Posts Tagged ‘Vladimir Putin’

Are normal relations with Russia even possible?

July 19, 2018

I didn’t vote for Donald Trump in 2016, but I thought one of the good things about his campaign was his promise to try to improve relations with Russia.

Now I wonder whether this was even possible.

President Trump in the Helsinki summit showed himself incapable of engaging in normal diplomacy.

Even if he were, he is locked in to Cold War by Congress and by the Mueller investigation.

I have no liking for Vladimir Putin’s regime, but since Russia is the only country in the world with enough nuclear weapons to destroy the United States, I think the drift toward military confrontation with Russia is dangerous.

Trump in his rhetoric seems to agree.  But his administration has armed Ukraine, continued to deploy nuclear weapons around Russia’s borders, sought an increased military budget agreed to increased sanctions against Russia and kept troops in Syria, which is Russia’s ally.

Either Trump does not understand the implications of what his administration is doing or he Is not in control of his administration.

Probably both are true.

It’s also hard for Trump to justify peaceful co-existence with Russia or North Korea while he is stepping up military operations around the world and flirting with war with Iran and Venezuela.

Since he is ignorant and inexperienced in diplomacy, he would need the help of experts to negotiate successfully.  But he has staffed his administration with war hawks who oppose normalizing relations with Russia.  He fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the only one who could have helped him.

He is an example of the Dunning-Kruger effect.  He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.

Even if he were not the person he is, the ongoing Russiagate investigation stands in the way of peace.  So long as Trump and members of his administration remain under suspicion of plotting with Russian agents to rig the 2016 election, it is not politically feasible to treat Russia like a normal country.

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The danger of peace has been averted

July 17, 2018

Here are my takeaways of the mainstream press reporting on the Trump-Putin summit.  [Note: This is sarcasm.]

  • The overriding issue of our time is Russians trying to influence the 2016 elections by using illicit means to reveal true facts concerning Hillary Clinton.  This is nothing less than an attack on democracy itself.
  • The threat of nuclear war and a nuclear arms race is not even worth mentioning.
  • The default policy toward Russia is to threaten and punish Russians until they become more friendly.
  • The CIA and FBI are like an independent fourth branch of government.  Showing disrespect for them on foreign soil is unpatriotic.
  • Meeting with the President of the United States is such a great privilege that Vladimir Putin should not be allowed to do so without making major concessions.
  • Other nations should do as we Americans say, not as we do.

For some non-mainstream views, click on links below.

LINKS

U.S. Media Is Losing Its Mind Over Trump-Putin Press Conference by Joe Lauria for Consortium News.

The Helsinki Debacle and U.S.-Russian Relations by Daniel Larison for The American Conservative.

A walk on the wild side as Trump meets Putin at the Finland station by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

When Did Russia Become an Adversary? by Gary Leupp for Counterpunch.  Answer: Since 2014.

Putin, Trump and a hypothetical question

July 15, 2018

Suppose Donald Trump, as many Americans urge, demands that the Russian government cease all interference in American politics.

Suppose Vladimir Putin says he’ll agree, provided that the American government ceases all “regime change” activities against Russia and other countries.

What should President Trump’s response be?

LINKS

Russia Indictment  2.0: What to Make of Mueller’s Hacking Indictment on Lawfare.

The Mueller Indictment by Ian Welsh.

Trump, Russia and the NATO alliance

July 13, 2018

President Donald Trump wants to (1) force European allies to commit to more than double their military spending to meet the Russian threat and (2) engage in peace negotiations with Vladimir Putin without consulting European allies.

On the one hand, Russia is a menace that the NATO allies must unite against.  On the other hand, Russia is a normal country with which normal negotiations are possible.  And, by the way, U.S. dealings with Russia are no business of our European allies.  So which is it?

Donald Trump

President Trump presents himself as a master negotiator, but he weakened his negotiating position by advertising and widening the divisions in the Western alliance.   I can’t tell what his objectives are, or even if he has specific objectives.

