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US supply of Javelin anti-tank missiles adds fuel to fire in Ukraine

Jingoistic US policy is pushing Ukraine back towards total war that goes spread beyond Donbass

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(Truthdig) – Dec. 18 was a day like any other in the Donbas region, the flashpoint of a grinding civil war between the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian separatists. That afternoon, a girl was badly wounded by a shell fired by Ukrainians into the separatist-held Golmovsky. A few hours later, a hail of Grad rockets fired by pro-Russian forces poured down on the Ukrainian-controlled town of Novoluhanske, killing eight civilians in the middle of a community celebration and damaging over 100 buildings. The shelling continued into the night, killing three in the pro-Russian town of Stakhanov, including a 94-year-old woman.

Artillery exchanges like this have become a tragic routine in Donbas. Though the killing has slowed since the heaviest fighting, which occurred in 2015, over 10,000 have fallen in the conflict, and at least 1.4 million have been turned into refugees. With the war entering its fourth year, a decision by the Trump administration virtually ensured that the news from Donbas will grow dramatically worse. Last month, the State Department approved the transfer of $50 million worth of lethal weapons to the Ukrainian military. Along with a shipment of M107A1 Barrett sniper rifles, the United States will be delivering 35 FGM Javelin anti-tank launching systems and 210 missiles.

Though the Javelin has scarcely been tested against the latest models of Russian tanks, advocates of the arms transfer have insisted that the missiles will save lives by deterring the Russians. After a meeting last June with House Majority Leader Paul Ryan and Sen. John McCain, Andriy Parubiy, who is the speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament (and a veteran Nazi activist), presented the Javelins as a game changer. “If we’d burned several hundred Russian tanks [in 2015], it would have been an important step toward restoring peace in our country’s east,” Parubiy declared.

But others who have witnessed the grueling war of attrition from the front lines dread the prospect of new arms on the battlefield. Brian Milakovsky, a Fulbright scholar who is working with an aid organization on the Ukrainian side of Donbas, told me the Javelins would provoke Russia to escalate its military involvement and dramatically deepen suffering on both sides.

“In the time I’ve been in the Donbas there have been escalation events that, when the dust settled, seemed attributable to the separatists trying to improve their positions. There have also been escalations related to the Ukrainians trying to improve theirs,” Milakovsky said. “No one can ever be certain who starts shooting, but you can triangulate a lot of sources and get a sense for it. What I worry about with U.S. arms is how they could inspire more such attempts, which often blow up into artillery duels that damage front-line communities on both sides. Giving just enough arms to make that possible, but not enough to actually change the balance in the war, doesn’t seem responsible to me.”

According to Milakovsky, Russia’s massive military presence gives it an automatic advantage that renders any infusion of outside arms futile. “I think Russia will always be able to pour more arms into the region considering how much of their standing army is positioned just across the border,” he explained. “Both sides are so dug in for a big fight that every escalation is like throwing matches around in dry grass. No one seems to actually want a big war, but no one can accept major moves in the front line either, and they will respond accordingly.”

Milakovsky is hardly alone in this view. “On both sides, we repeatedly heard calls to resume this war. And we thought: If the war returns, no one of those with whom we spoke will survive,” correspondents from the Russian opposition paper Novaya Gazeta wrote in a dispatch from the front lines of Donbas in 2016. Even mainstream American analysts like Council on Foreign Relations fellow Charles Kupchan have warned that “sending lethal weapons to Ukraine is a recipe for military escalation and transatlantic discord.”

Back in 2015, when Kupchan served in Barack Obama’s National Security Council, the then-president made a rare departure from conventional Beltway foreign policy wisdom and rejected pressure to ship lethal arms to Ukraine. The plan to up-arm Ukraine had been developed by the Brookings Institution and the NATO-funded Atlantic Council and was advanced by Congress in the form of a provision by Sen. McCain that would have required the U.S. to budget 20 percent of all aid to Ukraine for offensive weapons.

Obama’s refusal to authorize the arms shipment kept alive the Minsk II peace process, along with the prospect of U.N. peacekeepers deploying to Donbas, a proposal endorsed by Russia. It also infuriated U.S. neoconservatives and more than a few anti-Russian liberals. But once the 2016 presidential campaign got underway, the bipartisan war party was confident its demands would be met.

