Fact and Fiction: what the US did and did not achieve by its attack on Syria, 14 April 2018

 

by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.

 

The media reaction to the US-French-British strikes on Syria early in the morning of 14 April has been quite distinct in the USA versus Europe, and then still more differentiated from the reaction of Russian media. In this brief article, I will direct attention to the general contours marking each of these three areas of reporting, and also will share some of the particularly interesting observations that were presented on Russian television, which, as is self-evident, was the most interested party in making sense of the weekend to the general public, given that Russia was the central power in play over the weekend even if the geography said “Syria.”

 

In its coverage of the attack, the US mainstream, for which I take The New York Times and The Washington Post as markers, has been an uncritical platform for the Pentagon view of what it achieved. Secondly, they have been a platform for the usual critics of Donald Trump who have praised the attack in principal but asked where is the long term strategy (none by general consensus)  while linking the timing to the President’s political travails following the FBI raid on his personal lawyer’s offices during the days preceding the attack.

The Pentagon post mortem of the attacks corresponds totally with the President’s tweet of “Mission Accomplished!”  The generals claim that their missiles obliterated the core of Assad’s chemical weapon manufacturing capability and were thus on target and fully successful. They particularly praised the effectiveness of the newest “stealth” cruise missiles which, they say, eluded the Syrian air defenses, which launched their own interceptor missiles after the stealth attackers had already hit their targets.

On Continental Europe, specifically in Germany, France and Belgium, for the print media this Sunday the Syria attacks were yesterday’s news and the papers largely have picked up other, mainly local issues to feature on their front pages. In Le Figaro, there is virtually no mention of the attacks. In Le Monde, they follow the American example and what coverage they give is the Pentagon’s story of what it achieved. Meanwhile, in Germany leading newspapers seem to show more initiative in trying to find their own interpretation of what was accomplished by the attacks.  The Die Welt online edition today discusses how the United States and Europe used the mission to test the battleground effectiveness of some of their latest weaponry.

Frankfurter Allgemeine has two feature articles, neither of which follow the American media agenda and might be said to show some independence of thought.  One article presents and defends the notion that the weekend attacks showed the Pentagon is “the last bastion of Sense” in the Trump administration. What they think of the President is self evident.  Meanwhile the other article tells us that despite the attacks Syrian President Bashar Assad will not give in and is holding to his chosen course, while the Russians are said to be counting on opening a strategic dialogue with the USA over arms control.

In the United Kingdom, coverage of Syria, the airstrikes, Russia receive much more coverage in the print media this weekend than on the Continent. From the perspective of Russian analysts, whom I will deal with in a moment, this surely reflects the great nervousness in the UK that their criminal role in the Skripal case and in stage directing the Douma chemical attack in Syria is going to be exposed and that there will be a political price for Theresa May and her government to pay.

The Opposition Guardian newspaper online features a number of articles today, taking up the Syria story from different perspectives. A commentary article tells us that James Mattis, not Trump “is calling the shots.” Another article is devoted to Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn’s call for a “check on military intervention” by insisting that Parliament vote on a War Powers act.  From Damascus, we hear about Bashar Assad’s praise for Moscow and about Vladimir Putin’s criticism of the strikes. 

The Times of London offers a much more restricted number of articles having a Russian-Syrian connection but what it features is sure to capture the attention of Britain’s chattering classes today. It leads with an article predicting that to punish the United Kingdom for its role in the Skripal case and in Syria, Moscow will unleash a barrage of hacked damaging confidential materials relating to government ministers, members of Parliament and other elite British personalities.  In response, May’s cabinet is said to be considering a cyber-attack against Russia. 

 

To be sure, the most remarkable departure from the US media track that I note in Europe yesterday and today is on the television, specifically on Euronews.  The company’s motto is “Euronews. All Views.”  Nice sounding and usually irrelevant, but not this weekend. To be sure, the US, UK, French government accounts of what they achieved are given full coverage in each hourly news bulletin.  But at the same time, the Russians are given what appears to be equal time to set out their diametrically opposed positions: on whether any chemical attacks at all occurred in Douma, Eastern Goutha, on the violation of international law and of the UN Charter that the Allied attack on Syria represented, on its being “aggression,” on its link to the Skripal case.

In fact, on Saturday Euronews exceptionally gave nearly complete live coverage to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as he spoke in Moscow to the 26th Assembly of the Council of Foreign and Defense Policy. During this talk, Lavrov divulged the findings of the Swiss laboratory which had examined samples of the chemicals gathered in Salisbury in relation to the Skripal poisonings, findings which he said pointed not to Novichok, as was reported by Boris Johnson, but to a nerve agent developed by the United States and produced also in Britain.  Lavrov likened the faked attack in Salisbury to the faked chemical attack in Douma.

Letting the Russians deliver extensively their views on what happened in Syria without commentary by their own journalists might be considered extraordinary by Euronews or any other European broadcaster’s standards, for which the public can only be grateful.

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In Western alternative media, there is a lively, one might say impassioned discussion of whether Vladimir Putin caved in to the USA by not striking back immediately and with force against the 14 April attack on Syria by US-FR-UK forces.  Such an issue seems to be absent from Russian television, including its talk shows, yesterday and today. In part, this question is surely absent because of censorship of the airwaves.  But I think in greater part it is absent because the information about what actually happened on the night – early morning of 14 April is both much greater and is skewed in a very different direction from what is being reported in Western media, so that the possibility that the boss may have flinched does not arise.

This begins with the effectiveness of the US Tomahawks and other “smart” cruise missiles which the Allies launched.  As noted above, the Pentagon claims great success, and directs special attention to the latest “stealth” cruise missiles.  However, Russian news stresses that Washington used for the most part old generation, amortized rockets. They encountered counter measures from very old Syrian air defense installations, themselves a mixed patch quilt, with some dating back 30 years, and never fully integrated.  Nonetheless, the Russians report that the Syrian shot down 70 of the 103 or 105 missiles launched by the alliance.

On Saturday evening, the Russian news channel Rossiya-1 broadcast a special edition of the country’s leading political talk show hosted by Vladimir Solovyov. His expert panelists explained that the Syrian kill rate was in fact variable.  In Damascus, where the most recent and effective air defense equipment is installed, including late date BUK series, the Syrians shot down 100% of the incoming missiles. Elsewhere in the country, the older the air defenses, the lower the hit rate.

Those who ask what “grave consequences” the Russians will impose on the Western coalition following the air strikes of 14 April should consider the following: Moscow apparently has now decided to supply to the Syrian army their next to latest generation of air defense, the S300. We are told that due to the civil war, there was a great shortage of trained technicians on the Syrian side so that shipment of such equipment previously would have made no sense. However, now that the military situation of the Assad government has stabilized, the personnel problems are no longer so acute and the Russians can proceed with delivering materiel and training the Syrians to defend themselves. This will substantially change the equation with respect to Syrian defense capability should the US and its Allies think of coming back again a year hence.

One other still more Important observation on the way the US carried out its attack which fully justifies the restrained response of the Russian leader also emerges from expert testimony given on the Solovyov show last night.  From the first moment the scope of the attack was so constrained as to be mission impossible.

Normally the US and others beginning a military operation against Country X start their operation with a massive attack on its air defense systems and command and control centers. Only when they are neutralized does the attacker carry out air strikes on specific targets of military value.  The US had to forego all that when it decided it would not touch the Russians, whose officers are embedded with the Syrian command and control and air defense. Hence, the exclusive use of missiles as opposed to aircraft bombing raids, it being a given that all manned aircraft would be shot down even by the antiquated Syrian materiel.  In a word, the US-FR-UK attack on Syria was a charade, a political and not a military attack. Its description by the Americans and their Allies as a “precision attack” to remove chemical weapons facilities is a fig leaf of deception that the unquestioning Western media alone accept.  This, given the near certainty that Assad had no chemical weapons manufacturing or storage facilities following their complete removal and destruction four years ago in performance of an agreement negotiated between the United States and Russia under President Barack Obama and later certified by the US side.

The overriding conclusion of this and other reporting on Russian television is that Russian lives, Russian interests and Russian military potential figured at every turn when the Pentagon devised its attack plan on Syria.  Under these circumstances, the Russians had no reason to respond emotionally and in irresponsible manner to the US provocation.

What further actions the Russians may take to exact a price from the Western coalition for its violation of international law over Syria remains to be seen. But it is a safe guess that Britain will take the first hit.

 

© Gilbert Doctorow, 2018

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Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book, Does the United States Have a Future? was published on 12 October 2017. Both paperback and e-book versions are available for purchase on http://www.amazon.com and all affiliated Amazon websites worldwide. See the recent professional review  http://theduran.com/does-the-united-states-have-a-future-a-new-book-by-gilbert-doctorow-review/    For a video of the book presentation made at the National Press Club, Washington, D.C. on 7 December 2017 see  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciW4yod8upg

Last Days of Pompey

Last Days of Pompey

by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.

 

What follows here will surely surprise my loyal readers, who expect detailed argumentation and are not put off by 3,000 or even 5,000 words to get to a conclusion. For the same reason, detractors who complain of my long-winded style may take heart.

However that may be, I do not offer a bed-time story today but a shock to the system.

The overriding issue of war or peace, survival of mankind or its utter destruction, is now being decided in Washington and NYC without so much as a ‘by your leave’ for the rest of us. 

