19 February 2017

Putin vs The Military Industrial Complex: The Winner?

In the corporate media, Putin is always presented as a ruthless dictator, a cold blooded killer and an implacable enemy of  the US.

This is such a truism that if someone disagrees with this portrayal, journalists and pundits are completely thrown off as witnessed in the exchange between Bill O'Reilly and Trump.

When O'Reilly declared that Putin was a killer, Trump retorted:
“There are a lot of killers. We have a lot of killers,” Trump said. “Well, you think our country is so innocent?”

And unleashed a bipartisan storm of indignation. False moral equivalence, American exceptionalism etc.

This incident perfectly illustrates how narratives are created and maintained by the American establishment. In one corner there is the repugnant bloodthirsty autocrat, in the other there is a benevolent, avuncular president with a democracy and human rights agenda.

But this is rubbish. In fact, the New Cold War was designed and created by Eisenhower's Military Industrial Complex which needs enemies to continue to siphon off the greater portion of American budgets.

The problem for them is that while Putin is not the instigator of the New Cold War he seems well placed to win it.

Especially with the Orange Man as POTUS.

Let me explain.

Cold War 2.0: Poking the Russian Bear

If you are like most people, you probably don't remember how the new Cold War began.

In 1990, a year before the Soviet Union imploded, Helmut Kohl decided to unify East and West Germany.

No one knew how the Kremlin was going to react. To everyone's great surprise, Gorbachev nicely acquiesced.

In exchange, Bush père promised Russia that there would be no more enlargement of NATO and the US would not provoke Russia.

In 1999, the year Putin became the Prime Minister the first time, NATO accepted Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic as new members.

When Bush fils faced 9/11, Vladimir Putin did this:
In a stunning decision, the Russian president coordinated with central Asian nations to allow U.S. forces, for the first time, to use military bases of the former Soviet Union.
How did W respond?

Barely three months after the Russian goodwill gesture, he announced that the US was unilaterally withdrawing from the 1972 ABM Treaty. Six months later, NATO had its second enlargement, this time the new members were Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

How is that for keeping your word or cultivating goodwill?

Then there were the Rose Revolution in Georgia and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine which were perceived as US-instigated regime change activities within Russia's own backyard. In the case of Ukraine America's siginificant involvement is not even disputed.

This was followed by Kosovo's declaration of independence in 2008 and Bush's NATO invitations to Ukraine and Georgia. Since Crimea was part of Ukraine, a NATO membership would have meant Russia losing its only warm water naval base. The membership was blocked by France and Germany but by then Putin knew what the American message was.

The aggressive and snubbing narrative remained intact during the Obama presidency, despite the "reset" he announced at the outset. For instance, during his first visit to Moscow, Obama met with Medvedev and discussed all outstanding issues with him. He only paid a brief courtesy visit to Putin, even though Medvedev was the puppet and Putin the puppet master.

It was a deliberate snub.

Then, instead of engaging Putin on Syria and Iran, Obama and Clinton antagonized him at every step, constantly lecturing him on human rights.

The US envoy Michael McFaul was a vocal critic of Putin throughout his tenure and he very publicly cultivated opposition figures and rights activists.

Moscow was so unhappy with him that they pressured the White House to get rid of him before the end of his tenure. And once he was no longer the top diplomat, the Kremlin banned him from entering Russia.

That's pretty bad record for a diplomat.

I get that Putin is an autocrat, or a killer, or whatever else you want to call him. But I am not impressed with you lecturing him on human rights if you are simultaneously silent about all the terrible rulers in the Golf starting with King Salman of Saudi Arabia.

Speaking of, well, you know, the devil, Obama Administration's next move was to browbeat the Kingdom to push oil prices down to crush the Russian and Iranian economies (and Venezuela as a bonus). The gambit paid off reasonably well and sinking oil prices slowed down Putin quite a bit. In the end Saudis relented because of their own financial problems and prices recovered to give Russia some breathing space.

But Putin knew that the US was gunning for him.

In case there was any doubts the missile shields debacle confirmed that conclusion. They were to be built first in Turkey and subsequently, in the Baltic states and Poland and Romania.

Not surprisingly, the move angered Russia and made it feel threatened. If you surround a nuclear power with anti-missile defence systems, you reduce the deterrence factor and essentially you increase their chances of launching a first strike. It is an incredibly stupid move which serves no purpose other than aggravating your adversary.

To top it off, last June, Nato had it biggest military exercises in Eastern Europe since the end of Cold War with 31,000 troops and thousands of vehicles.

As a follow up, this January, NATO started a massive military build-up in the Baltic states dispatching thousands of tanks and heavy equipment. Some of it were to be part of more war games at the end of January (and later in the Spring), others, including four battalions will be deployed as a permanent military force.

I know I am the resident contrarian but when you look at this picture can you honestly say that Putin is the bad guy and the US has done nothing wrong?

The Empire Strikes Back

Putin is a lot of things, including killer and dictator, but one thing he is not, is stupid. You "misunderestimate" him at your own peril.

Starting from 2008, he undertook a massive military modernization program and implemented a whole new doctrine which defined modern warfare as a "complex application of military, political, economic, information and other non-military means... applying indirect and asymmetric means of action."

Look at Russia's tactics in Crimea and Ukraine and its deployment speed and efficiency in Syria and you'll see what they mean by this.

Part of this new doctrine was an elite cyberwarfare program which recruited the best Russian hackers. And, as you know, there are many.

When no reset took place with the new Obama Administration, Putin went ahead with his new strategy and began using force swiftly whenever he was faced with a problem. He did it in Chechnya, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Not to mention his quickfire annexation of Crimea and his blindingly fast mobilization in Syria which altered the course of the civil war.

