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The deal Russia wants from Donald Trump

Any comprehensive deal for a genuine reset of relations between a Donald Trump led US and Russia will have to address the three issues that concern the Russians most. These are (1) NATO expansion; (2) anti ballistic missile defence; and (3) the US’s regime change policy.

Alexander Mercouris

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As Donald Trump edges towards the White House and calls for a deal with Russia, it might help him to assess what sort of deal the Russia would be looking for from him.

There is a vast pall of misunderstanding in the West about this subject in large part because Western coverage of Russia over the last decade has been so intense and distorted that it has distorted the understanding of even the most hardheaded of Western policy makers.

Firstly it is essential to put aside some of the common myths that become encrusted around this subject.

The Russians do not want to re-establish the USSR and nor are they seeking a sphere of influence over the former Warsaw Pact countries of Eastern Europe.  They do not expect NATO to disappear any time soon, and they do not want the EU to break up.  They have no intention of invading the Baltic States.  At some point they do want the sanctions the West has imposed on them lifted, but as I have written, this is not for them a priority.

One should also put aside some of the more nebulous claims which are commonly made about Russia.

The Russians do not think of themselves as a superpower coequal to the US, and they do not demand that they be treated like one.  There is a huge literature in the West about the offence Obama is supposed to have caused in Russia when he called Russia a “regional power”.  Some people in Russia might have been offended, but it is inconceivable that President Putin was because that is what he has repeatedly said himself.  As The Saker has written, the whole Russian defence posture is based around that concept, with Russia neither having nor aspiring to a global role.

Russian policy towards the US is not constructed around such grandiose and unrealistic schemes or nebulous feelings, which are the product of Western imagination not Russian reality, and which find no confirmation in the statements of Russia’s leaders.  It is based on tough minded calculations of Russian national interest and Russian security.

If one pays attention to what Russian leaders actually say it becomes clear that there are two overriding issues which concern them most, and which lie at the heart of the crisis in Russia’s relations with the West, and a third issue, which for the Russians is of only slightly lesser importance.

The two key issues are NATO expansion into the territory of the former USSR – which has now come to include EU expansion as well, with the Russians coming to see the EU as NATO’s Trojan Horse – and the placement of US anti ballistic missiles in Eastern Europe.

The third issue is the West’s regime change policy, first and foremost as it pertains to Russia, but also as it is applied everywhere else.

Any deal Donald Trump wants to make with Russia has to address Russian concerns about these questions, if it is to work.

Here it should be said clearly that the Russian objection to the extension of NATO into the territory of the former USSR, and the placement of anti ballistic missiles in Eastern Europe, is driven by no other consideration than the Russian belief – which nothing now can change – that these two actions are directed at themselves.  Western protestations that NATO is a source of stability in Europe and does not threaten Russia, and that the anti ballistic missile deployments in Eastern Europe are aimed not at Russia but at Iran, cut no ice in Moscow, and the sooner this fact is accepted in Western capitals the better.

Moreover the Russians are absolutely right to see NATO expansion and the anti ballistic missile deployments as directed at themselves, because the reality is of course that they are.

Not only does the shrill propaganda campaign about the fictional threat to NATO’s eastern members from Russia show that NATO is still directed at Russia, but the Ukrainian crisis, with a democratically elected government that wanted to maintain ties with Moscow violently and illegally overthrown in order to bring to power a viscerally anti Russian and pro NATO government, confirms as much.

NATO leaders always react furiously whenever a government of a NATO state seems to be edging closer to Moscow.  They should not be surprised if Moscow reacts with equal sensitivity to the far more aggressive Western attempts to overthrow neutral or pro Russian governments in order to install pro Western governments, which can be relied upon to bring their countries into NATO.

On the subject of the anti ballistic missile deployments in Eastern Europe, Russian leaders have expressed their concerns at length, and a careful explanation of Russian concerns has been provided to The Duran by Professor Vladimir Kozin.  I would also refer to the recent masterly study of this issue by Robert Bridge, which shows how US President Obama’s extraordinary duplicity on this issue has all but destroyed trust on arms control between Washington and Moscow.

As to why Russia objects to the US’s regime change policy, Russia would object to it even if it did not directly affect Russia, which of course it does, and even if its application had not been consistently disastrous, which of course it has been.

