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Austria, world’s intelligence capital, leans toward Russia

Austria to host Vladimir Putin next week

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If the Russians did it, and insert accusation here, then surely the Austrians would know about it. After all, they’re the intelligence capital of the world.

They’re supposed to be home to the best spies, and perhaps have lots of good ones, themselves.

So, again, if Russia was up to all the nefarious activities that Washington and London keep griping about, then surely they would have some goods on it and therefore know that cozying up to Moscow isn’t the best maneuver. But apparently, they haven’t yet caught on.

NBC news reports:

VIENNA — In a 19th-century kaffeehaus here, a handful of political activists nod their heads while sharing opinions many would consider racist, homophobic and awash with conspiracy theories.

One topic is never far from their lips: These men believe that historically neutral Austria should turn its back on the West and embrace Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“It’s our aim to somehow counter this negative image of Russia propagated in Western media,” Alexander Markovics, 26, says between sips of fizzy apple juice.

“We have to take the side of Russia,” the stocky and bearded Markovics adds. “Russia is a country that gets oppressed and is actually the victim of Western imperialism.”

Here in Austria, pro-Kremlin views aren’t just confined to fringe political meetings.

The country’s government appears to be drifting closer to Putin. With Vienna widely regarded as the spying capital of the world, that has serious implications for Washington and its allies.

One factor is at the heart of these concerns: the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) — which is openly supportive of Russia.

“Austria is economically and politically integrated in the West, but the FPÖ is trying to play the card of being part of the East,” says Gustav Gressel, a former desk officer at the Austrian Ministry of Defense. “If you have an East-West confrontation, you basically have parts of your enemy behind your own lines.”

Founded by former Nazis in the 1950s, the FPÖ has been a junior member of the country’s coalition government since December. As part of that deal, it was given responsibility for Austria’s defense and interior ministries, and with them the domestic and military intelligence services.

The FPÖ won 26 percent of the vote in last year’s legislative elections by deploying anti-establishment, anti-immigrant populist rhetoric that was condemned by opponents as racist, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic.

The party and its leading figures are also unashamedly fans of Putin. The idea of a pro-Russia party controlling intelligence services has led to fears that Western secrets aren’t safe any more if shared with Vienna.

“Austria is part of the European Union defense policy, and whatever is agreed and discussed there will be leaked to Moscow,” predicts Gressel, who is now a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin.

“The issue is trust and mistrust,” says Siegfried Beer, a leading espionage expert at the Austrian Center for Intelligence, Propaganda and Security Studies, who added that in terms of security and dealing with partners, giving the FPÖ control of the intelligence services “was not the best solution.”

Austria’s tradition as a playground for espionage dates back to the 19th century and was immortalized in the 1949 film, “The Third Man.” Spying is legal here unless it’s against the Austrian state itself.

It was therefore no coincidence that Vienna was the venue for a high-profile spy swap between the U.S. and Russia in 2010 involving renowned Russian agent Anna Chapman.

The country’s neutral status — neither part of NATO nor allied to Russia — means it’s home to a large number of nongovernmental and international organizations. Experts say many diplomats working in the city are actually spies, with Beer and others estimating the number at around 7,000.

‘IT STINKS TO HIGH HEAVEN’

The FPÖ is not shy about its affection for Russia.

In 2016, party leader Heinz-Christian Strache signed a formal “cooperation pact” with Putin’s United Russia party — unprecedented for a mainstream political group in Western Europe.

It was not just symbolic. After the deal, the parties agreed to “reinforce the links between our parties and countries, including in the field of international security,” according to United Russia politician Sergei Zheleznyak.

“There’s a cause for concern,” says William Eacho, who served as U.S. ambassador to Austria from 2009 to 2013. “It’s certainly going to give other nations pause when it comes to sharing intelligence with the Austrians.”

Both Eacho and Beer say there is no concrete evidence that the FPÖ has so far used its position in government to help Russia.

But the point, they say, is that Russian links alone would be enough to prompt concern among Western powers.

“In the Austrian Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior, which are controlled by the FPÖ, you have people collaborating with the power you are preparing yourself to go to war against. That’s not very reassuring,” says Gressel, the former defense official.

Others allege that the FPÖ’s fondness for Russia has already had a measurable effect. Austria was one of the few European Union countries that refused to follow the U.K. and others in expelling Russian diplomats after the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter on British soil in March.

The FPÖ’s senior coalition partner is the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP), led by Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz. Kurz, 31, explained that he wouldn’t expel diplomats because he wanted Austria to be a “builder of bridges between East and West” and “to keep the channels of communication to Russia open.”