Once the Democratic and Republican conventions rolled around, both parties’ draft platforms contained nearly identical language promising arms to Ukraine. The arms transfer had been a personal priority of Hillary Clinton, a top recipient of weapons industry cash, since early 2015. Only hours after the Republican National Convention rang its opening bell, however, a Donald Trump foreign policy adviser named J.D. Gordon ordered the RNC to alter its pledge for “lethal weapons” to a call for “appropriate assistance” to the Ukrainian military. Though Trump said later that he was unaware of the change, Gordon claimed the candidate had demanded it to conform to his stated support for detente with Russia.

Despite the softened language on lethal arms, the RNC plank hardly was part of a George McGovern-style peace platform. Gordon inserted language demanding “increasing sanctions, together with our allies, against Russia unless and until Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are fully restored.” What’s more, the platform slammed Russia for “occupying parts of Ukraine and threatening neighbors from the Baltic to the Caucasus.” But the minor tweak was enough to inspire The Huffington Post to proclaim in a headline, “The Real Winner At The GOP Convention Is Vladimir Putin.”

A vicious backlash was brewing against Trump’s moves toward detente, and when Clinton’s campaign went down in flames, “Russiagate” erupted. Desperate for evidence of Trump-Russia collusion, Democrats latched on to the dossier produced by Christopher Steele, a former agent of Britain’s MI5 who was funded by a law firm closely tied to Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. According to the error-laden dossier, “the TRUMP team had agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue” in exchange for a Russian promise to sabotage Clinton’s campaign.

In March, when the House Intelligence Committee opened its investigation into allegations of Russian meddling in the U.S. election, ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff zeroed in on the conspiracy theory. “Now is it possible that the removal of the Ukraine provision from the GOP platform is a coincidence?” Schiff wondered aloud. “It is possible. But it is also possible, maybe more than possible, that they are not coincidental, not disconnected and not unrelated and that the Russians use the same techniques to corrupt U.S. persons that they employed in Europe and elsewhere.”

Schiff’s diatribe before a congressional gallery packed with camera crews made him an overnight star of the Russiagate drama. He had once been “a milquetoast moderate,” as journalist Ryan Lizza put it, but through his grandstanding, the once obscure centrist suddenly “emerged as an unlikely face of Democratic resistance to the new President”—a “liberal hero,” according to Lizza. There was more to Schiff’s burgeoning obsession with Russian meddling than his own sense of vanity, however.

Since entering Congress in 2002, Schiff hasn’t met a war he didn’t like. He has backed the invasion of Iraq, cheered on NATO’s regime change operation in Libya, heartily endorsed the U.S.-Saudi war on Yemen, clamored for direct U.S. intervention in Syria and lent his signature to virtually every AIPAC-crafted resolution that has landed on his desk.

And the arms industry has rewarded Schiff handsomely, pumping over $70,000 into his campaign coffers in 2016. Schiff’s largest donor this past campaign cycle, at $12,700 [individuals plus PACs], was Northrop Grumman, the defense giant. Raytheon—the manufacturer of the Javelin anti-tank missile system—was close behind it, with $10,000 in contributions [PACs]. In all, arms giants accounted for over one-sixth of Schiff’s total donations.

Back in 2013, Schiff was treated to a $2,500-per-head campaign fundraiser by a Ukrainian-born, California-based arms merchant named Igor Pasternak. The war in Donbas has been a boon for Pasternak, earning him a lucrative contract to supply the Ukrainian State Border Guard with integrated surveillance systems, and a subsequent deal to help replace the Ukrainian military’s AK-47 rifles with a version of the M-16.

Given Schiff’s history, it was little surprise when he thrust himself headlong into the paranoid theater of Russiagate. By casting suspicion on every attempt at diplomacy and driving the resurgence of Cold War hostility between Washington and Moscow, he was poised to deliver another cash cow to his benefactors in the arms industry.

This year’s budget-busting National Defense Authorization Act reflected the Russia panic that gripped Washington. The legislation was filled with provisions for expensive new programs aimed at countering Russian influence and even ferrying Ukrainian soldiers to American hospitals. Though the shipment of Javelins had been left out, the pressure on the White House was about to rise again.

