Propaganda and posturing from all sides as West and Russia aid and abet the New Cold War

As a certified “dupe of Putin” in the eyes of our McCarthyite, mob rule majority that speaks for the American foreign policy establishment, I use this opportunity to restate my claim to independent thinking about the big issues of responsibility for the ongoing and escalating New Cold War, including each and every major incident along the way.

If only there were no consequences for you, dear reader, for myself and for the 7 billion plus other souls on this planet, I would say “a pox on both your houses” in address to the political leaderships of both the US-EU “global community” (formerly known as the “free world”) and the Russian Federation (formerly known as the “empire of evil”).  However, any such curse will rebound on us.

To put it in the language of the once fashionable MIT bard of the 1960s Tom Lehrer: “we will all go together when we go.”  For this reason, let us take the time to sort out where this spiral of action and reaction, where the mutual contempt and provocations are taking us and what, if anything, we simple mortals outside government can do about it.

It is axiomatic in these days of anti-Russian hysteria in Washington, in London, in Brussels, that whatever reverses there may be to political control by the globalist, liberal democracy elites with their new age culture of pro-women, pro-LGBT, pro multiculturalism, etc. agendas you can be sure the cry will go up: “the Russians did it.”  The Russians were responsible for the sports doping of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, where they captured the lion’s share of gold medals.  They were responsible for the annexation of Crimea and intervened militarily with “hybrid warfare” to protect the insurgencies in the Donbass. They were responsible for the MH-17 airliner crash. They hacked into the Democratic National Committee server, disseminated their anti-Clinton trove of documents via Wikileaks and otherwise interfered egregiously in the 2016 US presidential elections. They have supported the criminal regime of Bashar Assad in Syria who uses chemical weapons against his own civilian population. Most recently the Kremlin organized the chemical poisoning of their ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England using their chemical warfare agent Novichok.

The official Russian response to most of these allegations of misdeeds has been “show us the proof,” or let us investigate this incident jointly, as our shared international conventions require.  Their main weapon of self-defense has been to pour scorn on their accusers. Brimming with sarcasm, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has repeatedly mocked British PM Theresa May for relying on unproven but “highly likely” argumentation in support of her clamoring for ever more sanctions to be imposed on Russia.

In fact, it has been my peers in the small Russia-friendly camp of Western experts who have published articles detailing the holes in the narratives of Russian wrong-doing put out by US and European media with government backing. Some of my colleagues have relevant professional knowledge in military sciences, in Information Systems and how they operate to support their point for point refutations of the allegations against Russia.  Others do not have any added value to contribute, but nonetheless do not stop at the water’s edge; instead they plunge into highly technical aspects of the charges against Russia and counter-charges.

As a general rule, I have stayed clear of these debates on anti-Russian narratives in their details, seeing no possibility of contributing anything new.  When I have spoken on scandals of the day, as for example the Skripal case, I have addressed only the overarching question of whether the allegations made any sense if the investigator applied the acid test of cui bono, meaning whose interests could be served by the given crime.  And on this basis I found the entire case against the Kremlin to be without merit.

It would have been nonsensical for the Kremlin to murder a former spy who had served his time, had been pardoned and expelled to his handlers in London, and to do this after the passage of many years just a couple of weeks before the opening of the World Cup of Football in Russia, for which the country had invested more than $10 billion in an exercise of Soft Power. On the other hand, for MI6 to have staged this assassination attempt at a location very close to its Porton Down chemical weapons facility as a provocation to blacken the image of Russia at precisely that moment, ahead of a sporting event that would attract the attention of global audiences, makes perfect sense in the context of an escalating information, economic and geopolitical war and the clear objective of isolating Russia, turning it into a pariah state. Anyone who thinks that the “fair play” Brits could not possibly be so cynical and immoral as to engage in assassination for raisons d’état should go back to their kindergarten benches. Those of us wearing long trousers know better.

Regrettably, recent developments have prompted me to rethink the whole logic of cui bono under present-day conditions when no side’s position can be taken at face value and when, quite possibly, all sides are actively engaged in propaganda and provocation.

I was prompted to reconsider my position by a couple of developments in the past two weeks. The first was the remarkable answer that Vladimir Putin gave to a questioner who asked about the Skripal case during the meeting with the press at the Russia Energy Week international forum in St Petersburg. This was just after the British released what they called the real names and GRU affiliations of the two alleged perpetrators of the poisoning. That identification directly contradicted the Russian president’s assertion at the Eastern Economic forum in Vladivostok 12 September, when he claimed the two were ordinary civilians, “not criminals.”

Now Putin called Sergey Skripal not only treasonous but подонок, a term sometimes translated as riff-raff but more pungently translatable as “scum.” That Putin dropped all pretense of diplomacy suggested strongly to me that there is more to the issue than meets the eye and that his prevarication was exposed.

A still bigger prompt to rethink came a few days later when Sergei Lavrov responded to the breaking news that in April the Dutch had expelled 4 Russians carrying service passports who had been caught near the headquarters of the world chemical weapons inspection organization  (OPCW) in a rented car which had electronic snooping equipment in the trunk.

Under circumstances which appear to be fairly straightforward and are proven by published photos, Lavrov could have acknowledged that Russian agents were nailed but gone on to explain the reasons justifying the intended hacking into OPCW computers, namely the way Western powers have actively compromised the impartiality of the institution’s activities as regards the supposed chemical attacks in Syria and in the Skripal case.

Lavrov did not do that. Instead he presented a cock and bull story that the 4 chaps whom the Dutch police nabbed were there to do routine security checks on the Russian embassy. And the Russian Foreign Ministry went on the offensive, charging the Dutch with violating a gentlemen’s agreement about the case, going public only months later at a politically opportune moment.

To be sure, I never believed that the leadership and state entities of the Russian Federation were bunny rabbits. But their image as mostly truthful and sincere about seeking peaceful relations with the West was badly tarnished by these latest developments.

Moreover my concerns from these developments fit into a context of disillusionment with the degree of impartiality of Russian state television, which, as recently as a year ago I still found bracing. Apart from the coverage earlier this year of the presidential electoral campaign and in particular the granting of air time to uncensored debates among the candidates, Russian state television has steadily displaced genuine news, commentary and talk shows with repetitive heavy propaganda.  The share of broadcasting given to the overall situation in Ukraine and to the civil war in Donbass, in particular, has become mind-numbing.

Over the past couple of years, Russian state television has daily disseminated the view that Ukraine is one step away from economic and political collapse. This is patently untrue. On the major Russian political talk shows we see the same Ukrainian crazies and the same smug Russian politicians engaged in sterile thrust and repartee.  And the tone of presenters, such as Yevgeni Popov and Olga Skabeeva on the widely watched talk show “60 Minutes” has become shrill and offensive.

Taking all of these observations into account, I conclude that a significant part of the Russian ruling elites stands for worsening relations with the West, and that their cui bono would be well served by events like the Skripal poisoning, all the more so if it were carried out in such manner as to be identifiably Kremlin sponsored and lead to the scandalous rupture of relations with the United Kingdom that ensued.

In this overall concept of what is occurring, we have mirror images in Russia and the USA of Deep States that earnestly seek a New Cold War as a confirmation of national identity. The confrontation is more than a tool to hold onto power. It is the means of ensuring allocation of state resources to the military industrial complexes.

