Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
May 31, 2014

Exceptionalism Without Exceptional Means?

The Obama administration wants to achieve its "pivot to Asia", its plan to counter China's rise, without using military force. That is not going to work. The local countries, who the U.S. wants to use as proxies, fear that without a believable threat by the U.S. to cover their asses with its nukes there will be no restriction of what China can and will do around its block. They are right and will have to adopt.

That is why the U.S. is in trouble at the recent security conference in Singapore:

But as Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel visited this city-state for a security conference with all of the interested parties on Friday, that much-vaunted Asia policy appeared to be turning into more of a neighborhood street fight, with the United States having to simultaneously choose sides and try to play the role of referee.

But why anyway is it U.S. business what happens in the in the Pacific beyond Hawaii? It is nothing but "exceptionalism", the urge for global dominance and the desire to rule the world that lets the U.S. interfere.

Obama's recent West Point speech was lauded by Pat Lang as a push back against neoconservatives and neoliberals and a step back to rationality in foreign policy:

The president's wise, if late, decision not to attack Syria's armed forces, his steadfast search for a negotiated solution with Iran against the pressure of the Zionists, his reluctance to plunge into the depths of the Ukraine crisis and his insistence on continuing the withdrawal from Afghanistan all pointed to a return the kind of rationalist foreign policy followed by the United States from the end of WW II until the hysteria of post 9/11 life swept away the careful consideration of risks and benefits that had controlled US policy.

President Obama's policy speech at West Point announces the end of jacobin imperialist dominated policy in Washington.

It is a step in that direction, but it is not going far enough. Rhetoric wise the speech may have been a step back from the financially ruining use of large scale military forces but despite restricting the use of military force it still contained the stupid claim of "exceptionalism" and the desire to "lead":

I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being. But what makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it is our willingness to affirm them through our actions. (Applause.)

(Why, by the way, would anyone applause such obvious lies?) Some five years ago Obama had a bit different view of such bollocks:

I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.

Claiming extraordinary exceptionalism, as Obama again does, without the will to use exceptional means is not going to work for three reasons. It is unlikely to end a push towards new wars, it may instead create more damage without creating any positive results and it makes allies turn away. It would be much better to refrain from both, exceptionalism AND the use of military force. 

That Obama is now back to point out U.S. exceptionalism as something special is not a good sign. As Billmon remarks:

If 1 believes America is "exceptional," then it's natural to assume it has the right & the duty to lead.
-
If 1 assumes America has right & duty 2 lead the world, 1 can logically conclude that opposition to that leadership is morally wrong...
-
..and that American "values" (however defined) are universal values that the world can & should embrace.
-
From there, it's not really a big leap to assume that American values can & should be exported -- if necessary at the point of gun.

And that, says Billmon, will create natural resistance and thereby new enemies and wars. If the U.S. steps back from the use of force it also must also step back from its irrational claim of "exceptionalism". Obama's speech is contradictory as it does not do that.

As Chinahand points out there is another issue with such contradictory Obama exceptionalism. That even as it refrains from direct use of military force it is still not at all peaceful and may still cause enormous damage but without achieving any reasonable result:

Unfortunately, the flip side of the Obama doctrine, [to use military force only as very last resort,] is that the United States remains committed to a forward counterterrorism posture and US“leadership” i.e. the ability to shape events overseas even without using military power.

Even when holding back on military power, there are plenty of ways for the United States to cripple a designated adversary. There’s economic sanctions; financial warfare through the international banking, economic, and trade system; there’s subversion, through the Internet, through support of dissident parties and insurrectionists; there’s proxy wars. There’s JSOC. And of course, there’s drones.
...
In other words, the United States still reserves the right to cruelly and counterproductively f*ck up any country with any and all means short of the direct commitment of US military forces.

That means plenty more Syrias.
...
From an ethical point of view, is it a better, more humane policy to eviscerate a country slowly through sadistic proxies than simply to send in the troops and brutalize the locals briskly and efficiently and with some hope of genuine international oversight?

Looking at Syria, I don’t think so.

As a practical matter, I’m afraid the Obama Doctrine won’t fly as a matter of realist geopolitic.

Taking the possibility of US military action off the table in the case of lower-priority objectives undercuts the deterrent character of the US military machine.

It does and it should do that. There is no need for the U.S. to deter China in its local businesses unless one claims some nutty exceptional role. The U.S. must not only refrain from the use of large scale military force but also from claiming a special role in the world.

There is a third problem with the claim of being "exceptional" that it is not backed up by exceptional force. Other countries in a coalition, even when inclined to work with the U.S., do not like to be pushed around as if they were not grown ups themselves. If the U.S. does not want to use its exceptional military force why should any U.S. ally accept its lead? It is rather likely that the desire to lead without the will to use the means will produce more unwillingness by allies to work as subordinates in any coalition with the U.S.

If the U.S. is unwilling to physically lead how will the Japanese, South Koreans and Vietnamese react to being verbally referred to as "kids" -twice- in a story on the front page of the New York Times?

[A]dministration officials have privately prodded their Japanese counterparts to think carefully before acting, and to refrain from backing China into a corner.

“If these are kids in the schoolyard, they are running around with scissors,” said Vikram J. Singh, who until February was the United States deputy assistant secretary of defense for South and Southeast Asia and is now the vice president for national security at the Center for American Progress.
...
Mr. Hagel and the large American military contingent on hand [...] spent their time shuttling from delegation to delegation to make sure those contingencies did not come up.

“Any good teacher knows that you want to get the kids to behave in the first place, rather than try to referee a dispute that breaks out,” said Andrew L. Oros, an associate professor of political science at Washington College in Chestertown, Md., and a specialist on East Asia.

The "kids" recognize that the U.S. is not really interested in challenging China. They had agreed to accept a leading U.S. role as long as it was backed up by superb force. With that gone they will no longer accept to play the role of the "kids" in U.S. power games. Being too small and disunited to counter China alone they will now have to accommodate China's rise and the birth of the Eurasian century just as they naturally should.

It would be good for the world if the U.S. could find a way back to some realistic foreign policy that refrains from militaristic threats and the use of force. But as long as exceptionalism is held up as doctrine the inherent contradictions between claims of exceptionalism and the unwillingness to use (financially ruining) exceptional means will rip Obama's envisioned policy apart. A real step back to realism requires to shun both.

Posted by b on May 31, 2014 at 03:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (63)

Open Thread 2014-13

News & views ...

Posted by b on May 31, 2014 at 10:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (108)

May 29, 2014

Syria: Obama To Work With Assad?

Leslie Gelb, former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, muses about Obama's speech in West Point. The piece includes this nugget on Syria:

This may well surprise experts, but senior administration officials tell me that Obama has been modifying his objective and is now prepared to work with Assad, to some degree, along with the moderate rebels, against what the White House finally has come to see as the real and major threat—the jihadists. These senior officials further say that they expect support in this new policy from previous opponents, i.e. from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. Let us hope that this is true.

Amen.

As is know none of the "moderate rebels" in Syria are actually moderate. That leaves the Syrian government under President Assad as the only party to work with. The rumor Leslie Gelb spreads here rings true because in his speech Obama, despite earlier announcements, did not spell out any additional help for the Syrian opposition. Maybe he recognized that U.S. training is not really necessary to teach the jihadists "how to finish off soldiers still alive after an ambush."

Posted by b on May 29, 2014 at 04:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (115)

May 28, 2014

The U.S. "Blinked" Over Cuba ... And "Blinks" Over Ukraine

Thomas Friedman continues to be the most dimwitted foreign policy commentator in U.S. media. Today he claims that Putin "blinked" on Ukraine by not invading it, something the Russian Federation never had any interest to do. But worse than such misreading of current foreign affairs events is Friedman's basic misreading of history. Thus his column today starts:

There was a moment at the height of the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962 when Soviet ships approached to within just a few miles of a U.S. naval blockade and then, at the last minute, turned back — prompting then-Secretary of State Dean Rusk to utter one of the most famous lines from the Cold War: “We’re eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked.”
...
In the end, it was Putinism versus Obamaism, and I’d like to be the first on my block to declare that the “other fellow” — Putin — “just blinked.”

It was the United States that "blinked" in the Cuban Missile Crisis, not the Soviet Union. It was Kennedy who pulled back not Khrushchev.

In 1959/60 the U.S. planned and in 1961 proceeded to to install nuclear armed ballistic intermediate range missiles in Italy and Turkey. These "Jupiter" missiles could have reached Moscow within minutes and would have given the United States a decapitating first strike capability against the Soviet Union.