My best guess is that the Putin-Trump talks, like the Trump-Kim Jong-un talks, will end in vague generalities that each side will interpret differently.  Trump’s erratic behavior frightened the South Korean government into talking with North Korea on its own.  Maybe his current behavior will be to frighten the European nations into making their own agreement with Russia.

That’s not to say that a summit meeting with President Putin is a bad idea.  It is just that Trump by his actions has shown that he can’t conduct normal diplomacy.

So what should U.S. policy toward Russia be?  The most important fact about Russia is that it is the only nation with enough nuclear weapons and missiles to destroy the United States.  To be sure, this would involve the destruction of Russia itself.

So American leaders should avoid backing Russia leaders into a position where they might think they have nothing to lose, or in which a nuclear war could be triggered accidentally.

The missile defense systems put in place by the U.S. in Poland and Romania, and the deployment of nuclear missiles to the borders of Russia, gave the Russian leaders reason to think that the U.S. was planning a nuclear first strike.  Their response has been to develop a new generation of nuclear weapons with which they could strike the United States.

The aim of negotiations should be to reduce the nuclear threat on both sides.  I don’t think President Trump understands this issue, and he has surrounded himself with war hawks such as John Bolton who see no point in negotiation.  This is dangerous for both sides.  We need new negotiations to wind down the nuclear threat.

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Truth, guesswork and Russiagate

April 7, 2018

The United States government claims we are under attack from Russia.  That is the justification for military buildup in Syria and along Russia’s borders, for waging economic war against Russia and sanctions against Russian individuals, and for a diplomatic campaign against Russia.

Before we blunder into a nuclear war, which would mean the end of the United States, the Russian Federation and much of the rest of humanity, we need to look at the basis for these claims.  Specifically, we need to assess the evidence for three claims: –

Ideally, I would advocate reserving judgement until the results of the Mueller investigation are in.  But official Washington, including the press corps and the top leaders of the Democratic Party, are acting as if the results are already in.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote that newspaper articles should be classified as truths, probabilities, possibilities and falsehoods.

Here is how I see the balance of truths, probabilities, possibilities and falsehoods:

∞∞∞

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin stated several times in 2016 that he would be pleased if Donald Trump was elected, because Trump advocated better relations with Russia.

Why would he not?  Russia in 2016 was hard-pressed by U.S.-led economic sanctions and a U.S. military buildup.   Hillary Clinton was and is an extreme war hawk.

Putin is a ruthless operator with few scruples.   There is credible circumstantial evidence that Russian intelligence sources engineered a false flag terror attack in order to rally public sentiment against the rebel province of Chechnya.  There is strong evidence that Russian intelligence services murdered the dissident and human rights advocate Alexander Litvinenko.

So it is possible that the Russian government penetrated the Democratic National Committee computer files and published e-mails that embarrassed Hillary Clinton, or that individual Russian hackers did so with the knowledge and encouragement of the Russian government.

The reasons I have doubts this happened are (1) the FBI has never conducted its own examination of the DNC computers and (2) the FBI has never interviewed Julian Assange about his claim that he received the information from a whistleblower.   Why would they not do this?  Were they afraid of what they might find out?

Maybe the DNC was hacked by more than one person or group, acting independently of each other.

In any case, the result of the DNC e-mail hacks was to disseminate truthful information, which is not an act of war.

It also is possible that Russians used social media to try to influence the election.  But I don’t see how the 13 Russians who were accused of distributing social media ads under fake names could have had any impact.  If they were Russian intelligence agents, they were decoys to divert attention from a secret real campaign that so far as not been discovered.

If Vladimir Putin did try to engineer Donald Trump’s election, he must feel buyer’s remorse.  President Trump has approved weapons shipments to Ukraine, which goes beyond what President Obama ever did.  He wants to keep U.S. troops in Syria indefinitely to undermine Russia’s ally, Syria.  He is continuing the nuclear arms race against Russia.

