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Vladimir Putin goes to Japan

In a sign of rapidly improving relations, Japan defies US wish to extend a warm welcome to Vladimir Putin.

Alexander Mercouris

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A common trope of Western commentary is that since the unification of Crimea with Russia (an event which the West insists on calling an “annexation”) Russia and its leader President Putin have become international pariahs, and are globally isolated.

The reality is that to an extent that the Western and especially the West European public do not know, hostility to Russia is almost entirely confined to certain core nations of the Western alliance with European populations: the US, certain though by no means all European states, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.  Outside this small ring of states attitudes to Russia and to Vladimir Putin in particular are very different.  Not only are they becoming globally increasingly influential, but key US allies such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Japan are actively courting them.

A good example of this is President Putin’s recent two day visit to Japan.

As even a very hostile account of the visit in The Diplomat is forced to admit, the Japanese went out of their way to shower Putin with hospitality

The Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, went out of his way to make this visit “special” for his Russian guest by arranging for the first day to be spent in his home town, Nagato, in the southern prefecture Yamaguchi of the main island Honshu – a place, famous for its exquisite sake, hot springs, and delicious food. The carefully planned schedule, with a pronounced demonstration of a personal hospitality touch from Abe, listed “relaxing” time in the famous hot springs, and a feast with exotic traditional local food, including exquisite dishes of raw and cooked fugu.

The Diplomat nonetheless deems the visit a ‘failure’ because it did not result in a peace treaty between Japan and Russia, because Russia did not agree to hand over two islands of the Kuril archipelago to Japan, and because of the (relative) absence of commercial and trade agreements between the two countries.

In reality it beggars belief that intractable issues like the Kuril Island dispute, or the question of the peace treaty, which have set Japan and Russia at odds with each other since the 1950s, could be resolved over the course of a single visit lasting just two days.  The Russians before Putin’s visit made it clear that would not happen, and the Japanese cannot ever have imagined that it would.

The point of the visit is that Japan, which throughout the Cold War and for two decades after made no attempt to engage with Russia, is now actively and purposefully doing so.  The invitation to Putin to visit Japan was extended in defiance of US wishes, and the Japanese leadership both during the visit and at the previous east Asian summit in Vladivostok has made clear its determination to turn the page on a century of hostility between Japan and Russia extending all the way back to the 1904-1906 Russo-Japanese War.

I discussed the reasons why Japan might now be intent of forging closer relations with Russia in an article I wrote immediately following the Vladivostok summit

…….there are the obvious economic benefits, with Russia possibly becoming an important future provider of energy and raw materials to these countries, and a possible market for their goods.  Looking further ahead, with its highly educated and well-disciplined workforce, its considerable industrial base, its traditionally very strong scientific base, and its very low and very competitive cost structure, Russia is an obvious partner in future industrial projects.

Behind all the enthusiastic talk from [Japanese Prime Minister] Abe [there is also] the overwhelming reality of the rapid growth of Chinese power.  With both Japan and South Korea having fraught relations with China, it makes sense for both countries to develop good relations with China’s great ally Russia in order to obtain through Russia some influence and capacity to restrain Beijing. 

This is now becoming the increasing pattern across the whole Asia-Pacific region, with Russia seeking and accepting offers of good relations from an increasing number of countries falling under China’s shadow: India, Vietnam, South Korea and Japan.

The Russians for their part have shown great skill leveraging the advantage their undeclared alliance with China gives them to improve relations with these countries, including countries like South Korea and Japan that have never previously been their friends.

As for the Chinese, it is equally in their interest that a country close to them – Russia – should develop relations with countries that might otherwise all too easily simply become their enemies.

As for the failure to achieve a ‘breakthrough’ in the Kuril Islands dispute, or to sign a peace treaty, of which so much is made in the article in The Diplomat, I discussed this too in my previous article

Russia has made it repeatedly clear that it is not prepared to return the islands to Japan in return for a Peace Treaty.  In an interview with Bloomberg given shortly before the meeting with Abe Putin again made that clear

We do not trade territories although concluding a peace treaty with Japan is certainly a key issue and we would like to find a solution to this problem together with our Japanese friends.”

(Bold italics added)

Putin undoubtedly knows that returning the islands to Japan is unacceptable to Russian public opinion.  In 1992 Russia’s then President Yeltsin was forced to call off at the last moment a planned trip to Japan because of public outrage and fears that just a year after the USSR broke up he was preparing to hand the islands over to Japan.  There is no evidence Russian popular feeling on this issue has moderated since then.  In addition the islands are strategically important to Russia since they guard entry points to the Sea of Okhotsk, an assembly and patrol area of Russian strategic nuclear submarines that form part of Russia’s Pacific Fleet.

By contrast both Putin and Abe know that despite noisy demands for the islands from Japanese nationalists, Japanese public opinion has long since written off the islands and is no long much exercised by this issue.