I explained the reason for Russia’s objection to this policy in a study I did of Russian perspectives of the Syrian crisis, which I wrote back in 2012

The key to understanding Russian policy is to look at what has happened in international relations since the end of the Cold War.  If one does then it becomes clear that a small group of states, namely the United States and Britain but also occasionally France and some other US allies (but significantly not Germany) have appropriated to themselves a licence to overthrow governments of which they disapprove.  They do this through a variety of ways such as by funding and supporting opposition movements and parties (called “democracy promotion”) as happened in Yugoslavia in 2000, by arming rebels as happened in Libya last year and in Syria this year and ultimately by launching military attacks and even invasions of the various states whose governments they want to overthrow.  Examples include Yugoslavia in 1999, Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003 and Libya and Cote d’Ivoire in 2011…..

Though the right to overthrow governments is now taken for granted by the governments of the United States and of Britain and is even passionately believed in by some of their [citizens] its existence is emphatically rejected by other governments in particular those of Russia and China.  These two countries and many others see in it a threat to the political independence of states including ultimately their own….

Russia and China have overwhelmingly strong reasons for taking this stand. Firstly the right the United States and its allies claim for themselves represents an extraordinary and extremely dangerous departure from international law as this has been applied and understood since the end of the Second World War.  Secondly it privileges a small group of very powerful states over all the others.  Moreover and significantly it is a group from which  Russia and China are excluded.  Thirdly it is a right that is very obviously targeted against Russia and China,  It has not escaped Russia’s and China’s attention even if it has escaped the attention of most people in the west that the governments the western powers target for overthrow are invariably governments that are allies or friends of Russia and China.  Lastly and perhaps most importantly, as two countries which have suffered heavily from western aggression in the last two hundred years Russia and China will never agree to any modification of international law that might allow or legitimise it.

(bold italics added)

As it happens Russia has been directly effected by the West’s regime change policy in that it is itself the constant – indeed primary – target of this policy.  This has taken the form of open and aggressively expressed Western support for members of Russia’s liberal opposition who deny the legitimacy of Russia’s government, and who the Russian authorities see as acting on the West’s behalf, and a relentless campaign of harassment and propaganda directed at the Russian government encompassing everything from the Olympic doping scandal to the sanctions, which is obviously at destabilising and delegitimising it.

Over the course of recent months Western leaders – not just in the US – have acted with hyper sensitivity over (unproven) claims of Russian interference in their countries’ internal affairs.  In the US a huge campaign is underway as a result of unproven claims of Russian interference in the US election.  Across the West – not just in the US – there is a massive campaign to suppress or silence supposed manifestations of Russian interference in the West’s internal affairs, of which the whole “fake news” hysteria forms only a part.

If Western leaders react with such hyper sensitivity to even the suspicion of Russian interference in their internal affairs, they should not be surprised that Russian leaders react with equal sensitivity to the far greater and far better documented evidence of Western interference in their internal affairs and in those of their allies.

Setting out these central Russian concerns shows how a deal between Russia and a Donald Trump administration might be possible.

None of Russia’s concerns on any one of these issues affects Western security or impinges on the US’s national interests.  Donald Trump has called NATO “obsolete” and expressed indifference about the EU’s future.  He is clearly uninterested in expanding either into the territory of the former USSR, so he has no reason to feel that he is making any serious concession by agreeing not to do so.  Similarly Donald Trump has already foresworn the whole policy of regime change.  If so then he is already in agreement with the Russians over this issue too.

The major sticking point will be arms control, with trust badly damaged as a result of Obama’s actions, and the Russians almost certainly insisting on the dismantling of the anti ballistic missile systems in Eastern Europe in return for nuclear weapons cuts.  It may not be a coincidence that it was precisely on the issue of arms control that Trump homed into in his interview with The London Times and Bild-Zeitung.

Securing however an agreement to dismantle the anti ballistic missile systems in the teeth of what is likely to be furious opposition from the Congressional leadership, much of the Republican party, and the powerful US armaments lobby, will however be a titanic challenge.

A complex and difficult negotiation lies ahead.  Even on the assumption Donald Trump succeeds in consolidating his control of the US government, it is far from clear it will succeed.  There is however one overwhelmingly point which argues in its favour: on any objective assessment what Russia wants from Donald Trump it is in the US interest for him to give.

The US loses nothing by agreeing to the things Russia wants because they in no want threaten the US’s security or that of its allies.  On the contrary it has been the pursuit of the grand geopolitical strategies of the neocons, with the policies of NATO expansion, anti ballistic missile deployment and regime that go with them, which have brought the US into an impasse.  It is in the US interest and in the interests of the US’s allies to give up on them.

Donald Trump’s comments shows that he has at least some understanding of this fact. It remains to be seen how great understanding is and whether he will be able to put into practice.

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US-China trade war heats up as surplus hits record $34 Billion (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 136.