The FPÖ has also called for an end to anti-Russia sanctions and backed a referendum on leaving the European Union — an institution Putin has long sought to destabilize…

A REBALANCING ACT

Austria’s warmth for Russia is neither new nor confined to the far-right, however.

The Allies and Soviets withdrew from the country in 1955 on the condition it wouldn’t take sides in the Cold War. It entered the E.U. in 1995, but never joined NATO.

Many Austrian citizens appear to have a fondness for Russia, too. More than one-third said they favored softer sanctions after the annexation of Crimea in 2014, according to a poll by the Austrian market research company OGM.

Back in the kaffeehaus, Markovics and his friends say that “heavy” Western “propaganda” over Crimea spurred them into creating their activist group, called the Suworow Institute after a Russian military leader from the 1700s.

The institute employs seven people and has around 100 members, according to its founder, 31-year-old Patrick Poppel.

“We try to present a different perspective especially on Russian foreign policy,” Poppel says, peering through his small, wire-rimmed glasses.

Poppel and Markovics were both members of the FPÖ, but quit because they feel the party hadn’t gone far enough in supporting Moscow while in government. They also say the FPÖ has been too soft on what they call the “Islamization” of Europe by refugees.

They deny any links to the Russian state, and say they are not racist or fascist.

However, Poppel talks of defending “Christian civilization” by closing Austria’s borders to immigrants and Muslims. He also wants to repatriate all those deemed non-indigenous — even though his wife is from Armenia — and speaks out against liberals who advocate “extreme homosexuality and feminism.”

Ultimately, Markovics says, the group believes that “elites” in the U.S. and its allies are dominating Europe, and “making profit out of actions that could lead us directly into nuclear apocalypse.”

They see greater ties with Russia as a way to rebalance that.

‘DEFINITELY NOT A THREAT’

The FPÖ insists its links to Moscow are not problematic.

Johannes Hübner is a lawyer, former FPÖ lawmaker and member of the Austrian-Russian Friendship Society. He withdrew his candidacy in last year’s legislative elections after giving a speech some claimed had anti-Semitic overtones — something he denies.

Speaking to NBC News over eggs and avocado on the veranda of his spacious Vienna apartment, Hübner recounted his time in Parliament.

“As a politician, I used a lot of my energy to lobby for more understanding for Russia and to lobby against cutting ties with Russia again,” he says.

Unlike the fringe Suworow Institute, the Austrian-Russian Friendship Society boasts high-profile politicians, businessmen and academics in Vienna and Moscow among its members.

Its board includes prominent FPÖ lawmaker Johann Gudenus, 41, a square-jawed speaker who studied in Moscow. He is often cited as the prime example of his party’s deep ties with Russia. When contacted by NBC News, Gudenus’ spokesman said he was not available.

Does Hübner see any problem or malice in fostering ties to a country often criticized by Western watchdogs as undemocratic and a human rights abuser?

“It is definitely not a threat,” he says, smiling gently. “I was in politics for almost nine years here and I would have realized if [Russia] tried to influence policy … or if they bribed people for a dark network. It doesn’t exist.”

Like many in the FPÖ, he says building bridges to Russia is important to counterbalance the “overwhelming American influence,” which is too often presented as the “white knight” of global affairs.

“The Moscow influence in Europe is zero,” Hübner adds. “It would be good if we had more influence from Russia. Not 50 percent, but maybe 10 percent or 15 percent. Now it is maybe 1 percent.”

Next week, the Austrian President, Alexander Van der Bellen and Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, are scheduled to host Russian President Vladimir Putin and talk relations as well as economic cooperation. They intend to discuss world events and their perspectives on major issues.

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Macron cuts ski holiday short, vowing crack down on Yellow Vests (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 109.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the 18th consecutive week of Yellow Vests protests in Paris. Following last weeks lower participation, Saturday’s Yellow Vests in Paris gathered larger crowds, with various outbreaks of violence and rioting that has been blamed on extreme elements, who French authorities claim have infiltrated the movement.

“Act XVIII” of the protests has shown that the Yellow Vests have not given up. France’s Champs-Élysées boulevard was where most of the violence occurred, with the street being left in a pile of broken glass and flames.

One day after Paris was set ablaze, French President Emmanuel Macron cut his ski holiday short, returning to Paris and vowing to take “strong decisions” to prevent more violence.

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Via Zerohedge


Paris awoke on Sunday to smouldering fires, broken windows and looted stores following the 18th consecutive Saturday of Yellow Vest protests.

