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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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EXPLOSIVE: Michael Cohen sentencing memo exposes serial liar with nothing to offer Mueller (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 38.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at the Michael Cohen sentencing memo which paints the picture of a man who was not as close to Trump as he made it out to be…a serial liar and cheat who leveraged his thin connections to the Trump organization for money and fame.

It was Cohen himself who proudly labelled himself as Trump’s “fixer”. The sentencing memo hints at the fact that even Mueller finds no value to Cohen in relation to the ongoing Trump-Russia witch hunt investigation.

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Via Axios

Special counsel Robert Mueller and federal prosecutors in New York have each submitted sentencing memos for President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen, after Cohen pleaded guilty in two different cases related to his work for Trump and the Trump Organization.

The big picture: The Southern District of New York recommended Cohen serve a range of 51 to 63 months for four crimes — “willful tax evasion, making false statements to a financial institution, illegal campaign contributions, and making false statements to Congress.” Mueller, meanwhile, did not take a position on the length of Cohen’s statement, but said he has made substantial efforts to assist the investigation.

Southern District of New York

Mueller investigation

Michael J. Stern, a federal prosecutor with the Justice Department for 25 years in Detroit and Los Angeles noted via USA Today

In support of their request that he serve no time in prison, Cohen’s attorneys offered a series of testimonials from friends who described the private Michael Cohen as a “truly caring” man with a “huge heart” who is not only “an upstanding, honorable, salt of the earth man” but also a “selfless caretaker.”

The choirboy portrayed by Cohen’s lawyers stands in sharp opposition to Cohen’s public persona as Trump’s legal bulldog, who once threatened a reporter with: “What I’m going to do to you is going to be f—ing disgusting. Do you understand me?”

Prosecutors focused their sentencing memo on Cohen as Mr. Hyde. Not only did they detail Cohen’s illegal activities, which include millions of dollars of fraud, they also recognized the public damage that stemmed from his political crimes — describing Cohen as “a man who knowingly sought to undermine core institutions of our democracy.”

Rebuffing efforts by Cohen’s attorneys to recast him as a good guy who made a few small mistakes, prosecutors cited texts, statements of witnesses, recordings, documents and other evidence that proved Cohen got ahead by employing a “pattern of deception that permeated his professional life.” The prosecutors attributed Cohen’s crimes to “personal greed,” an effort to “increase his power and influence,” and a desire to maintain his “opulent lifestyle.”

Perhaps the most damning reveal in the U.S. Attorney’s sentencing memo is that Cohen refused to fully cooperate. That’s despite his public relations campaign to convince us that he is a new man who will cooperate with any law enforcement authority, at any time, at any place.

As a former federal prosecutor who handled hundreds of plea deals like Cohen’s, I can say it is extremely rare for any credit to be recommended when a defendant decides not to sign a full cooperation deal. The only reason for a refusal would be to hide information. The prosecutors said as much in their sentencing memo: Cohen refused “to be debriefed on other uncharged criminal conduct, if any, in his past,” and “further declined” to discuss “other areas of investigative interest.”

 

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Canada to Pay Heavy Price for Trudeau’s Groupie Role in US Banditry Against China

Trudeau would had to have known about the impending plot to snatch Huawei CFO Wanzhou and moreover that he personally signed off on it.

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Authored by Finian Cunningham via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


You do have to wonder about the political savvy of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government. The furious fallout from China over the arrest of a senior telecoms executive is going to do severe damage to Canadian national interests.

Trudeau’s fawning over American demands is already rebounding very badly for Canada’s economy and its international image.

The Canadian arrest – on behalf of Washington – of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, seems a blatant case of the Americans acting politically and vindictively. If the Americans are seen to be acting like bandits, then the Canadians are their flunkies.

Wanzhou was detained on December 1 by Canadian federal police as she was boarding a commercial airliner in Vancouver. She was reportedly handcuffed and led away in a humiliating manner which has shocked the Chinese government, media and public.

The business executive has since been released on a $7.4 million bail bond, pending further legal proceedings. She is effectively being kept under house arrest in Canada with electronic ankle tagging.

To add insult to injury, it is not even clear what Wanzhou is being prosecuted for. The US authorities have claimed that she is guilty of breaching American sanctions against Iran by conducting telecoms business with Tehran. It is presumed that the Canadians arrested Wanzhou at the request of the Americans. But so far a US extradition warrant has not been filed. That could take months. In the meantime, the Chinese businesswoman will be living under curfew, her freedom denied.

