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Vietnam’s Dangerous Courtship with Washington

On the eve of Obama’s visit to Vietnam events point towards moves for a realignment of Hanoi’s policies away from Russia and China.

Andrew Korybko

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President Obama’s upcoming visit to Vietnam will take place amidst increasing American tensions with China. Beijing recently scrambled a couple of fighter jets after an American naval ship sailed dangerously close to one of its disputed islands in the South China Sea, which was just the latest in a series of multiple provocations that have taken place all across the region ever since the US declared its Pivot to Asia in October 2011. As part of the US’s plan to “contain” China, the Pentagon envisages constructing a multilateral “China Containment Coalition” all across East, Southeast and South Asia, with the most active core of this prospective coalition being a Vietnamese-Philippine naval alliance.

With the election of Rodrigo Duterte as the President of the Philippines and his willingness to pragmatically negotiate with China, it is looking less likely that Manila will play as critical a “containment” role as the US had initially anticipated.

In response to this surprising shift in regional geopolitics, the US is expected to intensify its military-strategic relations with Vietnam, and President Obama’s visit might be just as important a catalyst for Hanoi’s pro-American pivot as Defence Secretary Carter’s visit to India was last month. Considering this, it is important to take a look at Vietnam’s recent moves with regards to China and explore the military-related avenues that it has to expand if it is to enter into a “containment” partnership with the US.

Redirecting Away From Russia

To start off, it is important to educate the reader about Vietnam’s massive arms buildup over the past couple of years.

According to the latest report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Vietnam was the eighth-largest arms importer in the world for the period 2011-2015, importing a whopping 699% more weaponry during this same period than it did in the preceding five years.

The overwhelming majority of these weapons – 93% – were Russian-made. Moscow’s willingness to supply weapons on such a scale to Vietnam bespeaks of Moscow’s traditional role in balancing rival foes, in this case Vietnam and China.  Moscow has followed the same pattern of balancing between other regional foes such as Armenia and Azerbaijan and India and China.

In and of itself this ought to mean that Vietnam’s large increase in weapons imports should not be a cause for alarm.  This is because in line with its policy of balance Russia’s weapons supplies to Vietnam are intended to reinforce the status quo between Vietnam and China in the South China Sea rather than upset it.

What is more worrying however is that Vietnam is now beginning to look elsewhere for its weaponry, in a way that might threaten the strategic balance between Vietnam and China,  just as Dmitry Medvedev warned might happen between Armenia and Azerbaijan if either of them did something similar.

The discrete presence of leading US weapons companies such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin at a large defence-related gathering in Hanoi this week shows that the US is indeed aggressively angling to eat away at Russia’s market share in Vietnam, provided of course that the restrictions the US Congress has imposed on weapons sales to Vietnam are progressively lifted.

Vietnam is encouraging these US moves.   Its Foreign Ministry has just announced that it would “welcome the United States’ acceleration to fully lift the lethal arms sales ban”.

Following In India’s Footsteps

It’s unclear why Vietnam, which has enjoyed decades-long military-technical cooperation with Russia, should be dissatisfied with its existing Moscow-provided weapons and should feel the need to solicit more weapons from its former American foe.

In just the same way that India is slowly moving away from Russian weapons, so too Vietnam might be preparing for a similar “transition” (or “rebalancing” as Vietnam’s media and its international supporters like to call it) away from reliance on Moscow.

As the saying goes, “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it”, so it is questionable why both of these countries should feel the need to turn to the US for more weapons when arms cooperation with Russia has always been very good.

The only explanation is that Vietnam, like India, is being courted by the US as part of the “China Containment Coalition”, and that Washington wants to ‘seal the deal’ with both of its newfound partners through a series of highly profitable and symbolic arms contracts.

The restoration of full US-Vietnamese relations, including in the military sphere, might appear as a superficially welcome sign for all other countries that are currently experiencing Western sanctions.   It would however be a pyrrhic victory.   

Since there is no legitimate reason why Vietnam would resort to importing weapons from the US when it can get from Russia all the weapons it needs to maintain the strategic naval balance with China, the only reason why Hanoi is now reaching out to Washington is that it must be genuinely interested in falling in with the US anti-Chinese strategy in a way that can only upset the regional balance with China.