When the Americans leaned on Saudi Arabia to continue pumping oil to push prices down, Putin coolly doubled down on energy as he knew the House of Saud could not continue on that path given their regional wars and massive budget deficits.

When he faced economic sanctions from the US and EU, he moved to change the course of the Syrian civil war and eliminate any future possibility of a Pipelineistan, (a.k.a the Islamic State) the home of the Qatari natural gas pipeline. Given their dependence on Gazprom, Europeans made a swift U-turn and allowed the financing and construction of Nord-Stream II.

His military success in Syria made him an indispensable partner in the fight against ISIS and even the US reluctantly began to collaborate with Russia. He even forced a complete about face to Turkey's bombastic president Erdogan by making him drop his opposition to al Assad and get him to adopt Russian goals in the civil war.

But by far his crowning achievement was the complicated scenario he put in motion to establish a significant influence over Donald Trump.

There are a lot of shadowy details around that story and Russia cultivates them deliberately.

The hacking of DNC servers is not in any doubt but there is no actual evidence connecting Russian hackers to the breach. What is known is the fact that the same hackers also broke into GOP servers but elected not to make any of their information public.

When the US intelligence agencies declared that they had solid evidence that Russia was behind the attack, and said that they cannot make it public without jeopardizing their sources, Russia arrested two senior officers in their cyber-espionage unit. The odd thing about it was the very public nature of the arrest and the underlying message that it was about the Trump affair.

It was as if someone was trying to confirm the claim that Russian hackers were helping Trump while officially the Kremlin kept denying it.

That impression was strengthened by the fact that Russia had been making irresistible business offers to lure Trump. The corporate media reported that Trump did not take the bait but was it really the case?

Consider the case of Carter Page, the CEO of a oil and gas investment firm dealing mainly with Russia and one of Trump's foreign policy advisors during the campaign.
The dossier [compiled by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele] claims that a representative from Trump’s presidential campaign, Carter Page, met last July with Igor Sechin, head of the Russian oil monopoly Rosneft and a senior Kremlin official. Sechin reportedly offered brokerage on a 19 percent stake in Rosneft in exchange for lifting sanctions, and Page was “non-committal in response.”
Page was also in Moscow five months later on Dec. 7, one month after Trump’s electoral victory, when Putin and Sechin announced on Russia’s national television that the country had sold to foreign investors 19.5 percent of Rosneft, almost exactly the portion cited by the dossier.
Curiouser still,
According to the dossier, Steele heard of the Page-Sechin meeting from a “source close to Rosneft president.” That source, Russia watchers speculated, was possibly a man well-known in intelligence circles, a former general at the KGB and its successor agency, the FSB, named Oleg Erovinkin. 
Erovinkin turned up dead in late December. He had been personally named by Putin to become Rosneft’s chief of staff. Sechin, too, a former deputy prime minister, was handpicked by Putin.
Carter Page is well known for his opposition to Russia sanctions.

Against that background another opponent of sanctions became Secretary of State. Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon-Mobil has no government or diplomatic service experience, yet, inexplicably, he was given the job. He is known to have excellent relations with Putin and he is likely to push for the removal of sanctions.

Michael Flynn, another person with extensive ties to Kremlin. That's him dining with Putin in December 2015.

In fact, he had to resign from his White House position because of these ties. That's another interesting tale.

After the election but before the inauguration, Flynn, as the future National Security Adviser of President Trump, talked on the phone three times with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak and they texted once. Apparently he suggested that sanctions are likely to be lifted once Trump was in office. Obviously, the conversation was being recorded by NSA.

They passed on the information to the FBI and the acting Attorney General Sally Quinlan informed the White House. Flynn denied it and so did the White House and the Vice President. When the transcript was forwarded to them it became clear that Flynn did make the suggestion and he had to resign.

There are two interesting points about this. One is the fact that Kislyak must be aware that his phone was being monitored. It is standard operation procedure. Everybody does it and especially the Americans. If he didn't want Flynn discussing sanctions on the phone he would have arranged for a meeting. Instead he held three conversations with him and when it became public he denied sanctions were mentioned. It was as if he was providing an alibi to Flynn after he exposed him.

The second point is that Flynn was not a rogue agent conducting foreign policy without the knowledge of Trump and the White House. Around the same time, Flynn was also working very hard (with other Trump aides) to prevent the UN Security Council to vote on Israeli settlements. Which is a breach of the 1799 Logan Act.

This carefully selected ambiguity is best seen in Putin's decision not to retaliate to Obama's expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats. When everyone was expecting harsh measures against US diplomats in Russia, including the closure of an international school where they send their children, Putin simply said that Obama was no longer his interlocutor and he was looking forward to working with President Trump.
“It is a very smart move,” Lukyanov says. “It will humiliate Obama even more.” 
Putin’s magnanimous gesture also eliminates any doubt as to the likely direction of Russia policy under the Trump administration. 
“Trump is now boxed in,” Frolov says. “He has become an unwitting Russian agent — everything he does now will be considered payback for this and earlier election services.” 
When pundits discuss whether Trump was helped by Putin or that he owes him something, they are missing the point.

Putin ensured that regardless of the veracity of the allegations thanks to the suggestive ambiguity surrounding them, Trump has no independent moves open to him: whatever he does will be seen either as a payback to Putin's favors or a reaction to the appearance of dependence.

As a good chess player, Putin seems to have taken the other side's queen hostage.

If I were part of the Military Industrial Complex, I would be worried.

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