Canadian legal expert Christopher Black says there is no juridical case for Wanzhou’s detention. The issue of US sanctions on Iran is irrelevant and has no grounds in international law. It is simply the Americans applying their questionable national laws on a third party. Black contends that Canada has therefore no obligation whatsoever to impose those US laws regarding Iran in its territory, especially given that Ottawa and Beijing have their own separate bilateral diplomatic relations.

In any case, what the real issue is about is the Americans using legal mechanisms to intimidate and beat up commercial rivals. For months now, Washington has made it clear that it is targeting Chinese telecoms rivals as commercial competitors in a strategic sector. US claims about China using telecoms for “spying” and “infiltrating” American national security are bogus propaganda ruses to undermine these commercial rivals through foul means.

It also seems clear from US President Donald Trump’s unsubtle comments this week to Reuters, saying he would “personally intervene” in the Meng case “if it helped trade talks with China”, that the Huawei executive is being dangled like a bargaining chip. It was a tacit admission by Trump that the Americans really don’t have a legal case against her.

Canada’s foreign minister Chrystia Freeland bounced into damage limitation mode following Trump’s thuggish comments. She said that the case should not be “politicized” and that the legal proceedings should not be tampered with. How ironic is that?

The whole affair has been politicized from the very beginning. Meng’s arrest, or as Christopher Black calls it “hostage-taking”, is driven by Washington’s agenda of harassment against China for commercial reasons, under a legal pretext purportedly about Iranian sanctions.

When Trump revealed the cynical expediency of him “helping to free Wanzhou”, then the Canadians realized they were also being exposed for the flunkies that they are for American banditry. That’s why Freeland was obliged to quickly adopt the fastidious pretense of legal probity.

Canadian premier Justin Trudeau has claimed that he wasn’t aware of the American request for Wanzhou’s detention. Trudeau is being pseudo. For such a high-profile infringement against a senior Chinese business leader, Ottawa must have been fully briefed by the Americans. Christopher Black, the legal expert, believes that Trudeau would had to have known about the impending plot to snatch Wanzhou and moreover that he personally signed off on it.

What Trudeau and his government intended to get out of performing this sordid role for American thuggery is far from clear. Maybe after being verbally mauled by Trump as “weak and dishonest” at the G7 summit earlier this year, in June, Trudeau decided it was best to roll over and be a good little puppy for the Americans in their dirty deed against China.

But already it has since emerged that Canada is going to pay a very heavy price indeed for such dubious service to Washington. Beijing has warned that it will take retaliation against both Washington and Ottawa. And it is Ottawa that is more vulnerable to severe repercussions.

This week saw two Canadian citizens, one a former diplomat, detained in China on spying charges.

Canadian business analysts are also warning that Beijing can inflict harsh economic penalties on Ottawa. An incensed Chinese public have begun boycotting Canadian exports and sensitive Canadian investments in China are now at risk from being blocked by Beijing. A proposed free trade deal that was being negotiated between Ottawa and Beijing now looks dead in the water.

And if Trudeau’s government caves in to the excruciating economic pressure brought to bear by Beijing and then abides by China’s demand to immediately release Meng Wanzhou, Ottawa will look like a pathetic, gutless lackey to Washington. Canada’s reputation of being a liberal, independent state will be shredded. Even then the Chinese are unlikely to forget Trudeau’s treachery.

With comic irony, there’s a cringemaking personal dimension to this unseemly saga.

During the 197os when Trudeau’s mother Margaret was a thirty-something socialite heading for divorce from his father, then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, she was often in the gossip media for indiscretions at nightclubs. Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards claims in his autobiography that Margaret Trudeau was a groupie for the band, having flings with Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood. Her racy escapades and louche lifestyle brought shame to many Canadians.

Poor Margaret Trudeau later wound up divorced, disgraced, financially broke and scraping a living from scribbling tell-all books.

Justin, her eldest son, is finding out that being a groupie for Washington’s banditry is also bringing disrepute for him and his country.

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US Commits To “Indefinite” Occupation Of Syria; Controls Region The Size Of Croatia

Raqqa is beginning to look more and more like Baghdad circa 2005.

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Via Zerohedge


“We don’t want the Americans. It’s occupation” — a Syrian resident in US-controlled Raqqa told Stars and Stripes military newspaper. This as the Washington Post noted this week that “U.S. troops will now stay in Syria indefinitely, controlling a third of the country and facing peril on many fronts.”