In the Russian case, the confrontation, with its sanctions and embargos has made possible a reindustrialization that eluded the Russian state under conditions of friendly relations with the Wes and allocations of investment funds along purely market-dictated terms, which meant high concentration of investment in the exploration, production and export of hydrocarbons at the expense of all other industrial sectors.

As for the United States and Europe, the New Cold War has reinvigorated the moribund NATO alliance, given it a purpose for existence and heavy investment in expansion. It has given a new lease on life to American global hegemony.

So what can we, the peoples do about this?

The first thing is to try harder to get our minds around the challenge.  Batting down false narratives put up by Western media is a futile and insufficient response. There are ever more false flag provocations in the pipeline and no one outside a small circle of experts takes an interest in the often highly technical elements of such argumentation.

The way forward has to be political mobilization of an anti-war movement that is not engaged in the blame game, but rises above it in the knowledge that all sides in the New Cold War are lying, posturing and engaging in propaganda at our expense.  Until and unless political activists can focus their minds on this single objective of a broad anti-war coalition the world will continue its creep towards Armageddon.

 

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2018

Brussels calling: where is Steve Bannon?

3 October 2018

In the third week of July, we heard about the ambitions of Steve Bannon,  strategist of Donald Trump’s electoral victory in 2016, to set up a coordination office, tentatively based here in Brussels, that would bring together and promote the populist movements across Europe, shepherding them into his own AltRight camp. Bannon was said to be modeling himself after George Soros as outside influencer and heavy weight in European affairs. Soros has been financing  Liberal, pro-EU, Antlanticist political agents on the Continent now for decades through Open Society and other channels. Of course, Bannon would be furthering diametrically opposite politics from Soros. The immediate objective would be to change the political calculus of Europe for the May 2019 Continent-wide elections and specifically to capture one third of the seats in the European Parliament for Euro-skeptics of all stripes.

Politico and The Daily Beast carried the story on the 22nd and 23rd.  On 24 July, Roland Freudenstein, an author at the Martens Centre, a mainstream think tank in Brussels pooh-poohed the notion that Bannon had the intellectual capacity or charm sufficient to lead European populists.  Freudenstein also dismissed the possibility that nationalists or populists could by definition submit to any supranational project given their inherent isolationism and focus on domestic concerns. See https://www.martenscentre.eu/blog/steve-bannon-coming-brussels-dont-hold-your-breath.

Freudenstein appears to have come to his conclusions from his reading of France’s right-wing politics and from his consideration of the policy contradictions between even such reputed allies as the Polish and Hungarian nationalists who are presently challenging in tandem the principles of liberal democracy emanating from Brussels but are dogs and cats when the issue turns to relations with Russia.

I do not dispute Freudenstein’s conclusion that Bannon has only slight chances of succeeding in his mission. However, the abstract reasoning  that Freudenstein applied has its limitations.  I say “abstract” because I am doubtful that he ever got down from his ivory tower to discuss Bannon with live members of the European Far Right or Far Left.

It is very common for folks in centrist politics here to shun politicians at the extremes, as if a handshake and a shared lunch would discredit them forever among their mainstream peers. I have no such prejudices.  It is my rule to enter into discussion with all men of good will and certifiable intelligence, whatever political label they wear on their sleeve. That is how you learn and, possibly, grow.

Indeed my recent lunchtime chat with one of the founding members of the National Front who worked alongside Jean-Marie Le Pen and has been a long time Member of the European Parliament yielded some highly relevant observations not only on why Bannon is unlikely to succeed, but also on who is more likely to wield influence on Europe’s Euroskeptics and populists as we go into the 2019 elections.

Going back to 2016, there have been lines of communication between Bannon and nationalists,  populists, and EU skeptics like Geert Wilder in The Netherlands, Nigel Farage of the U.K. and Marine Le Pen in France over defense of national sovereignty against the immigration policies,  multiculturalism, and radical social values being promoted from Brussels.  The most visible evidence of their comradery was perhaps the guest speaker slot given to Bannon when Le Pen convened her party’s gathering in Lille in May of this year.

However, the party faithful were not enthusiastic about Bannon’s presence.  Not because their sympathies are anti-American, as Freudenstein supposes, but because they see no reason to submit to an agenda set on another continent.  My interlocutor sees no magnetic force in Bannon, whereas there are such personalities within the European populist movements, particularly among those in power.

Le Pen and Wilder may be in the opposition, but Matteo Salvini and Sebastian Kunz are in power in Italy and Austria, respectively. Both have the strength of personality, energy and physical attractiveness of youth, suaveness in managing relations with political competitors and intellectual acuity to give credibility and force to the assorted populist movements rising across Europe, where Bannon is just a big mouth.

In the case of Kunz, his most visible feature is charm and prudence, avoiding giving unnecessary offense, a quality that Bannon never learned.  In the case of Salvini, it is strategic and tactical brilliance. He got the attention of the broad Italian public by his stand against the boatloads of immigrants. But he also countered his would be defamers from the political mainstream by offering financial outreach to the countries in Africa and Southern Asia whence the big immigration flows are coming for the sake of agreed repatriation and also to reduce the economic hardship propelling emigration. Moreover, once established in the Government, he quickly moved on to a broader agenda of promoting economic growth in Italy by loosening the budgetary purse strings in defiance of Brussels’ continuing counterproductive emphasis on austerity. As for the European Union, Salvini’s objective is to return the European Union to its status before the Maastricht Treaty, meaning an economic community rather than supra-national sovereign entity. In this vision, many of the powers now exercised in Brussels would go back to the Member States. To achieve this, clearly Salvini has to reach across national borders and engage directly with other populist movements. He needs no mentoring from Bannon to see this.

For a very good insight into the remarkable intellect and personality of Matteo Salvini, I heartily recommend his recent interview with Stephen Sackur on the BBC’s show Hard Talk.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SihWTOyICco      Salvini, not Bannon, is clearly the man to watch going forward.  In this sense, the smugness that results from Roland Freudenstein’s dismissal of Bannon as a spent force and his view of European populists as lacking in competent leadership is misplaced.

Another side of mainstream complacency that should be jettisoned is the notion that identity politics is the enemy of democracy and panders only to base instincts.  Here in Belgium, the most forthright defenders of national borders against unrestricted immigration is the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), which is at the same time the “power behind the throne” of Prime Minister Charles Michel, holding the portfolios of Ministry of Interior and the secretary of state for Asylum and Migration. While the repatriation efforts of this government have been decried as in violation of human rights, the Secretary of State in question,  Theo Francken, is no rude xenophobe.  He has just published a book entitled Continent Without Borders the key points of which were published  on a full page of the leading French daily Le Soir, weekend edition of 29-30 September.  Those who believe they can  defeat Francken and his fellow thinkers by applying pejorative labels to them, i.e. by ad hominem argumentation instead of engaging in point for point debate may be in for a surprise in May 2019 no less stunning than the Brexit vote or the 2016 US presidential vote.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2018

Democrats Abroad Belgium: a refreshing moment of candor and realism in a world of cant

Know your enemy!  In that spirit I joined my wife last night to attend a panel discussion at the Press Club of Brussels organized by Democrats Abroad Belgium that promised a lively cocktail party if uncertain  and possibly repugnant political content.