US-Vietnamese collaboration against China is not just occurring out of the blue.   Hanoi has already received $18 million last year to purchase US patrol boats after US Senator John McCain pushed through legislation to loosen the arms embargo. Adding another element to the mix, Vietnam is party to the restrictive TPP trading agreement that its top export partner is pushing for throughout the region.

In other words, Vietnam has already agreed to align itself with the economic component of the US’s hegemonic Pivot to Asia, so that it predictably follows that it should do so in the military sphere as well.

Losing Balance

It is too early to say Vietnam is fully pivoting towards the US at the expense of its traditional Russian ally.  Clearly however Hanoi has thrown in its lot in with Washington in pursuing the shared objective of “containing” China.

Even if Vietnam were ever to make such an anti-Russian decision, it would take a long time for it to transition its entire military from using Russian to US weapons. 

More likely, Hanoi wants to cooperate with the US to send a signal to China whilst simultaneously strengthening its future bargaining position with Moscow.  After all, if Vietnam really wanted to break with Russia, it would have complied with US’ demands last March and barred Russia from using its airfields for military refuelling.

Instead, it appears Vietnam is looking to walk a geopolitical tightrope, balancing its historical military ties with Russia with its recent economic ones with the US.

Nonetheless, though it will take time, if Vietnam’s present pro-US course continues then the two former foes could surprisingly end up very close allies in the next decade, united by a shared desire to “contain” China. The fact this is just a hyped-up marketing gimmick from the US military-industrial complex is neither here nor there.

The most logical consequence of Hanoi’s progressive shift towards Washington will be that its relations with Beijing will suffer.  As for the US, once it senses that its dominant position in Vietnam has been restored, it will inevitably pressure Vietnam to distance itself from Russia too.

Given the series of Hybrid Wars that the US has been waging all across the world lately, it is to be expected that the US will employ some elements of this strategy in one day blackmailing Vietnam to follow the course it wants for it. Although the exact scenarios cannot be foreseen, one possibility might be for the US to exploit the TPP’s on-paper labour regulations to  foment a Colour Revolution movement in Vietnam that disguises itself as a “Solidarity”-type workers’ union to exert grassroots pressure on the Vietnamese authorities.

Concluding Thoughts

Every country has the sovereign right to choose whoever it wants to cooperate with in strategic, military, economic, and other affairs.  Countries such as China and Russia cannot however help but be alarmed by Vietnam’s recent intensification of its relations with the US.

Were it not directed against any third party, then the US-Vietnamese Strategic Partnership (as historically odd as it may seem considering the Vietnam War) would not be a threat to anyone.  The trouble is that it is intended as a threat, specifically against China, but with a long-term intention of weakening Russia’s position in Southeast Asia as well.

Moscow’s and Beijing’s diplomats will react calmly, with Russia probably avoiding direct mention of these developments at all.  However there is no doubt Moscow and Beijing are worried and will be watching events closely to see what happens next.

If Washington ramps up its relations with Hanoi in response to Duterte’s victory in the Philippines, and and seeks to replace the Philippines with Vietnam in its Pivot to Asia strategy, then this could shift the centre of the regional confrontation with China that the “containment” strategy entails from the South China Sea to the Indochinese mainland.

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Photos of swastika on Ukrainian mall stairway creates a stir [Video]

Ukrainian nationalist press in damage-control mode to explain away the Nazi sign, but they forgot the name of the street the mall is on.

Seraphim Hanisch

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One of the aspects of news about Ukraine that does not make it past the gatekeepers of the American and Western news media is how a significant contingent of Ukrainian nationalists have espoused a sense of reverence for Nazis. The idea that this could even happen anywhere in the world in an open manner makes the claim seem too absurd to be taken seriously. Gone are the days when the Nazi swastika adorned streets and buildings in Europe. Right?

Well, maybe, wrong.

This was seen in Kyiv’s Gorodok (or Horodok, if you insist) Gallery, a shopping center in that city, located on Bandera Avenue.