Whilst it is unlikely that Abe will drop the demand for the islands, and he must know that Putin is not going to give them up, his floating of the idea of the Peace Treaty, and the negotiations to achieve it which he has now restarted, is probably his way of putting the islands issue to one side as he and Japan forge closer ties with Russia.

(bold italics added)

In other words, the ‘breakthrough’ is not in the intractable but ultimately less important questions of the Kuril Islands and the peace treaty.  It is in the general state of Russian-Japanese relations.

If the Putin-Abe summits in Vladivostok and in Japan shows that ties between Japan and Russia are forging ahead, they also once again demonstrate something else, which I discussed directly after the G20 summit in Hangzhou.  This is that so far from being isolated Russia, though the weakest of the three Great Powers, has over the last decade replaced the US as the diplomatic centre of the international system.  It is to the Russians, not the US – and not yet to China – that everyone wants to talk.

Just as the Russians are increasingly making the diplomatic weather in the Middle East – with the tripartite discussions between Russia, Turkey and Iran to negotiate a peace settlement of the Syrian conflict being just one example of this – so they are increasingly making the diplomatic weather in the eastern Pacific.

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Why did Trump recognize the Golan Heights as Israeli territory?

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 116.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris examine the reasons behind US President Trump’s sudden recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory.

Following Trump’s statements as US President, acting Israeli Foreign Minister is saying that Trump will make it official and sign an executive order to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Syrian border territory on Monday.

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Via DW

Israel says White House officials are preparing an official document to codify support for Israel’s sovereignty of the Golan Heights, which will be signed by US President Donald Trump on Monday.

The signing of the decree will be witnessed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during talks with Trump at the White House, Israel’s acting foreign minister, Israel Katz (pictured), said in a Tweet.

“Tomorrow, President Trump, in the presence of PM Netanyahu, will sign a decree recognizing Israel’s sovereignty on the Golan. Israel-US ties are closer than ever,” Katz said.

Israel seized the strategic plateau from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war, subsequently annexing it in 1981 in a move never recognized by the international community.

Trump’s tweet annoys allies

Trump broke with decades of US Middle East policy when he posted a Tweet on Thursday that said it was time to accept Israel’s widely-contested claim to the border territory.

The decision has been criticized by many US allies — Germany, Britain, France and the EU have all said they still consider the Golan Heights to be “occupied” by Israel.

Syria and other states in the region said the recognition, if confirmed, would violate international law.

Netanyahu has long pushed for Washington’s endorsement, and many analysts see Trump’s comments as a campaign gift ahead of Israel’s April 9 election.

In 2017, Trump drew condemnation throughout the Middle East when he recognized the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

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Russia Gives US Red Line On Venezuela

Political force is out. Military force is out. Respect international law and Venezuela’s sovereignty. That’s Russia’s eminently reasonable ultimatum to Washington.

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Authored by Finian Cunningham via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


At a high-level meeting in Rome this week, it seems that Russia reiterated a grave warning to the US – Moscow will not tolerate American military intervention to topple the Venezuelan government with whom it is allied.

Meanwhile, back in Washington DC, President Donald Trump was again bragging that the military option was still on the table, in his press conference with Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro. Trump is bluffing or not yet up to speed with being apprised of Russia’s red line.

The meeting in the Italian capital between US “special envoy” on Venezuelan affairs Elliot Abrams and Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov had an air of urgency in its arrangement. The US State Department announced the tête-à-tête only three days beforehand. The two officials also reportedly held their two-hour discussions in a Rome hotel, a venue indicating ad hoc arrangement.

Abrams is no ordinary diplomat. He is a regime-change specialist with a criminal record for sponsoring terrorist operations, specifically the infamous Iran-Contra affair to destabilize Nicaragua during the 1980s. His appointment by President Trump to the “Venezuela file” only underscores the serious intent in Washington for regime change in Caracas. Whether it gets away with that intent is another matter.

Moscow’s interlocutor, Sergei Ryabkov, is known to not mince his words, having earlier castigated Washington for seeking global military domination. He calls a spade a spade, and presumably a criminal a criminal.

The encounter in Rome this week was described as “frank” and “serious” – which is diplomatic code for a blazing exchange. The timing comes at a high-stakes moment, after Venezuela having been thrown into chaos last week from civilian power blackouts that many observers, including the Kremlin, blame on American cyber sabotage. The power grid outage followed a failed attempt by Washington to stage a provocation with the Venezuelan military over humanitarian aid deliveries last month from neighboring Colombia.

The fact that Washington’s efforts to overthrow the elected President Nicolas Maduro have so far floundered, might suggest that the Americans are intensifying their campaign to destabilize the country, with the objective of installing US-backed opposition figure Juan Guaido. He declared himself “acting president” in January with Washington’s imprimatur.

