Monday 16th of December 2019

throwing sand in their face since 1917...


Stephen F. Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at NYU and Princeton, and John Batchelor continue their (usually) weekly discussions of the new US-Russian Cold War. Previous installments, now in their fifth year, are at

Cohen begins by putting the current bipartisan Senate campaign to impose new, “crushing” sanctions on Russia in historical context. Broadly understood, sanctions have been part of US policy toward Russia for much of the past 100 years. During the Russian civil war of 1918–20, President Woodrow Wilson sent American troops to fight against the emerging Soviet government. Though the “reds” were clearly the established government of Soviet Russia by 1921, Washington continued to deny the USSR diplomatic recognition until President Franklin D. Roosevelt established formal relations in 1933. During much of the 40-year Cold War, the United States imposed various sanctions on its superpower rival, mainly related to technological and military exports, along with periodic expulsions of diplomats and “spies” on both sides.


Congress’s major political contribution was the 1975 Jackson–Vanik Amendment, which denied Moscow privileged trading status with the United States, primarily because of Kremlin restrictions on Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union. Indicative of how mindlessly habitual US sanctions had become, Jackson–Vanik was nullified only in late 2012, long after the end of the Soviet Union and after any restrictions on Jews leaving (or returning to) Russia. Even more indicative, it was immediately replaced, in December 2012, by the Magnitsky Act, which purported to sanction individual Russian officials and “oligarchs” for “human-rights abuses.” The Magnitsky Act remains law, supplemented by additional sanctions leveled against Russia as a result of the 2014 Ukrainian crisis and particularly Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.

Looking back over this long history, there is no evidence that any US sanctions ever significantly altered Moscow’s “behavior” in ways that were intended. Or that they adversely affected Russia’s ruling political or financial elites. Any pain inflicted fell on ordinary citizens, who nonetheless rallied “patriotically” around the Kremlin leadership, most recently around Russian President Vladimir Putin. Historically, such sanctions were not problem-solving measures advancing American national security but more akin to temper tantrums or road rage, making things even worse, than to real policy-making.

Why, then, Washington’s new bout of sanction mania against Moscow, especially considering the harsh official Russian reaction expressed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who called the Senate’s proposed measures “a declaration of economic war” and promised that the Kremlin would retaliate?

One explanation is an underlying, astonishing assumption recently stated by Michael McFaul, the media-ubiquitous former US ambassador to Moscow and a longtime Russia scholar: “To advance almost all of our core national security and economic interests, the US does not need Russia.” Such a statement by a former or current policy-maker and intellectual is perhaps unprecedented in modern times—and manifestly wrong. US “core” interests “need” Russia’s cooperation in many vital ways. They include avoiding nuclear war; preventing a new and more dangerous arms race; guarding against the proliferation of weapons and materials of mass destruction; coping with international terrorists (who are in pursuit of such materials); achieving lasting peace in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East; fostering prosperity and stability in Europe, of which Russia is a part; promoting better relations with the Islamic world, of which Russia is also a part; and avoiding a generation-long confrontation with a formidable new alliance that already includes Russia, China, Iran, and other non-NATO countries. If McFaul’s assumption is widespread in Washington, as it seems to be, we are living in truly unwise and perilous times.

A second assumption is no less myopic and dangerous: that the Kremlin is weak and lacks countermeasures to adopt against the new sanctions being advocated in Washington. Consider, however, the following real possibilities. Moscow could sell off its billions of dollars of US Treasury securities and begin trading with friendly nations in non-dollar currencies, both of which it has already begun to do. It could restrict, otherwise undermine, or even shut down many large US corporations long doing profitable business in Russia, among them Citibank, Cisco Systems, Apple, Microsoft, PepsiCo, McDonald’s, Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, Ford Motor Co., and even Boeing. It could end titanium exports to the United States, which are vital to American civilian and military aircraft manufacturers, including Boeing. And terminate the sale of rocket engines essential for NASA and US satellite operations. The world’s largest territorial country, Russia could charge US airlines higher tariffs for their regular use of its air space or ban them altogether, making them uncompetitive against other national carriers. Politically, the Kremlin could end its own sanctions on Iran and North Korea, alleviating Washington’s pressure on those governments. And it could end the Russian supply transit to US troops fighting in Afghanistan used since the early 1990s.