Alex Christoforou

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According to a report by the AFP, China’s trade surplus with the United States ballooned to a record $34.1 billion in September, despite a raft of US tariffs, official data showed Friday, adding fuel to the fire of a worsening trade war.

Relations between the world’s two largest economies have soured sharply this year, with US President Donald Trump vowing on Thursday to inflict economic pain on China if it does not blink.
The two countries imposed new tariffs on a massive amount of each other’s goods mid-September, with the US targeting $200 billion in Chinese imports and Beijing firing back at $60 billion worth of US goods.

“China-US trade friction has caused trouble and pounded our foreign trade development,” customs spokesman Li Kuiwen told reporters Friday.

But China’s trade surplus with the US grew 10 percent in September from a record $31 billion in August, according to China’s customs administration. It was a 22 percent jump from the same month last year.

China’s exports to the US rose to $46.7 billion while imports slumped to $12.6 billion.

China’s overall trade — what it buys and sells with all countries including the US — logged a $31.7 billion surplus, as exports rose faster than imports.

Exports jumped 14.5 percent for September on-year, beating forecasts from analysts polled by Bloomberg News, while imports rose 14.3 percent on-year.

While the data showed China’s trade remained strong for the month, analysts forecast the trade war will start to hurt in coming months.

China’s export jump for the month suggests exporters were shipping goods early to beat the latest tariffs, said ANZ’s China economist Betty Wang, citing the bounce in electrical machinery exports, much of which faced the looming duties.

“We will watch for downside risks to China’s exports” in the fourth quarter, Wang said.

Analysts say a sharp depreciation of the yuan has also helped China weather the tariffs by making its exports cheaper.

“The big picture is the Chinese exports have so far held up well in the face of escalating trade tensions and cooling global growth, most likely thanks to the competitiveness boost provided by a weaker renminbi (yuan),” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, China economist at Capital Economics.

“With global growth likely to cool further in the coming quarters and US tariffs set to become more punishing, the recent resilience of exports is unlikely to be sustained,” he said.

According to Bloomberg US President Donald Trump’s new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement isn’t that different from the North American Free Trade Agreement that it replaced. But hidden in the bowels of the new trade deal is a clause, Article 32.10, that could have a far-reaching impact. The new agreement requires member states to get approval from the other members if they initiate trade negotiations with a so-called non-market economy. In practice, “non-market” almost certainly means China. If, for example, Canada begins trade talks with China, it has to show the full text of the proposed agreement to the U.S. and Mexico — and if either the U.S. or Mexico doesn’t like what it sees, it can unilaterally kick Canada out of the USMCA.

Although it seems unlikely that the clause would be invoked, it will almost certainly exert a chilling effect on Canada and Mexico’s trade relations with China. Forced to choose between a gargantuan economy across the Pacific and another one next door, both of the U.S.’s neighbors are almost certain to pick the latter.

This is just another part of Trump’s general trade waragainst China. It’s a good sign that Trump realizes that unilateral U.S. efforts alone won’t be enough to force China to make concessions on issues like currency valuation, intellectual-property protection and industrial subsidies. China’s export markets are much too diverse:

If Trump cuts the U.S. off from trade with China, the likeliest outcome is that China simply steps up its exports to other markets. That would bind the rest of the world more closely to China and weaken the global influence of the U.S. China’s economy would take a small but temporary hit, while the U.S. would see its position as the economic center of the world slip into memory.

Instead, to take on China, Trump needs a gang. And that gang has to be much bigger than just North America. But most countries in Europe and East Asia probably can’t be bullied into choosing between the U.S. and China. — their ties to the U.S. are not as strong as those of Mexico and Canada. Countries such as South Korea, Germany, India and Japan will need carrots as well as sticks if they’re going to join a U.S.-led united trade front against China.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the escalating trade war between the United States and China, and the record trade surplus that positions China with a bit more leverage than Trump anticipated.

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Via Zerohedge Trump Threatens China With More Tariffs, Does Not Seek Economic “Depression”

US equity futures dipped in the red after President Trump threatened to impose a third round of tariffs on China and warned that Chinese meddling in U.S. politics was a “bigger problem” than Russian involvement in the 2016 election.

During the same interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes”, in which Trump threatened to impose sanctions against Saudi Arabia if the Saudis are found to have killed WaPo reported Khashoggi, and which sent Saudi stock plunging, Trump said he “might,” impose a new round of tariffs on China, adding that while he has “great chemistry” with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and noting that Xi “wants to negotiate”, he doesn’t “know that that’s necessarily going to continue.” Asked if American products have become more expensive due to tariffs on China, Trump said that “so far, that hasn’t turned out to be the case.”