In November 2017, Schiff summoned J.D. Gordon, the former Trump campaign aide, to be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee. Citing House staffers, Politico reported that Schiff was investigating “whether Trump campaign officials made the Republican Party platform more friendly to Russia as part of some broader effort to collude with the Kremlin.” Robert Mueller, the leader of the federal investigation into Russian meddling, was also expected to probe Gordon for answers about the platform change.

At the time, Trump was under pressure from his envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, to send the Javelins to Kiev. A veteran neoconservative activist, Volker was still listed as the executive director of the McCain Institute for International Affairs when he was installed in Trump’s State Department. Among the McCain Institute’s financial backers was the BGR group, whose designated lobbyist, Ed Rogers, was a lobbyist for Raytheon—the company that would reap a windfall profit from the Javelin sale.

Cornered, Trump risked inviting more allegations of collusion by refusing to arm Ukraine. As Andrew Weiss, a Russia analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told reporter John Hudson, “Overall, I see this discussion [on Trump-Russia collusion] as fitting within a broader effort by people within the national security bureaucracy to box Trump in on Ukraine.”

In November, just weeks before caving in to the pressure to send the Javelins to Kiev, Trump was widely ridiculed when he warned that “people will die” because of Russiagate. But in Donbas, where a war-weary population lives on the brink of another bloodbath, the president could prove his critics wrong in a way they never imagined.

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Russia’s Lukoil Halts Oil Swaps In Venezuela After U.S. Sanctions

Under the new wide-ranging U.S. sanctions, Venezuela will not be able to import U.S. naphtha which it has typically used to dilute its heavy crude grades.

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Via Oilprice.com


Litasco, the international trading arm of Russia’s second-biggest oil producer Lukoil, stopped its oil swaps deals with Venezuela immediately after the U.S. imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry and state oil firm PDVSA, Lukoil’s chief executive Vagit Alekperov said at an investment forum in Russia.

Russia, which stands by Nicolas Maduro in the ongoing Venezuelan political crisis, has vowed to defend its interests in Venezuela—including oil interests—within the international law using “all mechanisms available to us.”

Because of Moscow’s support for Maduro, the international community and market analysts are closely watching the relationship of Russian oil companies with Venezuela.

“Litasco does not work with Venezuela. Before the restrictions were imposed, Litasco had operations to deliver oil products and to sell oil. There were swap operations. Today there are none, since the sanctions were imposed,” Lukoil’s Alekperov said at the Russian Investment Forum in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Another Russian oil producer, Gazprom Neft, however, does not see major risks for its oil business in Venezuela, the company’s chief executive officer Alexander Dyukov said at the same event.

Gazprom Neft has not supplied and does not supply oil products to Venezuela needed to dilute the thick heavy Venezuelan oil, Dyukov said, noting that the Latin American country hadn’t approached Gazprom Neft for possible supply of oil products for diluents.

Under the new wide-ranging U.S. sanctions, Venezuela will not be able to import U.S. naphtha which it has typically used to dilute its heavy crude grades. Analysts expect that a shortage of diluents could accelerate beginning this month the already steadily declining Venezuelan oil production and exports.

Venezuela’s crude oil production plunged by another 59,000 bpd from December 2018 to stand at just 1.106 million bpd in January 2019, OPEC’s secondary sources figures showed in the cartel’s closely watched Monthly Oil Market Report (MOMR) this week.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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Germany Pulls Rank on Macron and American Energy Blackmail

Why France’s Macron, at the last minute, attempted to undermine the project by placing stiffer regulations is a curious question.

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Authored by Finian Cunningham via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


It was billed politely as a Franco-German “compromise” when the EU balked at adopting a Gas Directive which would have undermined the Nord Stream 2 project with Russia.

Nevertheless, diplomatic rhetoric aside, Berlin’s blocking last week of a bid by French President Emmanuel Macron to impose tougher regulations on the Nord Stream 2 gas project was without doubt a firm rebuff to Paris.

Macron wanted to give the EU administration in Brussels greater control over the new pipeline running from Russia to Germany. But in the end the so-called “compromise” was a rejection of Macron’s proposal, reaffirming Germany in the lead role of implementing the Nord Stream 2 route, along with Russia.