None of this seems to have been considered by Washington’s sanction zealots. Nor have four other circumstances. Sanctions against Russia’s “oligarchs” actually help Putin, whom the US political-media establishment so despises and constantly indicts. For years, he has been trying to persuade many of the richest oligarchs to repatriate their offshore wealth to Russia. Few did so. Now, fearful of having their assets abroad frozen or seized by US measures, more and more are complying. Second, new sanctions limiting Moscow’s ability to borrow and finance investment at home will retard the country’s still meager growth rate. But the Kremlin coped after the 2014 sanctions and will do so again by turning away even more from the West and toward China and other non-Western partners, and by developing its own capacity to produce sanctioned imports. (Russian agricultural production, for example, has surged in recent years, now becoming a major export industry.) Third, already unhappy with existing economic sanctions against Russia, European multinational corporations—and thus Europe itself—may tilt even farther away from their capricious “transatlantic partner” in Washington, who is diminishing their vast market in the East. And fourth, waging “economic war” is one impulsive step from breaking off all diplomatic relations with Russia, this too actually being discussed by Washington zealots. Such a rupture would turn the clock back many decades, but in an era when there is no “globalization,” or international security, without Russia.

Finally, what reason do Washington extreme Cold Warriors themselves give for imposing new sanctions on Russia? Most of them are in the US Senate, historically a body with at least several independent-minded distinguished statesmen, but no longer, with the apparently solitary exception of Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has demonstrated considerable wisdom in regard to US-Russian relations. Their professed reasons are various and nonsensical. Some say Russia must be sanctioned for Ukraine, but those events happened four years ago and have already been “punished.” Others say for “Russia’s aggression in Syria,” but it was Putin’s military intervention that destroyed the Islamic State’s terrorist occupation of much of the country and ended its threat to take Damascus, to the benefit of America and its allies, including Europe and Israel. Still others insist the Kremlin must be sanctioned for its “nerve agent” attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK several months ago. But the British government’s case against the Kremlin has virtually fallen apart, as any attentive reader of articles in David Johnson’s Russia List will understand.

Ultimately, though, the new bout of sanction mania is in response to Russia’s alleged “attack on American democracy” during the 2016 presidential election. In reality, there was no “attack”—no Pearl Harbor, no 9/11, no Russian parachuters descending on Washington—only the kind of “meddling” and “interference” in the other’s domestic politics that both countries have practiced, almost ritualistically, for nearly a hundred years. Indeed, whatever “meddling” Russian actors did in 2016 may well have been jaywalking compared to the Clinton administration’s massive, highly intrusive political and financial intervention on behalf of the failing Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s reelection campaign in 1996.

We are left, then, with the real reason behind the new anti-Russian sanctions effort: to thwart and even punish President Donald Trump for his policy of “cooperation with Russia.” And Putin too for having met and cooperated with Trump at their Helsinki summit in July. This bizarre, also unprecedented, reality is more than a whisper. According to a New York Times “news analysis,” as well as other published reports, a “bipartisan group of senators, dismayed that Mr. Trump had not publicly confronted Mr. Putin over Russia’s election meddling, released draft legislation” of new sanctions against Moscow. “Passage of such a bill would impose some of the most damaging sanctions yet.”

Leave aside for now that it is not Russian “meddling” that is delegitimizing our elections but instead these fact-free allegations themselves that are doing so. (How many losing candidates in 2018 will claim their victory was snatched away by Putin?) Consider instead that for doing what every American president since Eisenhower has done—meet with the sitting Kremlin leader in order to avoid stumbling into a war between the nuclear superpowers—in effect both Trump and Putin are being condemned by the Washington establishment, including by members of Trump’s own intelligence agencies.