I say “enemy” because I lost whatever hopes I had for the Democratic Party at some point in the first year of the Obama Administration when I came to see that my vote had been stolen under false pretenses and that the candidate, now president was a bait and switch tactical operation by his party, put in place to implement the very opposite of what he said to catch our votes, particularly in the realm of foreign policy, which is the side of US politics that interests me most.   Moreover, at about the same time I came to understand that the local expat organization, Democrats Abroad Belgium, was in 2008 not merely headed by a young chap working at NATO who was being steered by handlers, but that those handlers, all “retired” US intelligence officers, had no room for dissident views in their little tent. And so I moved on, re-registered myself as an Independent, and did not look back. Until last night.

 

The overseas country associations of America’s two dominant political parties, the Democrats and Republicans, have traditionally existed in a passive state most of the time, coming alive before each general election every two years to execute their primary obligation of getting out the vote:  encouraging expatriates to carry out their civic duty and vote, and/or helping them to do just that by getting absentee ballots from the electoral officials in the district of their last residence in the USA, a task that is often more tedious and prone to failure than it need be, depending on any given state. Other functions are optional.

The facts of expat participation in elections underscore the challenge that volunteers in voter registration from both parties face. Out of the six million Americans living abroad, only about 400,000 request and receive absentee ballots. Of these, only about two-thirds actually cast their votes. If this participation rate is raised significantly, it could affect the outcome in some swing states. However, given the very low participation rates, it might pay to rename Americans living abroad as “exiles” rather than “expats.”  By this I mean the reasons they are living in Brussels or Paris or London and not in Austin, Texas or Peoria, Illinois may have as much to do with disillusionment with the home country and indifference as they do with fortuitous job assignments abroad. In that sense, the threat of Hollywood celebrities and others to leave the States if Trump won was not a new phenomenon at all, just a new iteration of 2% of Americans opting out that has been going on for a very long time.

To its credit, the local expat association created by the Democrats in Belgium does somewhat more than operate telephone banks every two years to help would-be voters.  It runs discussion groups each and every year, and it hosts events like the one last night in the Press Club of Brussels, which served first quality wines that cost a pretty penny and was better organized and more informative about general political trends in the US than I had anticipated.

Indeed, the evening was remarkable precisely because, for the most part, the organizers showed themselves to be candid and reasonable in understanding their party’s loss to Donald Trump in 2016,  as well as the uphill battle Democrats face if they are to avert another Trump victory in 2020. Trump supporters were characterized as people you know around you, maybe even a cousin or other family member, not as the “basket of deplorables” per Hillary Clinton during the campaign. This level of insight and openness goes well beyond what you could expect from people who still take The New York Times at face value as great journalism to be imbibed daily, which was also in the air.

To be sure, the ubiquitous belief that the Russians had hacked the 2016 elections and had abused social networks to influence the elections was repeated from the dais.  But that was an almost mindless “hail Mary” which ran up against the conscious and far more revealing explanation of the loss to Trump as the result of a massive rejection of Hillary within the Democratic Party.  Republicans held their noses and voted for Trump, we were told, whereas Democrats could not bring themselves to go to the polls to support Hillary.

There is an explanation for this candor and detachment here in Brussels from the Democratic mainstream mantra in the USA that we call “Russia-gate,” meaning Trump collusion with the Kremlin. That is the story still promoted by the likes of Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and the other party bosses.  But the overseas Democrats, as it turns out, voted 3 to 1 in the primaries for Bernie Sanders and they just kept walking when he was knocked out by Hillary, notwithstanding their hero’s call to close ranks.

Why is this so?  Here again, the explanations from the dais last night were very revealing:  expats in Europe have seen in their daily lives that Social Democracy works, that it means free higher education, universal medical care and the other social benefits that the Continental USA refuses to abide.

For those of us who follow with pleasure Donald’s ongoing destruction of the alliances that undergird US global hegemony and wars without end, the sober pessimism of Democrats Abroad Belgium was very welcome and unexpected news.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2018

Thomas Kaplan, U.S. Billionaire Art Collector, Political Progressive and Enthusiast of Russian culture opens a Rembrandt Exhibition at the Hermitage Museum

On 4 September, I had the good fortune to be present at the press conference and pre-opening tour of the  first show  in the Hermitage Museum’s fall season, an exhibition entitled The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection

Unlike many of the exhibitions at the Hermitage these past few years, the given event consisted not of one or another famous painting on loan from cooperating museums abroad.  Rather it renewed the tradition of “blockbuster” shows for which the St Petersburg museum was famous earlier in the tenure of its long-serving director, Dr. Mikhail Piotrovsky. To be precise, The Age of Rembrandt presents 82 works from among the leading painters of the Dutch Golden Age. We have here paintings by Rembrandt from both his earliest and mature periods, as well as Frans Hals and Johannes Vermeer, and paintings by Rembrandt’s students including Ferdinand Bol and Govert Flinck.

The unusual feature of the show is that the Hermitage included 8 works from its own collection to complement the works from the Leiden Collection. The logic for doing so is impeccable:  the Hermitage has one of the most important collections of Rembrandt and the Dutch masters from among all the world’s museums.  The Leiden Collection is the largest private holding of  paintings by Rembrandt and his circle.  And both collections were assembled in a similar manner though the collectors are separated in time by 250 years. The U.S. billionaire Thomas Kaplan, who began assembling his collection in 2003, relied on his personal emissaries and dealers to pounce on works in private hands as they became available for acquisition, knowingly following in the tradition of Russian Empress Catherine the Great who had done the same in her time.   As the collecting passion gathered pace, Kaplan was acquiring one artwork per week. Today his collection numbers 250 paintings and drawings.

Anonymity has been a big feature of Kaplan’s art collecting. Until a couple of years ago, his collection was being lent out anonymously to art museums work by work on a temporary basis.  It bears mention that the Kaplans chose not to keep a single work acquired in their homes but to make everything accessible to the public. Nor did they name their collection after themselves, but instead chose to call it the Leiden Collection after the Dutch city where Rembrandt and fellow masters of the Dutch Golden Age were long based. To this day the Leiden Collection, nominally domiciled in New York, has no permanent building of its own.

After reaching a critical mass, Kaplan took his collection in a new direction, to exhibitions in major museums and personally stepped out of the shadows to present what he has accumulated. The first such show was in 2014 in the Louvre, where the directors of the Hermitage and of Moscow’s Pushkin Museum of Art caught up with him and agreed an eventual showing in both Moscow and St Petersburg.  After that the collection was presented in the National Museum of Beijing and in the Long Museum in Shanghai.

This year 2018 Kaplan’s showings in Russia ran from March through July at the Pushkin Museum while the show that opened on 5 September in the Hermitage closes on 13 January 2019.

From the words of Thomas Kaplan at the press conference, it is obvious that the show in St Petersburg is the high point of his venture into the art world.  He may not be awarded the decoration of Chevalier of culture that the French bestowed on him, but the matching of his works with the collection of Catherine the Great in the rooms of her palace surely provided a still greater boost of pride given Kaplan’s enthusiasm for Russian culture, about which I will speak in a moment.

Just as his amassing and initial presentation of works in the Leiden Collection was done anonymously, so Kaplan has carefully kept much of his private life hidden from the public.  His entry in Wikipedia reads like a Public Relations release, raising more questions than it answers about who he is and how he became the billionaire patron of the arts we saw in the Hermitage Theater.