Will Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Dunford prevail in warning Trump against any action that will bring a kinetic response from the world’s other nuclear super power. Or will ‘Mad Dog’ Secretary of Defense Matthis win out in pressing Donald Trump to test the Russians’ bluff on their red lines in Syria?  Will the US launch missiles against Damascus or against Iran, as I suggested yesterday as an alternative scenario?  Or will it support Poroshenko in launching a massive attack on Donetsk, as the Russians appear to expect judging by their just putting their entire military on war alert?

 

Donald Trump has announced very clearly that he will be authorizing some kind of retribution to the CIA-faked chemical attack in Douma, Eastern Goutha in the coming 24 to 48 hours. 

 

So, here we are at Judgment Day, and there surely will not be one soul out on Pennsylvania Avenue to raise an anti-war placard. The tattered remains of the American peace movement is rotten to the core.  Even Daniel Ellsberg has been suckered into joining the buffoon Noam Chomsky in a cake-walk demo in NYC under the sponsorship of the American Friends Service Committee, once the paragon of pacificism and today just another social action group promoting racial equality.  Uncle Joe Gerson sent out invitations to participate in that theater of the absurd last night.

 

The anti-war movement was a Leftist movement, and we all know where the Left is today, along with the Progressives.  In denial and Russia-bashing.

 

To anyone watching the UN Security Council “debate” last night it is crystal clear we are in the last days before all hell breaks out. The wall of mutual contempt between Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya and US Ambassador Nikki Haley was on full display. Nebenzya took to pieces the entire argumentation of the US side regarding Douma and the ‘chemical attack.’ He detailed the rebel caches of chemical weapons and equipment for their manufacture that Russian troops have found in recently liberated territory of Eastern Ghouta and elsewhere. He spoke about the past provocations of faked chemical attacks including the one used to justify the US cruise missile launches on the Syrian air base at Sheirat a year ago. He linked the US training and support for terrorists in fabrication of chemical arms to the faked nerve agent attack on the Skripals in the UK, which he described as a vaudeville act. He heaped scorn on Haley for her denying Russia the status of “friend,”  saying that the US has no friends, only sycophants, whereas Russia has genuine friends, and seeks nothing more in relations with the United States than civilized discourse.  In response to this unprecedented denunciation of the USA and its policies of global hegemony, we heard from Nikki Haley the familiar story of how the UN Security Council could now either adopt a US resolution condemning the Assad regime, in effect, or  admit its total irrelevance while the US continued on its own unilateral path to resolving the Syrian question.

 

So, ladies and gents, open the champagne.  Last days of Pompey?  I was just there last week and I saw the future, not the past.

 

© Gilbert Doctorow, 2018

      * * * *

Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book, Does the United States Have a Future? was published on 12 October 2017. Both paperback and e-book versions are available for purchase on http://www.amazon.com and all affiliated Amazon websites worldwide. See the recent professional review  http://theduran.com/does-the-united-states-have-a-future-a-new-book-by-gilbert-doctorow-review/    For a video of the book presentation made at the National Press Club, Washington, D.C. on 7 December 2017 see  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciW4yod8upg

 

The Saker’s “Grim View”

The Saker’s “Grim View”

by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.

 

In an article posted on this morning’s Russia Insider entitled “Russia is Ready for War. Mood on Prime-time TV is Grim,” the Saker sets out a list of conclusions he found watching Russian television, presumably last night (https://russia-insider.com/en/russia-ready-war-mood-prime-time-tv-grim/ri23019).

 

 The program he watched seems not to be cited, though it is a safe guess it was Sunday Evening with Vladimir Solovyov.

 

I salute The Saker for being one of the mighty few colleagues in alternative news, not to mention mainstream news, who actually follows what the Russians are saying at the source: on their television programs directed at the domestic audience

 

At the same time, while acknowledging the airing of the views he sets out in his essay, he has intentionally skewed his article to promote the negativism he brought with him to the write-up.  My own take-away from that program was diametrically opposite: to find great encouragement that the US generals, especially Chairman  of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Dunford, are not the OK Corral shoot-out boys some of us would like to paint them, even if one, Secretary of Defense  Matthis, may be clueless.

What I heard on the Solovyov program is that the US military know precisely the positions of Russian cruisers, submarines, aircraft and missiles in the Middle East region, that is to say, they understand that the Russians are on a war footing and fully prepared to execute the deadly counter strike promised by General Gerasimov several weeks ago if the US dares to cross the Russian red lines and launch a strike against Damascus or other locations where Russia has its armed forces embedded with the Syrians.  The US generals, unlike the US politicians and media and US administration, is risk-averse if the outcome may be catastrophic.  Accordingly, the strike Trump has promised to “avenge” the utterly phony chemical attack in Douma, Eastern Ghouta, will have another vector, most likely to strike against Iran, which Trump held up as the co-supporters of “Animal” Assad.

Why Iran?  Well, that falls entirely in line with Trump’s anti-Iranian stance in general and it will test the alliance between Russia, Turkey and Iran whose presidents last week reconfirmed their commitment to a jointly managed final political and military settlement in Syria.  Indeed, there is no alliance between Russia and Iran, and the US can proceed as it sees fit in attacking Iran, subject of course, to Teheran’s ability and readiness attack US bases and armed detachments in its region in response.

I do not say that this alternative reading of the likely evolution of the Great Power confrontation in the Middle East is a happy one.  But it remains at the level of proxies and does not take us over the precipice to WWIII, as Saker’s and most other Western commentators in alternative media would have us believe.

 

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© Gilbert Doctorow, 2018

      * * * *

Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book, Does the United States Have a Future? was published on 12 October 2017. Both paperback and e-book versions are available for purchase on http://www.amazon.com and all affiliated Amazon websites worldwide. See the recent professional review  http://theduran.com/does-the-united-states-have-a-future-a-new-book-by-gilbert-doctorow-review/    For a video of the book presentation made at the National Press Club, Washington, D.C. on 7 December 2017 see  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciW4yod8upg

International observer mission to the Russian Presidential elections in Crimea, 18 March 2018

International observer mission to the Russian Presidential elections in Crimea, 18 March 2018

by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.

In this piece, I will share impressions from my mission as an international observer to the Russian presidential election.  The event was of historic importance given Russia’s rising standing in the world under the leadership of its front-runner candidate in the election, Vladimir Putin, and it has been covered widely in world media.

What will set this account apart from the rest is firstly the focus on one location, the Crimea, which I visited as monitor within a varied delegation of 43. The Crimea, for its part, had unusually high importance to the Russians and to the world at large, because the election there was rightly viewed as a second referendum on the reunification of Crimea with Russia in 2014, and that reunification or annexation, depending on your point of view, underlies much of the acrimonious confrontation today between Russia and the US-led “international community.”

A little remarked fact underscores my argument for the key importance of the Crimean vote: the precise date selected to hold the presidential election across the Russian Federation, 18 March. That is the anniversary of the formal unification, the culmination of the Crimean Spring of 2014, which followed by several days the original referendum approving unification.  It will be recalled that the validity of that first referendum has been denied by Russia’s Western detractors, who insist the result was forced by the presence of Russian troops in the streets and an atmosphere of intimidation coming from pro- and anti-Russian demonstrations.  The vote in 2018 has taken place in a totally calm situation, which removes all possibility of reservations about validity unless violations at polling stations could be identified.  At a minimum, the task of a monitoring group such as mine should have been to watch that issue very closely. How that functioned in practice, what I/we actually saw and did will make up the first part of this essay.

The entire force of international observers who spread out across Russia was quite heterogeneous and I will spend some time in the second half of this essay describing us: who we are, why we and not others were present in Russia for election monitoring work.  In this second half, I will also discuss something highly important that other commentators have avoided entirely: the fact that the elections come within the context of an intense political, economic and information war between Russia and the West that has in the past couple of years reached the level of the worst days of the Cold War. Consequently, once we look past the technical aspects of the vote, where there is, among serious professionals, a consensus that these elections were well administered and transparent, we find ourselves back in the midst of tendentious interpretation by both sides to the issue,  if not outright propaganda.  I will not dodge this question, and I do not expect to receive bouquets from anyone.  The task before us will be very simple: to try as best I can to give details about the circumstances of the balloting so that the reader can arrive at an independent conclusion. Without naming names, I will produce my evidence from personal experience on the ground that is missing from media accounts till now given their broad brush approach.

 

What we saw

The bare facts are that  voter turn-out in Crimea was similar to turn-out in Russia at large, coming to about 67% while ballots for Putin exceeded by far the Russian average:  about 92% for Putin versus the national average of approximately 77% for Putin.

What I am about to say to flesh out these bare bones comes from our group visits to 10 polling stations over the course of as many hours. The first two were in the city of Yalta. The next two were in small villages situated along the main highway running from Yalta north and west to the provincial capital of Simferopol. And the last six were in the city limits of Simferopol. The distance we covered was 80 kilometers. Given the poor state of repair of even roads of regional importance in Crimea, the time in transit, had we not stopped along the way, would have been nearly two hours.

Our group of about 20 traveling together was split between two mini-buses, one predominantly French speaking and the other predominantly German and English speaking. Each bus had local chaperones who, together with those of us monitors fluent in Russian could assist our linguistically handicapped colleagues.