If so, who will avert the prospect of war with Russia, a new Cuban missile–like crisis, conceivably in the Baltic region, Ukraine, or Syria? Certainly not any leading representative of the Democratic Party. Certainly not the current Russophobic “bipartisan” Senate. Certainly not the most influential media outlets, which amplify the warmongering folly almost daily. In this most existential regard, there is for now only, like it or not, President Donald Trump.


Stephen F. Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at NYU and Princeton, and John Batchelor continue their (usually) weekly discussions of the new US-Russian Cold War. Previous installments, now in their fifth year, are at


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protecting terrorists...

Islamic State managed to regain access to Syrian oil fields and make profits from selling oil, a new UN report reveals. While the UN did not point fingers, the IS reemergence seems to occur in areas held by the US-backed forces.

“Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant [IS, formerly ISIL/ISIS], having been defeated militarily in Iraq and most of the Syrian Arab Republic during 2017, rallied in early 2018. This was the result of a loss of momentum by forces fighting it in the east of the Syrian Arab Republic,” the recent report from the UN Security Council’s Sanctions Monitoring Team reads. The document is dated July 27, but was only released to the public this week.

The slow-down gave IS “breathing space to prepare for the next phase of its evolution into a global covert network.” As of June 2018, the terrorist group has been controlling “small pockets of territory in the Syrian Arab Republic on the Iraqi border,” effectively carrying on with its quasi-state ways.


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polandia games...

US President Donald Trump gave his permission to build an American army base in Poland. Poland attached great importance to the event. Polish President Andrzej Duda even suggested naming the new army base in honor of Donald Trump. However, the construction of the "Fort Trump" army base will be of great importance not only for Poland, but also for the whole world.

Poland has been a transit territory to armies of many nations for centuries. Today, Poland is on the fault line again. Warsaw is surrounded by the powerful and "aggressive" Russian Federation, always displeased Baltic States, the unstable and rapidly degrading Ukraine, and refugee-stricken Europe. With a US military base on its territory, Poland will feel calmer.

Russia has been enhancing the military potential of the Kaliningrad region for years now. The region, which is actually an enclave, is extremely important for Russia, and NATO cannot but realize that. It appears that the US administration decided to build an army base in Poland as part of the move to contain Russia and increase its military presence in Europe.

NATO is particularly concerned about the Suwalki Corridor - a land corridor connecting Russia-friendly Belarus and Kaliningrad. This is the place where Poland borders on Lithuania. These two countries are always concerned about the threat from the Russian Federation. USA's move to build another army base near Russian borders comes as a real challenge for Russia. The Russian government can see it as an act of aggression.

The deployment of the US army base in Poland is beneficial to the North Atlantic Alliance, since it gives the alliance an opportunity to counter the growth of military capabilities of the Kaliningrad region - Russia's westernmost outpost. If NATO forces try to block Kaliningrad, the Russian army may try to break through the Suwalki Corridor from Belarus.

The deployment of the American military base in Poland can play a dirty joke on Poland, because the decision comes in violation of the "Russia-NATO Founding Act". Moscow will thus have a right to recognize the North Atlantic alliance as an aggressor with all ensuing consequences for both NATO and Poland.

The US can also use Poland for anti-Russian provocations. In particular, Washington may pull out from the INF Treaty and deploy long-range cruise missiles in "Fort Trump" without asking permission from Warsaw. In this case, the US army base will make Poland run additional risks of a Russian missile attack, let alone the growth of tensions in relations with Moscow. It seems very strange that Poland is willing to allocate the astounding amount of $2 billion for the purpose.

In case of a military conflict with NATO, the alliance will be able to promptly deploy a large group of servicemen and combat equipment to the Russian border near the Baltic States and Poland. This may play a decisive role if the United States decides to attack Russia.