“They can retaliate, but they can’t, they don’t have enough ammunition to retaliate,” Trump says, “We do $100 billion with them. They do $531 billion with us.”

Trump was also asked if he wants to push China’s economy into a depression to which the US president said “no” before comparing the country’s stock-market losses since the tariffs first launched to those in 1929, the start of the Great Depression in the U.S.

“I want them to negotiate a fair deal with us. I want them to open their markets like our markets are open,” Trump said in the interview that aired Sunday. So far, the U.S. has imposed three rounds of tariffs on Chinese imports totaling $250 billion, prompting China to retaliate against U.S. products. The president previously has threatened to hit virtually all Chinese imports with duties.

Asked about his relationship with Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin’s alleged efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, Trump quickly turned back to China. “They meddled,” he said of Russia, “but I think China meddled too.”

“I think China meddled also. And I think, frankly, China … is a bigger problem,” Trump said, as interviewer Lesley Stahl interrupted him for “diverting” from a discussion of Russia.

Shortly before an audacious speech by Mike Pence last weekend, in which the US vice president effectively declared a new cold war on Beijing (see “Russell Napier: Mike Pence Announces Cold War II”), Trump made similar accusations during a speech at the United Nations last month, which his aides substantiated by pointing to long-term Chinese influence campaigns and an advertising section in the Des Moines Register warning farmers about the potential effects of Trump’s tariffs.

Meanwhile, in a rare U.S. television appearance, China’s ambassador to the U.S. said Beijing has no choice but to respond to what he described as a trade war started by the U.S.

“We never wanted a trade war, but if somebody started a trade war against us, we have to respond and defend our own interests,” said China’s Ambassador Cui Tiankai.

Cui also dismissed as “groundless” the abovementioned suggestion by Vice President Mike Pence that China has orchestrated an effort to meddle in U.S. domestic affairs. Pence escalated the rhetoric in a speech Oct. 4, saying Beijing has created a “a whole-of-government approach” to sway American public opinion, including spies, tariffs, coercive measures and a propaganda campaign.

Pence’s comments were some of the most critical about China by a high-ranking U.S. official in recent memory. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo got a lecture when he visited Beijing days later, about U.S. actions that were termed “completely out of line.” The tough words followed months of increases tit-for-tat tariffs imposed by Washington and Beijing that have ballooned to cover hundreds of billions of dollars in bilateral trade.

During a recent interview with National Public Radio, Cui said the U.S. has “not sufficiently” dealt in good faith with the Chinese on trade matters, saying “the U.S. position keeps changing all the time so we don’t know exactly what the U.S. would want as priorities.”

Meanwhile, White House economic director Larry Kudlow said on “Fox News Sunday” that President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will “probably meet” at the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires in late November. “There’s plans and discussions and agendas” being discussed, he said. So far, talks with China on trade have been “unsatisfactory,” Kudlow said. “We’ve made our asks” on allegations of intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers, he added. “We have to have reciprocity.”

Addressing the upcoming meeting, Cui said he was present at two previous meetings of Xi and Trump, and that top-level communication “played a key role, an irreplaceable role, in guiding the relationship forward.” Despite current tensions the two have a “good working relationship,” he said.

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BREAKING: Explosion in Crimea, Russia kills many, injuring dozens, terrorism suspected

According to preliminary information, the incident was caused by a gas explosion at a college facility in Kerch, Crimea.

The Duran

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“We are clarifying the information at the moment. Preliminary figures are 50 injured and 10 dead. Eight ambulance crews are working at the site and air medical services are involved,” the press-service for the Crimean Ministry of Health stated.

Medics announced that at least 50 people were injured in the explosion in Kerch and 25 have already been taken to local hospital with moderate wounds, according to Sputnik.

Local news outlets reported that earlier in the day, students at the college heard a blast and windows of the building were shattered.

Putin Orders that Assistance Be Provided to Victims of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The president has instructed the Ministry of Health and the rescue services to take emergency measures to assist victims of this explosion, if necessary, to ensure the urgent transportation of seriously wounded patients to leading medical institutions of Russia, whether in Moscow or other cities,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitriy Peskov said.

The president also expressed his condolences to all those affected by the tragic incident.

Manhunt Underway in Kerch as FSB Specialists Investigate Site of Explosion – National Anti-Terrorist Committee

The site of the blast that rocked a city college in Kerch is being examined by FSB bomb disposal experts and law enforcement agencies are searching for clues that might lead to the arrest of the perpetrators, the National Anti Terrorism Committee said in a statement.