In April 1961 a CIA trained and supported force of exiles invaded Cuba. They were defeated and thrown out of Cuba but the incident intensified Cuban desire for protection by the Soviet Union.

Moscow initiated further talks with Cuba and an agreement was found to counter the U.S. missile threat in Europe by installing comparable missiles on Cuba.

The "Cuban Missile Crisis" ensued during which the Soviet Unions demanded the retraction of the Jupiter missiles in exchange for the retraction of its missiles from Cuba. It also demanded that the U.S. refrained from any further invasions of Cuba.

Kennedy "blinked" and agreed to those terms:

Later that night, Robert Kennedy meets secretly with Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin. They reach a basic understanding: the Soviet Union will withdraw the missiles from Cuba under United Nations supervision in exchange for an American pledge not to invade Cuba. In an additional secret understanding, the United States agrees to eventually remove the Jupiter missiles from Turkey.

With the Jupiter installations in Turkey and Italy the U.S. had gained an advantage. But the Soviet Union countered and in the end the U.S. pulled back. The Jupiter missiles were dismantled and Cuba was never again invaded. The U.S. sold out the interests of its allies Turkey and Italy while the Soviets delivered security assurances for their allies in Havanna.

The crisis in Ukraine, initiated by a U.S./EU instigated coup, is far from over but as of now the Russian Federation has already won a great price. The Crimea and the attached seas with hundreds of billions worth of hydrocarbon reserves are now (again) part of Russia. The Ukraine will continue to depend on Russia for its energy needs and general economic exchange. The United States will not give weapons to Ukraine or enough money to survive, nor will the EU. It will let the new Ukraine government hang as it grapples with its the coming energy crisis. Meanwhile Russia and China formed a new alliance. Medium to long term Russia will get its will in Ukraine and there is no way for the United States, apart from nuking Moscow, to change that perspective.

The Kennedy administration created the myth of the Cuban Missile Crisis - that it was the Soviets who blinked - to cover up its own retreat. Drawing on that false myth Friedman is creating another one. The new myth that Russia "blinked" over Ukraine. That Friedman finds it necessary to create such a new myth can only be explained by the need to cover up the ongoing U.S. retreat over Ukraine.

Posted by b on May 28, 2014 at 06:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (128)

May 27, 2014

Kabul Chief Of Station, Gregory Vogel, Was Outed Long Ago

Updated below

The White House outed the CIA Station Chief in Kabul, Gregory Vogel:

The CIA’s top officer in Kabul was exposed Saturday by the White House when his name was inadvertently included on a list provided to news organizations of senior U.S. officials participating in President Obama’s surprise visit with U.S. troops.

The White House recognized the mistake and quickly issued a revised list that did not include the individual, who had been identified on the initial release as the “Chief of Station” in Kabul, a designation used by the CIA for its highest-ranking spy in a country.

The name and the position of the person was widely distributed.

[T]he pool report was filed by Washington Post White House bureau chief Scott Wilson. Wilson said he had copied the list from the e-mail provided by White House press officials. He sent his pool report to the press officials, who then distributed it to a list of more than 6,000 recipients.

Wilson said that after the report was distributed, he noticed the unusual reference to the station chief and asked White House press officials in Afghanistan whether they had intended to include that name.

Initially, the press office raised no objection, apparently because military officials had provided the list to distribute to news organizations. But senior White House officials realized the mistake and scrambled to issue an updated list without the CIA officer’s name. The mistake, however, already was being noted on Twitter, although without the station chief’s name.

Despite the name being distributed on a list to 6,000 news people a Google news search for Gregory Vogel brings up no results for the name.

This shows the enormous power the CIA holds over news entities.

Those who published the name were immediately informed to pull and redact their news pieces. This is, for example, a screenshot from an earlier web search for Gregory Vogel:


bigger

The search result from a recent Wall Street Journal blog entry clearly says "His name is Gregory Vogel." That piece though was soon scrubbed from the WSJ website and in its current version has no station chief named in it.

This whole story is weird in several aspect:

1. The station chief name is widely known in Kabul and elsewhere and has been public for four years. Why is there still a need to hide it? Why are the media going along with the government in this?

2. The CIA station chief was installed by the U.S. military under then General McChrystal and Petreaus, a very unusual procedure. The generals wanted him because he was a former special operations soldier and cooperated with their death squadrons killing missions. The results were predictable:

The problem with this shift, the officials say, is that both the military and the CIA are focusing on short-term, tactical intelligence, and ignoring the long view.

That the military was allowed to select a CIA station chief also led to problems with the State Department:

The CIA’s prominent role in Afghanistan is fraught, the spy agency having clashed at times with the official diplomatic mission. That has complicated the civilian component of the U.S. military surge.

In particular, the station chief’s role has led to tensions with the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry. Officials said the ambassador objected last fall to the return to Kabul of the station chief, who had held the same post earlier in the war. Mr. Eikenberry declined to comment, as did the State Department.

It is no wonder that the State Department protested. Under Gregory Vogel the CIA hired over 3,000 locals as "Counterterrorist Pursuit Teams". These local thugs under CIA control are responsible for a lot of bad mood against the United States in Afghanistan and have led to many diplomatic problems.

3. That the name of the stations chief was put on the to-be-published list by the White House is unlikely to have been a "mistake". Someone wanted to out the guy to get rid of him. For what reason is hard to know but many parties could have their own interests in such a change. Gregory Vogel will now have to leave the country and that may lead to policy changes where the local CIA gangs may get folded into the Afghan army and come under a more regular line of command. The CIA could then go be back to thinking strategically about Afghanistan. Something which has thoroughly lacked for over a decade.

Update:

In the comments people point to Cryptocomb.org which claims to have a copy the original media pool report. In that version one "Mike Raiole" is named as Chief of Station Kabul, not Gregory Vogel. That contradicts the WSJ report pictured above. Gregory Vogel was station chief in Kabul for years. Has that changed? There is no way for me to decide which of these reports is correct.

Posted by b on May 27, 2014 at 08:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (21)

Ukraine: Anatol Lieven On The Larger Picture

A lecture (video) by and with Anatol Lieven, of King's College London held on May 14. As usual Lieven, who knows East Europe well, gives a sane realist perspective and accordingly damns the foolish "western" policies with regard to Ukraine and Russia. With about 100 minutes the talk and Q&A is quite long but worth your time.

Aside from Ukraine there is an important point Liven makes during the Q&A not with regard to Russia but to China. At 1:25h Lieven talks about false "security guarantees" given by the U.S. and UK, how no one is willing -in the end- to stick to such. This well known fact in general weakens such "guarantees".

With that in mind he expands to China (1:27:40):

I think the Americans have been profoundly foolish in that regard. It does weaken their credibility in alliances elsewhere. [...] If the United States extends to China the kind of attitudes and the kind of policies that it has to Russia over the past generation, then, ladies and gentlemen, we will find ourselves in another major international war which will bring the world economy down in ruins and with it, probably, many democracies around the world including our own. I hope that the fact that an American policy which did this would deserve the results it got will be a comfort to our descendants.

Such fear is not without reasoning. U.S. "security guarantees" already inflame the situation as the new Cold War Heats Up in Asia in the same moment that a devastating financial and cyber war with Russia is shaping up. Foolish U.S. policies on Ukraine have pushed Russia and China (and Iran) into an (informal) strategic alliance which is giving U.S. strategic planers more than a light headache. Can a seapower prevail against a strong, self sufficient landpower alliance?

As the Carnegie Moscow Center remarks:

Whether in the Euro-Atlantic or the Asia-Pacific, great-power relations are becoming more contentious, with a loose Eurasian coalition emerging to reduce the U.S. domination of global politics. This is nothing like the Sino-Soviet alliance of the 1950s, but the consolidation of Russia's pivot to Asia is an important result of the first phase of the Ukraine crisis, which will continue to reshape the global strategic landscape.

The U.S. has no other than Victoria Nuland, and Hillary Clinton who installed her as Deputy Secretary of State for Europe, to thank for this foolish mess.

Posted by b on May 27, 2014 at 03:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (67)

May 26, 2014

Ukraine: What Might Be The Outcome?