However, the head of the Pentagon, James Mattis, said that the United States has not made a final decision on the "Fort Trump." According to Mattis, the decision is to be made in early 2019.

Also read: 

Moscow aware of NATO's plans to attack Russia

NATO's 5,000 warplanes ready to bomb Russia

US-Russia confrontation: War is peace, freedom is slavery

Pentagon eyes Russia's air defenses in Kaliningrad

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Since 1917, nearly every US president had a secret dream. Fight and defeat Russia. The only one who didn't want this "secret" war, got assassinated, JFK. The others knew history: Napoleon and Hitler. So the present crop is preparing a bit better, on the armament and propaganda levels, than those two idiots and at the same time are baiting Russia to make "the first move" to claim the "high moral ground"... It would be stupid for us to ignore all these signs and one day say: "Ah bugger, we're at war again..."


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60 useless national fun deeds...

Spokespeople for the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation commented on the expansion of US sanctions against Russia because of the alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election. According to Russian officials, there is already a round number of anti-Russian restrictions.

"We continue watching the United States practicing sanctions against our country. It appears that it has turned into some kind of national fun there, because yesterday's anti-Russian measures have become the 60th since 2011," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said. 

Ryabkov noted that Washington continues to introduce new sanctions because old ones bring no results. 

"We can also see the excitement that has engulfed American politicians, many of whom, being prisoners to their beliefs of their own "exceptionalism," hope that they need to take a little bit more effort before they can start dictating their conditions to Russia," Ryabkov said.

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MOSCOW (Sputnik) - The stationing of a US military base in Poland will mean the dismantlement of the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, which directly bans deployment of substantial combat forces along the border on a permanent basis, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko told Sputnik.


“This will mean that the NATO-Russia Founding Act, which directly bans the deployment of substantial combat forces on a permanent basis, will be dismantled. I reiterate that this step would significantly worsen the security situation," Grushko said.

“This will require us to take additional military and technical precautions that will reliably guarantee our security under the new circumstances. We have various opportunities, including cost-effective ones, how to strengthen our security,” the former Russian envoy to NATO stressed.


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It’s the 1850s all over again...

From Neil Clark

The Western powers have Russia in their sights. Propaganda is at fever pitch. Sounds familiar? No, I’m not talking about 2019, but 1919, when Churchill was supporting military intervention against the Russian government.

One hundred years ago, World War I may have ended but the world was hardly at peace.

Then, as now, Russia was a target. Bolshevik rule, only established in late 1917, was threatened by a Western-backed foreign intervention to help the anti-Bolshevik White Army regain power.

Today, the biggest hawk on the scene in Britain is Gavin Williamson, the defense secretary. In 1919, it was one Winston Churchill, secretary of state for war. At least the titles they gave government ministers were more honest in those days.

In March 1919, Churchill went over to Paris, where the Versailles Peace Conference was taking place, to push for more war.

The great cigar-smoker denounced "the baboonery of Bolshevism" and, as historian AJP Taylor records, persuaded the Supreme Council to "try intervention on a large scale."

Taylor details what the British brought to the anti-Bolshevik crusade. "Surplus British tanks and other munitions of war, to the tune of £100m, were provided for the 'Whites.' British volunteers fought with Kolchak, self-styled supreme ruler of all the Russians, in Siberia. A few served with Denikin in southern Russia. There were substantial British forces at Archangel and Murmansk… A British force occupied Baku, and another ranged along the frontier which divided Russia from Afghanistan."

There was even, believe it or not, a battalion under the command of Colonel John Ward, a former trade union leader and the Liberal-Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent. Say what you like about Ward, but at least he led from the front, unlike the pro-war politicians and chick-hawk pundits of today who would emulate Usain Bolt if put anywhere near a war zone.

Overall, Churchill's policy cost Britain around £73 million, according to one estimate. As his biographer Roy Jenkins points out, Churchill, "showed no comprehension of the war-weariness of Britain… His pulsating energy made him rarely weary, and almost never of war."

