Posts Tagged ‘Vladimir Putin’

Vladimir Putin is not a madman

April 11, 2022

I never thought Vladimir Putin would order a full-scale invasion of Ukraine 

My reasoning was that it was not in Putin’s or Russia’s interest to take responsibility for a country that, by most accounts, was even poorer than Russia itself and almost as corrupt.  Nor did it make sense for Russia to risk getting bogged down in a long quagmire war as it did in Afghanistan.

The president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, had elected as a peace candidate with more than 70 percent of the vote, so there seemed like a possibility of negotiating the status of the Donbas secessionists and other issues.  

I thought Putin would take some limited action that would demonstrate Ukraine’s vulnerability and NATO’s lack of unity.

As a result of the invasion, members of NATO are more united against Russia than ever.  Sweden and Finland have abandoned their neutrality and may formally join NATO.  Countries not willing to fight Russia with troops are waging economic warfare against Russia.

So why did he do it? Was he crazy?

One of my rules of thumb is that when someone who seems highly intelligent does something that makes no sense to me, that person may have reasons that I do not understand.

I believe Putin has made this high-stakes gamble because he believes the actual existence of Russia is at risk.  I believe he further believes that the danger is growing and he had to act before time runs out.   

He has been saying for years that the goal of the U.S.-led alliance is to put itself in a position to be able to successfully attack Russia.  He may be mistaken, but he has reason to think so.

Notice that the ultimatum he issued last year is not limited to Ukraine.  It contains for main demands (1) Ukraine neutrality, (2) autonomy of Donetz and Luhansk, (3) no missiles in Poland or Rumania and (4) NATO troops back to 1991 limits.

Notice also that Russia has not used its full military might in invading Ukraine.  That means Putin may be holding back troops to enforce the rest of his ultimatum.

∞∞∞

When Russia withdrew its troops from East Germany and other satellite countries in Eastern Europe in 1989, Secretary of State James Baker allegedly promised Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO troops would not move “one inch” to the east.  There’s argument as to what he really said.  But many people, myself included, hoped for a new era when the USA and Russia were at peace with each other.

In 1999, NATO expanded.  Putin protested and was ignored.  In 2004, NATO expanded again.  Putin protested and was ignored.

In 2008, NATO announced an intention to bring Ukraine and Georgia into NATO.  Putin said that was a red line that Russia would not tolerate.  

I can understand why.  If you look at a map of Europe showing the peak of German conquests during World War Two, and compare it with a map of NATO with Ukraine and Georgia, you will see they are almost the same.

In 2014, a pro-American faction seized power in Ukraine. Since then, Ukraine has been a NATO member in all but name.

A missile defense system is being placed in Poland and Romania, which could be made capable of launching nuclear missiles. The U.S. meanwhile has exited the Anti-Ballistic Missile agreement and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces agreement.

Soon the United States will have duplicated Russia’s hypersonic missile, which means that a nuclear warhead launched from Poland or Rumania could hit Moscow in a few minutes.

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Once Vladimir Putin was ‘our bastard’

March 1, 2022

Vladimir Putin, second from left, in 1999 as President Boris Yeltsin, right, left office. Source: Consortium News.

Franklin Roosevelt is said to have once remarked that Cuba’s dictator Fulgencio Bastista or the Dominican Republic’s Rafael Trujillo “may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.”

Matt Taibbi was in Russia during Putin’s rise to power. He wrote a great post about how Vladimir Putin was once regarded as “our bastard,” but then he became his own bastard.

Once, Putin’s KGB past, far from being seen as a negative, was viewed with relief by the American diplomatic community, which had been exhausted by the organizational incompetence of our vodka-soaked first partner, Boris Yeltsin.  Putin by contrast was “a man with whom we could do business,” a “liberal, humane, and decent European” of “alert, controlled poise” and “well-briefed acuity,” who was open to anything, even Russia joining NATO.  “I don’t see why not,” Putin said. “I would not rule out such a possibility.” [snip]

Putin didn’t start out as a revanchist.  He rose as a member of Our Team, a thief of his own accord but also a bagman to fake, wealth-extracting “democrats.” This began with [St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly] Sobchak, the man the Washington Post mourned as a “reformist” and “intellectual” upon his 1996 loss.  