Noirette comments at the end of the last Ukraine thread:

I’m less optimistic than b.
Actually running that election was vicious provocation.
It spells, from the coupists - we control the “State” (such as it is) and we do as we like, you people are of no account and we will vanquish. I think, before the election there might have been a small chance of “pacification” and it is possible that time might have helped. But after the election, no.
Of course, officially or ostensibly the election was carried out to legitimize the Kiev-koupists with a democratic masquerade, as well as to provide a new interlocutor for Putin and the West, which is how most people seem to see it.
Poroshenko’s problem is not that he is Jewish but that he is the worst kind of criminal oligarch. Candy Tycoon, ha ha, according to the western press. In short, exactly what the people of the Ukraine do not want and have been fighting against.
Imho, any hopes of a ‘united’ or ‘unitary’ Ukraine are now slim. Remember, Yanukovitch tried to keep the status quo and it fell apart (1). The ‘federalization’ proposal (Putin and others), with a weak central state plus high independence for “Regions” (the oblasts are too small imho) is moot.
Right now, there isn’t a legitimate Gvmt. but a void, which sucks in all kinds of actors. That will continue and degenerate, despite an ‘elected’ President, creating more fault lines. The difficulty as I see it is not so much language, culture, or politics (political parties in the Ukraine are mostly arrangements between oligarchs) but the idea of ‘finlandization’ or what the French call a ‘tampon’ (buffer) state.
How can that status quo ante be restored, after so much interference? How many of the different parties actually wish this? The Kievcoupist find themselves in the position of creating this state of affairs and refusing any proposition other than ‘a united Ukraine’, really this can only be deliberate, and Poroshenko appears on board with it, and has western support. (Moreover, not that anyone at all seems to care what Ukrainians want, my guess is they don’t like this idea.)
(1) Just one illustrative detail from history. Yats, Yulia and Yushenko requested to join NATO in Jan 2008. The request was supported by Bush, Obama and McCain. Subsequently, because of internal opposition, the Ukr. parliament was blocked and non-acting from 25 Jan to Mar 4. At the NATO summit in April the request was turned down, the British and the French nixed it.

My view: That is all well and right by then there is reality, economic reality which the Brookings Institute tried to explain.

Ukraine has already been pressed out like a citrus and the latest IMF and World Bank loans will only last so long. Neither the U.S. nor the EU are willing to pick up the bill for some 40 million Ukrainians. There is therefore in the end no other way for Kiev, whoever rules there, than to make nice with Russia and accept its conditions. Ukraine needs Russian gas and oil and it needs the defense cooperation with Russia. I have yet to find an argument that contradicts this and would support a different conclusion.

The neocons will of course try to get to some different outcome and will push this or that lunatic stand. But they, as we all know and have seen elsewhere, have no sense for realities on the ground and those are the ones that will win out.

Posted by b on May 26, 2014 at 12:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (85)

May 24, 2014

Ukraine: Major "Western" Think Tank Admits Defeat

There is simply no viable alternative for Ukraine than to cooperate with Russia and to pay the price that is necessary to do so. That is why Russia is just sitting back and waiting for that simple truth to become evident.

Back in February we said:

Putin will now sit back and let the "west" squabble about who will throw tons of money into the bottomless pit that Ukraine is going to become. ... Putin now just has to wait for the apple to fall from the tree.

In March:

To the growing unrest one can add the likely economic collapse that will come rather sooner than later. Any "western" help will be conditioned on austerity and impoverishing the people as well as on political reform that the oligarchs and the current politicians will not allow to happen. Under such condition further unrest is a given while Ukraine falls apart and there is no need at all for Russia to intervene to achieve such.

Russia will do nothing nefarious, it will do just nothing. Russia will not help, neither economically nor politically, unless Kiev and the "west" are willing to pay its price: A federalized Ukraine with strong regions and a weak central government.

Two month later this truth finally dawns to the mediocre thinkers in those "western" misnomed tanks. The Brookings Institute, which in general supports Obama policies, finally admits that a Ukraine without Russia is impossible and therefore cooperation with Russia on Ukraine is the Only viable way forward. It all comes back to money. The loss of access to Russian markets is already hitting and will kill Ukraine's heavy and weapon industry in east Ukraine. That will be expensive:

[A] minimum estimate is $276 billion to buy off the east. It is unthinkable that the West would pay this amount.
...
The key point here is that there can be no viable Ukraine without serious contributions from both Russia and the West. Of all the options for Ukraine’s future, a Ukraine exclusively in the West is the least feasible. A Ukraine fully under Russian control and with severed links to the West is, unfortunately, possible.

A Ukraine in the "west" is impossible. A Ukraine within the Russian Federation is possible but would somewhat hurt Russia at lest in the short term. A finlandized Unkraine, in which Russia has a major say is the best possible outcome for all sides.

The upcoming sham elections of the chocolate king Poroshenko over which Russia has major sway -his markets and some of his factories are in Russia- is now just a fig leaf for the "west" to disengage. Poroshenko will be send eastward to pledge allegiance to Russia and to sign the unconditional surrender treaty. He has to:

[H]ving normal relations with Russia is a natural position for Ukraine which fits her strategic interests. For this basic reason, Ukrainian politicians haven’t the slightest chance of ignoring their past, present, or future ties with Russia, regardless of the fact that they are talking about it.

He will then have to suppress the nazis in the west Ukraine. The political part of the EU Association Agreement, which the coup government signed, will be revoked and the economic part will not be signed at all.

All this now seems to turn into a major defeat for the neo-cons who completely misjudged the situation:

Strategists in the US may not have foreseen that, because of the very delicate domestic equilibrium of so many difference forces and actors, the Ukrainian state may have simply disintegrated in the face of a drastic geopolitical turn, as it is indeed happening.
...
The US finds itself once again in the awkward position of having decisively contributed to the insurgence of a certain critical phase [...] where however the partners and allies on the ground [...] are successively abandoned at the decisive moment ..

The neocons had planned this attack on Russia via Ukraine and Crimea and they, again, failed. That does not mean that the issue is over. In sight of defeat the neocons love to "surge" and to escalate the situation. But as seen in Iraq and Afghanistan such "surges" are unlikely to change the inevitable outcomes.

Posted by b on May 24, 2014 at 11:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (248)

May 22, 2014

Ukraine: Army Soldiers Killed In Friendly Fire Incident?

Something weird happened in east Ukraine today. Allegedly some insurgents from the "Gorlovka" group attacked a Ukrainian military checkpoint near the town Volnovakha in Donetsk oblast. Some 13 soldiers were killed, over 30 wounded and several armored personal carriers were destroyed (vid). There are no reports yet of wounded or killed insurgents.

It does not sound plausible to me that a group of rag tag insurgents only recently formed and without much fighting experience attacks a platoon plus size military unit and destroys it completely.

There is also video that shows two Ukrainian MI24-Hind helicopter gunships making several heavy bomb runs in the area of the incident. The Guardian's Shaun Walker confirmed that Ukrainian helicopters were involved. One explosion in the video seems to be followed by heavy secondary ones which is typically the case when an armed vehicle with lots of ammunition on board gets hit.

Did those helicopter pilots hit the Ukrainian military unit? That would explain the high casualty rate and rather heavy damage.

Was the checkpoint attacked before the helicopters destroyed it? By whom?

Posted by b on May 22, 2014 at 11:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (195)

May 21, 2014

Russia's "Isolation"

Wishful thinking:

Kerry warns of Russia 'isolation'

America and its allies are ready to step up measures to "isolate Russia politically, diplomatically and economically" unless Moscow orders its troops in Crimea back to their barracks, US Secretary of State John Kerry has warned.

Obama tries to rally world to isolate Russia

President Barack Obama gathered with world leaders in a day of delicate diplomacy, as he sought to rally the international community Monday around efforts to isolate Russia following its incursion into Ukraine.

Obama will meet Xi Jinping of China in attempt to isolate Russia over Ukraine

The White House has added meetings with the leaders of China and Japan to Barack Obama's visit to Europe and Saudi Arabia next week, as it seeks to use the six-day trip to build an international coalition and isolate Russia over its annexation of Crimea.

Reality:

Russia’s VTB and Bank of China agree on domestic currency settlements

VTB, Russia’s second biggest lender, has signed a deal with Bank of China, which includes an agreement to pay each other in domestic currencies.

“Under the agreement, the banks plan to develop their partnership in a number of areas, including cooperation on ruble and renminbi settlements, investment banking, inter-bank lending, trade finance and capital-markets transactions,” says the official VTB statement.

Russia, Europe eye broader space cooperation - space corporation chief

Europe is an interesting partner for Russia’s United Rocket and Space Corporation (ORKK), its Director General Igor Komarov told a news conference at the International Aerospace Exhibition ILA 2014 in Berlin on Tuesday.

“Intensive work is underway in the sphere of Russia and Europe’s space cooperation,” he said, noting that a number of promising agreements had already been or would be signed at the exhibition and many contracts were under negotiation.