Like President Obama, Trump talks about improving relations with Russia.   But like Obama, he so far has done nothing to make this happen.  Putin, with all his ruthlessness, is a defender of the status quo.  It is the U.S. government that seeks regime change in targeted countries, and that seeks military dominance in every important region of the world.

∞∞∞

Donald Trump, like other authoritarian nationalists, has long expressed an affinity for the authoritarian nationalist Vladimir Putin.   He also made a lot of money in business dealings with Russian oligarchs and organized crime figures in the New York real estate market.

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Russiagate and the lost hope for peace

February 19, 2018

Prior to the 2016 election, Vladimir Putin said he would welcome the election of Donald Trump because Trump advocated better relations with Russia.

But, as Robert W. Merry of The American Conservative pointed out, any faint hope of that happening was snuffed out by the exposure of Russian attempts to influence the election by means of fake posts on social media.   The Russians shot themselves in the foot.

Most of us Americans have no perspective on this because we don’t know, or choose to ignore, the extent of our own government’s meddling in foreign countries.

U.S. meddling not only includes propaganda, open and covert, but taking sides in civil wars and outright invasions of foreign countries whose leaders oppose U.S. policy.

I don’t argue the U.S. government should tolerate violations of American election law by foreigners in order to atone for American sins abroad.  I do say this should not be used as an excuse for risking war or suppressing dissent.

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Tyranny, Trump and Timothy Snyder

June 26, 2017

Timothy Snyder, a historian of the Hitler-Stalin era, has written an eloquent and heartfelt little book—On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Centurywarning that democracy could perish in the United States of today just as it did in Europe in the 1930s.

Just as no couple making love for the last time ever realize it is the last time, he wrote, so no person voting in a free election for the last time realizes it is the last time.

On Tyranny contains 20 timeless principles for defenders of democracy.    The principles are illustrated by ominous stories of how the mass of people failed to resist Nazi and Communist tyranny and inspirational stories of how a few did.

Then come claims that Vladimir Putin is like Hitler and Stalin and that Donald Trump is like all three, and a call to be ready to resist.

Snyder has done well to remind Americans of the fundamental principles of democracy and the need to defend them.

But the need for the reminder didn’t originate with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.  As Glenn Greenwald, Conor Friedersdorf and others have warned, these dangers have existed since enactment of the USA Patriot Act in 2001, and before.

During the Bush and Obama administrations, the government has claimed the power to engage in acts of war, order assassinations, spy on citizens, and bypass due process of law and also to imprison anyone who reveals what is going on.  Until this changes, every President is a potential tyrant, not just Donald Trump.

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Democrats easing off on Russia hacking charge

March 19, 2017

Democratic war hawks are backing off their charges that Donald Trump’s victory was due to Vladimir Putin’s manipulations.

For war hawks, these charges may have served their purpose in making Trump back off from plans to make peace with Russia, and in casting suspicion on anybody who advocates peace with Russia.

For Democrats, the Russia conspiracy theory provided a basis for attacking Trump personally without having to propose constructive alternatives to his policies.   But if investigations produce no evidence of any Trump-Putin collusion, these attacks will backfire.

Update 3/21/2017:  Evidently I spoke too soon.   Trump opponents seem determined to keep the investigation of Trump-Russia contacts going as long as possible, even though every article I’ve read contains a paragraph somewhere that says there is no evidence of collusion between Trump campaign officials and Russian intelligence.

I suppose Democrats, war hawks and especially Democratic war hawks think they have nothing to lose by keeping the pressure on, even if nothing significant is uncovered in the end.

FBI director James Comey reported that the FBI has been investigating possible Trump-Russia connections since last July.   It will be interesting to know what, if anything, the investigation discovers.  The mere fact that an investigation is going on has no more significance that the fact of that Hillary Clinton’s handling of her e-mails was being investigated.