We are told that he earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees at Oxford. However, that in itself is quite extraordinary for an American born in New York and raised in Florida.  To be sure, American elites do sometimes see their offspring off to Oxford, usually for one year, as Rhodes scholars following their graduation from some Harvard or Yale. Bill Clinton is a prime example.  However, to take a four year course at Oxford and then proceed to a doctorate there is a rare choice which begs for an explanation.

He has a doctorate in history.  Which history? We are not told , though we know his doctoral dissertation was on “the Malayan counterinsurgency and the way in which commodities influence strategic planning.”

There is no obvious link between a doctorate in history and commodities trading, not to mention investment in exploration for and production of precious metals and hydrocarbons, which made Kaplan his billion.  Physics or advanced mathematics are fields of study that more commonly lead to the kind of career Kaplan pursued to fortune.

The public record tells us, however, that already during his Oxford years Kaplan was working on the side as an analyst covering Israeli companies.  His Israeli-based in-laws  may have been the bridge to his future. It was through them that he was introduced to Israeli investor Avi Tiomkin who hired him as a junior partner in 1991.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Kaplan’s financial interests have focused on basic values, gold, in particular.  In this sense, it should come as no surprise that his artistic taste was in proven long-term value as well:  Rembrandt and the Dutch masters.  During his brief introductory speech, he mentioned his surprise when he embarked on his collecting activities that so much had remained in private hands and that so much was affordable.  Affordable to a billionaire, one might respond coldly. But it would appear that his purchases were in the range or tens of thousands to $5 million for a single acquisition.  In this sense, he was able to achieve far more than had he held a passion for modern art, where figures can easily be an order of magnitude greater and where problems of authenticity are also more challenging.

Thomas Kaplan made his money in precious metals and hydrocarbons, industrial sectors in which Russia plays a leading world role.  Yet, it would appear that Kaplan’s investment and production activities have never crossed the Russian border. Instead they have been concentrated, in the United States, in the Americas and in South Africa.  The single investment bet which brought him the greatest part of his capital was in nonconventional gas in a Texas sand basin, where he and his co-investors created one of the most valuable assets in the energy sector in the past couple of decades that they eventually sold on.

So where is the tie-in with Russia that figured so prominently in his introductory remarks? Both in Kaplan’s speech to the press conference and in response to questions from journalists, it was clear that the bond is firstly family related and secondly purely intellectual in nature.

Cherchez la femme! Kaplan’s Israeli wife came from Russian-born parents, and today, he explains, Russian is spoken in his home whenever his wife, mother-in-law and others want to keep secrets from him. Put more generally, he related that his family’s heritage goes much farther back in time in Russia than in the USA. And Thomas Kaplan has found the time to dust off this tradition. In 2014, he took his children to Russia for the first time to visit the Hermitage, among other sites.

As for the intellectual attraction, Kaplan stressed his love for Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and the gold standard of Russian classical literature.  As a justification for his art collecting passion, he eagerly cited Dostoevsky’s remark that if anything will save humanity it is beauty.

Kaplan’s acknowledged love for Russian culture stands out as truly remarkable today given America’s ongoing Russophobia, which has infected Uptown Manhattan’s liberal Jewish progressive communities of which Kaplan is otherwise a member in good standing. Let us hope he has the courage to deliver the same message on Russia in his own back yard.

 

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2018

Poutine, Trump et la création d’une nouvelle architecture de sécurité pour l’Europe avec une participation russe

Discours le 20 septembre 2018.  Fondation pour la Préservation du Patrimoine russe dans l’Union Européenne. Bruxelles.

 

Bonsoir Mesdames et messieurs.  Merci de votre présence.

Mon discours ce soir représente la deuxième partie de notre conférence du 23 avril concernant l’annonce d’une nouvelle guerre froide. Le texte est mis à jour en considération des changements très significatifs sur la scène internationale les dernières mois.

Dans la première partie de mon discours en avril,  j’ai parlé de mon expérience en qualité d’observateur international des élections présidentielles russes le 18 mars. Je faisais partie d’un groupe de 23 personnes envoyées en Crimée.

Le 23 avril j’ai consideré la ré-élection de Vladimir Poutine comme une donnée importante dans l’évolution de la nouvelle guerre froide.  Le rival ou l’enemi des Etats-Unis et de l’Ouest restera en place pour les 6 ans à venir.  Et lors de sa campagne électorale, M. Poutine a donné un avertissement aux Etats-Unis dans son allocation au deux chambres du parlement russe le 1 mars, Je vais parler de tout cela dans quelques minutes.

Le 23 avril j’ai présenté la Russie comme l’acteur dynamique dans le bilan des relations internationales. L’allocation de Poutine le 1 mars, les réussites de Moscou dans le théâtre de guerre syrienne des premiers jours d’avril ont provoqué des réponses militaires des américains et ses alliés au niveau des pires confontations de la guerre froide.

A cette époque, comme tout le monde, j’ai consideré la politique étrangère américaine comme une unité formulée par les centristes du monde politique avec Donald, l’homme inscrutable, bien à bord. Avec ou sans enthousiasme, le cas échéant, Trump a réalisé les sanctions proposés par Congrès envers la Russie.  Si le Président a gardé des sympathies pour la Russie, comme les démocrates ont insisté, ça était une question à part.

Mais après, dans les mois de juin, juillet et août, le Président américain a montré ses cartes et par des actions et des paroles il exposait une fissure très importante entre sa stratégie globale à lui et la politique étrangère officielle du Congrès, des ministères des affaires étrangères et de la défense. Pour moi, c’est clair: il y a deux politiques étrangères américaines à ce moment. Une, la politique officelle –  la continuation avec plus intense agressivité de la hégémonie globale américaine comme seule super-puissance. L’autre, du président, qui signifie la déstruction du système des alliances, des bases et forces à l’étranger.

J’admets que cette division n’est pas tout à fait évident à mes confrères – analystes professionels et journalistes qui estiment, pour la plupart, que Donald est un idiot sans objectifs stratégiques fixes.  Effectivement il y a beaucoup de contradictions entre les promesses de Trump et ses actions dans les relations avec la Russie. Mais il faut souvenir que le Président est sous pression constante de l’ investigation du procureur spécial Mueller pour collusion avec la Russie lors des élections de 2016 et sous pression des initiatives de la législature pour le contraindre à poursuivre des sanctions sévères contre la Russie et des provocations anti-russes.  Il faut entendre que la Russie n’est pas la seul préoccupation du president même si elle est la seule preoccupation de ses opposants.

La question principale de ce soir:  de faire prognostic des dénouements possibles de la confrontation actuelle entre l’Amérique avec ces alliés européens et la Fédération de la Russie.

Je trouve l’élément plus important pour prédire l’avenir sera le résultat du scrutin américain le 6 novembre 2018, les élections du mi-mandat dans lesquelles ou Trump est vainqueur ou son présidence est en péril.