Westerners fawned over the former university professor like he was Vaclav Havel, beaming over his impassioned speeches denouncing the Soviet system, endlessly flattering his Jeffersonian contributions to Russian democracy (he is said to have been the primary author of the Russian Federation’s first constitution).  

Sobchak however ended up acquiring a reputation as an autocrat and was dogged by accusations that he’d privatized apartments into the hands of friends and relatives.  [snip]

It is true that Sobchak had powerful political enemies, and how trumped up or not some of these charges were remains in dispute. What’s not in dispute is that Putin’s aid in helping Sobchak escape prosecution proved to be his big break, as Boris Yeltsin somewhat incredibly admitted in the last of his “autobiographies,” Midnight Diaries.  As the New York Times later put it, “Mr. Putin’s star rose in Mr. Yeltsin’s eyes… because he was willing to circumvent the law when his mentor, the former St. Petersburg mayor, Anatoly Sobchak, was under criminal investigation.”

Taibbi went on to tell how Putin was designated Boris Yeltsin’s successor in return for helping Yeltsin get out of Russia with his ill-gotten gains, and how he stayed in power through rigged elections and the support of Russian oligarchs.  All this while he had the strong support of the U.S. government.

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Is this 1914 all over again?

February 28, 2022

[Updated 2022/3/1]

As I look around, I’m surprised at how everyone in the West seems almost to welcome war with Russia.  And I assume the feeling is much the same in Russia, although, unlike in the West, there have been peace protests, which have ruthlessly been put down.

Those of us distant from the battlefield don’t expect to fight ourselves.  But economic war, covert war and propaganda war are real forms of war, and we will pay a price for submitting to them.  It means we will be expected to accept austerity, authoritarianism and lies.

What surprises me is how eager some of our European allies have been to jump into the fray.  Don’t they realize the economic war will hurt them much more than it does Russia or us Americans?

It reminds me of what I read about the outbreak of the First World War.  Almost everyone thought it would end quickly.  Many thought it would be a glorious adventure.

In the years prior to World War One, just as at present, it had been a long time since there was a major war in Europe.   I think there are many leading frustrating lives who think war is a force that gives life meaning.

Both wars began with a large country (Austria, Russia) attacking a troublesome small neighboring country (Serbia, Ukraine) with a powerful sponsor (Russia, USA) in order to settle a problem for once and for all.  

They also began with the leaders of one country (Germany, Russia) feeling that they were being encircled, and had to fight to break out, and the leaders of the most powerful country (UK, USA) feeling their power was being threatened.

If the leaders had known what they were in for, they’d have found a way to compromise.  But once war began, compromise became impossible.  Too much had been sacrificed to settle for anything less than victory.

I don’t want to push the comparison too far.  To reverse something Mark Twain may have said, history rhymes, but it doesn’t repeat.

If we in the USA and UK are lucky, the actual fighting will be confined to what historian Timothy Snyder called the Bloodlands—Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Russia and the other killing fields of the 1930s and 1940s.  

But our economy, our government and our fundamental rights will be subordinated to the priority of winning the war.  And not just us Americans.   All the countries who are drawn into this war will be losers, including the nominal winners.

Our leaders in the USA will have an excuse to ignore the need to rebuild our manufacturing industry, to fix our dysfunctional government, to deal with the coming climate catastrophes, and we’ll take it.  National bankruptcy will be one of the bad possibilities.  Civilization-ending nuclear war is the worst.

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Shock and awe in Ukraine

February 25, 2022

Kiev early this morning.

At this point in time, the Russian invasion of Kiev reminds me of the initial phase of the U.S. invasion of Iraq—except that the Russians so far seem to be doing their best to avoid civilian casualties and refraining from destroying the electrical grid, water and sewerage systems and other vital infrastructure.

Looked at purely as a military operation, it looks like a brilliant success.  Of course so did the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan in their initial phase.

What made these wars disasters for the United States were the failed occupations and the unsuccessful attempts to establish friendly, self-sustaining governments.