With Ukraine, Russia Drives Wedge Between EU, US

The crisis in Ukraine is giving Russia an opening to drive a wedge between the United States and Europe just as Western powers try to repair a struggling trade deal and decide how to bolster a cash-strapped NATO.
...
Germany and France have shunned sectorial sanctions without first trying again to broker a dialogue between Ukraine's government and pro-Russian separatists in the country's east — a step that garnered only lukewarm U.S. support.

Russia and China seal historic multibillion gas deal

Under the long-term deal, Gazprom will begin providing China's growing economy with 38 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year for the next 30 years, beginning in 2018. The details of the deal were discussed for more than 10 years, with Moscow and Beijing negotiating over gas prices and the pipeline route, as well as possible Chinese stakes in Russian projects.

Russia-India oil, gas pipelines in the works?

India's Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) plans to invite Russia to build an oil pipeline through Afghanistan and Pakistan to India. In addition, the country’s largest gas company, GAIL, has proposed that Russia's future gas pipeline to China be extended to India.

China, Iran and Russia: Restructuring the global order

At the Fourth Summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) that opens May 20 in Shanghai, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will meet with both Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Among other things, the summit will underscore how rising non-Western powers are playing ever more prominent roles on the global stage. However, Western elites remain stuck in a time warp, wherein the United States and its European partners are the imperial masters of all they survey.

Posted by b on May 21, 2014 at 06:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (156)

May 20, 2014

The Non-Disastrous Russia-China Alliance

The President of the Russian Federation is in China and pursues various economic deals with the country. A huge gas deal, though it may not get signed yet, is in the making in which Russia will deliver natural gas and oil to China over a period of 30 years. The payments will be made in rubles and yuan leaving the dollar out of the business.

This is the long expected start of an Eurasian axis. Russia has plenty of natural resources, good basic industries and world class research and weapon productions. China has lots of people and high tech manufacturing capabilities. Together China and Russia would be a major powerblock that could exist, if needed, mostly independent of the "western" ruled global political and economic system.

Russia expert Mark Adomanis thinks that such an alliance would be disaster for the west though he does not really explain why. It seems that the inability of the "west" to influence such a block is what he perceives as a "disaster".

The U.S. can not effect Russia through economic or financial sanctions when Russia can circumvent those through its ally China, the worlds biggest economy. And one can not threaten China's access to energy resources by sea when China can get more than enough of those through direct land pipelines from Russia. The U.S. capability to influence or threaten such an alliance would be much smaller than it is against two separate states.

But the U.S. has no one but Obama and his hawkish secretaries of state to blame for the rather natural Russian-Chinese alliance. Those two countries historically do not like each other very much and in social terms don't have much in common. But Obama has done his best to give them a common enemy. Such an enemy always tends to unite even non-friends. Pushing sanctions against Russia after the "west" arranged an anti-Russian coup against Russia's neighbor was too much for Russia to swallow. Add missile defense and a general hate throughout "western" media against Putin and the Russian system and you end up with a virtual enemy. On China's side Obama's "pivot" to Asia, encouraging of Japanese militancy and sanctions over alleged cyberspying were enough to push it to look for new relations.

I agree with Adomanis that the U.S. would loose power if a Russian-Chinese alliance evolves but I can not see any "disaster" in that. A less unchallenged position and smaller global role for the U.S. would likely be beneficial for and viewed positive by the "rest of the world." It would at least restrict some of the typical U.S. militancy.

Europe will not join the new alliance but it should keep a neutral stance between the U.S. and the Russian-China axis. It will otherwise become a U.S. pawn on a global chessboard and will be sacrificed, possibly in another big war, as soon as Washington finds that to be convenient.

Posted by b on May 20, 2014 at 01:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (76)

Syira: As Obama Offers Them Weapons Islamists Change Stripes

This week the Saudi appointed Syrian opposition leader Ahmad Jarba met with U.S. president Obama and other officials:

"President Obama welcomed the coalition's leadership and constructive approach to dialogue, and encouraged the coalition to further its vision for an inclusive government that represents all of the people of Syria," the White House said.

That call was heard (together with the offer of additional arms) by the Islamic Front, now the biggest opposition military group on the ground, and it decided to forgo the head-chopping, to immediately change its stripes to spots and to become a secular democracy loving organization:

The largest coalition of Islamist rebels in Syria issued a manifesto over the weekend that calls for the increasingly fractious rebels to unite around the notion of liberating the country from the government of President Bashar Assad and installing a free state that will protect the rights of religious minorities, not an Islamist state.

Its document includes promise to attack the former Al-Qaeda franchise ISIS but does not mention the current Al-Qaeda representation in Syria Jabhat al-Nusra. Groups belonging to the Islamic Front, which includes the Salafist Ahrar al-Shams, have in the past regularly cooperated with al-Nusra.

It is not plausible that the Islamic Front new direction is serious. Its groups and fighters have a Salafist Jihadi doctrine and their core demand has always been the creation of an Islamic state. Several massacres of no-Sunni civilians have been committed by its groups. Its "change" is likely just a temporary sham demanded by Washington to "justify" the provision of U.S. weapons to these barbaric forces.

Some additional points from the opposition side on the visit in Washington:

U.S. President Barak Obama surprised his guests from the Syrian National Coalition last week by saying that the Sunnis in the Syrian army are behind President Assad’s survival “not the Iranian or Russian support”.

“We were totally baffled by Obama’s comments. We were not prepared to answer them” according to 2 senior sources from the Syrian opposition and the Syrian General Staff present at the meeting held in the White House last week.

Obama met with the Leader of the Syrian National Coalition Ahmed al-Jarba on May 13 for about 40 minutes. Another meeting with his National Security Advisor Suzan Rice ensued and lasted about 2 hours.

“We didn’t get specific answers on our demands” one source said “but Jarba put forward a proposal to let the Syrian opposition buy weapons from a third party and there was no objection” he added.

Later during a meeting with Rice, the opposition demanded Washington’s help through providing maintenance to spoils taken form government forces depots “there was no objection on that too”.

Obama obviously knows that Assad has a majority of the population, including most Sunnis, behind him. But is still pushing the opposition to further fights and has promised to provide it with additional weapons. According to Elijah J Magnier's Gulf sources:

1. West agreed to provide Syrian opposition with lethal weapons, intelligence information and military training. This agreement is conditioned to the opposition’s commitment to stop any connection to al-Qaeda (Jabhat al-Nusra) and to continue fighting the Islamic State “ISIS”.
...
4. According to the source, “the communiqué is not direct to Jabhat al-Nusra. Its fighters should remain and fight both the regime and ISIS but under a different flag, dropping the one of al-Qaeda fi Bilad al-Sham.

5. It was agreed that the West would support the opposition by all means, as long as it doesn’t include in it ranks foreign fighters and distance itself from al-Qaeda.

As the secular opposition, which has hardly ever been one, can no longer be found Washington has decided that somewhat renaming the Salafist including Al-Qaeda's al-Nusra fighters to "democrats" is sufficient to provide them with weapons and training.

Like ex-UN Syria envoy Brahimi Obama knows that the Russians were right with their assessment of Syria from the very beginning. But driven by Israels goals and continued lobbying from the Gulf (pdf) he still insist to urge the fighting on. Syria, this logic says, must be destroyed by all possible means.

Posted by b on May 20, 2014 at 11:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (29)

While White House Blames China U.S. Corps Blame White House On Spying

The U.S. accuses some Chinese army people of economic spying against U.S. companies in cases of trade disputes. The very same day U.S. corporations accuse the U.S. of ruining Internet security and of thereby hurting their businesses.

Some estimates suggest the news about the NSA's surveillance practices may have cost tech companies tens of billions of dollars in lost revenue.

Chinese hackers infiltrated U.S. companies, attorney general says

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Monday that members of the Chinese military have engaged in the hacking of U.S. businesses and entities, including U.S. Steel Corp., Westinghouse, Alcoa, Allegheny Technologies, the United Steel Workers Union and SolarWorld.
...
The indictment alleges that People's Liberation Army officers "maintained unauthorized access to victim computers to steal information from these entities that would be useful" to the victims' competitors in China, the attorney general said.
...
David Hickton, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, said the hacking has caused the victim companies to lose capital investments in research and technology.

He added that the "important message" is that cyberespionage "impacts real people in real and painful ways," he said.

Cisco chief slams Obama on surveillance

Cisco CEO John Chambers is demanding that President Obama rein in government surveillance, including programs that reportedly involve intentionally putting security flaws in U.S. tech companies’ products.

“We simply cannot operate this way,” Chambers wrote in the letter dated last week and published by Re/code on Sunday.
...
The letter comes after reports that the U.S. government is intercepting tech companies’ equipment headed overseas and installing surveillance software. A new book from surveillance journalist Glenn Greenwald, who first exposed U.S. surveillance programs based on leaked documents from former government contractor Edward Snowden, also includes the charges.