The $11-billion, 1,200 kilometer pipeline is due to become operational at the end of this year. Stretching from Russian mainland under the Baltic Sea, it will double the natural gas supply from Russia to Germany. The Berlin government and German industry view the project as a vital boost to the country’s ever-robust economy. Gas supplies will also be distributed from Germany to other European states. Consumers stand to gain from lower prices for heating homes and businesses.

Thus Macron’s belated bizarre meddling was rebuffed by Berlin. A rebuff was given too to the stepped-up pressure from Washington for the Nord Stream 2 project to be cancelled. Last week, US ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell and two other American envoys wrote an op-ed for Deutsche Welle in which they accused Russia of trying to use “energy blackmail” over Europe’s geopolitics.

Why France’s Macron, at the last minute, attempted to undermine the project by placing stiffer regulations is a curious question. Those extra regulations if they had been imposed would have potentially made the Russian gas supply more expensive. As it turns out, the project will now go-ahead without onerous restrictions.

In short, Macron and the spoiling tactics of Washington, along with EU states hostile to Russia, Poland and the Baltic countries, have been put in their place by Germany and its assertion of national interests of securing economical and abundant gas supply from Russia. Other EU member states that backed Berlin over Nord Stream 2 were Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Greece and the Netherlands.

Washington’s claims that Nord Stream 2 would give Russia leverage of Europe’s security have been echoed by Poland and the Baltic states. Poland, and non-EU Ukraine, stand to lose out billions of dollars-worth of transit fees. Such a move, however, is the prerogative of Germany and Russia to find a more economical mode of supply. Besides, what right has Ukraine to make demands on a bilateral matter that is none of its business? Kiev’s previous bad faith over not paying gas bills to Russia disbars it from reasonable opinion.

Another factor is the inherent Russophobia of Polish and Baltic politicians who view everything concerning Russia through a prism of paranoia.

For the Americans, it is obviously a blatant case of seeking to sell their own much more expensive natural gas to Europe’s giant energy market – in place of Russia’s product. Based on objective market figures, Russia is the most competitive supplier to Europe. The Americans are therefore trying to snatch a strategic business through foul means of propaganda and political pressure. Ironically, the US German ambassador Richard Grenell and the other American envoys wrote in their recent oped: “Europe must retain control of its energy security.”

Last month, Grenell threatened German and European firms involved in the construction of Nord Stream 2 that they could face punitive American sanctions in the future. Evidently, it is the US side that is using “blackmail” to coerce others into submission, not Russia.

Back to Macron. What was he up to in his belated spoiling tactics over Nord Stream 2 and in particular the attempted problems being leveled for Germany if the extra regulations had been imposed?

It seems implausible that Macron was suddenly finding a concern for Poland and the Baltic states in their paranoia over alleged Russian invasion.

Was Macron trying to garner favors from the Trump administration? His initial obsequious rapport with Trump has since faded from the early days of Macron’s presidency in 2017. By doing Washington’s bidding to undermine the Nord Stream 2 project was Macron trying to ingratiate himself again?

The contradictions regarding Macron are replete. He is supposed to be a champion of “ecological causes”. A major factor in Germany’s desire for the Nord Stream 2 project is that the increased gas supply will reduce the European powerhouse’s dependence on dirty fuels of coal, oil and nuclear power. By throwing up regulatory barriers, Macron is making it harder for Germany and Europe to move to cleaner sources of energy that the Russian natural gas represents.

Also, if Macron had succeeded in imposing tougher regulations on the Nord Stream 2 project it would have inevitably increased the costs to consumers for gas bills. This is at a time when his government is being assailed by nationwide Yellow Vest protests over soaring living costs, in particular fuel-price hikes.

A possible factor in Macron’s sabotage bid in Germany’s Nord Stream 2 plans was his chagrin over Berlin’s rejection of his much-vaunted reform agenda for the Eurozone bloc within the EU. Despite Macron’s very public amity with Chancellor Angela Merkel, Berlin has continually knocked back the French leader’s ambitions for reform.

It’s hard to discern what are the real objectives of Macron’s reforms. But they seem to constitute a “banker’s charter”. Many eminent German economists have lambasted his plans, which they say will give more taxpayer-funded bailouts to insolvent banks. They say Macron is trying to move the EU further away from the social-market economy than the bloc already has moved.