President Vladimir Putin’s rule began with a bloody war to pacify the rebellious Chechen region.  Since then  Russia’s military occupations have been short and decisive.

Putin has stated he does not plan a permanent occupation of Ukraine.  He also says he plans to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine and to bring to justice all those who committed atrocities against Ukraine’s Russian minority.  Taking him at his word, is this possible without a long-term occupation?

The ideal outcome, from the Russian point of view, would be for the Ukrainian government to quickly surrender and agree to Russia’s terms.

What terms of surrender would Russia accept?  Would Ukraine be forced to become a puppet of Russia, like Poland during the Cold War era or the Central Asian countries today?  Or would Russia be willing to settle for neutrality, like Finland and Austria during the Cold War.

The least Russia would demand would be purging of Nazis from the Ukrainian government and armed forces, and turning over accused war criminals to Russia or to international tribunals.

This also would be the best outcome from the point of view of minimizing human suffering.  But it would leave Russia as the strongest—because most feared—power in Europe.

The risk Russia has taken is the possibility of getting bogged down in a long quagmire war, as the Soviet Union did in Afghanistan.

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Texts of Putin’s and Biden’s talks

February 22, 2022

Address by the President of the Russian Federation.  Feb. 21, 2022.

Remarks by President Biden Announcing Response to Russian Actions in Ukraine.  Feb 22, 2022.

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Some reactions to the speeches [Added 2022/2/23]

Putin recognizes Donbass republics: what comes next? by Gilbert Doctorow.

The body language of the speech – Putin has repudiated Lenin, Stalin, Gorbachev, Yeltsin & mobilized Russian defense against US attack as never before by John Helmer for Dances With Bears.

Putin’s Century of Betrayal Speech by Branko Milanovic.  [The demon spell-check keeps changing Branko, the author’s first name, to “Frank.”]

Biden gives ’em heck & big promises by the Boston Herald editorial page.

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[Added 2022/2/26]  I have trouble linking to official statements on the Russian government web site.  You can find most of these on The Vineyard of the Saker web site, which is maintained by an expatriate Russian living in the USA.

Putin makes his move in Ukraine

February 21, 2022

Well, it didn’t take long for my previous post to be overtaken by events.

Russia has recognized the independence of the Luhansk and Donetsk republics.  This almost certainly means that Russian forces will intervene to protect the separatists from Ukrainian forces.  It probably means that Russians will fight to drive Ukrainian forces back to the original borders of Luhansk and Donetsk.

Hopefully, the fighting will be confined to the Donbas region.

The U.S. government is in an embarrassing position, having whipped up war fever while being admittedly unwilling and unable to fight itself.

President Biden said that American troops would not fight in Ukraine because a direct American-Russian clash could escalate into World War Three.

This is true. The other reason is that American troops would be hopelessly outnumbered, and also unprepared to fight in unfamiliar country. This also applies to troops being rushed to Poland and Rumania.

Although this is embarrassing, I think Biden was right to not sacrifice the lives of American troops, just as a gesture.

This leaves the U.S. with only two ways to continue the fight: (1) Arm the Ukrainians and give them moral and economic support.  (2) Impose new economic sanctions on Russia.

The first means encouraging Ukrainians to fight and die in a war in which they are outmanned and outgunned.  The second means asking western Europeans to make serious economic sacrifices.  They might well ask: Why should we be the ones to expend blood and treasure?

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The poisoning of Alexei Navalny

January 25, 2022

When Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was poisoned, I didn’t know what to think.  Not that I thought about it too deeply.

It seemed to me that if the Russian deep state had really wanted to kill him, they would have succeeded.  Also, I was hung up on the definition of “novichok.”  But most of all I didn’t pay attention because I was preoccupied with the lies of war hawks in the American deep state.

The video above shows detective work by Navalny, Maria Pevchikh and other Navalny supporters.  It proves that the Russian government was behind Navalny’s poisoning.  It is in Russian with English subtitles, and was released in June, 2021, but I only became aware of it a couple of days ago.  I’m posting it on my blog by I suspect most Americans aren’t aware of it either.