Except for the very last polling station which was close to where we had lunch and was chosen spontaneously by our group without objection from our chaperones, all the polling places had been selected by our hosts in advance, which obviously is not the random selection you would like ideally to have in such an exercise. In several stations we were met by television film crews who were expecting us.

However, we were let loose in the polling stations and could speak directly not only with the senior administrator but also with voters, with the volunteers manning the registration desks, with the monitors from the local social chambers and representatives of the candidates, if any happened to be where we were, given that they moved around all day. That is to say we had every opportunity to hear complaints, to remark any peculiar goings-on, such as organized groups of voters showing up together.  There were none. We heard of no scandals, and we saw no demonstrations or protesters of any kind around the polling stations. Instead what we witnessed was an intermittent flow of voters arriving, being processed efficiently, casting their ballots and departing.

In this connection, I want to stress that our group seemed to take its responsibilities rather seriously.  To be sure, when we started out in the morning we descended on our first polling booths like a group of aliens – everyone attached to their mobile gadgets and texting, arranging travel on line for their next destinations and not paying much attention to where we were.  However, that phase passed quickly and my colleagues took an interest in the here and now throughout the rest of our rather long work day. We had the usual group photos outside a number of polling stations taken not only for official record but using our own mobile phones to create personal souvenirs. And we gave interviews to the waiting television crews, though that was only a minor diversion.

The polling stations we visited were for the most part secondary schools. Some were in buildings of the local civil administration. All were serviceable and well prepared to receive the public.  Many of the buildings had several stairs at their entrances. Among them some had permanent ramps, as is becoming very widespread in Russia to accommodate those in wheelchairs, parents pushing baby carriages and the elderly or infirm. Where no permanent ramp existed, temporary wooden ramps were installed, obviously at considerable expense and effort in what are otherwise quite poor districts.  The Crimea obviously received no infrastructure investments during the 23 years when it was ruled by post-independence Ukraine, and is simply a poor region, however promising its future development may be.

This effort to facilitate voting also had another dimension, what I will call ambulatory ballot collection.  Each station had a small sealed plexiglass ballot box which was taken out by volunteers on visits to voters who were too frail or too ill to come down to the polling station.  The numbers of such voters were not big, something like 50 or 60 out of polling districts numbering between 1800 and 2500 registered voters. But the symbolic message was clear: that each citizen, each vote counts.

A special welcome was being offered at all polling stations to young people, specifically to those who had just turned 18 and were voting for the first time. They were each given a paper diploma issued by the city elders. Again, the numbers of such cases were tiny, running from 5 to 10 in the districts we visited, but the welcoming hand was visible.

I have mentioned measures taken by local volunteers to raise voter participation.  The biggest effort to ensure eligible voters registered and easily found a voting station convenient to them was done at the federal level via the internet resources of the Central Election Committee using online registration and sms communications. In this regard, the Crimea was no different from any other region of the Russian Federation.

The single biggest impression from visiting polling stations was their sophisticated equipment to guaranty transparency, to empower the broad public to do citizen monitoring over the internet and to efficiently record the votes. 

One of the first things we would see on entering the polling stations was the row of voting booths, with simple standardized assemble-disassemble frames and light cloth draw curtains for privacy.  That was the only holdover from the simple past.  Each polling station now had two sets of “eyes”: CCTV cameras positioned to oversee the voter registration tables and the ballot boxes. These cameras fed live images to the internet and could be viewed by anyone in Russia online.  Still more important for guarantying fair elections were the new electronic ballot boxes that were installed in about half the polling stations we visited, the rest being manual count boxes.  The automated ballot boxes are autonomous, meaning they are not connected to the web and so are not subject to hacking. They are topped in effect by self-feeding scanners which automatically record each vote. Unlike purely electronic systems, the new Russian boxes receive and store paper ballots, meaning that if any dispute over the automated count arises, a manual count can always be done later. 

A peek into some of the plexiglass ballot boxes on our visits showed up only check marks next to Putin’s name. That was about the only indication, wholly unscientific to be sure, of how sentiment was running.

Otherwise the polling stations were notable for being inviting to the public through their engagement of DJs operating simple loudspeakers blaring pop music at the entrances.  One of the tunes that came up in various places was telling: “Crimea and Russia Together Forever!”  One polling station had costumed teenage entertainers out in front of the building to amuse and babysit smaller kids while their parents were voting. At another polling station, girls and boys aged 8 – 10 wearing military cadet uniforms greeted each arriving voter and sent off the departing voters with a hearty “goodbye.” In that same station, retro patriotism also came up in another form, which possibly was spontaneous, possibly organized in advance:  an eight year old girl reciting quite loudly and with good histrionic training a patriotic poem with the repeated refrain “Russia is Rising!”

Voting day ended in Simferopol on a pronounced patriotic note.  There was a free pop concert in the main city square which drew a good-natured crowd of several thousand of all ages and ended in a magnificent fireworks display. During the 10 minutes or so of the fireworks, the orchestra and showmen sang the Russian national anthem, which was lustily supported by the entire audience.

To anyone with a recollection of the Soviet Union, all of this collective jollity and distinctly Russian pop music, which was always rather tame, seems all too familiar. However, it was well-intentioned, and it may be that a substantial part of what was promoted as Soviet models and tradition was always just a variation on Russian national culture.

Our work day ended in a municipal administration building of Simferopol where we held a press conference. Five of us with the best command of Russian, myself included, were assigned places on the dais. There were only a handful of journalists in the room, but questions were pitched to us by a moderator and the proceedings were broadcast live by several television crews.  This was in lieu of a group report.

 

 

*   *  *   *

International Election Observers: who were we?

 

Russia’s Central Election Commission reportedly issued accreditation to 1,500 international observers whose nominations were put forward by a variety of sponsors, including Russian NGOs, the State Duma and international organizations. Some monitoring was done by diplomats from foreign embassies who requested accreditation, allowing them to visit polling stations and gather information. These monitors would later report only to their respective governments.

I was invited to Russia by a Moscow-based NGO called the Russian Peace Foundation, which entrusted administration of its allotment to a Warsaw based NGO called the European Council for Democracy and Human Rights. The original intention was to invite and accredit 150 individuals from all over the world.  In the end, only about 80 monitors arrived in Moscow via this channel, myself included. On the ground, in our Moscow hotel, I saw about half this number, and I never learned where the others may have been lodged. Out of that number only a couple of us were sent to Crimea, where we joined accredited monitors from other pools. We never discussed among ourselves who came from which sponsor group.

In the Crimea-bound contingent, I was the only American, and, one of the handful of fluent Russian speakers. This put me under the spotlight but also heightened my ability to engage the local electoral officials and voters.

The monitors with whom I came into contact, both in my own pool from the Peace Foundation with whom I associated in Moscow and coming from other pools with whom I associated in the small contingent sent to Crimea were all of mixed backgrounds.  Some were academics with think tank affiliation, or professional political analysts like myself. Some were elected legislators in their home countries or members of the European Parliament. 

The politics of the elected deputies appeared to be mainly from what is called “far Right.” Specifically, I met with a Bundestag deputy from the Alternativ fuer Deutschland, with a French MEP formerly in the Front National and now in a group cooperating with Brexit campaigner and EU skeptic Nigel Farage. There were also a couple of Italian deputies from the Veneto Region said to be members of the Northern League. Though I did not meet with him on the mission, I was aware of the presence in Moscow of one observer coming from the “far Left” party Die Linke.  Centrist parties seemed to be absent.  Within the contingent sent to Crimea there were also several who fit none of the descriptions above. I have in mind the representative of the President of Pakistan and the representative of the President of Malaysia.

The politic al convictions of those monitors with whom I spent some time could be characterized as ranging from mildly to extremely pro-Russian. Those who were in the latter category constituted perhaps 10% of the total.  From our table talk over lunch, I understood that the several very pro-Russian monitors had a latent conflict of interest :  they each made some of their professional income in Russia, or, as was the case with one of the Italians, they are developing businesses in Crimea with local partners. From among this sub-group, two were particularly fluent in Russian and presented their propagandistic observations to the local journalists with whom we met in the polling stations and at the press conference. This is how one Crimean newspaper received the choice quotation which it duly published:  that “today Crimea is the most democratic place in the world.” An over-the-top assessment that is frankly embarrassing to read.

I would call this case a distortion of the observer mission that was preconditioned by the general background of political, informational and economic warfare being waged between the West and Russia for the past several years.  To my knowledge, the Russian Duma had extended invitations to all Members of the European Parliament, but the major centrist parties there opposed sending any representatives to observe elections which they knew in advance would be a sham because of their own ideological anti-Putin prejudices.  Thus, who actually came and took part in the monitoring was the result of a self-sorting process.  The MEPs and parliamentarians from national legislatures who came did so in the face of moral pressure from the majority of their peers, and they received strict prohibitions in particular against going to Crimea.  I saw how one of the French MEPs initially in our Crimea contingent backed out at the very last minute and remained in Moscow to avoid scandals back home.

 

Propaganda and information warfare on all sides

The fierce political winds in the West against Putin, against Russia directed mainstream US and European media reports on the Russian election campaign for weeks in advance of the vote. The media denounced the process as fake because of the near certainty of the outcome, the re-election of Vladimir Putin. This mind-set even exerted a discernable influence on the most authoritative foreign observation body to come to the elections, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The OSCE contingent was the single largest group of international election observers, receiving 580 accreditations. Within that overall number there was a core group of 60 who were deployed in Russia six weeks before the elections. They met with local election boards, candidates’ representatives and others to build an information base on the elections. Then there were 420 additional short-term observers sent by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. And about 100 accreditations for the election-day mission were issued to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, who were nearly all European MPs in their respective countries.