LINKS

Key Democratic Officials Now Warning Not to Expect Evidence of Trump / Russia Connection by Glenn Greenwald for The Intercept.

The Democrats’ Anti-Russia Campaign Falls Apart by Moon of Alabama.

The Missing Logic of Russia-gate by Robert Parry for Consortium News [Added 3/21/2017]

The GOP is going to try to rush the Russian investigation | Democrats shouldn’t let them by Alex Shephard for The New Republic.  The politics of the investigation.  [Added 3/21/2017]

Recommended Reading: Giant Russia Theory Edition by Nina Illingworth for Nina Illingworth Dot Com.   [Added 3/31/2017]  A definitive collection of links on reasons to be skeptical of claims that Russia “hacked” the 2016 election.

An open letter to Presidents Trump and Putin

March 3, 2017

The following is an open letter to Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, signed by David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and others.  The Bertrand Russell Society, of which I am a member, endorses it.

nuclearbomb510672745_b79a1a057a_oThis may be the most dangerous time in human history.

In a dramatic recent decision, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has moved its iconic Doomsday Clock ahead from three minutes to only two-and-a-half minutes to midnight.

Humankind faces two existential challenges of global and potentially apocalyptic scope: nuclear weapons and climate change.

Our focus here is on nuclear dangers, but we strongly encourage you, Presidents Trump and Putin, to undertake in a spirit of urgency all necessary steps to avert further global warming.

As the leaders of the United States and Russia, the two countries with the largest nuclear arsenals, you have the grave responsibility of assuring that nuclear weapons are not used — or their use overtly threatened — during your period of leadership.

The most certain and reliable way to fulfill this responsibility is to negotiate with each other, and the other governments of nuclear-armed states, for their total elimination.

The U.S. and Russia are both obligated under Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to engage in such negotiations in good faith for an end to the nuclear arms race and for complete nuclear disarmament.  Your success in this endeavor would make you heroes of the Nuclear Age.

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A propaganda war is not really a war

March 1, 2017

newyorker-1488286188

The New Yorker ran a long article about Russian propaganda and how the Russian government sees propaganda as a weapon of war.

The article, though one-sided, contains interesting information.  My problem with it is that the writers treat propaganda—including truthful propaganda—as the equivalent of war.

The U.S. government during the past 15 years has waged war by means of aerial bombardment, targeted assassinations, economic sanctions, arming terrorists and warlords and actual invasions of  foreign countries that do not threaten us.  Russia has done some of the same things, although on a smaller scale.

There is a strong possibility of a military confrontation between Russia and the United States that could risk a nuclear war.

Russian attempts to influence American and European public opinion seem fairly benign in contrast.

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Is it fair to call Vladimir Putin a killer?

February 7, 2017

In a word, yes.

Vladimir Putin is clearly implicated in killings of Russian citizens.

It is true that Barack Obama also initiated a policy of killing individuals he deemed a threat to the United States, and a couple of those were American citizens.   It is true that the U.S. supports dictatorships that use death squads.  But changing the subject to the U.S.  doesn’t change the facts about Putin.

2014-03-07-PUTINIs the fact that Vladimir Putin is a killer a reason not to have diplomatic relations with Russia?  It certainly is a reason not to be naive in dealing with Putin.  It is a reason not to regard him as a friend.

But President Franklin Roosevelt formed an alliance with Joseph Stalin, one of the greatest mass killers of the 20th century, in order to defeat Nazi Germany.  President Richard Nixon flew to China to open U.S. relations with Mao Zedong, another mass killer, in order to checkmate Soviet Russia.

If working with Putin can eliminate the danger of nuclear war over Ukraine or defeat the Islamic State, that would be a good thing, not a bad thing.

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The unclassified report on Russian hacking

January 7, 2017

The unclassified CIA-FBI-NSA report asserts that they have “high confidence” that Russian intelligence agencies hacked the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign in order to elect Donald Trump.

office_of_the_director_of_national_intelligence_seal_usaPossible motives are retaliation for the Panama Papers leaks, the reports on Russian doping of Olympic athletes, and activities of the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy in Russia.