Les possibilitiés que je discerne sont les suivantes:

  1. Trump gagne, continue avec son majorité dans les deux chambres du Congrès, continue sa politique de démantelement des alliances militaires, OTAN en particulier dans les 2 ans restants de son premier mandat and dans un mandat supplémentaire éventuel. Pour sa part l’Europe continue son récherche pour établir une nouvelle politique de défense, assurant seule sa sécurité. Dans cet hypothèse il y aura certainement des pourparlers avec la Russie pour fonder une nouvelle architecture de sécurité avec la participation de la Russie
  2. Trump perd sa majorité dans la Chambre des Représentants, on commence une procédure de destitution contre lui.  Finalement ou il est forcé d’abandonner la Maison Blanche ou il reste  en pouvoir jusqu’à la fin de son mandat mais il est obligé de réaliser la politique de ses enemis et continuer l’agressivité montante contre la Russie.

Toutefois j’admets que notre avenir sera déterminé par des autres facteurs aussi, y compris un cas fortuit, Dans les deux hypothèses nous avons toujours la possibilité d’une guerre chaude entre l’Ouest et la Russie par accident donné la présence des forces des deux camps dans proximité, comme en Syrie ou dans l’Ukraine. et l’absence des bons liens de communication entre eux, plus encore la manque de grande confiance ni dans la bonne volonté ni dans le bon sens de l’autre côté. Je vois un dédain marqué chez les uns comme chez les autres.

Tout ce que je vais raconter maintenant est selectionné pour informer notre discussion après mon discours sur le dénouement plus probable.

Alors commençons avec le fil rouge depuis le mois de mars qui déterminait l’analyse de mon texte du 23 avril:.

Les dates remarquables, les noeuds sur le fil, sont

Le 1 mars, quand le Président Poutine a livré son discours – Manifeste Electorale

Le 4 mars, date d’empoisonnement des Skripals à Salisbury, Royaume Unis.

Le 14 mars – l’expulsion de 23 diplomates russe d’Angleterre pour raison de l’attaque supposé avec Novichok sur les Skripals

Le 18 mars – le scrutin présidential en Russie – très important parce que le taux de participation était élevé et le pourcentage de bulletins pour Poutine – quelque 77% – montre que la population russe est solidement en support de la politique de défense de souveraineté nationale défini par Vladimir Vladimirovitch.

Le 27 mars – annonce de l’expulsion de plus de 100 diplomates russes par les Etats-Unis, les Etats-Membres de l’Union Européen et des autres pays tiers faisant référence à l’empoisonnement des Skripals

Le 7 avril, l’attaque chimique prétendu par chlore ou sarin à Douma, Goutha orientale, au moment quand les forces syriens étaient en train d’achever une grande victoire contre les terroristes qui contrôle le territoire depuis 4 ans. Le “régime” de Bashar Assad est accusé d’une frappe mortelle contre la population civile, et la Russie est impliquée.

Le 14 avril, la frappe contre Syrie par les Etats-Unis, la France et Grande Bretagne en utilisant des missiles de croisières lancées des avions et des navires de l’alliance.

J’insiste que tous ces événements sont étroitement liés. 

Je fais l’accent sur le discours de Vladimir Poutine le 1 mars, comme point de départ.

L’allocution de Vladimir Poutine devant les deux chambres du parlement bicaméral de Russie le 1er mars a attiré l’attention du monde entier par la dernière partie, dans laquelle le Président russe a évoqué les principaux vecteurs d’armes nucléaires qui se distinguaient par des technologies sans précédent susceptibles de modifier l’équilibre du pouvoir mondial.

Poutine a affirmé que la pleine parité de la Russie avec les États-Unis en matière d’armement stratégique a été restaurée. Le message brutal qu’il a adressé aux États-Unis, à savoir qu’ils doivent abandonner leur tentative d’atteindre une capacité de première frappe pendant 16 ans et s’asseoir pour discuter de la maîtrise des armements.

À tous les égards, le discours a été une réponse directe à toutes les critiques que Poutine a reçues lors de sa présidence de ses sept adversaires dans la course présidentielle venant de tous les partis politiques, des nationalistes et des libéraux de droite et communistes de divers labels de gauche.

La position commune de cinq des sept opposants était qu’une bonne politique étrangère n’est possible que pour un État puissant, et qu’un État puissant est le produit d’une économie forte et de personnes prospères. L’un des candidats, Grigory Yavlinsky du parti libéral Yabloko, a résumé le plus efficacement le problème : un pays comme la Russie qui ne représente que 2% du PIB mondial, un pays qui a un PIB et un budget militaire qui ne représente que 10% de ceux des Etats-Unis, ne peut pas être compétitif sur la scène mondiale.

Dans son allocution à l’Assemblée fédérale, Vladimir Poutine a consacré les deux premiers tiers de son temps sur scène à la politique intérieure, exposant en détail les objectifs spécifiques à atteindre d’ici 2024 dans de nombreux domaines clés de l’activité et du financement du gouvernement fédéral en vue de créer une société prospère, juste et attrayante pour ses membres, qui jouit d’une croissance économique robuste et valorise avant tout le potentiel humain de ses citoyens.

Toutefois, dans le dernier tiers de son discours consacré aux questions militaires, il a fait remarquer que, malgré son PIB encore modeste et en dépit des problèmes démographiques et autres auxquels elle est confrontée, la Russie a réussi à contrer les efforts des États-Unis pour rendre inutile la force nucléaire russe. Depuis que les États-Unis ont abrogé le Traité ABM en 2002, ils s’efforcent d’encercler la Fédération de Russie avec des bases de défense antimissile à double objectif qui, à un moment donné, confréreront aux États-Unis une capacité de première frappe.

Parité restaurée

Dans son discours, M. Poutine a déclaré que la parité nucléaire avec les États-Unis a été rétablie et qu’elle sera indéfiniment viable, compte tenu de l’avance technologique de dix ans que son pays détient maintenant dans le domaine des systèmes d’armes stratégiques tout à fait nouveaux et redoutables qui peuvent vaincre n’importe quel réseau des américains .  La Russie est et sera un État puissant parce qu’elle dispose d’une capacité de défense inégalée qui assure la sécurité physique de ses citoyens, c’est certainement la première responsabilité de tout gouvernement. Une fois que la sécurité physique est assurée, le gouvernement peut créer les infrastructures nécessaires à la réussite de l’économie et de la société civile.  Dans tout cela, Poutine renverse la logique de ses opposants politiques.

La puissance dure de la Russie justifie ses aspirations à une politique étrangère forte. Le parapluie nucléaire russe, qui couvre non seulement la Fédération de Russie mais aussi ses “alliés”, sera l’élément d’attraction le plus fort.

En outre, la puissance dure peut être utilisée pour alimenter l’économie russe comme une source d’innovation qui est la clé de son programme d’accélération du taux de croissance.

Il ne fait aucun doute que des considérations électorales ont motivé la décision de présenter juste avant le scrutin le nouveau matériel de la Russie.

Mais l’allocution était beaucoup plus importante que ça. À sa manière, ce discours était aussi important, peut-être plus important que le discours de Poutine à la conférence de Munich sur la sécurité en février 2007, dans lequel il exposait longuement les griefs de la Russie à l’encontre de l’hégémonie mondiale des Etats-Unis établie dans les années1990 aux dépens des intérêts nationaux russes. Ce discours (de 2007) avait marqué un tournant dans les relations américano-russes, nous conduisant à la confrontation extrème d’aujourd’hui. Le discours du 1 mars ne suggère pas le début d’une nouvelle course aux armements, mais sa conclusion avec la victoire russe et la défaite américaine.