Navalny fell sick on an airplane flight from Tomsk to Moscow on August 20, 2020.  The plane was diverted to Omsk, where Navalny was rushed to a hospital for treatment.  After two days, he was transported to Berlin for medical treatment.

Hospital patients in Russia, as in most countries, have the right to see their medical records, but the Omsk hospital refused to release Navalny’s.  In November, two Navalny lawyers, Ivan Zhdanov and Vyacheslav Gimadi, bluffed their was into the Omsk records department and took unauthorized photographs of the records.

They indicated that a biochemical blood test showed that Navalny had a deficiency in cholinesterase, which is a neurotransmitter, and the presence of organophosphate agents, which are a cholinesterase inhibitor.  In other words, Navalny was poisoned with a nerve agent.

A month later, the Omsk hospital released what they said were Navalny’s medical records.  All references to cholinesterase and organophosphates had been scrubbed.

Poisoning by nerve agent was confirmed by physicians in Germany and by a Russian physician.  The German officials said it was a new type of nerve agent, deadly but slow-acting.  Navalny would be dead if the pilot hadn’t diverted the plane and his supporters hadn’t got him moved to Germany.

Navalny’s clothes were confiscated by the Omsk hospital and never returned.  Navalny tricked an FSB agent, Konstanin Kodryavstev, into confirming that his underpants were poisoned.  Impersonating an FSB official, Navalny phoned Kodryavstev and debriefed him on how he obtained Navalny’s clothes from the local police, carefully cleansed the underpants of any chemical agent and returned them.

The poison probably was added to Navalny’s underwear in his hotel room in Tomsk.  The room is under video surveillance, but no video footage of the room has been released.  There’s more evidence in the video, but you get the idea.

After having proved his government. had tried to murder him, Navalny returned to Russia in August, 2021.  To me, that was an incredibly brave thing to do.  He was promptly arrested, and is in prison now.

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Vladimir Putin’s billion-dollar secret palace

January 24, 2022

Over the weekend I watched two astonishing videos produced by Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s supporters.  Here is what I learned.

Vladimir Putin has a luxurious palace on the Black Sea on a 17,000-area tract of land, which allegedly cost $1.35 billion (in 2021 dollars) to build.

Construction was financed by money siphoned from Russian state-owned enterprises.  The land is owned by Russia’s Federal Security Service, but is leased to shell companies owned by Putin cronies.

The complex includes an amphitheater, , an underground hockey rink, an oyster farm, an arboretum that employs 40 gardeners, a Greek Orthodox Church that was dismantled and moved from Greece, two helipads

Inside the palace itself are in indoor swimming pool, a theater with a stage, backstage and dressing rooms, a hookah lounge, a casino, a slot machine room and what appears to be a pole-dancing stage.

The furniture comes from exclusive Italian manufacturers.  It includes a $19,700 chest of drawers, a $17,000 bed and $10,500 chairs—also $700 toilet brushes.

I hadn’t paid much attention to Alexei Navalny in the past, but now I see him as a hero, like Vaclav Havel or Julian Assange.  The top documentary was produced while he was in a hospital in Germany, recovering from a poisoning attempt.

He decided he would only release it after he returned to Russia, because it would be dishonorable to expose his reporting team to perils he himself did not share.  He did return.  He was promptly arrested and is still in prison.  That took a lot of guts.

Navalny, Maria Perchikh, Georgy Alburov and the other members of his team are not only brave dissidents.  They are outstanding investigative reporters.

They also have excellent presentation skills.  As a rule, long videos don’t hold my attention, but I couldn’t look away from the two I have embedded.

There had been reports and rumors about Putin’s palace going back to the early 2010s, but it took Navalny and his team to nail down the facts.

Their opportunity came in August, 2020, when the builders discovered that the whole structure was riddled with leaks and mold, and had to be completely remodeled.

Somebody sent Navalny architects’ drawings of the structure.  The drawings specified the furniture in each room.

Navalny’s team obtained catalogs from the furniture suppliers and manufacturers.  These enabled them to created computer-generated images of the various rooms.  This part starts at the 59-minute mark in the top video.

They could have got things completely wrong.  But workers sent pictures of the actual interiors and, according to Pevchikh and Alburov, they were surprisingly accurate.