But the report presents no actual evidence that this happened.   All it says is that Vladimir Putin hoped Donald Trump would defeat Hillary Clinton, which is plainly true, and that this is the sort of thing that Putin would do, which might well be true.  Most of the report is devoted to analysis of anti-Clinton reporting by RT News, a Russian-funded TV news broadcaster.

It’s possible that the conclusion is true, but the report does not consider alternative explanations, such as leaks by a disgruntled DNC employee.   It does not describe the scope of the investigation—for example, whether the FBI had access to the DNC e-mails, or relied on the word of the DNC contractor, or whether it used NSA signal intelligence.

Maybe the classified version of the report does answer the unanswered questions.   I look forward with great interest to the congressional investigation.

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Russia as the jihadists’ “far enemy”

January 5, 2017

isis-610417-putin

When Al Qaeda jihadist terrorists attacked the U.S. World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, it was part Osama bin Laden regarded the USA as the “far enemy” who propped up all the “near enemies” in the Arab world.

But for many of the jihadists fighting in Syria and Iraq, the “far enemy” is Vladimir Putin’s Russia, not the USA.   A large number are Chechens, a Muslim nationality living mostly within the Russian Federalion, or Uzbeks, Tajiks, Kazakhs or others living under regimes in Central Asia that are propped up by Russia.

One of Putin’s first actions when he came to power was to ruthlessly crush the independence movement in Chechnia.   The justification was a series of terrorist attacks that were very likely a false flag attack by the Russian FSB.

Since then many Chechen fighters have been driven out of Russia, and are now fighting the Russian-backed Assad government of Syria, along with Uzbeks and other nationalities from the former Soviet republics.

Some analysts think that the export of jihadists is a conscious Russian strategy.  The best outcome, from the Russian point of view, is that they die fighting in Syria.   But even if they survive, they have made themselves known to Russian intelligence services.

Saudi Arabia does the same thing with its jihadist rebels—suppresses them at home and encourages them to go wage war in other countries.

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Russia accused of war by using weaponized truth

October 18, 2016

wireap_8cf7592f8cbc452287d88d28e2e8d9ec_16x9_1600

Russian intelligence services are accused of waging cyber-warfare by releasing embarrassing Hillary Clinton e-mails through Wikileaks.

There is no direct evidence of where Wikileaks got the Clinton e-mails, but the Russians have the capability and the motive to hack her system.

Would this be an act of war?  I for one would welcome war by means of weaponized truth.

If revealing accurate information about your geopolitical enemy is a form of warfare, I think escalation of this kind of warfare would be a good thing and not a bad thing.

I think the NSA and the CIA should retaliate by arranging the release of damaging secret information about Vladimir Putin—maybe through Wikileaks as a form of poetic justice.

In fact, there are those who think they already have done so, through the Panama Papers leak

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All we talk about is Trump! Trump! Trump!

October 10, 2016

A great many important issues face us Americans as a new Presidential term begins—nuclear weapons, trade agreements, fracking, climate change, economic stagnation, the likelihood of financial crash.

Presidential Candidate Donald Trump Campaign Rally in Vandalia, OhioBut among my circle of acquaintances, hardly anybody wants to talk about these things.  All anybody wants to talk about is Donald Trump, and the outrageous things he says.   It can be highly enjoyable to have such an obvious target.

I think that it is an objective fact that Trump is temperamentally, intellectually and morally unfit to be President of the United States.   I think this is becoming more manifest as the campaign goes on.  I base this more on his record as a business owner and public figure than what he says on a day-to-day basis, but what his statements show a lack of knowledge and a lack of discipline.

The problem is that the real problems of the country go unaddressed, and the most that can be hoped for in this election is a preservation of a bad status quo.

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Russia is losing an economic war

September 26, 2016

The Russian Federation is in economic crisis.