Les implications de l’intervention de Vladimir Poutine  nous disent que les agences renseignement américains ont paisiblement sommeillé durant les 14 dernières années sinon plus. C’est un scandale national pour le pays de perdre une course aux armements dont il n’était même pas conscient. Des têtes devraient rouler, et le processus devrait commencer par des audiences appropriées au Congrès..

.De plus, l’annonce dans le discours du 1 mars du déploiement en marche et sur le point de l’être de nouveaux armements russes qui modifient l’équilibre des forces mondiales n’est qu’un cas parmi une série d’autres réalisations remarquables de la Russie au cours des quatre dernières années qui ont toutes surpris les dirigeants américains…

La prise en main de la Crimée par la Russie en février-mars 2014 effectuée sans coup férir a été une “surprise” pour les USA et pour l’OTAN…

Puis le Pentagone a été complètement pris par surprise en septembre 2015, lorsque Poutine déclara à l’Assemblée générale des Nations Unies l’envoi d’avions russes en Syrie dès le lendemain pour mettre en place et débuter aussitôt une campagne contre Daesh et en soutien d’Assad.   Je pouvais continuer avec ma liste des actions russes surprenantes, mais mon argument est établi et nous devrons passer aux autres questions.

Alors quel était l’effet de l’allocution de Poutine le 1 mars sur les médias en Amérique?  La première rèaction était de nier complètement la vérité des propos russes, l’existence des armes techologiquement si avancés. C’est un bluff.

Mais des autres personnes de la classe politique mieux informées sur les manquements des services de renseignements américaines ont réagi plus sagement, dans le sens voulu par Poutine. Le 9 mars 4 Senateurs ont publie sur ses websites du Sénat, une lettre ouverte à Rex Tillerson, à ce moment encore le Sécrétaire d’Etat dans lequel ils lui demandent de rouvrir les pourparlers avec les russes sur limitations des armements le plutot possible.

Vous probablement n’avez pas entendu quelque chose de cette lettre, parce que dans la presse européenne comme dans la presse américaine pas de mention de ce sujet. C’est comme si la nouvelle est tombé dans un trou noir.

Même le Président des Etats-Unis a finalement entendu ce que disait Poutine sur la parité nucléaire et dans son appel téléphonique au Kremlin juste après les élections pour féliciter Vladimir Vladimirovitch de sa victoire il disait: “j’espère que nous nous rencontrons dans l’avenir court pour parler des armements. La situation est devenu hors de contrôle.”

Lors de cette évolution de pensée envers la Russie pars le Président américain et des autres personnes politiques de haute visibilité que je juge positive, un Plan B très négatif était mis en oeuvre par les services qui vraiement dirige les affaires aux Etats-Unis et en Angleterre.  Ici l’attaque sur les Skripals à Salisbury, prétexte pour l’expulsion coordinée des diplomates russes juste avant les élections présidentielles et les préparations pour l’attaque chimique fictive à Douma, en Syrie, prétexte pour les missiles de croisière lancées par les alliés le 14 avril.

Les deux événements ont exactement le même objectif:  de persuader tout le monde que la Russie est un pays paria, avec un programme illicite des armes chimiques pour effectuer des assassinats et que la Russie supporte un régime syrien qui tue ces citoyens en utilisant des armes chimiques bannis.  Discréditer, délegitimation de la Russie par tous moyens possibles pour lui punir et créer des conflits entre le régime Poutine et le peuple russe, voilà les cibles.

Avec le lancement américain, français et brittanique des missiles de croisière contre Syrie la nuit de 13 – 14 avril nous avons franchi un nouvel étape de risque dans la confrontation Est-Ouest. On peut très legerement passer d’une guerre froide en guerre chaude, voir tres vite nucléaire par malentendu des partis qui ont limité strictement les liens de communications entre eux et qui n’ont pas grande confiance ni dans la bonne volonté ni dans le bon sens de l’autre côté. Je vois un dédain marqué chez les uns comme chez les autres.

Voilà l’histoire de notre situation présente du coté actions et paroles russes, et réactions militaires, diplomatiques et économique (sanctions) du coté USA et l’Europe.  Les lignes que j’ai exposé déjà le 23 avril continue tout droit jusqu’aujourd’hui:

  1. l’évolution de la scandale Skripal avec des révélations juste avant l’ouverture du Mondial en Russie et dernièrement avant la réunion du Far East Forum à Vladivostok le 11-12 septembre – c.à.d. les accusations contre deux russes spoupçonnés d’avoir executé l’empoisonnement des Skripals
  2. Les préparations de flotte et aviation américaine, française, britannique, canadienne, etc. pour nouvelle attaque sur Syrie – pûnition du régime de Bashar Assad, accusé d’usage des armaments chimiques dans le province d’Idlib – un événement futur duquel les casques blanches seront les auteurs avec l’assistance des services de renseignement américain, selon le porte-parole du ministère de défense russe
  3. La promulgation des nouvelles sanctions économiques contre la Russie par les Etats-Unis

Mais en parallele depuis le mois d’avril je vois des developpements qui nous présentent finalement la pensée de Donald Trump, ce qu’il est en train de faire pour exploser les alliances et libérer les Etats-Unis du fardeau de défense de ses alliés, de la rôle du gendarme mondial. La conséquence directe serait de dégager la voie d’une nouvel arrangement de sécurité sur le Vieux Continent en contradiction directe avec les actions et les voeux de l’establishment américain.

Nos médias pour la plupart ridiculisent Trump. On parle de son narcissisme, niveau bas culturel, ignorance. Il est un rustre. Il semble très changeable dans ses opinions et directives. On dit qu’il est enfant terrible entourés des vrais “adultes” à Washington qui s’occupent de lui contraindre.  Dernièrement avec publication du livre de Bob Woodward “Fear” – “Peur” nous voyons que même des gens  dans l’administration Trump contrecarrent les initiatives du Président pour protéger le people, le monde de ses stupidités.

Mais il existe aussi des obserateurs américains qui ont trouvé un logique dans le comportement du Président Trump.

Un article de David Leonhardt publié le 10 juin dans le New York Times porte le titre: “Trump essaie de détruire le Ouest.”  Je cite le raisonnement:

“C’est impossible de pénétrer sa tête pour comprendre ses objectifs à long-terme. Mais on peut dire, que si un président des Etats-Unis esquissait un plan secret et détaillé pour briser l’alliance Atlantique, ce plan serait très similaire au comportement de Trump. Le plan impliquerait hostilité externe envers les dirigeants de Canada, Grande Bretagne, la France, l’Allemagne et Japon.  Spécifiquement il impliquerait querelles, prompts à la bagarre autour de differences artificielles – pas pour gagner des grandes concessions en faveur des Etats-Unis, mais pour créer des conflits pour une fin en soi.”

Cette pointe de vue était mieux développé dans un recueil des nouvelles envoyé aux abonnés par le Washington Post, “Today’s WorldView”, l’édition du 18 juillet.  L’auteur, Ishaan Tharoor, pose la question:  “Is Trump at war with the West?” – “Est-ce que Trump fait la guerre avec le Ouest?” Il rappelle le sommet de Trump avec Poutine à Helsinki, et encore les propos scandaleux et injurieux à l’adresse d’Angela Merkel et Justin Trudeau à Bruxelles lors de la réunion de l’OTAN,

Le reportage de la visite de Trump à l’OTAN par le Washington Post dans l’édition du 11 juillet était intitulé: “Amérique d’abord” veut dire “Amérique seul.” On parle de la demande de Trump que les partenaires européens paient pleinement  2% de PIB pour la défense maintenant, pas dans l’avenir lointain, et qu’ils doublent la contribution a 4% très vite, une chose politiquement impossible.  Une telle abrasivité intentionnelle fait rupture avec l’ordre post Deuxième Guerre Mondiale.

