out of his way to assure Trump that Russia wants to be the US’s friend, and its ally in the war against ISIS and Jihadi terrorism, as it was its ally in the world wars in the past.

The Kremlin summary ends with words once common in official summaries of diplomatic exchanges but which are rarely used today

The conversation took place in a positive and constructive atmosphere

That this was actually so is shown by the positive comments from US and Russian officials in the hours following the call.  As anyone who has worked in a government bureaucracy knows, officials quickly catch the mood of their chiefs, which percolate down the command chain at extraordinary speed.  The fact that officials in both the US and Russia were talking positively about the call in the hours immediately following it is the clearest possible sign that the conversation between the two Presidents went well.

The Kremlin’s summary of the call shows the range of subjects discussed: the Middle East, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Iran nuclear deal, arms control, the crisis in the Korean Peninsula, and of course Ukraine.

Again Putin will have been gratified that a US President is finally talking to him in this way, discussing the full range of international questions with the President of Russia in a way that finally acknowledges Russia’s position as a Great Power.  After the bullying and condescension of the George W. Bush and Barack Obama eras, it will have come as both a relief and a pleasure.

The focus of the conversation was however clearly the putative alliance the US and Russia are forming to fight ISIS and Jihadi terrorism together.  Putin has been calling for this since his speech to the UN General Assembly in September 2015.  As recently as September 2016 the Kerry-Lavrov agreement appeared to have agreed this, only for the alliance to be sabotaged by the Pentagon and the hardliners in the Obama administration.  Now that the sabotage of these people is in the past, it appears that this alliance is actually finally happening.

On the subject of the sanctions the Kremlin’s summary of the Trump-Putin conversation has nothing to say, but it does contain an extended passage about a joint desire to develop economic and commercial relations which does indirectly touch on the question of the sanctions

The sides stressed the importance of rebuilding mutually beneficial trade and economic ties between the two countries’ business communities, which could give an additional impetus to progressive and sustainable development of bilateral relations.

Since he became US President Donald Trump’s closeness to the US oil industry has become increasingly clear, and Trump has of course picked Rex Tillerson – Exxon’s former CEO – as his choice for Secretary of State.

The US oil industry has an understandable interest in working with Russia – the world’s biggest energy producer – and that is probably where the initial contacts between “the two countries’ business communities” mentioned in the Kremlin summary will start.

The key point – which both Trump and Putin of course know – is that this cannot happen without the sanctions being lifted.  The fact that Trump and Putin talked about establishing “mutually beneficial trade and economic ties between the two countries’ business communities” therefore means that Trump is fully resolved to lift the sanctions as soon as he feels he can, even if for political reasons he cannot for the moment say so.

On the subject of the US-Russian trade relationship, Trump and Putin touched on another important point.  This is that – as many commentators on international affairs acknowledge – the almost complete lack of economic contacts between the US and Russia has up to now has been a major cause in the repeated failure of their political relationship.

Both men clearly understand this, and realise that it is the development of strong commercial and trade relations between the US and Russia which is needed in order to underpin their political relationship so as to make it both successful and permanent.  The wording of the Kremlin’s summary of their conversation (“the importance of rebuilding mutually beneficial trade and economic ties….which could give an additional impetus to progressive and sustainable development of bilateral relations”) shows this.

In summary, the conversation between Trump and Putin went well, as well indeed as could be expected.  As the Piers Morgan article shows, the two men have a great deal in common even if their personalities are in many ways very different.

The direction of the conversation also shows something else.  This is that Donald Trump has an understanding of human psychology, and possesses diplomatic skills, which few up to now have credited him with.  He seems to have conducted his conversation with Putin with great skill.  For the first time since he became Russia’s leader Putin appears to have a US President who appears to have diplomatic skills to match his own.

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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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