The economy is shrinking.  Although unemployment is low, poverty is increasing,  Inflation is at double-digit rates.   The exchange rate for the ruble is falling.  Russia’s trade deficit is widening.  The Russian government is cutting spending on public services.

While Russia has serious internal economic problems, the immediate cause of the crisis is the economic war being waged by its foes.

  • The United States and European Union boycott many Russian individuals and institutions, including cutting off credit to Russian banks and cutting off sales of equipment to Russian oil companies.
  • Saudi Arabia has stepped up production of oil, driving down oil prices worldwide and hurting Russia’s oil exports.
  • The United States has begun a new arms race with Russia, forcing the Russian government to either divert resources from the civilian economy or admit inferiority.

03-bust-boom-bustIn waging economic war against Russia, the United States and its allies hurt themselves as a price of hurting Russia more.

  • Europe and Russia are natural trading partners, with Europeans buying Russian gas and oil and Russia buying Europe’s, especially Germany’s industrial products.   Cutting off this trade hurts both.
  • Saudi Arabia is using up a large but limited resource at a fast rate without getting the best price for it.
  • The United States, too, is diverting resources from our civilian economy and domestic needs.

In many ways, this is a replay of the economic war waged against the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

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If the USA and Russia could change places

September 26, 2016

2000px-russia_usa_locator-svg

My experience and knowledge of foreign countries is limited, but I try to understand foreign leaders by putting myself in their place, and imagining what I would do if I were them.

Peter Hitchens, a Briton who was a foreign correspondent in Moscow for many years, invites us to imagine how we would feel if we were Russians, a nation that, unlike the USA, has been invaded not once, but many times, and lost millions, not thousands, of lives to invaders within living memory.

Safety, for Russians, is something to be achieved by neutralizing a danger that is presumed to exist at all times.  From this follows a particular attitude to life and government.

If the U.S. had China on the 49th Parallel and Germany on the Rio Grande, and a long land border with the Islamic world where the Pacific Ocean now is, it might be a very different place.  There might even be a good excuse for the Patriot Act and the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI.

If Russia’s neighbors were Canada and Mexico, rather than Germany, China, Turkey, and Poland, and if its other flanks were guarded by thousands of miles of open ocean, it might have free institutions and long traditions of free speech and the rule of law. It might also be a lot richer.

As it is, Russia is a strong state with a country, rather than a country with a strong state.  If it were otherwise, it would have gone the way of the Lithuanian Empire or, come to that, the Golden Horde.

Source: Peter Hitchens | First Things

That is not to say that life in Vladimir Putin’s Russia is good, or that Putin is a benign ruler.  But he is no worse than many of the despots with whom the United States is allied, and life in the Russian Federation is infinitely preferable to live in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republicans.

Far from being a new Hitler, Hitchens wrote, his goal is to keep territories formerly controlled by the USSR from joining anti-Russian alliances.  Whatever you think of this, it is not a threat to the United States or any other Western nation.

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War hawk Clinton vs. pro-Putin Trump

July 27, 2016

Putin-Clinton-or-Trump-is-Irrelevant-The-Real-Problem-is-U.S.-‘Imperial-Ambitions’-600x338

Donald Trump admires Vladimir Putin and wants better a partnership with Russia.

Hillary Clinton has compared Putin with Hitler, and is willing to risk war with Russia.

This is a big difference, and an important campaign issue.

With Hillary Clinton, you have the likelihood of more war and useless bloodshed, and the real possibility of a nuclear that will leave much of North American and northern Eurasia in smouldering, radioactive ruins.

With Donald Trump, you have the likelihood of a President of the United States, whose judgment is erratic to begin with, and who is under the influence of a wily and ruthless foreign ruler.

I don’t agree with either, but, of the two, I think Clinton represents the greater danger.  Russian influence could be checkmated and rooted out.  A nuclear war would be the end of everything.

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Hillary Clinton and the danger of nuclear war

July 14, 2016

The worst thing that an American President could do is to provoke a nuclear war with Russia.