I wish to stress that the OSCE did not send any election observers to the Crimea.  In a statement issued by the United States Mission to the OSCE on 22 March, the reasons that evidently also guided the OSCE in its entirety are set out with the crystal clarity of a Cold War blast denouncing Russia’s “invasion and occupation of Crimea,” its staging of “illegitimate elections…[with] frequent and severe abuses, specifically targeting the Crimean Tatar community and others opposed to Russia’s occupation.” Russia is charged with coercing Ukrainian citizens in Crimea to vote in illegitimate elections. The 18 March elections are, per the US Mission, “another attempt by Russia to give its purported annexation of Crimea a semblance of legitimacy.”

Without further ado, I condemn this official US statement as an ignorant, willfully blind rejection of the realities on the ground in Crimea that I and other members of our monitoring team unreservedly established.

As for the OSCE monitoring mission to the rest of the Russian Federation, the various constituent groups mentioned above issued two pages of Press Releases on their findings at a press conference held in downtown Moscow the day after the elections. Given the institution’s credibility, that report has received a good deal of attention in global media.

The general conclusions were summarized at the top of the Releases:

“Russian presidential election well administered, but characterized by restrictions on fundamental freedoms, lack of genuine competition, international observers say.”

On the one hand, the OSCE report gave the Russians, and in particular the Central Election Commission, high marks for the professional administration of the elections as witnessed by their teams in the field on election-day.  In particular, the press handout mentions as welcome the accuracy of voter lists and the legal changes that enabled voting in polling stations away from the permanent place of residence, a facility which was used by 5.6 million Russians. Tabulation was also assessed positively.

These bland-sounding compliments have to be put in an historical context to be fully savored.

The background is the 2011 Duma elections which were shown by Russian activists at the time to have been fraudulent due to ballot box stuffing, “carousel voting,” i.e. multiple voting and the shepherding of company employees and civil servants to the polling stations by their superiors.  Incidents were reported of voter turnout in some districts exceeding 100% of registered voters. These outrages sparked mass street demonstrations that were fanned by encouragement from Western governments and media at the time.  The Kremlin took note and instituted several procedural reforms and widespread implementation of CCTV cameras already the next year for the presidential election, which passed without incident and prepared the way for the extensive measures supporting transparency and fair voting that we saw on 18 March 2018. The government also took measures to protect itself and society from the would-be actors of regime change though mass demonstrations:  the rules on foreign-sponsored pro-democracy NGOs were tightened, as were rules on public assembly.

On the other hand, the OSCE Press Releases go far beyond the voting mechanisms , far beyond the specifics of this electoral campaign to challenge the entire Russian political culture.

“Elections are a critical part of democracy, but democracy is not only about elections. ….[I]mproving the real state of democracy in Russia requires full respect for people’s rights between elections as well,” Marietta Tidei, head of the delegation from the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly” is quoted as saying on page one of the handout.

The OSCE spokespersons direct attention in particular to limitations on rights of assembly, on free speech in Russia and to  media control by the state, with unequal allocation of air time going to the president that short-changed his challengers

Perhaps the most condemnatory remarks in the OSCE Press Release relate to registration of candidates for the presidential race.

“After intense efforts to promote turnout, citizens voted in significant numbers, yet restrictions on the fundamental freedoms, as well as on candidate registration, have limited the space for political engagement and resulted in a lack of genuine competition…”

This was a thinly veiled reference to the rejection of the candidacy application of the famous blogger and corruption-fighter Alexei Navalny, who from the beginning to end was held up in Western media as the only real opponent to Vladimir Putin. This characterization of who was real opposition and who was a “Kremlin project” was itself a highly politicized issue that outside observers would have done better to side-step entirely.

There are several serious problems with the overarching negative analysis by the OSCE, which slotted very nicely into the predisposition of the Western media to trash the Russian elections. Whether by intent or by ignorance, the OSCE authors of the critique of the electoral campaign circumstances acted as the mouthpieces of the opposition candidates, most particularly the Liberal party candidates among whom Ksenia Sobchak was the most visible and vocal. They did not give any thought to counterarguments, which I will present here. 

First, there is the issue of applying  double standards and expecting the ideal of fair competition for all candidates to the nation’s highest office, when that standard is very rarely if ever met in the West itself. I would name little, neutral Switzerland as one country with credible  civic freedoms, campaign and voting procedures.. I was about to name here Finland, another small and relatively homogeneous country which always gets high marks on democratic institutions, but then I recalled that a couple of years ago there was a great scandal over abuse of the newly introduced remote voting facility via the internet. That noisy scandal ended in one parliamentary deputy, a party leader and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, being stripped of her mandate for violations.  So there can be problems even in Eden.

 

Then, at the risk of being accused of “what-aboutism,” I am obliged to mention an egregious and relatively recent case of  suppression of mass opposition movements in the United States. I have in mind the case of Occupy Wall Street, which broke out in the midst of the Crash of 2008 and was on the point of achieving political traction when it was brutally crushed by police and court actions that blatantly violated constitutional protection of freedom of assembly and speech. No one has ever paid a price for those  abridgements of civil liberties which are still enshrined in law and regulations at the local level.

Let me now address the question of Vladimir Putin’s dominance in air time coming from his status and activities as president, not as candidate or debater, which he did not use at all.  The OSCE observers  ignore that Putin has this dominance 365 days on 365 because he is one of the most widely traveled, most consequential heads of state in the world against whom most any human being in opposition would have a very difficult time.  This is precisely why he had the support of 80% of the population in polls held repeatedly in the year leading to the elections.

His popularity after 18 years in power is explained not only by being hyper active but by being hyper-productive for the vast majority of the population. In that time in office national GDP multiplied several times and take home pay of the broad population rose 10 times. Under Putin the poverty rate was cut in half. And in the past 4 years his government restored the nation’s self-confidence over its place as a global leader thanks to the bloodless takeover of the Crimea in March 2014 through perfectly executed psychological warfare in which 20,000 Russian troops from the Sevastopol naval base overcame an equal number of Ukrainian forces on the peninsula with hardly a shot fired and no fatalities. Then came the successful air war against the Islamic State in Syria from 2015 to 2017that also had negligible cost in Russian military personnel. And finally in the midst of the election, on 1 March President Putin unveiled Russia’s new, state of the art strategic weapons systems which he claimed restored the country’s nuclear parity with the United States. All of these achievements would leave any opposition candidates, however clever, tongue-tied.

 

Finally, no criticism of restrictions on freedom of assembly or speech can be made in the abstract. They were introduced by the Kremlin in the context of the political war on the country being conducted by the West with especial intensity since the 2014 reunification with/annexation of Crimea.  It is indecent to fault the Russians for imperfect democratic institutions when the result of outside pressure has always been to rally the broad public around its leader and to make life very difficult for any opposition.

 

For anyone with a few gray hairs and recollection of Soviet days going back to the 1960s, the present situation in Russia and the criticism of authoritarianism brings to mind the issues that surrounded the introduction of the détente policy:  hard pressure on the Soviet Union under Leonid Brezhnev was known to result in crackdowns on dissent and the rise in the numbers of political prisoners. 

Today’s Russia is a far more humane society than the old Soviet Union, but it is a disservice to opponents of United Russia and Vladimir Putin to impose personal and sectoral sanctions as the US-led West has done since 2012, when it introduced the Magnitsky List or accelerated from 2014 to present under the pretext of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. What is surprising is that the country has virtually no political prisoners (Ksenia Sobchak could list only 16 dubious cases when she and other candidates met with Putin in the Kremlin on 19 March). During the campaign the candidates were able to express the most outrageous attacks  on the government and its policies using false accusations, on live national television without any hint of retribution.

Why was the Russian political landscape devoid of serious challengers?  The achievements of the incumbent are only part of the story. Another big factor has been the “vertical of control” that Vladimir Putin implemented at the start of his rule 18 years ago to reestablish state power in the face of disintegration and chaos, in the face of local satrapies run by thieves bearing the title of oligarchs.  Without broad reinstatement of self-rule at the regional level through direct election of mayors and governors, there is scant possibility of experienced candidates enjoying popular backing rising to challenge a president. There will be more of the same top-down “parties” and rootless power seekers who ran against Putin in 2018.  This question of preparing for democratic succession is the single biggest challenge facing Vladimir Putin in his fourth and last mandate.

My conclusion is that in the discussion about the Russian elections of 18 March  everybody is using everybody else to score propaganda points.  Nonetheless, even in this reality the monitoring missions served the worthy purpose of keeping the local Russian officials on their toes and encouraging transparency, in the Crimea and surely everywhere else.  That is a very good thing in itself.