En parallèle nous remarquons la promotion ce printemps des sanctions et l’imposition des tariffs contre les amis, les européens, Canada, la Corée du Sud dans le même esprit comme Trump applique sanctions contre les rivaux de l’Amérique la Chine et la Russie.

 

Je suis totalement d’accord avec les analystes dans le mainstream qui accusent Trump de hostilité envers les partenaires.  Mais l’élément qui manque dans tous les écrits de ce genre c’est une réponse à la question: pourquoi?

Donald Trump n’est pas un intéllectuel. Il n’est pas grand communicateur, comme Reagan était.  Il nous ne donne pas une “doctrine Trump”.  Donald maitrise seulement les messages Twitter. Et regardons, ils montrent des erreurs de grammaire, de vocabulaire.

Néanmoins, dans ses Tweets, dans ses rémarques spontannées on trouve la réponse:   Pour Trump les nations n’ont pas des amis, seulement des intérêts.  Nous sommes tous des compétiteurs. Le plus grand compliment qu’il paie à Poutine, c’est que les russes sont des compétiteurs forts.  On note aussi que Trump parle de souveraineté des nations comme une valeur absolu.  Et il question la valeur des alliances.

Ici nous avons les composants plus importants de l’école Réaliste des relations internationales. Il faut ajouter le principe de “l’équilibre de pouvoir” dans lequel les nations sont en flux permanent pour se grouper contre l’une entre eux qui veut établir hégémonie.  Ou enore les “sphères d’influence” des grandes puissances.

Trump le Réaliste continue une tradition des présidents américains Theodore Roosevelt, d’avant la Première Guerre Mondiale, et Richard Nixon. Son réalisme est pur et dur.  Il n’accepte pas le mantra des Libéraux à Washington et à Bruxelles qui parlent de l’impérative  d’une politique étrangère basée sur valeurs.

S’il impose des sanctions, des tariffs sur les allies, c’est parce que ils sont les moyens uniques et adéquats dont il dispose pour exploser les alliances. Il a les compétences seul les imposer, indépendemment du Congrès. Au même temps, ils sont des outils bien respectés par les classes politiques américaines,  “as American as apple pie” – aussi américain comme la tarte aux pommes.

La question de relations avec la Russie n’est pas la chose clé dans la politique de Trump.  On parle beaucoup de tout ça parce que le Parti démocrat a instrumentalisé la question dans sa campagne éléctorale et faisait la question de collusion de Trump avec le Kremlin le dada de nos jours. Mais effectivement la pensée stratégique de Trump va beaucoup plus loin dans la restructuration des relations globales autour des principes de Réalisme.  Bien sûr un bénéficiaire de la réalisation de cette politique sera relations avec la deuxième super-puissance militaire du monde, la Russie.

 

Maintenant je vous donne la parole pour poser des questions.  J’espère entendre vos avis sur le dénouement de la confrontation actuelle entre la Russie et les Etats-Unis –  l’Ouest.

Je dis ce soir qu’il ne faut pas essayer d’attribuer responsabilité pour la confrontation même, parce que si l’échange nucléaire commence par accidente ou par intention nous sommes tous morts, les innocents avec les culpables.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2018

Eastern Economic Forum, Vladivostok: focus on Japan

14 September 2018

The 4th Eastern Economic Forum which held its plenary session on Wednesday, 12 September and heard important addresses from its host, Vladimir Putin, and from a constellation of Northeast Asian leaders, has received a smattering of attention in the world press, highlighting only a few elements in what has been a cornucopia of material for analysis in the economic, geopolitical and defense spheres.

Some picked up Vladimir Putin’s well planted remarks in questioning following his address, when he commented on the Skripal case, saying that the Russian suspects named a week ago by British Prime Minister Theresa May as military intelligence (GRU) operatives had presented themselves and were just ordinary citizens, not criminals. Some turned their attention to the Vostok-18 military exercises going on nearby in the Russian Far East on a scale not seen since the days of the Soviet Union and with participation of both Chinese and Mongolian units, a first of its kind.  There were discussions among analysts over whether the numbers of forces named by the Russians (300,000 fighting men, 1,000 aircraft, 36,000 tanks and armored personnel carriers) were not inflated and whether the exercise truly demonstrated Russia’s force projection capabilities across the 7,000 km of the Federation in tight timelines. Some very few, like The Financial Times, looked at the economic significance of the Forum taken on its own merits. The FT published an article on the risk calculations behind ongoing Chinese investments in the Russian Far East and in the Russian Federation more generally.

No mainstream commentators to my knowledge have examined the dynamics of the Northeast Asian leaders among themselves.

In the day preceding the formal opening of the Forum, Russian President Vladimir Putin held bilateral meetings with the lead guest, Chinese President Xi Jinping. He also met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. In both cases, the talks were followed by lengthy statements to the press that were substantial and worthy of our time.

Still more interesting were the appearances of the five national leaders present on the dais at the plenary session.  It was a rare occasion to witness the presidents of Russia, China and Mongolia, the prime ministers of Japan and South Korea sitting together, hearing one another’s addresses and responding to questions.

The questioning was all the more relevant because, breaking with the recent tradition in Russian economic and political forums, the moderator came not from NBC or Bloomberg, who brought coy or hectoring questions to amuse Western audiences by standing up to the authoritarian in the Kremlin,  but from one of Russia’s most capable and most watched television journalists, Sergei Brillyov (Rossiya-1).  His questions had likely been coordinated with the Kremlin in advance and were more probing and revealing than anything we have seen hitherto in such formats.

In what follows, I will direct attention to one highly important and obvious feature of the proceedings which seems to have escaped the attention of my peers:  what the speeches and public meetings of the leaders tell us about Shinzo Abe and Japan’s political positioning in its region.

I do this taking advantage of the fly-on-the-wall privileged observation post that Russian state television granted to its global audience by presenting full live coverage, without commentary, of the plenary session addresses, of the statements to the press made by Vladimir Putin and his honored guests following their bilateral meetings ahead of the Forum’s opening, and of other significant moments in and around the Forum.  While my peers in North America may have been fast asleep, given the time differences, here in Europe the Russian broadcasts from the Far East arrived at breakfast time or later, making it possible to apply a fresh mind to tantalizing incoming images and speeches.

 

First, it has to be said that Prime Minister Abe was odd man out..  He used his address to the plenary session primarily as a plea for conclusion of a peace treaty with Russia during this generation, during his own and Vladimir Putin’s mandates in office..  By contrast, all of the other foreign leaders spoke glowingly of their ongoing and planned large-scale investment activities in Russia and the Far Eastern region. Abe had little to match their cooperation with Russia and sought to compensate by presenting a video that would put a human face on Japan’s miniscule efforts in Russia. The film was a brief overview of the various health related and technology related projects (traffic management, refuse reprocessing) that Japan is implementing in Russia from among the 150 projects that Abe had presented and Russia accepted two years ago, all to guide their bilateral relations to a new plateau.