The pro-nationalist news service UNIAN wasted no time going to press with their explanation of this incident, which admittedly may be accurate:

Children and teenagers who participated in the All-Ukrainian break dance festival held in the Kyiv-based Gorodok Gallery shopping mall were shocked to see a swastika image projected onto an LED staircase.

The mall administration apologized to visitors, explaining saying that their computer system had apparently been hacked.

“The administration and staff have no relation to whatever was projected onto the LED-staircase, and in no way does it support such [an] act. Now we are actively searching for those involved in the attack,” it said in a statement.

According to Gorodok Gallery’s administrative office, it was not the first time a cyber breach took place.

As reported earlier, Ukraine is believed to be a testing ground for cyberattacks, many of which are launched from Russia. Hackers have earlier targeted critical energy infrastructure, state institutions, banks, and large businesses.

This time, it appears, hackers aimed to feed the Kremlin’s narrative of “Nazis in power in Ukraine” and create a relevant hype-driving viral story for Russian media to spread it worldwide.

The Gorodok Gallery also apologized on its Facebook page and said that this was a result of hacking.

But what about the street that the mall is on? From the self-same Facebook page, this is what we see:


To translate, for those who do not read Ukrainian or Russian, the address says the following:

23 Steven Bandera Prospekt, Kyiv, Ukraine 04073

This street was formerly called “Moscow Avenue.” Big change, as we shall see.

Steven Bandera got his birthday designated as a national holiday in Ukraine last December. He is known in Ukraine’s history for one thing. According to the Jerusalem Post:

The street where the shopping mall is located is named for Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian nationalist who briefly collaborated with Nazi Germany in its fight against Russia.

His troops are believed to have killed thousands of Jews.

Several Israeli papers picked this bit of news up, and of course, the reasons are understandable. However, for the West, it appears possible that this news event will largely go unnoticed, even by that great nation that is often called “Israel’s proxy”, the United States.

This is probably because for certain people in the US, there is a sense of desperation to mask the nature of events that are happening in Ukraine.

The usual fare of mainstream news for the West probably consists of things like “Putin’s military seizes innocent Ukrainian sailors in Kerch incident” or, “Ukraine’s Orthodox Church declared fully independent by Patriarch of Constantinople” (not that too many Americans know what a Constantinople even is, anyway), but the overriding narrative for the American people about this country is “Ukraine are the good guys, and Russia are the bad guys,” and this will not be pushed aside, even to accommodate the logical grievance of Israel to this incident.

If this article gets to Western papers at all, it will be the UNIAN line they adhere to, that evil pro-Russia hackers caused this stairway to have a swastika to provoke the idea that Ukraine somehow supports Naziism.

But UNIAN neglected to mention that the street name was recently changed to Stephan Bandera (in 2016), and no one appears to have hacked this. Nor does UNIAN talk about the Azov fighters that openly espoused much of the Nazi ideology. For nationalist Ukrainians, this is all for the greater good of getting rid of all things Russia.

A further sad fact about this is the near impossibility of getting assuredly honest and neutral information about this and other similar happenings. Both Ukrainian nationalists and Russian media agencies have dogs in the race, so to speak. They are both personally connected to these events. However, the Russian media cannot be discounted here, because they do offer a witness and perspective, probably the closest to any objective look at what is going on in Ukraine. We include a video of a “torchlight march” that took place in 2017 that featured such hypernationalist activity, which is not reported in the West.

More such reports are available, but this one seemed the best one to summarize the character of what is going on in the country.

While we do not know the motive and identities of whoever programmed the swastika, it cannot really be stated that this was just a random publicity stunt in a country that has no relationship with Nazi veneration.

The street the mall is on bears witness to that.

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It’s Back to the Iran-Contra Days Under Trump

Abrams and his cronies will not stop with Venezuela.