 And I end this report with one more encouraging sign that I heard at our press conference in Simferopol that capped our election monitoring mission. We on the dais were interrupted for a short announcement by the head of the Simferopol government who gave tabulation of voter turnout as of 18.00 o’clock. He ended his recitation with this statement to the audience:   “these elcctions are by and for us, Russians, not for anyone else. “     Now that  is a tremendous leap forward in Russian self-awareness and national pride. They have stopped looking abroad for validation. They have grown up…

 

 

For a brief overview of my findings as election observer in Crimea, see my 19 March interview with RT on Red Square: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PpnkYAW1TiM&t=14s

For the video recording of our  press conference at 20.00 on 18 March 2018 in a city administration building of Simferopol which was broadcast live on Crimean television: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1yvma_CViA

 

© Gilbert Doctorow, 2018

      * * * *

Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book, Does the United States Have a Future? was published on 12 October 2017. Both paperback and e-book versions are available for purchase on http://www.amazon.com and all affiliated Amazon websites worldwide. See the recent professional review  http://theduran.com/does-the-united-states-have-a-future-a-new-book-by-gilbert-doctorow-review/    For a video of the book presentation made at the National Press Club, Washington, D.C. on 7 December 2017 see  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciW4yod8upg

U.S. Raises the White Flag…

U.S. Raises the White Flag, Calls for Talks with Russia over the New Arms Race

 

Wikipedia: the white flag is an internationally recognized protective sign of truce or ceasefire, and request for negotiation

 

by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.

 

One can finally say with certainty that Vladimir Putin’s presentation of Russia’s new weapons systems during his Address to the Federal Assembly on 1 March has finally elicited the desired response from its target audience. In Washington, D.C.  In that presentation, Putin spoke about strategic weapons systems employing cutting-edge technology that, he claimed, is more than a decade ahead of US and other competition.

He scored a direct hit in the Pentagon, where our senior generals were left dumbfounded. But, as is normally the case, when these gentlemen need time to collect their wits, we heard first only denial: that the Russians were bluffing, that they really have nothing ready, that these are only projects, and that the US already has all of the same, but is holding it back in reserve.

Of course, not everyone in US political elites bought into this stop-gap response.

On 8 March, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D- California), Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and two lesser known Senators from Massachusetts and Oregon wrote an open letter to then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging him to send a delegation to open arms control talks with the Russians “as soon as possible.”   This was an improbable demarche that even their supporters in the Progressive camp, let alone mainstream Democrats found hard to believe. The two named Senators have been bitter foes of Russia and were actively promoting the Trump Collusion with Russia fairy tale in recent months. They were among those who had hissed at the pictures of Jeff Sessions, not yet Attorney General, shaking hands and smiling with Russian Ambassador Kislyak.  Now they were calling for revival of arms control talks with… the Russians.

This was a story that died before publication everywhere except in Russia, where it had been a featured news item within hours of the Letter’s release.  The American and world public knew nothing about it, although the letter was there for the reading on the home pages of the Senate websites of the respective co-authors. The American and world public know nothing about that letter today, nearly two weeks after its release, apart from readers of Consortium who were properly briefed at the time (https://consortiumnews.com/2018/03/03/putin-claims-strategic-parity-respect/  )

In the meantime, the US propaganda machine moved into high gear, producing diversionary issues to draw the attention of the US public away from what had been the subject of Putin’s speech of March 1.  And so we have been getting saturation news coverage of the Skripal nerve gas attack, of the alleged cyber attack on the US energy grid and water systems. Both are pure “Russians did it” stories.  And we read about the repositioning of US naval forces in the Mediterranean to within cruise-missile range of Damascus for a possible punitive blow in response to a chemical attack on civilians by Assad’s regime that still has not happened, all with intent to humiliate Assad’s backers, the Russians.

Now, at last, after the denial and the diversion, the truth begins to emerge. The President of the United States himself is the bearer of a message that, given American hubris, amounts to the raising of a white flag. 

We find the following on page one of The New York Times describing Trump’s remarks about his phone call to congratulate Vladimir Putin on his electoral victory:

 

“We had a very good call,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “We will probably be meeting in the not-too distant future to discuss the arms race, which is getting out of control.”

 

The Financial Times has this to say on page one:

 

Donald Trump said he wanted to meet Russian president Vladimir Putin to discuss an arms race that was ‘getting out of control’ and other issues over which the countries remain at loggersheads.

‘Being in an arms race is not a great thing,’ the US president said on Tuesday, adding that he would probably meet his Russian counterpart in the ‘not too distant future’.

 

The re-instatement of Russian strategic parity with the United States appears to be making itself felt, even if one has to be an expert in reading between the lines to parse from Trump’s statement the depth of concern about new Russian military potential.

 

It is a safe assumption that now arms talks with the Russians will begin soon. But the American public should be forewarned that the scope of  the discussions will surely be much greater than that of the so-called reset under Barack Obama, which played to an American, not a Russian wish list of cutting warheads. This broader agenda will have to take in Russian concerns about the US global anti-missile system. Should there be agreement, the change in approach to arms control will come not from US charity, but out of US fear.

 

Did Donald Trump raise the white flag and call for negotiations on a whim?  Did he consult with his military advisers?

 

It is scarcely credible that this President came to the conclusion about the need to halt the arms race on his own or that he dared raise such an inflammatory subject without having the firm backing of Pentagon specialists who evaluated rationally and expertly where we now stand in in strategic security with the Russians. No one will say this, but it is inescapable. 

 

To put the present situation in an historical context: in the past year or two, the United States and Russia have reached a level of confrontation that approaches that of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  That crisis was resolved by mutual back-downs on positioning of nuclear capable missiles near the borders of the other side.  The mutuality of the solution was not announced to the American public until decades later, when the withdrawal of US missiles from Turkey was made public.  This time, the mutuality of major concessions will necessarily be part of the presentation of any solution reached to the global community.  Vladimir Putin will not go the way of Nikita Khrushchev, who paid for his “concession” to the Americans by a palace coup at home.

 

© Gilbert Doctorow, 2018

      * * * *

Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book, Does the United States Have a Future? was published on 12 October 2017. Both paperback and e-book versions are available for purchase on http://www.amazon.com and all affiliated Amazon websites worldwide. See the recent professional review  http://theduran.com/does-the-united-states-have-a-future-a-new-book-by-gilbert-doctorow-review/    For a video of the book presentation made at the National Press Club, Washington, D.C. on 7 December 2017 see  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciW4yod8upg

 

Second Thoughts: How the Russian Presidential Election Race Looks in its Final Days

 

 

Second Thoughts: How the Russian Presidential Election Race Looks in its Final Days

By Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.

The candidates for the presidency in Russia’s election this coming Sunday, 18 March are now in the home stretch.  Not much has changed in the past several weeks as regards the respective standing of each in the polls of voter sympathies.  Vladimir Putin holds the lead, way out in front, with nearly 70% of voters saying they will cast their ballot for him.  The candidate of the Communist Party, Pavel Grudinin, has held on to second place, at just over 7% despite suffering some severe setbacks over revelations of his bank accounts held abroad. And third place, with just over 5% goes to the nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the LDPR.  Liberal candidate, Ksenia Sobchak, who positioned herself to catch the protest vote “against all,” has about 1.5%. The remaining four candidates – Sergei Baburin, Maxim Suraikin, Boris Titov and Grigory Yavlinsky – had and have fractions of one percent of the electorate committed to them.

Candidate Putin appears on track to achieve the 70:70 target that his campaign team set for him, meaning a turnout on election day of 70% of the electorate, of which 70% vote for Putin. Such results would support a claim to popular validation of his domestic and foreign programs for the coming six years. It would give him a free hand for substantial reworking of the cabinet, which, rumor says, may come in the days immediately ahead.

However, the campaign is about process as much as it is about results, and at that level there is a great deal  which merits our consideration because of what this electoral campaign says about the condition of Russian democracy today and where the country is headed.

The campaign has had several dimensions, some of which require that you be physically present to experience them, others of which can be followed from remote, as I have done.  For total immersion, one would have to follow the various candidates around the country as they have visited factories, hospitals, farms and all manner of locations to speak and meet with voters. This has been done daily by the Russian news channels, and so some feel for it can nonetheless be acquired by remote, even if what happened off camera – the way candidates stage direct their events and their own film crews – is unknowable.  One would have to pick up the print media at newsstands and tune in to the major federal radio stations which have turned over time to the candidates under rules established by the Central Election Commission. All of this I and others watching from abroad have missed.

What has been available to us outside the country is all of the televised debates, since they were posted on youtube.com often within minutes of their broadcast on air. That and campaign materials posted on Russian social media, which I will discuss below. All of this constitutes invaluable material to see the very impressive extent of freedom of speech and equal access to the national audience allowed in Putin’s Russia to his challengers, however slight their share of voter support may be. That in itself is quite a revelation.

Nonetheless, the purpose of the analysis which follows is to reach a fair-minded understanding of the processes under way, not to hand bouquets to the incumbent or to anyone else. Following that guiding principle, I will call out not only the high degree of democratic freedom in evidence but also the thumb on the scales in favor of the ruling party.

* * * *

                                                The Debates: Some Observations

When I wrote my First Impressions of the campaign on 23 February, just after the first televised debate, the full strategy of holding debates and their format were not known to any of us, including the candidates themselves, as I deduce from the bitter complaints they made over the early hour of the broadcast, over its being taped rather than going out live, over there being no face to face dueling, just a couple of minutes time to respond to questions pitched by the presenter to each of them separately.  On that first day, the candidates were outraged that the subject for the debate was foreign relations, when as it turned out, none but Zhirinovsky has much experience or knowledge or interest in foreign policy – their programs being constructed strictly around domestic policy and the economy in particular.