“Acting on orders from the head of the NAC’s local headquarters, FSB, Interior Ministry, Russian Guards and Emergency Ministry units have arrived at the site. The territory around the college has been cordoned off and the people inside the building evacuated… Mine-disposal experts are working at the site and law enforcement specialists are investigating,” the statement said.

Terrorist Act Considered as Possible Cause of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The tragic news that comes from Kerch. Explosion. The president was informed … The data on those killed and the number of injured is constantly updated,” Peskov told reporters.

“[The version of a terrorist attack] is being considered,” he said.

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10 percent of American F-22 fighter jets damaged by Hurricane Michael

Part of the reason the F-22’s were left in the path of the storm is that they were broken and too expensive to fix or fly.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Note to the wise: When a hurricane comes, move your planes out of the way. Especially your really expensive F-22 fighter planes. After all, those babies are $339 mil apiece. Got the message?

Apparently the US Air Force didn’t get this message. Or, did they find themselves unable to follow the message?

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The Washington Times reported Tuesday that between 17 and 20 of these top-of-the-line fighter jets were damaged, some beyond the point of repair, when Hurricane Michael slammed ashore on Mexico Beach, Florida, not far from the Tyndall Air Force Base in the same state. The Times reports that more than a dozen of the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets were damaged after being left in the path of the extremely fierce storm:

President Trump’s tour Monday of devastation wrought by Hurricane Michael took him close to Florida’s Tyndall Air Force Base, where more than a dozen F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets were damaged after being left in the path of the powerful storm.

The pricey fighter jets — some possibly damaged beyond repair — were caught in the widespread destruction that took at least 18 lives, flattened homes, downed trees and buckled roads from Florida to Virginia.

The decision to leave roughly $7.5 billion in aircraft in the path of a hurricane raised eyebrows, including among defense analysts who say the Pentagon’s entire high-tech strategy continues to make its fighter jets vulnerable to weather and other mishaps when they are grounded for repairs.

“This becomes sort of a self-defeating cycle where we have $400 million aircraft that can’t fly precisely because they are $400 million aircraft,” said Dan Grazier, a defense fellow at Project on Government Oversight. “If we were buying simpler aircraft then it would be a whole lot easier for the base commander to get these aircraft up and in working order, at least more of them.”

This is quite a statement. The F-22 is held to be the tip of the American air defense sword. A superb airplane (when it works), it can do things no other plane in the world can do. It boasts a radar profile the size of a marble, making it virtually undetectable by enemy radars. It is highly maneuverable with thrust-vectoring built into its engines.

However, to see a report like this is simply stunning. After all, one would expect that the best military equipment ought to be the most reliable as well. 

It appears that Hurricane Michael figuratively and physically blew the lid off any efforts to conceal a problem with these planes, and indeed with the hyper-technological basis for the US air fighting forcesThe Times continues:

Reports on the number of aircraft damaged ranged from 17 to 22 or about 10 percent of the Air Force’s F-22 fleet of 187.

The Air Force stopped buying F-22s, considered the world’s most advanced fighter jets, in 2012. The aircraft is being replaced by the F-35, another high-tech but slightly less-expensive aircraft.

Later in the tour, at an emergency command center in Georgia, Mr. Trump said the damage to the F-22s couldn’t be avoided because the aircraft were grounded and the storm moved quickly.

“We’re going to have a full report. There was some damage, not nearly as bad as we first heard,” he said when asked about the F-22s, which cost about $339 million each.

“I’m always concerned about cost. I don’t like it,” Mr. Trump said.

Still, the president remains a fan of the high-tech fighter jet.

“The F-22 is one of my all-time favorites. It is the most beautiful fighter jet in the world. One of the best,” he said.

The Air Force managed to fly 33 of the F-22s to safety, but maintenance and repair issues kept 22 of the notoriously finicky aircraft on the ground when the powerful storm hit the base.

About 49 percent of the F-22s are out of action at any given time, according to an Air Force report this year.

This is a stunning statistic. This means that of the 187 planes in existence, 90 of them are not working. At their cost, that means that over thirty billion dollars worth of military equipment is sitting around, broken, just in airplanes alone.

As a point of comparison, the entire Russian military budget for 2017 was $61 billion, with that budget producing hypersonic missiles, superb fighter aircraft and tanks. Russian fighter planes are known for being able to take harsh landing and take-off conditions that would cripple the most modern American flying machines.

It would seem that Hurricane Michael exposed a serious problem with the state of readiness of American armed forces. Thankfully that problem did not arise in combat, but it is no less serious.

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