Given that the nationwide power blackouts seem to have failed in fomenting a revolt by the civilian population or the military against Maduro, the next option tempting Washington could be the military one.

It seems significant that Washington has recently evacuated its last remaining diplomats from the South American country. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo commented on the evacuation by saying that having US personnel on the ground “was limiting” Washington’s scope for action. Also, American Airlines reportedly cancelled all its services to Venezuela in the past week. Again, suggesting that the US was considering a military intervention, either directly with its troops or covertly by weaponizing local proxies. The latter certainly falls under Abrams’ purview.

After the Rome meeting, Ryabkov said bluntly: “We assume that Washington treats our priorities seriously, our approach and warnings.”

One of those warnings delivered by Ryabkov is understood to have been that no American military intervention in Venezuela will be tolerated by Moscow.

For his part, Abrams sounded as if he had emerged from the meeting after having been given a severe reprimand. “No, we did not come to a meeting of minds, but I think the talks were positive in the sense that both sides emerged with a better understanding of the other’s views,” he told reporters.

“A better understanding of the other’s views,” means that the American side was given a red line to back off.

The arrogance of the Americans is staggering. Abrams seems, according to US reporting, to have flown to Rome with the expectation of working out with Ryabkov a “transition” or “compromise” on who gets the “title of president” of Venezuela.

That’s what he no doubt meant when he said after the meeting “there was not a meeting of minds”, but rather he got “a better understanding” of Russia’s position.

Washington’s gambit is a replay of Syria. During the eight-year war in that country, the US continually proffered the demand of a “political transition” which at the end would see President Bashar al Assad standing down. By contrast, Russia’s unflinching position on Syria has always been that it’s not up to any external power to decide Syria’s politics. It is a sovereign matter for the Syrian people to determine independently.

Nearly three years after Russia intervened militarily in Syria to salvage the Arab country from a US-backed covert war for regime change, the American side has manifestly given up on its erstwhile imperious demands for “political transition”. The principle of Syrian sovereignty has prevailed, in large part because of Russia’s trenchant defense of its Arab ally.

Likewise, Washington, in its incorrigible arrogance, is getting another lesson from Russia – this time in its own presumed “back yard” of Latin America.

It’s not a question of Russia being inveigled by Washington’s regime-change schemers about who should be president of Venezuela and “how we can manage a transition”. Moscow has reiterated countless times that the legitimate president of Venezuela is Nicolas Maduro whom the people voted for last year by an overwhelming majority in a free and fair election – albeit boycotted by the US-orchestrated opposition.

The framework Washington is attempting to set up of choosing between their desired “interim president” and incumbent Maduro is an entirely spurious one. It is not even worthy to be discussed because it is a gross violation of Venezuela’s sovereignty. Who is Washington to even dare try to impose its false choice?

On Venezuela, Russia is having to remind the criminal American rulers – again – about international law and respect for national sovereignty, as Moscow earlier did with regard to Syria.

And in case Washington gets into a huff and tries the military option, Moscow this week told regime-change henchman Abrams that that’s a red line. If Washington has any sense of rationale left, it will know from its Syria fiasco that Russia has Venezuela’s back covered.

Political force is out. Military force is out. Respect international law and Venezuela’s sovereignty. That’s Russia’s eminently reasonable ultimatum to Washington.

Now, the desperate Americans could still try more sabotage, cyber or financial. But their options are limited, contrary to what Trump thinks.

How the days of American imperialist swagger are numbered. There was a time when it could rampage all over Latin America. Not any more, evidently. Thanks in part to Russia’s global standing and military power.

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With RussiaGate Over Where’s Hillary?

Hillary is the epitome of envy. Envy is the destructive sin of coveting someone else’s life so much they are obsessed with destroying it. It’s the sin of Cain. She envies what Trump has, the Presidency.

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Authored by Tom Luongo:


During most of the RussiaGate investigation against Donald Trump I kept saying that all roads lead to Hillary Clinton.

Anyone with three working brain cells knew this, including ‘Miss’ Maddow, whose tears of disappointment are particularly delicious.

Robert Mueller’s investigation was designed from the beginning to create something out of nothing. It did this admirably.

It was so effective it paralyzed the country for more than two years, just like Europe has been held hostage by Brexit. And all of this because, in the end, the elites I call The Davos Crowd refused to accept that the people no longer believed their lies about the benefits of their neoliberal, globalist agenda.

Hillary Clinton’s ascension to the Presidency was to be their apotheosis along with the Brexit vote. These were meant to lay to rest, once and for all time, the vaguely libertarian notion that people should rule themselves and not be ruled by philosopher kings in some distant land.