To be sure, it is peculiar that the candidates were kept in the dark about the procedures and format, for all of which the Central Election Commission is to blame. As we subsequently saw, these debates had formats that varied in some important ways from channel to channel, including the issue of live versus taped broadcast.

Over the course of the nearly three weeks of debates, changes came about in format that were initiated by the candidates themselves, beginning with Ksenia Sobchak, who was quickest off the mark and most determined not to be told how to behave by the very people she urges the electorate to vote against as a played out generation.  Specifically, Sobchak was the first to do what any experienced public figure regularly does on interview programs or talk shows: ignore the question and use the microphone given to her to speak directly to voters about what she considered important.  She was not censored, the tapes were not cut and thereafter such a possibility was stated by presenters on some of the debates so that other candidates could avail themselves of the same option. Few did.

Sobchak definitely added color and at times scandal to the entire debating process. In this respect, she was fully the match of nationalist party candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky who for decades has had exactly that niche position to himself in electoral politics and in talk shows.  The other candidates were not dull, but were far more polite, and so less newsworthy. 

Part of Zhirinovsky’s bag of tricks as television personality has always been his dress code. At times he has come to interviews and talk shows looking formal in a business suit, but very often he has worn firetruck red sports jackets or other attention-getting outfits.  Here again, Ksenia Sobchak has done the same in the debates, changing her coiffure, changing her clothes to project different policy positions in her electoral platform. On one day she wore a sweat shirt with big anti-war legend to support what she had to say on how Putin is the war party, whereas she stands for good neighborly relations with all and redirection of Ministry of Defense spending to domestic infrastructure needs.

Along the way, Sobchak has taken some very unpopular stands, particularly with respect to Crimea and what she calls the illegitimate Russian occupation there. This has cost her dearly. Polls show that with a bit more than 1% ready to vote for her, 80% of the electorate say they would never vote for her, making her the most unpopular of all the candidates in the race.  However, one can have no doubt that Sobchak and her advisers hold the view that it is better to be hated than to be unknown.  At 36, she has plenty of time ahead to choose policies that will be more in line with the broad population and at that point everyone on the stage with her will have retired.  My clear conclusion is that this race has shown Sobchak as the person to watch in the Duma elections of 2021 and in the next presidential race of 2024.

* * * *   

Looking back at the whole series of debates, it is clear now in retrospect that the organizers intended to give all candidates the opportunity to set out broad platforms touching upon every major sector of domestic and foreign policy. On separate days the following issues were featured on each of the channels

-youth, education and development of human potential

-development of the regions

-development of industry and especially the military industrial complex

-demography, motherhood and childhood

-health, the social sphere and provisions for the handicapped

-the Russian national idea

It is essential to remember that equal time was granted to all, that all were invited to participate in person or by proxy regardless of their actual support levels in the population. In the United States such equal access may occur during the primaries in each party, but is choked off once party nominations for the two main parties, Democratic and Republican are closed, with only their respective nominees invited to debate on national television. Translating the Russian pattern to the USA, it is as if Jill Stein of the Green Party had been put on stage alongside Clinton and Trump, not to mention candidates of other still more exotic parties with miniscule registered voters.

The Russian debates were held not only on the two leading news channels, Rossiya-1 and Pervy Kanal, but also on the less watched but still important federal channels Public Broadcasting (ORT) and Television Center (TVTs), both of which posted some debates on youtube.com.  There were televised debates as well at the regional level to which some candidates sent proxies. One on the Ryazan station of Rossiya-1 for example dated 14 March was posted to youtube.com   By their presence or absence, the candidates themselves made it fairly clear that they valued above all Rossiya-1 and Pervy Kanal, and these are the channels that I monitored.

From among these many posted videos, I have decided to highlight here the debates from yesterday, 13 March, in what was the next to the last day of such televised debates. I think it is preferable to drill down on one day than to skim the surface on several weeks of shows. Moreover, yesterday’s debates on the two leading channels are useful to highlight some very specific Russian features of the country’s political class across the board.

In Pervy Kanal, the subject of the day was relations between the federal capital, Moscow, and the regions. The candidates were unanimous in decrying the present situation, which has not successfully addressed and perhaps has even aggravated over the past couple of decades the very large discrepancies between the “donor regions” of Moscow and a handful of other regions enjoying budgetary surpluses, the best salaries in the country and extensive public services and amenities, versus the “deficit regions” which are more than 80% of the federal regions, all in chronic need of funding from the central government, struggling with heavy debts to credit institutions and where the salary levels and public services are many times below those of the donor regions.

For this, the Communist Left candidates found cause in the privatization of state assets that led to plundering of resources and removal of wealth from where it is generated to Moscow and beyond to offshore accounts. The Liberal Right candidates found fault with excessive concentration of budgetary decision making and political power in Moscow, resulting in provincial governors waiting in the corridors of the Ministry of Finance to get handouts to be spent as Moscow directed, not in accordance with local priorities. 

Of course, both Liberals Sobchak and Yavlinsky hammered home the need for local mayors and governors to be elected by those whom they govern, not appointed by the Kremlin from among apparatchiki. The issue is valid and highly relevant to whether/how Russia can become dynamic as an economy and as a polity.

And it also was of considerable value to the voter to hear from Boris Titov that fellow liberal Ksenia Sobchak was caught in a contradiction over her support for greater financial independence of the regions, given that her announced preference for Finance Minister should she win the election is Alexei Kudrin, who formerly served under Putin in this capacity, was always and remains in favor of centralization while disparaging local control of finance as likely only to feed corruption and misuse of power.

In passing, this discussion on Pervy Kanal brought out a number of other very important failings of the Putin years as they affect the broad population.  One in particular is worth mentioning:  the limited nature of “gasification” of the countryside, which is not more than 60% of the population. It was noted that Gazprom has earned 600 billion euros in the past decade largely from exports but has invested only 10 billion euros in bringing gas to the households of Russia itself.  The point is painful to the whole rural population of the country which has to cope with the difficult logistics of bottled gas for cooking and wooden logs for heating.

The Pervy Kanal debate of 13 March was a worthy exercise in democracy. The Russian electorate is being exposed to cogent and well-presented critiques of the entire political and economic landscape.

The Rossiya-1 debate of 13 March was worthy in a different way:  highlighting the very special characteristics of Russia’s political class whatever their policy orientation. This typology is not unique, but special and on the Continent, it is closest, perhaps, to France.  By this I mean the high intellectual achievements of all the candidates. Two of the candidates, Sergei Baburin and Vladimir Zhirinovsky hold Ph.D. degrees. All seven are well educated in terms of general culture, well-read and appreciative of wit and the ability to draw lessons from literature in fellow candidates whose political positions they otherwise may ridicule.

The topic for the Rossiya-1 debate, “culture, art and preservation of historical memory” was particularly amenable to honest discussion among the candidates. The show which resulted in many ways resembled more a drawing room scene from a Tolstoy or Dostoevsky novel than a political debate in the closing phase of a presidential election race. The candidates unanimously were scathing in their criticism of the current management of culture by Minister Medinsky even if their perspectives on the reasons for the unacceptable state of things are diametrically opposed, ranging from the intrusive and corrupting influence of power and wealth in the appraisal of the Communist Left as opposed to the Liberal Right’s underlining mediocracy resulting from the stultifying influence of a bureaucracy directing and financing culture without the participation of sponsors from the broad base of the business community.

The salon nature of the discussion in which candidates even hastened to support the critiques of the status quo leveled by others was heavily encouraged by the demeanor of the “moderator,” Vladimir Solovyov who, for this debate handled himself not according to the script of the CEC, that is, as a detached timekeeper and referee to keep the debaters within order, but instead as he usually does on his own talk shows, intervening and guiding the discussion while expressing his personal opinions.

It was fascinating to observe the common cultural heritage of all candidates regardless not only of political views but of personal wealth and life experience. In this regard, one or another of the Communist-minded candidates, otherwise scathing of the bourgeoisie and oligarchy, were treated with respect similarly to that shown to the consumptive Socialist youth Hippolyte Terentiev by the very proper and aristocratic General Yepanchin and his wife and daughters in The Idiot who took him in during his final weeks.  And surely one of the most exceptional moments in this electoral campaign was the lengthy citation by Pavel Grudinin’s proxy Maxim Shevchenko of the conversation between Christ and the Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov, all to make a point about power and art in the Russian mind.

In my “first impressions” and in the transcript of the first televised debate on the Pervy Kanal state network that I issued a couple of days later, I suggested that the Russian campaign is all high level, intellectual combat in an agora of ideas, which to American ears in particular would be a day and night contrast with the tawdry spectacle of mudslinging and ad hominem argumentation that constituted the 2016 American presidential race.

However, my first impressions did not take in what was excised from the first debate when it was released to youtube.com: namely a vicious exchange between two candidates, Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Ksenia Sobchak, that may just have sunk lower than even the Clinton-Trump debates.  Russia, like the Soviet Union before it, often justifies the arch remark that what is fully prohibited is also permitted. In the full, uncut video, a pirated version of which of course found its way onto the internet within hours, we hear Zhirinovsky describe Sobchak, who was at a lectern just next to his, as a “streetwalker,” if I may be allowed a euphemism. In response to which, she doused him with the water in her drinking glass.