I think that, based on her record and rhetoric, Hillary Clinton would put the USA at greater risk of nuclear war than her predecessors.

As adviser to her husband in the 1990s and as Secretary of State, she was a voice for war.  Her campaign web site is about her credentials as a war hawk.  It is no coincidence that so war hawks of the George W. Bush support her for President.

Victoria Nuland

Victoria Nuland

Her protege, Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, promotes economic warfare and covert warfare against Russia, while promoting regime change in Ukraine and attempting to draw Ukraine and Georgia into an anti-Russian alliance.  This is as dangerous as Khrushchev’s placing missiles in Cuba in 1962.

Pro-Russian news sources predict war if Hillary Clinton is elected.  I think Russian fears are significant because they could be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If you think somebody is poised to attack you, you’re going to be ready to strike at them before they do.

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Russian cyber-warriors and the U.S. election

June 17, 2016

The Democratic National Committee charges that Russian hackers penetrated its files on Trump opposition research.   Some people also speculate that Hillary Clinton’s e-mails have been hacked.

If Vladimir Putin—I emphasize if—is intervening in the U.S. election on behalf of Donald Trump, this could backfire not only against Trump, but in a dangerous way against Putin and Russia.

Vladimir PutinPutin and Trump have repeatedly praised each other.  Trump advocates better relations with Russia (which I agree with) while  Clinton has compared Putin to Hitler, which is the worst thing you can say about a Russian leader.

Paul Manafort, Trump’s main campaign adviser, managed the comeback of the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovitch as President of Ukraine in 2010.   A Hillary Clinton protege, Victoria Nuland, helped engineer the overthrow of Yanukovich in 2014.  A leaked phone conversation in which she discussed strategy may well have come from Russian intelligence services.

So you have an American election aligned with factions in a conflict in a foreign country.  This is not good.

It is true that Russians, Chinese and other foreign hackers are attacking U.S. computer systems all the time, and that the CIA and NSA hack foreign systems.  It is true that U.S. intelligence agencies have been interfering in foreign elections for decades.  And it is true that foreign lobbyists actively try to influence American policy.

But this would be the first time a foreign intelligence service was caught intervening on behalf of a presidential candidate in an American national election.

We don’t know the full story yet.  Maybe this is less sinister than it seems.   But maybe Putin sees electing Trump as a way of crippling the United States without a nuclear strike.  Or maybe somebody is playing some sort of double game.  We’ll see how it plays out.

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The danger of nuclear war is real and growing

June 15, 2016

worldnuclearforces.2015.dw0,,18512288_304,00

The danger of a U.S. nuclear war with Russia is real and growing.

The risk is not that an American or Russian President would deliberately start a nuclear war.  The risk is that U.S. policy is creating a situation in which a nuclear war could be touched off by accident.

_89672013_missile_defence_map624_no_iranDuring the Obama administration, the U.S. government has cancelled the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, installed a missile defense system in Rumania and is in the process of installing a system in Poland.

What is the harm of a defensive system?  It is that the ruler of a country with a missile defense system might be tempted to launch a missile attack, in the hope that the enemy’s retaliatory missiles might be stopped.

A defense system that is not strong enough to stop an enemy’s first strike attack might be strong enough to defend against retaliation from an attack, since much of the enemy’s weapons will have been destroyed.  So, strange as it may seem, setting up a missile defense system can seem like an aggressive act.

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Vladimir Putin and the Panama Papers

April 8, 2016

share_of_financial_wealth_held_offshore_chartbuilder

One of the Russian Federation’s big problems is that its millionaires and billionaires are sending their money abroad, adding to Russia’s serious economic problems.

Sergey Roldugin, friend of Vladimir Putin

Sergey Roldugin

The fact that the Panama Papers reveal that one of Vladimir Putin’s oldest friends, a cellist named Sergei Roldugin, is the nominal head of offshore companies controlling billions of dollars in assets, is a big deal – especially since Roldugin does not live the life of a millionaire or billionaire.