Strategic Culture Foundation

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Authored by Wayne Madsen, via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Showing that he is adopting the neoconservative playbook every day he remains in office, Donald Trump handed the neocons a major win when he appointed Iran-contra scandal felon Elliott Abrams as his special envoy on Venezuela. Abrams pleaded guilty in 1991 to two counts of withholding information on the secret sale of US weapons for cash to help illegally supply weapons to the Nicaraguan right-wing contras, who were battling against the government of President Daniel Ortega. Abrams would have headed to a federal prison, but President George H. W. Bush, an unindicted co-conspirator in the scandal, issued pardons to Abrams and his five fellow conspirators – former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, and former Central Intelligence Agency officials Alan Fiers, Duane “Dewey” Clarridge, and Clair George – on Christmas Eve 1991, during the final weeks of Bush’s lame duck administration.

Abrams escaped being charged with more serious crimes by Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh because he cut a last-minute deal with federal prosecutors. Trump, who has made no secret of his disdain for cooperating federal witnesses, would have normally called Abrams a “rat,” a gangster term meaning informant. The man who helped engineer the pardons for Abrams and his five convicted friends was none other than Bush’s Attorney General, William Barr, who has just been sworn in as Trump’s Attorney General. Trump, who is always decrying the presence of the “deep state” that thwarts his very move, has become the chief guardian of that entity.

During a recent hearing of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, newly-minted congresswoman Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, reminded her colleagues and the world about the sordid background of Abrams.

Omar zeroed in on Abrams’s criminal history:

“Mr. Abrams, in 1991 you pleaded guilty to two counts of withholding information from Congress regarding the Iran-Contra affair, for which you were later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush. I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony you give today to be truthful.”

Abrams, as is the nature of neocons, refused to respond to Omar and cited her comments as “personal attacks.”

Abrams’s and his fellow criminals’ use of mercenaries and “death squads” to conduct secret wars in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala during the Ronald Reagan administration in the 1980s has made a re-entrance under Trump. Abrams was brought on board by neocons like National Security Adviser John Bolton, Vice President Mike Pence, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to oversee a US military build-up in Colombia, said to be 5000 US troops, to support Venezuelan paramilitary and military efforts to topple President Nicolas Maduro. Abrams and Bolton are also believed to have retained the services of another unindicted conspirator in the Iran-contra affair, Michael Ledeen, a colleague of the disgraced and convicted former Trump National Security Adviser, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn. Ledeen and Flynn co-authored a book titled, “The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and its Allies.” The book contains nothing more than the standard neocon tripe one might expect from the likes of Ledeen.

An official investigation of the Iran-contra scandal by the late Republican Senator John Tower of Texas concluded that Abrams’s and Ledeen’s friend, Iranian-Jewish middleman Manucher Ghorbanifar, a long-time Mossad asset and well-known prevaricator, was extremely instrumental in establishing the back-channel arms deals with Iran. Ghorbanifar has long been on the CIA “burn list” as an untrustworthy charlatan, along with others in the Middle East of similar sketchy credentials, including the Iraq’s Ahmad Chalabi, Syria’s Farid “Frank” Ghadry, and Lebanon’s Samir “Sami” Geagea. These individuals, however, were warmly embraced by neocons like Abrams and his associates.

Abrams, whose links with Israeli intelligence has always been a point of consternation with US counter-intelligence officials, is part of an old cabal of right-wing anti-Soviet Democrats who coalesced around Senator Henry Jackson in the 1970s. Along with Abrams, this group of war hawks included Richard Perle, Frank Gaffney, William Kristol, Douglas Feith, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Abram Shulsky, and Paul Wolfowitz. Later, this group would have its fingerprints on major US foreign policy debacles, ranging from Nicaragua and Grenada to Lebanon, Iraq, and Libya. Later, in December 2000, these neocons managed to convince president-elect George W. Bush of the need to “democratize” the Middle East. That policy would later bring not democracy but disaster to the Arab Middle East and North Africa.

Abrams and his cronies will not stop with Venezuela. They have old scores to settle with Nicaraguan President Ortega. The initiation of “regime change” operations in Nicaragua, supported by the CIA and the US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) in Miami, have been ongoing for more than a year.