A less enjoyable and more irritating problem with the first televised debates which fit precisely the habits of Russian political talk shows, such as the moderators of these debates otherwise host, was shouting down speakers and boisterous heckling. Here again, the most egregious offenders were precisely Zhirinovsky and Sobchak.  Be that as it may, a technical solution was eventually implemented at least on the Pervy Kanal so that by the last debates only one selected candidate had a live microphone at a time.

                                                                       Absence of Putin

One distinguishing feature of the debates was the absence of the President, who chose neither to participate in person, nor to send a proxy.

As it turned out, the absence of Putin from these debates was entirely justified by the utterly unruly behavior and scandals at the beginning of the series.  Moreover, had the President or his representative been present he would have been the subject of attack from all 7 challengers in unison, a very unfair situation for him and not very enlightening for the electorate.

 At the same time, it is very clear that those managing the incumbent’s campaign were exploiting every legal means to dominate, indeed to overwhelm all his opponents taken together with high quality viewer and listener time singing his praises and arguing for more of the same in the coming six years. These legal means included the delivery of his annual Address to the Federal Assembly, the Russian equivalent to the State of the Union address of the American President, in the midst of the electoral campaign, on 1 March. This gave Vladimir Putin two hours on all the airwaves to set out what is in effect a program or manifesto for his next mandate.

Another device used to put the President before the electorate in a privileged manner was the launch in the past week of two new, sophisticated and full-length documentary films about Vladimir Putin. One, entitled “World Order 2018” features the popular talk show host Vladimir Solovyov as Putin’s interlocutor or interviewer. As we have seen, Solovyov was also the moderator of the debates on the channel Rossiya-1. The film itself is professional if not brilliant.  It contains a number of good sound bites from Putin, such as his recollections of his first visit to Germany in 1992 as an assistant to St Petersburg mayor Anatoly Sobchak. As he explains here, their meeting with Chancellor Helmut Kohl provided Putin with material that he later used to advantage when he returned to Germany in 2002 as Russian President and delivered a speech to the Bundestag. There are also interesting remarks by Putin about the days immediately following the coup d’etat in Kiev on 22 February 2014 and the behavior of the Americans. And I would point to Putin’s comments about relations with Turkey and about the special Turkish interest in the Crimean Tatars. 

The second documentary, simply entitled “Putin” was produced by the highly professional film maker Andrei Kondrashov, who is in the President’s election campaign team.  Kondrashov is no newcomer to Putin promotion.  In March 2015, on the first anniversary of the reunification of Crimea with the Russian Federation, he launched the highly entertaining “Crimea, A Way Home,” which featured dramatic footage of the way Putin and his security team rescued deposed Ukrainian president Yanukovich from almost certain capture and execution by the radical nationalists. With the help of excellent visuals, Kondrashov’s new film gives us the family history of the Putins in the countryside of the Tver region, interviews with those who knew Vladimir Putin in his youth and at turning points in his career, all told with great human warmth.

To avoid violation of the federal regulations on a candidate’s using the federal television channels for unfair free publicity, these documentaries were released onto the Russian social networks Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki, where they apparently have found a large audience. In its first week, “World Order” is said to have found 15 million viewers.  Meanwhile, sound bites from these documentaries were picked up by the major news programs of the federal channels as “news” pure and simple.  Legal, to be sure, but aggressive.

To this we can add Vladimir Putin’s interview with Megyn Kelley of CNN in his capacity as President, not candidate, filmed in part immediately following his delivery of his Address to the Federal Assembly on 1 March and in conclusion the next day on his visit to Kaliningrad. From start to finish, this filmed interview shows Putin as projecting strength. We see this in his blunt rejection of U.S. allegations of Russian electoral interference in 2016 coming out of the Mueller indictments. We see it still more clearly in his lengthy explanation of the military hardware part of his Address on the first, showing off Russia’s new cutting edge technology nuclear weapons systems and claiming full restoration of strategic parity with the United States. Who could ignore his wry smile over how the vast sums which the United States had spent developing global ABM systems for the sake of a first strike capability were now demonstrably money thrown out the window.

More generally, there is an issue over the way that leading news programs on the federal channels have become pro-Putin voice boxes.  Nowhere is this more true than in Dmitri Kiselyov’s News of the Week shows on Sunday evenings.

In my First Impressions, I remarked on Kiselyov’s 15 minute segment on  17 February devoted to Communist candidate Pavel Grudinin. That was an expanded version of what was being reported in the news bulletins on Rossiya- and Pervy Kanal daily. The objective was to discredit the underlying claims of Grudinin’s candidacy, namely that his profitable Lenin Sovkhoz farm complex in the Moscow suburbs, paying wages double the nationalaverage and providing cheap housing, free day care, free medical care for his employees is the model he intends to  generalize all over the country to bring socialist welfare to every home. 

Kiselyov directed attention to the complaints filed against Grudinin by elderly pensioners who say they were defrauded by Grudinin in the 1990s when he essentially privatized the state farm and deprived some of its members of their stake in the land assets.  Kiselyov further argued that the prosperity of Grudinin’s farm comes not from the strawberries it cultivates in great quantities for the Moscow market but from land transactions including rentals and sales from the highly desirable territory it owns in the sought after metropolitan area.  A third line of attack focused on the villa and other residence owned in Latvia by Grudinin’s son, whose wife had acquired Latvian citizenship. These were described as “emergency airport” facilities for the candidate in case he ever felt the need to leave Russia in a hurry.  Kiselyov closed his commentary with a recommendation to Communist Party chairman Zyuganov that he withdraw support from the non-Party Grudinin before he does irreparable damage to his party and thereby also harms Russia’s young democracy.  The whiff of sarcasm there and condescension was pungent.

This singling out of the Communist Party candidate for attack by state television news acting as investigator was patently unfair. That kind of sleuthing and exposure should have been done by the other candidates, not by the State. Nonetheless, as it turned out Kiselyov’s and Russian state television’s focus on Grudinin’s moral weaknesses was not unjustified.  He was finally “nailed” in an unrelated matter impugning his integrity and the whole claim of the Left to be morally superior to the corrupt and oligarch-infested regime of Vladimir Putin and the United Russia Party.  It was discovered that contrary to Grudinin’s declarations to Zyuganov and to the federal electoral commission when applying for registration of his candidacy, Grudinin has some 13 bank accounts in Switzerland holding assets close to a million euros, as well as some 5 kilograms of physical gold worth a couple of hundred thousand euros.  This was confirmed in writing to the Central Election Commission (CEC) by UBS Bank in Switzerland.  The CEC decided not to disqualify Grudinin, as was their option but could be highly provocative and destabilizing. They merely will post these assets on the highly visible list of assets owned by each of the candidates at every voting station. But the damage was done to Grudinin’s reputation among the Party faithful.  Grudinin stopped entirely appearing on the debates and sent only proxies.  The scandal also damaged the reputation of Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov for failure to do due diligence. One almost certain consequence of these elections will be Zyuganov’s retirement from office and the coming to power in the Communist Party of young blood.

A word of explanation about the lists of candidate assets:  this has become a tradition in Russian federal elections within the concept of full transparency.  At each polling station voters can read about the holdings of the candidates and their immediate family as regards assets in banks, apartments and other real estate, and cars among other property categories.  In this regard, two liberal candidates, Ksenia Sobchak and Boris Titov, will stand out for their personal wealth valued at more than one million euros.  However, both are supporters of the free market with its rewards, whereas the Communists make a virtue of wealth redistribution and equality.

* * * *

It is unlikely there will be any great surprises in the election’s outcome on 18 March, but it would be a mistake to conclude that the whole exercise was a farce.  Russia’s young democracy is an ongoing work. The debates and other procedures of the electoral campaign are evolving, even if the content – namely credible and experienced candidates for the nation’s highest office – remains unsatisfactory.  Partly this results from the concentration of political power in Moscow and the still rudimentary self-government across the country that would normally develop future leaders.  This will have to be addressed in Putin’s final term in office if there is to be a handover of power in 2024 to a worthy successor.

The balloting itself will be another test of the consolidating mechanisms of democracy.  The Kremlin says it has done everything possible to ensure fair and transparent elections.  Some cutting technology has been put in place to make every polling station accessible online, so that electoral monitoring by remote is a reality. Moreover, on a pilot basis the Russians have deployed what they say is block-chain technology to make the voting hack-proof.

As an international election observer serving with an NGO reporting to the Council of Europe, I expect to see firsthand the results of these efforts to reassure Russians and the world at large that democracy is on the move in Russia.  I will issue a report on what I see in the days immediately following the election

© Gilbert Doctorow, 2018

      * * * *

Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book, Does the United States Have a Future? was published on 12 October 2017. Both paperback and e-book versions are available for purchase on http://www.amazon.com and all affiliated Amazon websites worldwide. See the recent professional review  http://theduran.com/does-the-united-states-have-a-future-a-new-book-by-gilbert-doctorow-review/    For a video of the book presentation made at the National Press Club, Washington, D.C. on 7 December 2017 see  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciW4yod8upg

 

 

 

Gang of Four: Senators Call for Tillerson to enter into Arms Control Talks with the Kremlin

The co-authored article below was posted on the Consortium News portal on 10 March 2018 (https://consortiumnews.com/2018/03/10/gang-of-four-senators-call-for-tillerson-to-enter-into-arms-control-talks-with-the-kremlin/ )

Quite remarkably, what we wrote as a Commentary has become a news article because in this second day following the publication of the Letter to Secretary of State Tillerson by four U.S. Senators on the official Senate website of one, together with a Press Release, there has still been no report of this stunning development in mainstream U.S. print media.  It would appear that even Senators become non-persons when they cross the line of political correctness and advocate a rational approach to the number one security issue of our day.