Putin said back in 2011 that rich Russians who keep their money offshore are unpatriotic.

The Panama Papers are a trove of documents about shell companies registered in tax havens in the files of a Panamanian law firm called Mossack Fonseca.  The documents were leaked about a year ago by an unknown person to a German newspaper, Seuddeutsche Zeitung, which shared them with other publications around the world and with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.  They spent a year picking through the material, and published their findings starting last Sunday.

A tax haven is a jurisdiction with low or zero taxes which provides anonymity and protects financial secrecy.  Drew Schwartz of VICE news explained how a tax haven can be used to hide a money trail.

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It’s obvious that Putin ordered assassination

April 8, 2016
Alexander Litvenenko

Alexander Litvinenko

Revised and updated.

An official British inquiry has concluded that Vladimir Putin probably ordered the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, an FSB defector and whistleblower, in late 2006.

I think it was obvious from the beginning that Putin not only ordered the killing, but wanted it to be known that he ordered the killing.

How else could the killers have obtained the deadly radioactive isotope, Polonium 210, which was used to poison Litvinenko?  Why else would they have used such a method unless they wanted to signal that this is what happens to defectors?

They were not only eliminating an enemy.  They were sending a message.

This is not the only death of a Russian dissident on British soil under suspicious circumstances.  In 2012, a Russian whistle-blower named Alexander Perepilichnyy, who was due to testify against a Russian company in a $200 million fraud case, was poisoned in Britain with an extract from rare plant known as “heartbreak grass” and found in the mountains of Asia.

In 2013, Boris Berezovsky, a Russian opposition figure in exile, was found dead by hanging.   The coroner’s verdict was suicide, but years before Scotland Yard foiled an apparent assassin who’d traveled to Britain from Russia.

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The selective revelations of the Panama Papers

April 4, 2016

Update 4/10/2016.  In fact some Americans are named in the Panama Papers documents.  And rich Americans and American corporations have ways to hide their wealth without going abroad.  There’s more in the links below.

Trillions of dollars—an enormous fraction of the world’s wealth—is concealed in secret accounts outside the jurisdiction of the nations of which the owners are citizensIt is invisible and inaccessible to criminal investigators, tax collectors, bill collectors and divorcing spouses.

Now the world has a glimpse of some of those secret accounts, thanks to a leak of documents from a Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca, to a German daily newspaper, Sueddeutsche Zeitung.  Mossack Fonseca specializes in registering corporations in tax havens.  The leaked documents had information on more than 214,000 companies and 140 world leaders.

The staff of Sueddeutsche Zeitung and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists spent a year sifting through the leaked documents, and shared their information with other news organizations.

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Interestingly few if any of the leaked documents implicated Americans or American corporations.  Maybe Americans don’t happen to use Mossack Fonseca to register their companies.  Or maybe there is more information yet to be revealed.  Or maybe somebody had a hidden agenda.

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Trump, Putin and political correctness

March 18, 2016

A blogger named Jeffrey Feldman pointed out Donald Trump’s unique definition of political correctness.

Most people define “political correctness” as being overly concerned about saying offensive things.  Donald Trump’s idea of “political correctness” is being overly concerned about beating up people who disagree with you.

Vladimir PutinThis is one of the things that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin have in common.  No wonder they speak of each other with respect.

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin have often expressed their mutual esteem, and this is one of the things they have in common.

Putin is a strong nationalist whose aim is to make Russia great again.  He has no inhibition about the use of power and violence to crush opponents.  By Trump’s definition, he is politically incorrect.

LINKS

The One Key Phrase Trump Changed to Incite Violence Against the Left by Jeffrey Feldman for frameshop.  (Hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist).

Putin: The Rule of the Family by Masha Gessen for the New York Review of Books.

Stalin, Russia’s new hero by Alec Luhn for the New York Times.

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