Their update is in the second video.  Both videos are in Russian with English subtitles. The two reporters said that when they went wrong, it was in underestimating Putin’s lavishness and bad taste.

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Afterthoughts on Putin and Russia

January 15, 2022

The fundamental fallacy which is committed by almost everyone is this: “A and B hate each other, therefore one is good and the other is bad. [==Bertrand Russell, in 1956 letter]

Vladimir Putin

I oppose the war party in the United States, I don’t consider myself pro-Putin or pro-Russia.

Vladimir Putin is the authoritarian ruler of a corrupt oligarchy.  I never denied this.

I guess I am pro-Russia in that I sympathize with the long-suffering Russian people, but I’m not an admirer of their government.

Thomas Piketty, the French economist known for his studies of inequality, wrote that the degree of economic inequality in Russia is at least as great as it is in the USA.

He wrote that half of Russia’s financial assets are in tax havens abroad. The Pandora Papers revealed that a large chunk of those assets are held by a crony of Putin’s.

Alexei Navalny

A friend of mine with contacts in Russia told me of a businessman who has to make kickbacks to three entities—the tax collector, the FSB (Russian FBI) and local organized crime.

This friend also tells me that, except for Moscow and a few other big cities, Russia is a sea of misery and discontent.

Opponents of the regime have a way of dying mysteriously or being killed by unknown persons. I wrote five years ago that Putin is a killer, and I have no reason to take this back.  Admittedly, not all cases are clear-cut, but unmistakable victims include Anna Politovskaya, Alexander Litvenenko and Boris Nemtsov.

The big human rights issue currently in Russia is the poisoning and imprisonment of anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny.   He fell sick while on an airplane flight from Siberia to Moscow in 2020.  His supporters arranged for him to be flown to Germany, where he was placed in a medically-induced coma.  Medical authorities determined that he had been poisoned.  Later, Navalny said. he tricked Russian agents into admitting they placed toxins in his underpants.

Early in 2021 Navalny flew back to Russia, where he was imprisoned on charges of parole violations.  He had been convicted of embezzlement, which his supporters say is a bogus charge.

 But now the Russian authorities have reportedly labeled him a terrorist and “extremist,” and are  going after his supporters.  Evidently the Navalny movement has them worried..

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Putin’s ultimatum and the U.S. response

January 14, 2022

Russian troops on maneuvers. Source: Reuters,

President Vladimir Putin has threatened “appropriate retaliatory military-technical measures” if the USA does offer written guarantees of no military activities in Eastern Europe, no NATO membership for any post-Soviet country and no new military bases on the territory of former Soviet states.

This is what President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker promised President Mikhail Gorbachev in return for allowing reunification of Germany and withdrawing Soviet troops from Eastern Europe.

Subsequent U.S. presidents said this was just an informal verbal agreement and not binding. Russia had to submit because it was weak. Since then Russia has become powerful and is in a position to demand that the former promise can be kept. And this time put it in writing!

For Russia, this is a matter of national security.  For the USA, it is not.  For us Americans, it is a question of avoiding humiliation, not a question of survival.

Russia does not now threaten the U.S. homeland. But this could change.

Russia has not ruled out putting troops and missiles into Cuba and Venezuela, nor deploying submarines with its new hypersonic nuclear weapons into North American coastal waters.  What awwma more likely is that Russian subs would be allowed to refuel in Cuba or Venezuela.

I do not predict these particular things would happen.  Probably what Putin does would be completely unexpected.

There is no reason to think Russia plans to invade and occupy Ukraine or any other country.  That would be foolish.

Putin has learned from Soviet and U.S. mistakes to avoid quagmire wars.  His military interventions, like the recent one in Kazakhstan, have been short and decisive.

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken does not claim Russia threatens the U.S. homeland.  He says Russia is a threat to the new “rules-based international order.”

This refers to the complex of alliances and free trade areas where U.S. hard and soft power guarantees access for global corporations and banks.

Russia, along with China and Iran, do threaten this U.S.-dominated international order.  But ordinary Americans have no stake in it.  This new international order does not benefit American working people. It does benefit the managers and stockholders of those countries.