Around 200 people were arrested according to BFM TV, while about 80 shops near the iconic Champs Elysees had been damaged and/or looted according to AFP, citing Champs Elysees committee president Jean-Noel Reinhardt.

The 373-year-old Saint Sulpice Roman Catholic church was set on fire while people were inside, however nobody was injured. The cause of the fire remains unknown.

The riots were so severe that French President Emmanuel Macron cut short a vacation at the La Mongie ski resort in the Hautes-Pyrénées following a three-day tour of East Africa which took him to Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya.

Macron skied on Friday, telling La Depeche du Midi “I’m going to spend two-three days here to relax, to find landscapes and friendly faces,” adding “I’m happy to see the Pyrenees like that, radiant, although I know it was more difficult at Christmas” referring to the lack of snow in December.

In response to Saturday’s violence, Macron said over Twitter that “strong decisions” were coming to prevent more violence.

Macron said some individuals — dubbed “black blocs” by French police forces — were taking advantage of the protests by the Yellow Vest grassroots movement to “damage the Republic, to break, to destroy.” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Twitter that those who excused or encouraged such violence were complicit in it. –Bloomberg

The French President has family ties in the Hautes-Pyrénées, including Bagnères de Bigorre where his grandmother lived. He is a regular visitor to the region.

Emmanuel Macron (2ndL), head of the political movement In Marche! (Onwards!) And candidate for the 2017 presidential election, and his wife Brigitte Trogneux (L) have lunch April 12, 2017 (Reuters)

 

 

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Vesti calls out Pompeo on lying about Russia invading Ukraine [Video]

Secretary Pompeo displayed either stunning ignorance or a mass-attack of propaganda about what must be the most invisible war in history.

Seraphim Hanisch

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After the 2014 Maidan revolution and the subsequent secessions of Lugansk and Donetsk in Ukraine, and after the rejoining of Crimea with its original nation of Russia, the Western media went on a campaign to prove the Russia is (/ was / was about to / had already / might / was thinking about / was planning to … etc.) invade Ukraine. For the next year or so, about every two weeks, internet news sources like Yahoo! News showed viewers pictures of tanks, box trucks and convoys to “prove” that the invasion was underway (or any of the other statuses confirming the possibilities above stated.) This information was doubtless provided to US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.

Apparently, Secretary Pompeo believed this ruse, or is being paid to believe this ruse because in a speech recently, he talked about it as fact:

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Russia’s annexation of Crimea and aggression in eastern Ukraine an attempt to gain access to Ukraine’s oil and gas reserves.

He stated this at IHS Markit’s CERAWeek conference in Houston, the USA, Reuters reports.

Pompeo urged the oil industry to work with the Trump administration to promote U.S. foreign policy interests, especially in Asia and in Europe, and to punish what he called “bad actors” on the world stage.

The United States has imposed harsh sanctions in the past several months on two major world oil producers, Venezuela and Iran.

Pompeo said the U.S. oil-and-gas export boom had given the United States the ability to meet energy demand once satisfied by its geopolitical rivals.

“We don’t want our European allies hooked on Russian gas through the Nord Stream 2 project, any more than we ourselves want to be dependent on Venezuelan oil supplies,” Pompeo said, referring to a natural gas pipeline expansion from Russia to Central Europe.

Pompeo called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine an attempt to gain access to the country’s oil and gas reserves.

Although the state-run news agency Vesti News often comes under criticism for rather reckless, or at least, extremely sarcastic propaganda at times, here they rightly nailed Mr. Pompeo’s lies to the wall and billboarded it on their program:

The news anchors even made a wisecrack about one of the political figures, Konstantin Zatulin saying as a joke that Russia plans to invade the United States to get its oil. They further noted that Secretary Pompeo is uneducated about the region and situation, but they offered him the chance to come to Russia and learn the correct information about what is going on.

To wit, Russia has not invaded Ukraine at all. There is no evidence to support such a claim, while there IS evidence to show that the West is actively interfering with Russia through the use of Ukraine as a proxyWhile this runs counter to the American narrative, it is simply the truth. Ukraine appears to be the victim of its own ambitions at this point, for while the US tantalizes the leadership of the country and even interferes with the Orthodox Church in the region, the country lurches towards a presidential election with three very poor candidates, most notably the one who is president there now, Petro Poroshenko.

However, the oil and gas side of the anti-Russian propaganda operation by the US is significant. The US wishes for Europe to buy gas from American suppliers, even though this is woefully inconvenient and expensive when Russia is literally at Europe’s doorstep with easy supplies. However, the Cold War Party in the United States, which still has a significant hold on US policy making categorizes the sale of Russia gas to powers like NATO ally Germany as a “threat” to European security.