What Macron, an ex-Rothschild banker, appears to be striving for is a replication of his pro-rich, anti-worker policies that he is imposing on France, and for these policies to be extended across the Eurozone. Berlin is not buying it, realizing such policies will further erode the social fabric. This could be the main reason why Macron tried to use the Nord Stream 2 project as leverage over Berlin.

In the end, Macron and Washington – albeit working for different objectives – were defeated in their attempts to sabotage the emerging energy trade between Germany, Europe and Russia. Nord Stream 2, as with Russia’s Turk Stream to the south of Europe, seems inevitable by sheer force of natural partnership.

On this note, the Hungarian government’s comments this week were apt. Budapest accused some European leaders and the US of “huge hypocrisy” in decrying association with Russia over energy trade. Macron has previously attended an economics forum in St Petersburg, and yet lately has sought to “blackmail” and disrupt Germany over its trade plans with Russia.

As for the Americans, their arrant hypocrisy is beyond words. As well as trying to dictate to Europe about “market principles” and “energy security”, it was reported this week that Washington is similarly demanding Iraq to end its import of natural gas from neighboring Iran.

Iraq is crippled by electricity and power shortages because of the criminal war that the US waged on that country from 2003-2011 which destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure. Iraq critically needs Iranian gas supplies to keep the lights and fans running. Yet, here we have the US now dictating to Iraq to end its lifeline import of Iranian fuel in order to comply with the Trump administration’s sanctions against Tehran. Iraq is furious at the latest bullying interference by Washington in its sovereign affairs.

The hypocrisy of Washington and elitist politicians like Emmanuel Macron has become too much to stomach. Maybe Germany and others are finally realizing who the charlatans are.

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Russia Readies Own Web To Survive Global Internet Shutdown

Russia is simultaneously building a mass censorship system similar to that seen in China.

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Via Zerohedge


Russian authorities and major telecom operators are preparing to disconnect the country from the world wide web as part of an exercise to prepare for future cyber attacks, Russian news agency RosBiznesKonsalting (RBK) reported last week.

The purpose of the exercise is to develop a threat analysis and provide feedback to a proposed law introduced in the Russian Parliament last December.

The draft law, called the Digital Economy National Program, requires Russian internet service providers (ISP) to guarantee the independence of the Russian Internet (Runet) in the event of a foreign attack to sever the country’s internet from the world wide web.

Telecom operators (MegaFon, VimpelCom (Beeline brand), MTS, Rostelecom and others) will have to introduce the “technical means” to re-route all Russian internet traffic to exchange points approved by the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor), Russia’s federal executive body responsible for censorship in media and telecommunications.

Roskomnazor will observe all internet traffic and make sure data between Russian users stays within the country’s borders, and is not re-routed abroad.

The exercise is expected to occur before April 1, as Russian authorities have not given exact dates.

The measures described in the law include Russia constructing its internet system, known as Domain Name System (DNS), so it can operate independently from the rest of the world.

Across the world, 12 companies oversee the root servers for DNS and none are located in Russia. However, there are copies of Russia’s core internet address book inside the country suggesting its internet could keep operating if the US cut it off.

Ultimately, the Russian government will require all domestic traffic to pass through government-controlled routing points. These hubs will filter traffic so that data sent between Russians internet users work seamlessly, but any data to foreign computers would be rejected.

Besides protecting its internet, Russia is simultaneously building a mass censorship system similar to that seen in China.

“What Russia wants to do is to bring those router points that handle data entering or exiting the country within its borders and under its control- so that it can then pull up the drawbridge, as it were, to external traffic if it’s under threat – or if it decides to censor what outside information people can access.

China’s firewall is probably the world’s best known censorship tool and it has become a sophisticated operation. It also polices its router points, using filters and blocks on keywords and certain websites and redirecting web traffic so that computers cannot connect to sites the state does not wish Chinese citizens to see,” said BBC.

The Russian government started preparations for creating its internet several years ago. Russian officials expect 95% of all internet traffic locally by next year.

As for Russia unplugging its internet from the rest of the world for an upcoming training exercise, well, this could potentially anger Washington because it is one less sanction that can keep Moscow contained.

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