Hillary’s failure was enormous. And the RussiaGate gambit to destroy Trump served a laundry list of purposes to cover it:

  1. Undermine his legitimacy before he even takes office.
  2. Accuse him of what Hillary actually did: collude with Russians and Ukrainians to effect the outcome of the election
  3. Paralyze Trump on his foreign policy desires to scale back the Empire
  4. Give aid and comfort to hurting progressives and radicalize them further undermining our political system
  5. Polarize the electorate over the false choice of Trump’s guilt.
  6. Paralyze the Dept. of Justice and Congress so that they would not uncover the massive corruption in the intelligence agencies in the U.S. and the U.K.
  7. Isolate Trump and take away every ally or potential ally he could have by turning them against him through prosecutor overreach.

Hillary should have been thrown to the wolves after she failed. When you fail the people she failed and cost them the money she cost them, you lose more than just your funding. What this tells you is that she has so much dirt on everyone involved, once this thing started everyone went along with it lest she burn them down as well.

Burnin’ Down da House

Hillary is the epitome of envy. Envy is the destructive sin of coveting someone else’s life so much they are obsessed with destroying it. It’s the sin of Cain

She envies what Trump has, the Presidency.

And she was willing to tear it down to keep him from having it no matter how much damage it would do. She’s worse than the Joker from The Dark Knight.

Because while the Joker is unfathomable to someone with a conscience there’s little stopping us from excising him from the community completely., even though Batman refuses.

Hillary hates us for who we are and what we won’t give her. And that animus drove her to blackmail the world while putting on the face of its savior.

And that’s what makes what comes next so obvious to me. RussiaGate was never a sustainable narrative. It was ludicrous from the beginning. And now that it has ended with a whimper there are a lot of angry, confused and scared people out there.

Mueller thought all he had to do was lean on corrupt people and threaten them with everything. They would turn on Trump. He would resign in disgrace from the public outcry.

It didn’t work. In the end Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen and Roger Stone all held their ground or perjured themselves into the whole thing falling apart.

Andrew Weissman’s resignation last month was your tell there was nothing. Mueller would pursue this to the limit of his personal reputation and no further.

Just like so many other politicians.

Vote Your Pocketbook

With respect to Brexit I’ve been convinced that it would come down to reputations.

Would the British MP’s vote against their own personal best interests to do the bidding of the EU?

Would Theresa May eventually realize her historical reputation would be destroyed if she caves to Brussels and betrays Brexit in the end?

Always bet on the fecklessness of politicians. They will always act selfishly when put to the test. While leading RussiaGate, Mueller was always headed here if he couldn’t get someone to betray Trump.

And now his report is in. There are no new indictments. And by doing so he is saving his reputation for the future. And that is your biggest tell that HIllary’s blackmail is now worthless.

They don’t fear her anymore because RussiaGate outed her as the architect. Anything else she has is irrelevant in the face of trying to oust a sitting president from power.

The progressives that were convinced of Trump’s treason are bereft; their false hope stripped away like standing in front of a sandblaster. They will be raw, angry and looking for blood after they get over their denial.

Everyone else who was blackmailed into going along with this lunacy will begin cutting deals to save their skins. The outrage over this will not end. Trump will be President when he stands for re-election.

The Wolves Beckon

The Democrats do not have a chance against him as of right now. When he was caving on everything back in December it looked like he was done. That there was enough meat on the RussiaGate bones to make Nancy Pelosi brave.

Then she backed off on impeachment talk. Oops.

But the Democrats have a sincere problem. Their candidates have no solutions other than to embrace the crazy and go full Bolshevik. That is not a winning position.

Trump will kill them on ‘socialism.’

The Deep State and The Davos Crowd stand revealed and reviled.

If they don’t do something dramatic then the anger from the rest of the country will also be palpable come election time. Justice is not done simply by saying, “No evidence of collusion.”

It’s clear that RussiaGate is a failure of monumental proportions. Heads will have to roll. But who will be willing to fall on their sword at this point?

Comey? No. McCabe? No.

There is only one answer. And Obama’s people are still in place to protect him. I said last fall that “Hillary would indict herself.” And I meant it. Eventually her blackmail and drive to burn it all down led to this moment.

The circumstances are different than I expected back then, Trump didn’t win the mid-terms. But the end result was always the same. If there is no collusion, if RussiaGate is a scam, then all roads lead back to Hillary as the sacrificial lamb.

Because the bigger project, the erection of a transnational superstate, is bigger than any one person. Hillary is expendable.

Lies are expensive to maintain. The truth is cheap to defend. Think of the billions in opportunity costs associated with this. Once the costs rise above the benefits, change happens fast.

If there is any hope of salvaging the center of this country for the Democrats, the ones that voted against Hillary in 2016, then there is no reason anymore not to indict Hillary as the architect of RussiaGate.

We all know it’s the truth. So, the cheapest way out of this mess for them is to give the MAGApedes what they want, Hillary.

And hope that is enough bread and circuses to distract from the real storm ahead of us.

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