“If these allegations are true, these actions will undermine confidence in our industry and in the ability of technology companies to deliver products globally,” the letter said.

This is (again) one of those cases where I wonder if there are any adults living in Washington DC. What is the purpose of these accusations against China? To publicly raise those accusations against China only reminds people of NSA spying and of its consequences for U.S. corporations. It simply reinforces arguments against NSA spying.

Why are they doing this? What do they hope to win with such hypocrisy?

Posted by b on May 20, 2014 at 12:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (45)

May 18, 2014

Libya: CIA's Haftar Giving It Another Try

In February the anti-Ghaddafi general Khalifa Haftar tried to instigate another coup in Libya. As we wrote:

without NATO air support, not likely to come again, Haftar's forces only have a small chance to win.

That prediction was correct but now Haftar is giving it another try:

Heavily armed gunmen stormed into Libya's parliament on Sunday after attacking the building with anti-aircraft weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, witnesses and residents said.

Details of the armed group were unclear, but a spokesman for retired Libyan general Khalifa Haftar said his irregular forces had carried out the assault as part of his campaign against Islamist militants.
...
Haftar, a former rebel in the war against Gaddafi, sent his fighters into Benghazi on Friday against Islamist militants based in the city after, saying Libya's government had failed to halt violence there.

Reuters does not mention this but Haftar (also spelled Hiftar) is not only "a former rebel" but also a CIA asset:

There has been widespread speculation that Hifter, who spent his exile in Fairfax, Va., had worked with the CIA. He did not deny having had contact with the U.S. intelligence agency but said he had never worked for it.

Coincidentally the U.S. military is again moving a bit towards Libya:

The Pentagon said on Wednesday it has temporarily moved nearly 200 Marines to Sicily from their base in Spain as a precaution due to concerns about unrest in North Africa, bolstering the U.S. ability to respond to any crisis.

The Pentagon declined to single out any countries but two U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said American concerns were centered squarely on Libya ..
...
[Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman,] said the Pentagon's decision to move the forces, along with six aircraft, followed a request from the U.S. State Department.

Warren stressed that while the Marines were "unquestionably" focused on the protection of embassies, he did not rule out the possibility they could be called upon for a different mission.

News from Libya is unreliable. I have therefore no idea what is really going on. But my hunch is that the motives for moving forces nearer to Libya are not solely based on "a request from the U.S. State Department."

The chaos Obama created in Libya is haunting him. The Republicans will not let go of the issue about Benghazi and will continue to do so up to the midterm elections. Obama can not publicly reveal the real issues, the weapons to Syria program, behind the Benghazi incident that cost an ambassador's life.

Could it be possible that Obama has decided to somewhat clean up in Libya and to thereby take the wind out of the Republicans Benghazi sail? Could it be that the CIA and the Pentagon are behind the Haftar revolt? If so they better have many more assets available as any chance for success will otherwise be quite low.

Posted by b on May 18, 2014 at 01:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (42)

May 17, 2014

Ukraine: Recommended Reading

Sometimes I to read too much to write. Therefore just a few reading recommendations about Ukraine.

The empire is pissed that its puppets in Ukraine fail to fight: One month on, Ukraine military fails to rout rebels

Now the U.S. believes the oligarchs are coming to help its aims: Ukraine’s richest man enters dispute in eastern region

The steelworkers’ patrols seem to mark a turn in the conflict, but Akhmetov’s decision to use his clout may be more significant. [...] But with his decision to put his workers on the street, he may be saying enough is enough with the separatist movement in eastern Ukraine.

Idiots. Why should the Ukrainian military fight its own people? Why would Akhmetov, who's companies for depend on good relations with Russia, work against Putin? Hint: He doesn't. The National Interest: The Battle for Ukraine: Who Is Winning?

The May 25 election is in Russia’s interests, because it will give Western policy makers their desired short-term victory on the ground, and then American leaders can begin to direct their attention elsewhere. It also saves European leaders from having to make economic sacrifices as part of sanctions nobody genuinely wants to impose on Russia. Vladimir Putin is signaling that Moscow will play along if Ukraine agrees to give it that which it has largely conceded on the ground. Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s most powerful oligarch and largest employer in the Russian-speaking regions, has finally come to the rescue by using his workers to seize control in Mariupol from the separatists. He supports the restoration of order, and constitutional reform to give the regions greater autonomy, but not independence. His forces are a welcome change, but it is the bargain Vladimir Putin has been offering all along, just better wrapped to make it easier for Kyiv to accept.

Most realists in the West would have already taken this deal, and settled in for the long game in Ukraine. The rest will likely come around after realizing that at the moment they are being taken for a ride by Kyiv, Moscow, or both.

But the real "western", read U.S. target is more than Ukraine. It is full spectrum dominance. Ideological neoliberalism used for U.S. imperial ambitions.

Today's must-read: Michael Hudson: The New Cold War’s Ukraine Gambit

There is no single paragraph in that long piece to quote. It is a tour de force binding together the historical and economic context of the conquest attempt we are witnessing in Ukraine. Today's recommended reading.

Posted by b on May 17, 2014 at 03:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (146)

May 16, 2014

No, Germany Does Not Spend $12 Million On U.S. Lobbying

The Angry Arab links to a stupid piece by some Washington Post blogger which claims to expose Which foreign countries spent the most to influence U.S. politics? The presented result in the piece, also picked by the Angry Arab, is this:

Top 10 foreign governments paying for influence in 2013

1. UAE 14.2 million
2. Germany $12 million
3. Canada $11.2 million
4. Saudi Arabia $11.1 million
5. Mexico $6.1 million
6. Morocco $4 million
7. South Korea $3.9 million
8. Republika Srpska (Bosnian Serb Republic) $2.4 million
9. Georgia $2.3 million
10. Azerbaijan $2.3 million

Source: Sunlight Foundation

The Sunlight Foundation database is filled with numbers from “foreign entities or their paid representatives reported to the Department of Justice for 2013.” Unlike the Washington Post it does not say that the payments are from "foreign governments" or "foreign countries". An "entity" is not a "government". The Washington Post author has sucked that from her toes.

As a German I found the list weird. The lobbying for Germany in the U.S. is done as it should be done by the German embassy and the consulates in various cities. Why would Germany spend additional money on some "hired PR"? The WaPo says:

Germany lobbied Congress on overseas military bases, presumably since several U.S. installations there are scheduled to be closed.

A two minute look at the database itself reveals that the list itself as well as the WaPo blogger are stupid. The database includes numbers of federal states and of partly government owned companies (foreign entities) that lobby for their business in the United States.

For Germany it lists a total of $12,008,299.34 but if one clicks down into the list one finds that the entities listed in total somehow up more than the $12 million:

  • German State of Rheinland-Pfalz - $149,956.00
  • Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce - $1,108,011.08
  • Bavarian Ministry for Economic Affairs, Infrastructure, Transport and Technology - $1,474,329.90
  • Deutsche Telekom AG - $11,858,343.34
  • several others with no or little payments

There is simply no federal German government in there. There is the local state government of Bavaria lobbying for U.S. businesses to open new facilities in Bavaria. There is the state government of Rheinland-Pfalz which is the only entity that is spending a bit of money because of issues with U.S. military bases there. And there is Deutsche Telekom which spends about all the $12 million that the Sunlight Foundation categorizes for Germany and that pushes the country into the second place of the Top-10 list.

Indeed the sum the Sunlight Foundation presents on the mainpage for "Germany" is simply the sum of the Deutsche Telekom number plus the State of Rheinland-Pfalz number. The State of Bavaria and the industry lobby Chamber of Commerce are for mysterious reason listed in the details but not in the total.

Now the Germany federal government does own some 15% of the Deutsche Telekom shares and controls another 17% through a government owned bank. The privatization of the former national carrier is not yet complete. But Deutsche Telekom is hardly lobbying for Germany as a national entity. It is certainly not lobbying for U.S military bases in Germany. It is the holding company of T-Mobile U.S. which has some $25 billion revenue in the United States and Deutsche Telekom does of course quite a lot of lobbying to further its business interests and thereby that of all of its shareholders.

Given those numbers the Top-10 list of the Sunlight Foundation makes no sense. Germany is not paying for lobbyists in the United States. Not at all. Two of sixteen German states are paying but mostly for pure economic reasons. The inclusion of the Deutsche Telekom lobby payments makes no sense at all.