To the argumentation of the Commentary below, I will add here two points:

First, the fact that California Senator Dianne Feinstein is one of the signatories speaks volumes about the way the Russians have outmaneuvered the United States in secrecy that was impenetrable by the 17 U.S. intel agencies. Indeed, the Russians seem to have stealthily brought to the production stage several new strategic weapons systems that may render useless the ABM systems on land and at sea with which the United States is encircling the Russian Federation for the sake of a potential first nuclear strike, The U.S. program, now described mockingly by Russian analysts as a new “Maginot Line” was procured at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars to the U.S. taxpayer.  Feinstein is one of the longest serving members of the Senate Intelligence Committee where, from 2009 to 2015, she was the chair, a position she ceded only when her party lost control of the upper house in midterm elections.

Second, it is worth paying especial attention to the final paragraph of the Letter. It is noteworthy that these 4 harsh critics of Putin’s Russia are looking back favorably at the way Americans and Soviets negotiated mutual restraint in weapons of mass destruction during the first Cold War. Of course back then we had none of the vicious denigration of  Soviet leaders as has become common practice in recent years when even a U.S. Secretary of State has seen nothing out of the ordinary in likening Vladimir Putin to Hitler.  If the proposed talks on arms control are to have any chance of success, the U.S. side is going to have to re-learn respectful behavior and professional diplomacy

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Gang of Four: Senators Call for Tillerson to Enter into Arms Control Talks with the Kremlin

March 10, 2018

Four United States senators are urging a new approach to U.S.-Russian relations based on renewed arms control efforts, but you probably have not heard about it from the mainstream media, Gilbert Doctorow and Ray McGovern report.

By Gilbert Doctorow and Ray McGovern

In a sad commentary on the parlous state of the U.S. media, a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson from four United States Senators dated March 8 calling for opening arms control talks with the Kremlin ASAP is nowhere to be found in mainstream newspapers a day after its release on the Senate home page of one of the authors, Jeff Merkey (D-Ore.). Nothing in the New York Times.  Nothing in the Washington Post.  And so, it is left to alternative media to bring to the attention of its readership a major development in domestic politics, a significant change in what its own senior politicians are saying should be done about Russia that was brought to our attention by …..the Russian mainstream media including the agency RIA Novosti, RBK, Tass within hours of initial posting.

What we have is, first, a genuine man bites dog story.  Two of the senators who penned the letter, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), have in recent months been among the most vociferous promoters of the unproven allegations of Trump collusion with the Russians. Now they are putting aside for the moment their attacks on Trump and members of his entourage who dared shake hands or share a joke with a Russian ambassador. They are openly calling upon the Secretary of State to send U.S. personnel to negotiate with Putin’s minions over our survival on this planet.

The authors were in a tough spot explaining their new marching orders for State. And they have done their best to impose consistency on what is patently a new policy direction holding great promise for sanity to be restored in U.S.-Russian relations.

First, they cover their backsides by the lengthy recitation of Russia’s bad deeds, including alleged election meddling in the 2016 presidential election, violation of international law in Ukraine and the like.

Secondly, they make the proposed arms talks look like a walk down the Rose Garden, with the Russians being told what to do from a position of strength. The objective is focused on inserting two of Russia’s latest weapons systems described by Vladimir Putin in his March 1 speech into the framework of the START treaty as it comes up for renewal. That and to resolve issues over alleged Russian violation of the Intermediate Range Missiles convention.

However, buried in this mumbo jumbo is that reference to Putin’s speech and the new weapons systems he described, which actually numbered six among them several never heard about before inside the Beltway and looking pretty ominous.  So, one may conclude that Putin’s intended “shock and awe” speech did have some effect in DC, even if so far no one is saying so, and even if so far, our leading newspapers have called time out till they can decide how to deal with the unwelcome news.

Wittingly or not, the Gang of Four has just opened a breach in the wall of contempt and loathing for Putin and Russia that has been building in Washington for months if not years now. The immediate task is for word of this development to go out to the broad public and for the relics of our once formidable arms negotiations teams to be brought out of mothballs to face Russian counterparts who have been waiting keenly for this moment.

Democratic Fissures

The unusual way in which the letter was made public — and the evident uncertainty on the part of the mainstream media as to how to play it — reflects widening fissures among Democrats.

Even among the most rabid fans of Hillary Clinton (and haters of President Trump) there is a growing sense that, for example, Congressman Adam “trust-me-the-Russians-hacked-our election” Schiff (D-Calif.) may not be able to deliver anything beyond the “trust me.”  And many are beginning to question whether the sainted Special Counsel, Robert Mueller may not be able to come up with much more that click-bait farms in St. Petersburg and dirt to put dubious characters like Paul Manafort in jail on charges unrelated to Russiagate.  (After all, Mueller has already been at it a very long time.)

And what would that mean for the re-election prospects of candidates like the superannuated Democratic-machine product Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), whose prospects are already waning?

Not to be ruled out is the possibility that the four senators may also be motivated by a new appreciation of the dangers of blaming everything on Russia, with the possible result of U.S.-Russia relations falling into a state of complete disrepair. The key question is whether President Putin can be de-demonized.  That will depend on the mainstream media, which, alas, is not accustomed to reassessing and silencing the bellicose drums — even in the face of new realities like the petering out of Russiagate and Putin’s entirely credible declaration of strategic parity.

Gang of Four Letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

As posted on the website of Senator Merkey 

March 8, 2018

The Honorable Rex W. Tillerson
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC

Dear Secretary Tillerson:

We write to urge the State Department to convene the next U.S.-Russia Strategic Dialogue as soon as possible.

A U.S.-Russia Strategic Dialogue is more urgent following President Putin’s public address on March 1stwhen he referred to several new nuclear weapons Russia is reportedly developing including a cruise missile and a nuclear underwater drone, which are not currently limited by the New START treaty, and would be destabilizing if deployed.   There is no doubt we have significant disagreements with Russia, including Russia’s brazen interference in the 2016 U.S. elections; continued violation of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF); invasion of Ukraine and illegal annexation of Crimea; and destabilizing actions in Syria.  However, it is due to these policy rifts, not in spite of them, that the United States should urgently engage with Russia to avoid miscalculation and reduce the likelihood of conflict.

First, we encourage the administration to propose alternative solutions to address Russia’s violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).  Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov admitted to the existence of this ground launched cruise missile (GLCM), but contended that the system was INF Treaty compliant.

Senior officials from the United States and Russia have said that the INF Treaty plays an “important role in the existing system of international security.”  As such, we urge the State Department to resolve Russia’s violation through existing INF Treaty provisions or new mutually acceptable means.

Second, we urge the United States to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).  The Trump administration’s own 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) references Russia’s robust nuclear modernization program as a main justification behind the U.S. need to recapitalize its three legs of the nuclear triad.  An extension of New START would verifiably lock-in the Treaty’s Central Limits – and with it – the reductions in strategic forces Russia has made.

The New START Treaty, which entered into force in 2011, provides transparency and predictability into the size and location of Russia’s strategic nuclear delivery systems, warheads, and facilities. New START’s robust verification architecture involves thousands of data exchanges and regular on-site inspections.The United States confirmed in February that Russia met New START’s Central Treaty Limits and it stated that “implementation of the New START Treaty enhances the safety and security of the United States.” These same Central Treaty Limits could also govern two of the new types of nuclear weapons referenced by President Putin on March 1st – a case the United States can argue through the Treaty’s Biannual Consultative Commission (BCC).

Lastly, as the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review notes, Russia maintains a numerical advantage to the United States in the number of non-strategic nuclear weapons. The Senate, in its Resolution of Ratification on New START in 2010, took stock of this imbalance and called upon the United States to commence negotiations that would “secure and reduce tactical nuclear weapons in a verifiable manner.” Attempts by the Obama administration to negotiate an agreement on this class of weapons met resistance from Russia.  However, even absent the political space for a formal agreement or binding treaty with Russia, we urge the State Department to discuss ways to enhance transparency on non-strategic nuclear weapons.

Extending New START, resolving Russia’s INF violation, and enhancing transparency measures relating to non-strategic nuclear weapons will also help quiet growing calls from many countries that the United States is not upholding its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations.  The Treaty’s three mutually reinforcing pillars: non-proliferation, peaceful uses of the atom, and disarmament can only be advanced through U.S. leadership on all three.

There is no guarantee that we can make progress with Russia on these issues.  However, even at the height of Cold War tensions, the United States and the Soviet Union were able to engage on matters of strategic stability.  Leaders from both countries believed, as we should today, that the incredible destructive force of nuclear weapons is reason enough to make any and all efforts to lessen the chance that they can never be used again.

Sincerely,

Senators Jeff Merkey (D-Ore.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont)

Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book, Does the United States Have a Future?was published in October 2017. Both paperback and e-book versions are available for purchase on http://www.amazon.com and all affiliated Amazon websites worldwide.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He served in Army and CIA intelligence analysis for 30 years and, after retiring, co-founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).