Like the “forever war” in Afghanistan, will we be having the same discussion over the indefinite occupation of Syria stretching two decades from now? A new unusually frank assessment in Stars and Stripes bluntly lays out the basic facts concerning the White House decision to “stay the course” until the war’s close:

That decision puts U.S. troops in overall control, perhaps indefinitely, of an area comprising nearly a third of Syria, a vast expanse of mostly desert terrain roughly the size of Louisiana.

The Pentagon does not say how many troops are there. Officially, they number 503, but earlier this year an official let slip that the true number may be closer to 4,000

A prior New Yorker piece described the US-occupied area east of the Euphrates as “an area about the size of Croatia.” With no Congressional vote, no public debate, and not even so much as an official presidential address to the nation, the United States is settling in for another endless occupation of sovereign foreign soil while relying on the now very familiar post-911 AUMF fig leaf of “legality”.

Like the American public and even some Pentagon officials of late have been pointing out for years regarding Afghanistan, do US forces on the ground even know what the mission is? The mission may be undefined and remain ambiguously to “counter Iran”, yet the dangers and potential for major loss in blood and treasure loom larger than ever.

According to Stars and Stripes the dangerous cross-section of powder keg conflicts and geopolitical players means “a new war” is on the horizon:

The new mission raises new questions, about the role they will play and whether their presence will risk becoming a magnet for regional conflict and insurgency.

The area is surrounded by powers hostile both to the U.S. presence and the aspirations of the Kurds, who are governing the majority-Arab area in pursuit of a leftist ideology formulated by an imprisoned Turkish Kurdish leader. Signs that the Islamic State is starting to regroup and rumblings of discontent within the Arab community point to the threat of an insurgency.

Without the presence of U.S. troops, these dangers would almost certainly ignite a new war right away, said Ilham Ahmed, a senior official with the Self-Administration of North and East Syria, as the self-styled government of the area is called.

“They have to stay. If they leave and there isn’t a solution for Syria, it will be catastrophic,” she said.

But staying also heralds risk, and already the challenges are starting to mount.
So a US-backed local politician says the US can’t leave or there will be war, while American defense officials simultaneously recognize they are occupying the very center of an impending insurgency from hell — all of which fits the textbook definition of quagmire perfectly.

The New Yorker: “The United States has built a dozen or more bases from Manbij to Al-Hasakah, including four airfields, and American-backed forces now control all of Syria east of the Euphrates, an area about the size of Croatia.”

But in September the White House announced a realignment of its official priorities in Syria, namely to act “as a bulwark against Iran’s expanding influence.” This means the continued potential and likelihood of war with Syria, Iran, and Russia in the region is ever present, per Stripes:

Syrian government troops and Iranian proxy fighters are to the south and west. They have threatened to take the area back by force, in pursuit of President Bashar Assad’s pledge to bring all of Syria under government control.

Already signs of an Iraq-style insurgency targeting US forces in eastern Syria are beginning to emerge.

In Raqqa, the largest Syrian city at the heart of US occupation and reconstruction efforts, the Stripes report finds the following:

The anger on the streets is palpable. Some residents are openly hostile to foreign visitors, which is rare in other towns and cities freed from Islamic State control in Syria and Iraq. Even those who support the presence of the U.S. military and the SDF say they are resentful that the United States and its partners in the anti-ISIS coalition that bombed the city aren’t helping to rebuild.

And many appear not to support their new rulers.

We don’t want the Americans. It’s occupation,” said one man, a tailor, who didn’t want to give his name because he feared the consequences of speaking his mind. “I don’t know why they had to use such a huge number of weapons and destroy the city. Yes, ISIS was here, but we paid the price. They have a responsibility.”

Recent reports out of the Pentagon suggests defense officials simply want to throw more money into US efforts in Syria, which are further focused on training and supplying the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (or Kurdish/YPG-dominated SDF), which threatens confrontation with Turkey as its forces continue making preparations for a planned attack on Kurdish enclaves in Syria this week.

Meanwhile, Raqqa is beginning to look more and more like Baghdad circa 2005:

Everyone says the streets are not safe now. Recent months have seen an uptick in assassinations and kidnappings, mostly targeting members of the security forces or people who work with the local council. But some critics of the authorities have been gunned down, too, and at night there are abductions and robberies.

As America settles in for yet another endless and “indefinite” occupation of a Middle East country, perhaps all that remains is for the president to land on an aircraft carrier with “Mission Accomplished” banners flying overhead?

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