The Japanese projects are all on the cheap. All are quite modest in scope and are meant to be indicative of the great assistance Japan can bestow on Russia in improving people’s lives if only Russia signs a peace treaty as dictated by Tokyo, meaning its agreement to the return of the Southern Kurile islands to Japanese sovereignty.

The effect of the video and recitation of Japanese cooperation projects in Russia is quite the opposite of what Abe may have intended. But it is perfectly in line with his wholly outdated understanding of the relative negotiating positions of Russia and Japan today. The film’s editorial slant is all one-way:  a wealthy and technologically superior Japan is lending a hand to a grateful Russia. This contradicts the overall theme of the other foreign leaders speaking to the Forum, which is how all the participating countries will help one another by closer coordination of their development plans, by mutual trade and investment.

We saw this balanced and win-win approach in the presentation of the South Korean prime minister, who mentioned his country’s participation in the construction of Russia’s largest shipbuilding complex (Zvezda) close to Vladivostok, while remaining a major supplier of advanced vessels to Russia for transporting liquefied natural gas. Or in South Korea’s eagerness to implement through rail transit to the Trans-Siberian and onward to Europe as soon as relations with North Korea can be normalized. And in the Korean participation in the North Sea route infrastructure for maritime shipping that Russia is keen to develop as an alternative to the routes via the Suez Canal or around the horn of Africa.

We saw this in the address of the Mongolian president describing joint energy projects with Russia and plans/hopes for expanded shipment of coal via Russia’s rail and port infrastructure, both what exists and what is under planning.

Shinzo Abe’s approach to Russia harks back to the 1970s and 1980s, when Japan was enjoying worldwide respect and envy as a dynamic Asian tiger that was buying up properties in the United States right and left and when the Soviet Union was in serious economic stagnation if not decline, looking for new buyers of its energy resources and new investors.

Today China occupies the position of strategic partner to which Japan pretended forty years ago. China is Russia’s major financier, investor and customer. China may not rank as highly as supplier of advanced technology as Japan did back then and continues to be today, but China is an equal partner with Russia in joint development of high-tech, as in the domain of civil aviation.

The present-day importance of Chinese trade and investment was one of the outstanding messages of the Forum.  In the meeting with the press after their bilateral talks, Vladimir Putin affirmed that two-way trade with China this year will grow by more than 20% to top 100 billion dollars.  Meanwhile, in the addresses to the plenary session the figure 100 billion came up again: this time quantifying the value of the joint Chinese-Russian investment projects directed at the Far Eastern and Baikal regions.

Against this background, the scale of Japanese investment and the whole of Abe’s 150 cooperation projects come in two orders of magnitude less.  The notion that these “carrots” could motivate Russia to agree to Japanese conditions for concluding a peace treaty is wholly unrealistic.

Abe’s proffered sweetener of joint administration of the Southern Kuriles intentionally misses the point of Russian resistance to abandoning sovereignty.  What is really at issue was brought up directly by Sergei Brillyov in a question to Vladimir Putin during the plenary session: whether the two leaders have not discussed Russian concerns that the Kuriles, if held by Japan, would become yet another stationing point for American military bases and in particular for the installation of anti-ballistic missile units.  Putin said they had, but this is something that Abe chooses to ignore as the stumbling block to conclusion of a peace treaty.

In what he described as a “spontaneous” suggestion to achieve the sought-after peace treaty, Putin proposed on stage that the two countries proceed to sign a peace treaty “without preconditions” before the end of this year. Then, having become friends, they might tackle the thorny issues like the Kuriles with more mutual confidence.  This proposal, which Abe later acknowledged he was hearing for the first time, was later dismissed as unworkable by the Japanese diplomats present.

Put in other words, Russia does not agree to concessions so long as it sees Japan as a stalking horse for the United States and its Pentagon.  And by his performance in the Forum, Abe demonstrated yet again that obedience to his masters in Washington for the sake of the nuclear umbrella is more important to him than striking any deal with the Russians. He alone among the five leaders put the name of Donald Trump in play from the dais:  he extended his fulsome praise to Trump for an innovative and brave outreach to North Korea, for holding a summit with Kim Jong-Un. No mention on his part of the initiative shown first and shown again most recently by the South Korean leader Moon Jae-In to bring the talks to a constructive finale between the Koreas and between the USA and North Korea.

Japan is nowhere on the map of strategic and large-scale economic integration of the region that includes but goes well beyond what was on show in the Forum.  The other binding forces are China’s Belt and Road initiative and the Eurasian Economic Union.  Shinzo Abe’s Japan remains a US outpost largely cut off from its geographical and business environment in Northeast Asia. It is missing out on the dynamic processes energizing the whole area.  At the Forum.  China was the single largest player with its delegation exceeding 2,000 businessmen and government representatives. Under leadership as stale and timid as Shinzo Abe proved to be at the Forum, his country is fated to become the Land of the Setting Sun.

 

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2018

RT Interview with the “suspects” in the Skripal poisoning case

13 September 2018

Earlier today, RT released an interview which their editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan had with the two “suspects” whom Prime Minister Theresa May identified to Parliament last week.

The upshot of this interview is that the Russian position has changed substantially from what it has been over the past four months: “give us the proofs” of the crime and our involvement.

The testimony of the two suspects, Russian citizens Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Bashirov, amounts to a direct refutation of the entire “facts” or “evidence” presented by London last week to support their story on the poisoning.

Now there are only two conclusions possible:

A) that London has concocted the Skripal case from start to finish; British intelligence staged the poisoning and after much effort combing the CCTV footage for Russians who arrived in the UK and who traveled to Salisbury just before the poisoning, they produced the falsified photos of the suspects released last week. Falsified in the sense that the novichok supposedly found in their hotel room was planted after the fact by MI6, and that the CCTV records have been tampered with to suit the timelines over two days in a scenario devised by MI6.   In this case, the whole case should be properly investigated by neutral third parties.

OR

B) that the Russians are lying from start to finish and these two suspects should be properly interrogated by neutral third parties,

I personally believe in the “A” case.

Other commentators have looked for flaws in each aspect of the British story from the first moment of the poisoning straight through the identical time records on the CCTV snapshot of the two suspects coming through passport and customs upon arrival in the UK on a direct flight from Moscow. These issues are all debatable.  I look instead to the important circumstantial evidence in the way each episode in the Skripal case has been publicized by British authorities at chosen intervals so as to hit the newsrooms at moments that have great political sensitivity for Russia.

The poisoning itself came just two weeks before the March presidential elections. Further revelations came just before the opening of the World Cup and now the release of the months old CCTV pictures comes just prior to the Russian backed Syrian offensive to crush jihadists in Idlib province that will mark the total victory of Russian foreign and military policy over US and Western policy in Syria and the immediate region.

.All of the Skripal revelations have been stage managed to do maximum damage to Russia’s image in the international community and/or to influence political processes within Russia.

The objective of the Skripal case, was to present the “Putin regime” as a wanton user of chemical weapons abroad and place it on a par with Bashar Assad’s Syria as a pariah state.

Whatever one’s persuasions may be, it is clear that the Btitish and Russian accounts are now in direct contradiction, We are headed for a continued and still more dramatic political confrontation between the two countries and their allies.

 

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2018