It is interesting that Angela Merkel herself does not hold this line of thinking. It is also interesting and worthy of note, that this is not the only NATO member that is dealing more and more with Russia in terms of business. It underscores the loss of purpose that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization suffers now since there is no Soviet Union to fight.

However, the US remains undaunted. If there is no enemy to fight, the Americans feel that they must create one, and Russia has been the main scapegoat for American power ambitions. More than ever now, this tactic appears to be the one in use for determining the US stance towards other powers in the world.

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Ariel Cohen exposes Washington’s latest twist in anti-Russia strategy [Video]

Excellent interview Ariel Cohen and Vladimir Solovyov reveals the forces at work in and behind American foreign policy.

Seraphim Hanisch

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While the American people and press are pretty much complicit in reassuring the masses that America is the only “right” superpower on earth, and that Russia and China represent “enemy threats” for doing nothing more than existing and being successfully competitive in world markets, Russia Channel One got a stunner of a video interview with Ariel Cohen.

Who is Ariel Cohen? Wikipedia offers this information about him:

Ariel Cohen (born April 3, 1959 in Crimea in YaltaUSSR) is a political scientist focusing on political risk, international security and energy policy, and the rule of law.[1] Cohen currently serves as the Director of The Center for Energy, Natural Resources and Geopolitics (CENRG) at the Institute for Analysis of Global Security (IAGS). CENRG focuses on the nexus between energy, geopolitics and security, and natural resources and growth. He is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, within the Global Energy Center and the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center.[2] Until July 2014, Dr. Cohen was a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. He specializes in Russia/Eurasia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East.

Cohen has testified before committees of the U.S. Congress, including the Senate and House Foreign Relations Committees, the House Armed Services Committee, the House Judiciary Committee and the Helsinki Commission.[4] He also served as a Policy Adviser with the National Institute for Public Policy’s Center for Deterrence Analysis.[5] In addition, Cohen has consulted for USAID, the World Bank and the Pentagon.[6][7]

Cohen is a frequent writer and commentator in the American and international media. He has appeared on CNN, NBC, CBS, FOX, C-SPAN, BBC-TV and Al Jazeera English, as well as Russian and Ukrainian national TV networks. He was a commentator on a Voice of America weekly radio and TV show for eight years. Currently, he is a Contributing Editor to the National Interest and a blogger for Voice of America. He has written guest columns for the New York TimesInternational Herald TribuneChristian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, EurasiaNet, Valdai Discussion Club,[8] and National Review Online. In Europe, Cohen’s analyses have appeared in Kommersant, Izvestiya, Hurriyet, the popular Russian website Ezhenedelny Zhurnal, and many others.[9][10]

Mr. Cohen came on Russian TV for a lengthy interview running about 17 minutes. This interview, shown in full below, is extremely instructive in illustrating the nature of the American foreign policy directives such as they are at this time.

We have seen evidence of this in recent statements by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo regarding Russia’s “invasion” of Ukraine, and an honestly unabashed bit of fear mongering about China’s company Huawei and its forthcoming 5G networks, which we will investigate in more detail in another piece. Both bits of rhetoric reflect a re-polished narrative that, paraphrased, says to the other world powers,

Either you do as we tell you, or you are our enemy. You are not even permitted to out-compete with us in business, let alone foreign relations. The world is ours and if you try to step out of place, you will be dealt with as an enemy power.

This is probably justified paranoia, because it is losing its place. Where the United Stated used to stand for opposition against tyranny in the world, it now acts as the tyrant, and even as a bully. Russia and China’s reaction might be seen as ignoring the bully and his bluster and just going about doing their own thing. It isn’t a fight, but it is treating the bully with contempt, as bullies indeed deserve.

Ariel Cohen rightly points out that there is a great deal of political inertia in the matter of allowing Russia and China to just do their own thing. The US appears to be acting paranoid about losing its place. His explanations appear very sound and very reasonable and factual. Far from some of the snark Vesti is often infamous for, this interview is so clear it is tragic that most Americans will never see it.

The tragedy for the US leadership that buys this strategy is that they appear to be blinded so much by their own passion that they cannot break free of it to save themselves.

This is not the first time that such events have happened to an empire. It happened in Rome; it happened for England; and it happened for the shorter-lived empires of Nazi Germany and ISIS. It happens every time that someone in power becomes afraid to lose it, and when the forces that propelled that rise to power no longer are present. The US is a superpower without a reason to be a superpower.

That can be very dangerous.

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