The Washington Post explainer for Germany being in the Top-10 list is "Germany lobbied Congress on overseas military bases". But that false claim is based on only $150,000 by one local German state government out of a total of $14.5 million mostly commercial stuff by commercial entities listed in the details. How is such wrong reasoning helping the reader? How is writing such compatible with even basic journalistic skills?

The Washington Post piece based on a somewhat irrational database by the Sunlight Foundation is not news but very stupid uneducated entertainment for and by people who do not have the brains or common sense to understand the world they are living in. It is another step the Washington Post and its writers take down on the ladder towards irrelevancy.

Posted by b on May 16, 2014 at 03:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

Ukraine: Who Wages The Pipeline War?

So who are these "terrorists" that blew up a gas pipeline in west Ukraine?

The Head of Ivano-Frankivsk regional state administration Andriy Trotsenko told there were three explosions at the international high pressure gas pipeline Urengoy–Pomary–Uzhgorod in Nebyliv village, Ivano-Frankivsk region.

As Radio Free Europe informs, Trotsenko has told all three explosions were similar, "the appropriate explosive devices were planted into the ground just below the pipeline”. In particular, the remnants of remote-controlled explosive device were found at the scene near Limnytsya River.

The Ivano-Frankivsk Prosecutor's office opened a criminal proceeding upon the explosion at international pipeline. The provisional crime determination is "terrorist attack".

The coup government in Kiev is waging a civil war against federalists in east Ukraine. It calls that war, in which it uses heavy weapons against civilians, an "anti-terrorist operation".

But are those "terrorist" the same "terrorists" that blew up the gas line in west-Ukraine? The coup government would likely be happy if the world starts to believe such. But there are other people, very different from the federalists, who had threatened to blow up these lines:

The leader of the far-right Ukrainian nationalist Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) party has reportedly threatened to attack Russia's lucrative gas pipeline which travels through Ukraine to prevent the Kremlin from sparking a "Third World War".
...
The pipeline in question, the Trans-Siberian Pipeline, supplies Europe with the majority of its gas imports.

"We are well aware of the fact that Russia is earning money by transporting its oil and gas to the West through our pipe," [Dmitry Yarosh] said. "Therefore, we'll destroy this pipe in order to deprive Russia of its financing source."

Posted by b on May 16, 2014 at 02:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (84)

May 15, 2014

Obama Administration Disagrees With Itself

Reuters today:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday he had seen raw data suggesting Syrian government forces had used chlorine gas in the country's civil war, but added it had not been verified.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has said Syria may have used chemical weapons involving chlorine in 14 attacks in recent months.

Today's NYT:

On Tuesday, France’s top diplomat said there was evidence the Syrian government used chemical weapons more than a dozen times after it signed the treaty banning them, and the United Nations mediator quit, citing frustrations over the moribund political negotiations.

“We’ve not seen any evidence” of additional chemical attacks, Mr. Hagel said. He said, “Obviously if there has been a continued use, any use, of chemical weapons, that would affect efforts that so far have been pretty successful.”

Time for Kerry to go.

Posted by b on May 15, 2014 at 03:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (38)

Ukraine: French Photographer Confirms U.S. Mercenary Presence

The U.S. military newspaper Stars & Stripes laments about Rumors of American mercenaries in Ukraine spread to Germany:

The chancellor’s office and the German intelligence service have declined to either confirm or deny, a development that leaves an atmosphere of doubt in a country where tensions are rife about just how angry Germany should be at Russia’s actions in Ukraine

The report is about the second German government leak to the tabloid Bild we identified as an attempt to distance Germany from U.S. policies in Ukraine:

These "leaks" must have come from the chancellery and, them being true or not, confirm that there is some antagonism in the central political and security branches in Berlin towards the U.S. plans.

The leaks may have more truth in them than I had assumed. Paris Match, a well regarded weekly French magazine, investigated the recent incidents in Krasnoarmeysk in east Ukraine where some para-military gang disrupted the vote on more autonomy for the region by killing two supporters of the federalists. It finds photographic evidence that the gang was led by functionary from the fascists paramilitary Right Sektor:

These images show Andrey Denisenko, one of the Pravy Sektor chiefs, among a group of mysterious gunmen that attacked a voting station Sunday in the small town of Krasnoarmeysk, some 60 kilometres from the separatist « capital », Donetsk. After occupying the local town hall for several hours, the militiamen shot down point blank one local civilian, and killed two other unarmed protesters.

These Pravy Sektor thugs were hired for the "special battalion Denjpr" of the newly created "National Guard" and are paid by oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi.

But there is an even bigger scoop in this story.

Jerome Sessini, an experienced war photographer for Magnum who has worked in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places, was in Krasnoarmeysk and made some very interesting observations:

Several witness also said they heard some of the gunmen speaking with strong western Ukraine accents. They also noticed that some of the gunmen appeared to come from the Caucasus area, possibly mercenaries from Chechnya. Other gunmen never spoke a word and seemed foreign to the region. French war photographer Jerome Sessini spent about an hour face to face with the gunmen before they opened fire. « I found that their general attitude and their very precise techniques gave off the impression that they were American mercenaries, or people trained by American mercenaries » said Sessini.

« I can’t guarantee this for sure, but I’d give it a 95 per cent, » added the photographer, who frequently interacted with various U.S. security contractors during his years covering the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

A long time ago, when I took part in martial arts competitions, I could tell which dojo my opponents had learned at just by watching their warming up rituals. Someone who's longtime profession is to observe, identify and document people at war should surely be able to categorize special forces he interacted with along the "schooling" and attitude those have.

As U.S. interest, especially in gas fields in Ukraine, become more apparent it is certainly not inconceivable that U.S. mercenaries were hired by this or that interested oligarch or three-letter-organization to transform the local Ukrainian rag-tag fascist gangs into some usable militia for the suppression of civilian opposition protests.

Now Sessini's observations move the validity of the German government leaks to Bild from the "not inconceivable" realm into the "likely happening" one.

Update: Some of Jerome Sessini's photos from Krasnoarmeysk, including those showing the killings, are now up at Time magazine.

Posted by b on May 15, 2014 at 06:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (59)

May 14, 2014

Open Thread 2014-12

News &n views (not Ukraine) ...

Posted by b on May 14, 2014 at 02:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (81)

Ukraine: Continuing Thread (2) ...

Please use this thread for news and comments about Ukraine.

Posted by b on May 14, 2014 at 02:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (91)

May 13, 2014

Is Egoism Of Countries Justifiable?

An internal presentation page by the National Security Agency, on page 167 of this big PDF and referenced in Glenn Greenwald's new book, says:

Oh Yeah ...
  • Put Money, National Interest, and Ego together, and now you're talking about shaping the world writ large.

What country doesn't want to make the world a better place ... for itself?

Can such egoism of a "country" ever be justified? How?

Posted by b on May 13, 2014 at 07:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (128)

May 12, 2014

Ukraine: Serious Media Largely Confirm Donetsk Poll Results

The often criticized main stream media can sometimes do a good job. Here we have a case where some journalists really make a difference.

Videos of yesterdays referendum in east Ukraine showed seemingly high turnout with most of those taking part voting yes. Still the around 80% turnout numbers put out by the people who had called for those votes and did the counting are somewhat dubious. As are the coup-government claims of some 30% turnout. How would Kiev know? But some real journalistic work helps to gauge the numbers validity:

DONETSK, Ukraine — Residents of two regions of eastern Ukraine turned out in significant numbers Sunday to vote in support of self-rule in a referendum that threatens to deepen divisions in a country already heading perilously toward civil war.
...
There were no independent exit polls Sunday. But it did appear that turnout was relatively high. Journalists from several Western news organizations interviewed 186 residents in the Donetsk region, away from polling stations, and found that 116 had cast ballots or intended to. A total of 122 favored self-determination. The results were not scientific but reflected the level of interest in the referendum.

According to the German FAZ, whose correspondent took some of the interviews, the following media took part:

Der Spiegel, Die Welt, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Kyodo News Agency, Süddeutsche Zeitung, The Irish Times, The Washington Post, ZDF.

Most of these are German but had so far largely followed the propaganda filled, pro-Kiev "western" view. Now they find, in their admittedly unscientific poll, that about two third of the people in the Donetzk and Luhansk regions are in favor of more autonomy.

This is much larger share than one could have guessed from previous polls. But those polls were taken before the coup government in Kiev opened its fight against "terrorists" in the east and before right wing militia and mob mass-killed people in Odessa and Mariupol. As the Washington Post notes:

Residents’ attitudes appear to have hardened considerably with the deaths of dozens of pro-Russian activists in the city of Odessa this month and with reports that troops fired at a crowd in Mariupol last week.