The Trump administration has already achieved a regime change victory of sorts in El Salvador. Nayib Bukele, the former mayor of San Salvador, who was expelled from the formerly-ruling left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation (FMLN) party and joined the right-wing GANA party, was recently elected president of El Salvador. Bukele has quickly re-aligned his country’s policies with those of the Trump administration. Bukele has referred to President Maduro of Venezuela as a “dictator.” He has also criticized the former FMLN government’s recognition of China and severance of diplomatic ties with Taiwan. It will be interesting to see how a sycophant like Bukele will politically survive as Trump continues to call hapless asylum-seeking migrants from his country, who seek residency in the United States, “rapists, gang monsters, murderers, and drug smugglers.”

Another country heading for a US-installed “banana republic” dictator is Haiti. President Jovenal Moise has seen rioting in the streets of Port-au-Prince as the US State Department removed all “non-essential” personnel from the country. Moise, whose country has received $2 billion in oil relief from Venezuela, to help offset rising fuel prices, has continued to support the Maduro government. However, at the US-run and neo-colonial artifice, the Organization of American States (OAS), Moise’s envoys have been under tremendous pressure to cut ties with Venezuela and recognize the US puppet Juan Guaido as Venezuelan president. Moise’s refusal to do so resulted in armed gangs hitting the streets of Port-au-Prince demanding Moise’s resignation. It is the same neocon “regime change” playbook being used in Venezuela and Nicaragua.

There will be similar attempts to replace pro-Maduro governments in his remaining allies in the region. These include Suriname, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Abrams was also brought in as an adviser on Middle East policy in the George W. Bush administration. The carnage of Iraq is a stark testament to his record. In 2005, it was reported that two key Bush White House officials – Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliot Abrams – gave a “wink and a nod” for the assassinations by Israeli-paid operatives of three key Lebanese political figures seeking a rapprochement with Syria and Lebanese Hezbollah – Member of Parliament Elie Hobeika, former Lebanese Communist Party chief George Hawi, and former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

In 2008, a United Nations panel headed by former Canadian prosecutor Daniel Bellemare later concluded Hariri was assassinated by a “criminal network” and not by either Syrian and Lebanese intelligence or Lebanese Hezbollah as proffered by Abrams and his friends in Washington.

Representative Omar was spot on in questioning why Abrams, whose name is as disgraced as his two fellow conspirators – Oliver North and John Poindexter – whose criminal convictions were overturned on appeal, is working for the Trump administration on Venezuela. The answer is that the neocons, who can sense, like raptors, Trump’s political weakness, have filled the vacuum left by top-level vacancies in the administration.

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Putin: If mid-range missiles deployed in Europe, Russia will station arms to strike decision centers

Putin: If US deploys mid-range missiles in Europe, Russia will be forced to respond.

RT

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Via RT…


If the US deploys intermediate-range missiles in Europe, Moscow will respond by stationing weapons aimed not only against missiles themselves, but also at command and control centers, from which a launch order would come.

The warning came from President Vladimir Putin, who announced Russia’s planned actions after the US withdraws from the INF Treaty – a Cold War-era agreement between Washington and Moscow which banned both sides form having ground-based cruise and ballistic missiles and developing relevant technology.

The US is set to unilaterally withdraw from the treaty in six months, which opens the possibility of once again deploying these missiles in Europe. Russia would see that as a major threat and respond with its own deployments, Putin said.

Intermediate-range missiles were banned and removed from Europe because they would leave a very short window of opportunity for the other side to decide whether to fire in retaliation after detecting a launch – mere minutes. This poses the threat of an accidental nuclear exchange triggered by a false launch warning, with the officer in charge having no time to double check.

“Russia will be forced to create and deploy weapon systems, which can be used not only against the territories from which this direct threat would be projected, but also against those territories where decision centers are located, from which an order to use those weapons against us may come.” The Russian president, who was delivering a keynote address to the Russian parliament on Wednesday, did not elaborate on whether any counter-deployment would only target US command-and-control sites in Europe or would also include targets on American soil.

He did say the Russian weapon system in terms of flight times and other specifications would “correspond” to those targeting Russia.

“We know how to do it and we will implement those plans without a delay once the relevant threats against us materialize,”he said.

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