Blinken says Ukraine and Georgia have the right as sovereign nations to ally themselves with NATO if they choose.  That is not the question.  The question is whether the USA has an obligation or need to bring these countries into an anti-Russian alliance.

I recall that we US Americans didn’t care about legal niceties when Nikita Khrushchev threatened our security by trying to put nuclear missiles into Cuba.

Besides, Ukraine is not a sovereign country in any meaningful sense.  Back in 2015 and 2016, then Vice President Joe Biden demanded that Ukraine fire the prosecutor who was investigating corruption in a company that employed his son, Hunter.  The prosecutor was fired and the investigation, after a short interval dropped.  In 2019, President Donald Trump asked the investigation be re-opened, and it was.

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Putin’s ultimatum and the threat of war

December 21, 2021

Destruction Is Still Mutually Assured by Freddie deBoer.

Russia Details Security Demands to U.S. and NATO by Bernhard for Moon of Alabama.

Only the Powerful Issue Ultimatums by Andrei Martyanov (a Russian view).

Russia’s Ultimatum to the West by the Saker (another Russian view)

A surprise Russian ultimatum: new draft treaties to roll back NATO by Gilbert Doctorow.  [Added 12/23/2021]

We’ve Seen the Ultimatum: What Is the ‘Or Else’? by Patrick Armstrong for Russia Observer.  [Added 12/23/2021]  A long list of things Russia could do short of nuclear escalation.

Can Russia cope with the coronavirus?

April 7, 2020

Russia’s growing coronavirus outbreak and its challenge to Putin by Alex Ward for Vox.

What we know about Trump’s ties to Russia

September 8, 2018

Here’s what is known so far about Donald Trump and his relationship to Russia.

He has had extensive business dealings with rich Russians, including organized crime figures.  He son spoke of how the Trump Organization benefited from Russian money.

President Trump

Like many right-wing Republicans, he admired Vladimir Putin as a decisive, authoritarian leader.

During the 2016 Presidential campaign, Trump expressed a desire to improve relations with Russia.  I personally think that was a good thing, not a bad thing.  There is no conflict of interest between the USA and Russia that justifies risk of nuclear war.

President Putin, in response to questions, publicly said in 2015 and 2016 that he would welcome Trump’s election because he wanted better relations with the United States.

Various Russian agencies tried to aid Trump’s campaign, almost certainly by using social media to campaign and probably by leaking embarrassing e-mails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign.  I’m not sure how significant this was.  It may have been more significant than I thought.

President Trump has weakened the Western alliance against Putin and Russia, not by making concessions to Russia but by breaking up the unity of the alliance.  Trump’s trade war threatens the economic interests of allies.  So does his demand that they participate in sanctions against Iran and other countries.   His insults and threats are damaging in themselves.

What I see no evidence of is the claim that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin made an explicit deal that Trump would ease up on economic warfare against Russia in return to Putin’s help in the election campaign.

I think Putin would have been a fool to make such an explicit deal, especially with someone as erratic and lacking in self-discipline as Trump.  A deal also would be unnecessary.  All that is necessary for him to advance his goals is for Trump to be Trump.

I also think that the various meetings and attempted meetings between Trump’s supporters and Russians in 2016 are an indication that no deal had been made.  If there had been a deal, what need for further meetings?  Trump and Putin would have made sure to keep their supporters apart.

The solution to U.S. problems regarding Russia are in the United States, not in Russia.  Congress should curb presidential power to change tariffs at will and to commit acts of war.  It should reconsider economic sanctions against Iran and other countries that do not threaten us.

Voting systems should be secured against electronic hacking by means of publicly counted paper ballots.  Social media should be protected against robo-memes.  Confidential computer files should be made secure even if it means making FBI and NSA surveillance more difficult.

Unfortunately there is no way to curb Trump’s erratic personal behavior between now and the 2020 election.

LINKS

Interview of Glenn Greenwald for the Huffington Post.  Russiagate skeptic’s new view of what’s proven and not proven at this point.

Manafort, Cohen and why Republicans won’t turn on Trump by Emily Stewart for Vox.

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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