In Ukraine's political circles there now seems to be a bit of turnaround behind the scenes moving against the coup-government's current path. On Sunday the richest Ukrainian oligarch Ahmetov announced to provide neutral security forces for Mariupol and today the Kiev imposed governor of Donetzk Taruta called for an end of the "anti-terrorism" operation Kiev has been pushing against the east. If yesterday's poll helps to bring up more of such voices it was already well worth the effort.

Posted by b on May 12, 2014 at 05:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (175)

May 11, 2014

Ukraine: Another German "Leak" Against U.S. Policy

A week ago I sensed that there is resistance in Europe and especially in offical Germany against the U.S. led aggressive campaign against Russia:

Even the most staunch transatlantic tabloid in Germany, Bild, today reports (original here) that the CIA and FBI with dozens of agents are running the show in Kiev. The report is based on "German security sources" which lets me believe that the German government is looking for ways to counter Washington's moves.

More intentional "leaks" were published today in the same media, the high circulation Bild am Sonntag print edition. According to this online summary (in German by the Bild sister paper Welt ) two different issues were revealed:

  • According to the German secret service BND some 400 U.S. mercenaries from the company Academi, previously Blackwater, are leading and coordinating with the Ukrainian army and police in operations against "guerrilla" in east Ukraine.
  • According to NSA sniffing on Russian military communication, released to the BND, Russian pilots were ordered to violate Ukrainian airspace.

Both claims are sourced to BND security briefings in the German chancellery.

The first claim seems plausible as it confirms accusations made earlier in several Russian media. Commentators in the German media seem to accept it even while expressing some doubts about the second claim. Hardly anyone in Germany today believes anything claimed by the NSA :-).

Within just seven days two significant "leaks" to Bild, a chancellor Merkel supporting and staunchly transatlantic paper, blame the United States for the trouble in Ukraine. These "leaks" must have come from the chancellery and, them being true or not, confirm that there is some antagonism in the central political and security branches in Berlin towards the U.S. plans.

We can only hope that such antagonism will also find ways to express itself in political results restraining the U.S. from inciting civil war in Ukraine and a possible huge conflagration in Europe.

Posted by b on May 11, 2014 at 12:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (106)

May 10, 2014

Alastair Crooke On Ukraine

Nothing by me but Alastair Crooke, a former MI-6 honcho and diplomat, is just back from Moscow and has some interesting thoughts on the bigger historic issues which express themselves in the current events in Ukraine. As for current expectations in Moscow he elaborates:

In gist, the dynamics towards some sort of secession of East Ukraine (either in part, or in successive increments) is thought [in Moscow] to be the almost inevitable outcome. The question most informed commentators in Moscow ask themselves is whether this will occur with relatively less orrelatively more violence – and whether that violence will reach such a level (massacres of ethnic Russians or of the pro-Russian community) that President Putin will feel that he has no option but to intervene.
...
And this the point, most of those with whom we spoke suspect that it is the interest of certain components of the American foreign policy establishment (but not necessarily that of the US President) to provoke just such a situation: a forced Russian intervention in East Ukraine (in order to protect its nationals there from violence or disorder or both). It is also thought that Russian intervention could be seen to hold political advantage to the beleaguered and fading acting government in Kiev. And further, it is believed that some former Soviet Republics, now lying at the frontline of the EU’s interface with Russia, will see poking Moscow in the eye as a settling of past scores, as well as underscoring their standing in Brussels and Washington for having brought ‘democracy’ to eastern Europe.

There seems absolutely no appetite in Moscow to intervene in Ukraine (and this is common to all shades of political opinion).

More, including some deeper history, at the link.

Posted by b on May 10, 2014 at 11:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (115)

May 09, 2014

Ukraine: Today's Incursion Into Mariupol

Alex Thomson of the British Channel 4 News reports from Mariupol:

[I]t seems clear that Ukrainian forces unleashed their guns upon Mariupol today and appear to have achieved precious little beyond alienating further the sizeable element of the population which wants rid of them altogether.

The city council of Mariupol was and is occupied and barricaded by federalists. There was also one bigger police station that was friendly with the federalists. It allegedly was held by Berkut riot police forces which had been abolished by the coup government. Today several BMP light tanks and BRT armored personal carriers drove into the city. Some unarmed civilians tried to hold them up. The city streets were flagged in anticipation of today's yearly victory parade which is held to commemorate the end of the long and bloody fight against the German nazi regime.

The BMPs seem to have driven up to the police station and took it under fire. Pictures showed a lot of damage and the building going up in flames. In some street nearby one BMP broke down and the troops it carried seem to have proceeded to their target on foot. While they were moving through the city unarmed civilians were shouting at them. At some point the troops opened fire and several people were killed and wounded. At least one man with a pistol was shooting back - videos from different perspectives: 1, 2, 3.

The whole operation in Mariupol today makes no sense to me. Why use hit and run tactics? Why use so few, badly trained troops. Why on such a sensible day? The interior minister of the coup government announced that 20 "terrorists" were killed in Mariupol. Journalists and hospital staff counted only three dead. Why is the coup government exaggerating the number of dead?

I am slowly coming to the opinion that the Kiev government and its CIA handlers are intentionally pouring oil into the fire. Do they know what they are doing? Do they know that they will have no chance to win should the east really rise up against them?

To them and everyone I recommend to read this probably first sane piece on Ukraine in the U.S. foreign policy media: Six Mistakes the West Has Made (and Continues to Make) in Ukraine. Excerpt:

Historians of the future will wonder greatly at the forbearance that Russia has shown in wielding its potentially vast influence (the ease with which Crimea was taken by Russia should be highly instructive), in contrast to the boldness verging on recklessness with which the United States and EU have sought to manipulate the political outcome in Kiev.

Recognizing the indigenous nature of Ukraine’s current problems, which often go back to promises left unfulfilled by past Ukrainian governments, is therefore a necessary first step toward dealing with them realistically. But it is only the first step. The next is to apply meaningful pressure on the interim government to do what it has thus far refused to do—establish a government of national unity.

Posted by b on May 9, 2014 at 12:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (147)

May 08, 2014

Ukraine: It's Now For The Long Run

From a February 2008 wikileaked cable by the U.S. embassy in Moscow:

Experts tell us that Russia is particularly worried that the strong divisions in Ukraine over NATO membership, with much of the ethnic-Russian community against membership, could lead to a major split, involving violence or at worst, civil war. In that eventuality, Russia would have to decide whether to intervene; a decision Russia does not want to have to face.

Russia decided to not intervene, for now, and to leave the poison cocktail the "west" created boiling and in the "west's" responsibility.

Putin's offer from yesterday was not accepted within the Ukraine. The coup government announced to continue its "anti-terrorism" campaign against federalists in the east and the federalists in Donetsk and Lugansk announced not to cancel their referendum.

Elsewhere Putin's offer was somewhat accepted. It had, as Putin had announced, already been coordinated with the German chancellor Merkel and today the OSCE as the relevant organization presented a yet to be published roadmap to Russia.

If there is no serious offer of federalization in the roadmap Russia will let the Ukraine issue boil on a lower flame. The social-economic upheaval that is sure to come will in due time swamp away the coup government. Russia can always use its economic and energy leverage to hasten or slow down that process.

The whole case of Ukraine is no likely to be a longer run issue and, unless some unforeseen massacre takes place, I expect no further immediate action from the Russian side.

Posted by b on May 8, 2014 at 10:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (166)

May 07, 2014

Ukraine: Putin Offers A Truce

The President of the Russian Federation keeps pressing for a peaceful solution in Ukraine:

We think the most important thing now is to launch direct dialogue, genuine, full-fledged dialogue between the Kiev authorities and representatives of southeast Ukraine. This dialogue could give people from southeast Ukraine the chance to see that their lawful rights in Ukraine really will be guaranteed.

In this context, we appeal too, to representatives of southeast Ukraine and supporters of federalisation to hold off the referendum scheduled for May 11, in order to give this dialogue the conditions it needs to have a chance.

The announcement was made in a press conference with OSCE President Didier Burghalter.

I understand this to be an offer for truce which will be followed as long as the coup government is willing to actively negotiate with the federalists. It will be canceled should the coup government be unwilling to talk and continue with its "anti terrorist" campaign.

The offer is likely part of a more complex deal negotiated through the OSCE. The coup government has made zero progress. The federalist movement is growing after the Odessa massacre in which at least 36 of them were killed by a right wing mob. The coup government has little to gain but much to lose, half of the country, should it reject a deal.

But what are the external interest behind the coup puppets? The U.S. may like to continue and even escalate the confrontation while core European country have interests to calm everything and everyone down. Who of those will win?