The secretary of state for war was not alone in trying to topple the Russian government. The same aspiration informed the official positions of the US, France, and Japan. It was about destroying Bolshevism.

You could argue, in defense of Churchill and the interventionists, that the Bolsheviks themselves, and in particular Leon Trotsky, had been calling for a worldwide revolution. Communist ideals were spreading, and in 1919 as strikes and mutinies spread across the nation, many thought Britain itself was on the brink of revolution.

Even if one were to accept that as a valid reason for intervening, however, there can be no such excuse today for Britain's hostile actions towards Russia.

There is no ideology now that the Kremlin is keen to export, unless we call respect for national sovereignty and international law an ideology. Yet Russia is still in the firing line, even though the Red Flag no longer flies in Moscow.

This tells us that the old Cold War was basically a sham. Russia's great 'crime' is that it exists. In the last hundred years, the only time the Western elites weren't regarding Russia as an adversary, or potential adversary, was in the period when the neo-liberal drunkard Boris Yeltsin was in the Kremlin, handing out state assets like confetti to Western-sponsored oligarchs, and acquiesced while NATO destroyed Yugoslavia.

However, whenever Russia stands up for itself, as it's done of late, Russophobia is reheated by the elites.

Reflect on this: In 1919, the big 'baddie' who 'threatened' the 'free world' was Vladimir Lenin. In 2019, it's Vladimir Putin. There's only three letters difference, in a hundred years.

You could argue that the situation today is even more dangerous than a century ago. Back then, the left, and many left-liberals (Colonel John Ward excepted), broadly opposed intervention. In fact, Churchill's policy, motivated by a desire to strangle Bolshevism, only succeeded in stirring up revolutionary sentiment at home. The Communist Party of Great Britain was formed in July 1920. By that time, the intervention against the Bolsheviks had taken a different turn: support for Poland and its campaign to conquer Ukraine. What happened next shows what workers can achieve if they stick together and refuse to support the elite's foreign policy.

In May 1920, London dockers refused to load munitions destined for Poland onto the ship, the 'Jolly George.' As Taylor notes, the British government acquiesced, because Poland was winning. But by July, the Polish forces were in retreat and it was the Red Army on the advance. "The French were eager to intervene on the Polish side; Lloyd George (the British prime minister), pushed on by Churchill and others, seemed ready to go along with them," Taylor records.

However, organized labor said 'No.' Councils of Action were set up and a general strike was threatened. The government did a U-turn. It was, as Taylor states, "a glorious victory." There are lessons which can be learnt from it today.

Russia, it must be acknowledged, does not have the sympathy among broad ranks of the left that it did have in 1919.

Rabidly Russophobic hawks have successfully managed to coax support for their obsessive crusade from 'politically correct' left-liberals, who quite wrongly blame 'Russian interference' for Brexit. It's revealing that the 'Russia fixed Brexit' fake news trope emanates from the neocons.

Nevertheless, what can be called the socialist left, and indeed the paleo-conservative 'non-interventionist' right, know exactly what the score is. Even though it no longer has a communist government, Russia is in the crosshairs of the imperialist powers. Russia thwarted neocon plans for regime change in Syria. Russia is an ally of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Russia is targeted because it hasn't accepted the right of certain Western powers and their allies to act as if the whole world belongs to them.

The propaganda campaign against Russia, which also involves trying to get Russian media outlets such as RT and Sputnik taken off air in the UK, has consequently been unrelenting.

And, as in 1919, there are those willing to take big risks in pursuance of their geopolitical agenda.

In leaked documents from the shadowy Integrity Initiative (which has now 'temporarily removed' all material from its website), one of its head honchos recommended mining Sevastopol Bay.

Meanwhile, UK Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson, who last March told Russia to 'go away' and 'shut up.' Pledged that further Royal Navy ships would be sent to the Black Sea, a direct provocation to Moscow.




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