Posted by b on May 7, 2014 at 12:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (163)

Syria: Insurgents Retreat From Homs But War Will Continue

As part of a complex deal of prisoner exchanges and access to food for some besieged areas the foreign supported insurgents are leaving Homs. The city was one of the early centers of their fight against the Syrian government and its people.

This is a great symbolic as well as physical loss for the insurgents. It comes as progress has also been made against insurgents east of Damascus. The additional weapons the U.S. send to the insurgents, mainly anti-tank missiles but also additional rocket artillery, proved to be not decisive. Ridiculous claims about the insurgents gaining ground are just that. Their renewed attempts to claim more of Aleppo were stopped by the Syrian army. Government forces now busy in Homs and east Damascus will soon join the fight in Aleppo and will attempt to free the city of insurgents. The insurgents are therefore clearly in retreat. Losses from infighting between the various Jihadi groups have weakened the insurgency and will negatively affect new recruiting.

That does not mean the the Syrian government has won. Far from it. The U.S. and its allies will do their best to keep the conflict going as long as it does not threaten to directly harm them. That point may come though as retreating insurgents will likely move to neighboring countries to look for new pasture.

Posted by b on May 7, 2014 at 12:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (26)

May 05, 2014

Ukraine: Continuing Thread ...

There was little significant news from Ukraine today. Fighting around various checkpoints outside of Slovyansk continued with casualties reported on both sides and of civilians but no movement of the lines.

I do expect some more serious diplomacy over the next days but the continued amateurish behavior of the State Department, discussed here, lets me believe that there will be no progress in solving the situation without more conflict.

Allegedly: A polite green man from Russia Putin's Spetsnaz special force enforcer Ukrainian woman awaiting fascists in Slovyansk.

Posted by b on May 5, 2014 at 02:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (254)

May 04, 2014

Ukraine: U.S. Campaign Stuck Without Russian Intervention And German Support

Two days ago a mob, supported by the fascists Right Sektor, killed over 30 federalist Ukrainians in Odessa by pushing them from their camp into a building and then setting fire to it. Those who escaped the massacre, not the perpetrators, were rounded up by police. Today pro-federalism people besieged the police headquarter in Odessa until the police released those it had earlier arrested.

In the east some military and National Guard units under government control were in sporadic fights with federalists but right now the government forces seem to be again in retreat. There were attacks on private bank outlets in the east because the owner of the bank, a well known oligarch, is suspected of financing the fascist Right Sektor paramilitaries.

The U.S. plan for Ukraine seems to be to bait Russia into an occupation. This would destroy EU-Russia relations, embolden NATO and help the U.S. to keep the EU as a secondary partner under its control. There would be lots of economic upsides for the U.S. in such a situation. Selling more arms and increasing energy market shares are only the starters.

There are two reasons to believe that this plan will fail:

First: Russia will not take the bait. The people requesting more local autonomy in Ukraine are perfectly able to take a stand on their own. Should a few die, like in Odessa, even more will rise up. Except for the Right Sektor people now included in the National Guard there are no loyal troops for the Kiev coup government to use against the people. The huge mistake the coup government made, repeating a U.S. mistake made in Iraq, was to dissolve the federal riot police Berkut. Those now unemployed trained fighters, together with experienced former Soviet soldiers, are the military backbone of the federalists. There is therefore no need for Russia to openly intervene. The Kiev coup government is already a dying entity.

Second: Many people in Europe have recognized the nefarious U.S. scheme and are protesting against their politicians' slavishness in following the U.S. lead. The political pressure against Russia bashing is building. Every pro-NATO/anti-Russian report in the media, and there are lots of them, gets trashed in the comment sections. Some of the European elite are openly turning against the U.S. induced anti-Russia propaganda. Even the most staunch transatlantic tabloid in Germany, Bild, today reports (original here) that the CIA and FBI with dozens of agents are running the show in Kiev. The report is based on "German security sources" which lets me believe that the German government is looking for ways to counter Washington's moves. The German Foreign Minister Steinmeier just called (in German) for a second Geneva conference to solve the situation.

Without Russian intervention and without German support the U.S. campaign against Russia is unlikely to reach its secondary target of isolating Russia. The primary target, Sevastopol harbor in Crimea, was already lost when Russia reunified with the island.

What is left to do then for Washington is to create more chaos in Ukraine and to hope that somehow out of total chaos some new chance may arise to stick it to Russia. For lack of real direction that strategy is also unlikely to succeed.

Posted by b on May 4, 2014 at 11:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (208)

May 03, 2014

Palestine: U.S. Negotiator Asks For Third Intifada

Kerry had fooled himself believing that Netanyahoo would ever allow for a Palestinian state. One hundred meetings later he finally admitted that such will never happen. Without robust U.S. pressure, unlikely to happen due to U.S. domestic politics, Netanyahoo and other right wing Israelis will never move from their absolutist position.

There is something to learn about self-illusion and the painful process of recognizing it in the Ynetnews interview with the U.S. negotiating team members, Inside the talks' failure: US officials open up. This line though stands out:

And then one of them added bitterly: "I guess we need another intifada to create the circumstances that would allow progress."

Maybe. Maybe a third intifada could help move the U.S. towards some serious pressure on Israel. I doubt it though. The Palestinians have better options. Join all possible international clubs including the International Court system, sue Israel, threaten to dissolve the Palestinian Authority, other steps. What is needed is unity and better, more decisive leaders. When will those evolve?

Posted by b on May 3, 2014 at 11:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (136)

May 02, 2014

Ukraine: IMF - Lose The East And Get More Money

One wonders which U.S. politician or functionary visited Ukraine yesterday. After CIA Director Brennan had visited Kiev the coup government of Ukraine launched an "anti-terror" campaign against federalists in the east. That soon pattered out. Then Vice President Biden visited Kiev and the next day another "anti-terror" campaign was launched but stopped after Russia mobilized some troops and threatened to invade. This morning a third "anti-terror" campaign was launched when some Ukrainian security forces encircled and attempted to storm the city of Slovyansk. Who initiated this?

This attempt soon ran into problems. Civilians blocked or held up (vid) troop movements. But supported by helicopters some troops managed to capture a few outlying road barricades. Then at least two of the helicopters were shot down by MANPADs. It was not expected that the armed federalists had such weapons ready but it is also not very astonishing. When the Soviet Union was dissolved Ukraine ended up with a fully equipped force of some 700,000 men. Today, 23 years later, the Ukrainian military force has some 70,000 men. What happened to all the equipment? Most of it was sold off to third countries in shady deals but a lot was just taken away or sold by corrupt officers to anyone who would pay a decent price. I would therefore not be surprised to see more higher level weapons in the hands of the federalists who include some veterans of the Soviet campaign in Afghanistan and other well trained former soldiers and police forces.

The attack on Slovyansk stopped at the city gates with the city itself still in the hands of the federalists. For now the situation there seems to be quiet. Meanwhile there were clashes in Odessa between pro-Kiev and anti-Kiev rioters.

The IMF, which has approved a huge $17 billion loan to Ukraine, gave an ominous warning. Consider yourself to be one of those ruling Ukrainian oligarchs who hope to pocket significant parts of these loans. What would you think after reading this:

Ukraine is at risk of a prolonged recession and may need an extension of its $17bn bailout should tensions with Russia and unrest in the east of the country escalate, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned.
...
"A long-lasting disruption of relations with Russia that depresses exports, investment and growth, or a loss of economic control over the east that reduces budget revenue, would require a significant recalibration of the programme and additional financing, including from Ukraine's bilateral partners," it says.

Translation: "Dear oligarchs, screw up the relations with Russia and lose the east and you will get more free money." Such IMF talk is not designed to help with any de-escalation.

I do not expect the coup-government's move on Slovyansk to result in any success. The only gain from it will be more support for the federalists and greater alienation in the east. Anecdotal reports from journalists crossing government checkpoints pointed out that the interior ministry troops used in this government operation were pretty pissed about the orders had received from Kiev. They wonder how fighting against a significant part of the population is supposed to help the country. Then again - they likely did not get the above IMF notice.

Adding: Obama mentor and Russophob Zbigniew Brzezinski seems to push for escalation of the situation as he envisions U.S. weaponized "urban resistance" in Ukraine against an (unlikely) Russian invasion. His rant includes this most hypocritical beauty:

Above all the president must clarify why we cannot tolerate an international system in which countries are invaded by thugs and destabilized from abroad.

Ahem.

Also of note: Both, the Washington Post and the BBC have started to use the term "rebels" to describe the federalists.

Posted by b on May 2, 2014 at 11:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (324)

 
Site Meter