Russia unfairly demonized

In Cold War days Moscow probably deserved all the demonization it got. Domestic repression was severe. The military were out of control; the number they killed in Afghanistan could well have rivaled the U.S. in Vietnam.

Their security people were also on a rampage. The two years I once spent in Moscow trying to learn the language and know the people ended up as little more than an invitation for the hard-eyed men in the KGB to constantly harass me and persecute anyone who tried to help me. And that was during the so-called Khrushchev liberalization period of the early 1960s.

But there were also times when Moscow deserved some understanding. Even in Afghanistan it did at least try to create something more progressive than the mess we see today. At home there was a genuine willingness to allow non-Russian peoples to keep their culture and languages. The “evil empire” of U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s imagination was not quite as evil as it was made out; it was at least able to throw up a leader of Mikhail Gorbachev’s quality. Meanwhile the best our allegedly superior democratic West could do was, well, Reagan.

Today it is clear the demonization goes much too far. The post-1991 efforts to reach out to the West were remarkable to anyone who knew what went before. Vladimir Putin with his KGB background is no Gorbachev. But the invitation to join the Group of Seven industrialized nations meant much for the Russians. Finally Russia had the acceptance as a Western-oriented nation it had always wanted.

Today all that has been thrown away by the meaningless effort to demonize Moscow over the Ukraine civil war and Crimea. From the beginning Putin had made it clear Russia was not seeking territory, that it was only supporting the moves for autonomy by the Russian-speaking peoples in the eastern Ukrainian provinces — moves sparked by the inefficiency and then breakdown of the central government in Kiev, and by the foolish attempt to ban the use of Russian. Putin rejected his critics who said Moscow should annex those historically Russian territories. His move would also be justified by the recent Western concept of R2P — the responsibility to protect peoples being suppressed by superior central government force.

Yet for some strange reason this move was made out to be Russian aggression and a denial of Ukrainian sovereignty. The aggression claim continues despite acceptance by all sides of the Minsk agreement of February this year, where Ukraine and Russia agreed on a cease-fire and “local self-governance in particular in the districts of Donetsk and Luhansk.” Ukrainian sovereignty and some administration rights were specifically endorsed. What’s more, the area to be “self-governed” by the separatists is much less than they had originally demanded. Legislation to authorize these arrangements has already been introduced in the Ukrainian Parliament over violent protests by the ugly, pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic groups that to date have done so much to prolong the fighting in eastern Ukraine, and which through their policy of random destruction have forced some 1 million Russian speakers to flee into Russia — ethnic cleansing with a vengeance.

Yet all Moscow gets from its very considerable concessions at Minsk and its acceptance of those refugees is a continuation of sanctions and an escalation of NATO military pressures. This, even though two senior NATO members, Germany and France, were present to endorse the Minsk agreements that are now being implemented. NATO once saw fit to bomb Belgrade to force a transfer of sovereignty to Kosovo. Moscow is condemned for much less.

Even as the Ukraine situation winds down, the anti-Moscow sanctions continue and NATO still blows hot. Maybe this is justified by the Crimea takeover. If so, I suggest the people involved should visit the Crimea.

Historically, it has always been Russian (remember the Crimean War?). It remains Russian. In two visits, one very recent, I have never heard a word of Ukrainian spoken. Crimea was gifted to Ukraine by Moscow in 1954 as an act of Soviet convenience, despite the problem of having to retain the Soviet fleet in Sevastopol. When the Soviet Union broke up in 1991 it should automatically have been returned to Russia. Its seizure during the 2014 troubles in Kiev was inevitable and for most, welcome.

As for that other excuse for NATO pressure — alleged aggressive Russian pressure against the three Baltic States — does anyone in NATO know about the severe language and other discrimination against the Russian-origin minorities stranded in this area by the 1991 Soviet breakup? Details provided by Moscow have been thoroughly ignored. If Moscow’s unhappiness on this account amounts to aggression then we need a new definition of aggression.

Ingrained Cold War fears and NATO expansionism explain some of the illogicality of Western anti-Russia moves. Ignorance is another factor. The people who accuse Moscow of trying to suppress the native Tartar language in Crimea need only to turn on the TV in Crimea to discover daily programs teaching Tartar. How many in NATO really understand what is going on in the Baltic States?

But Moscow also shares some of the blame. Its vigorous denials of any responsibility by the pro-Russian separatists for the March 2014 destruction of the Malaysian airliner MH17 helped early on to push Western opinion in an anti-Moscow direction. I spent some time in August in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs with a highly intelligent and very senior official who tried with genuine sincerity to convince me that the theories blaming Ukraine were correct. True, seeming bullet holes in the fuselage gave some credence to what she and quite a few others were saying. But Moscow now accepts a missile was responsible. It should not have wasted our time with elaborate theories and radar scans that said Ukrainian fighter planes were responsible.

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Gregory Clark is a former Australian diplomat and president of Tama University. He recently made a fact-finding visit to Russia at the invitation of the Russian authorities. The initial report of that visit can be found at www.gregoryclark.net/jt/page126/page126.html .

Source: Japan Times

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The Real Scandal of the Libyan War

Benjamin Friedman describes the real scandal of the Libyan war:

If a tenth of the scrutiny Congress devoted to Benghazi went to the administration’s case for bombing Libya in 2011, that case would collapse. The flaws in the case were clear then, and Libya’s postwar disintegration, of which Benghazi’s chaos was symptomatic, just makes them clearer. The real scandal is the U.S. war in Libya and Congress’ failure to exercise its war powers and interrogate its rationales“.

Yesterday I talked about one of the reasons why there is so little interest in Congress in challenging the administration on its actual foreign policy record, and I explained how Republican hawks’ ideological blinders prevented them from seeing and attacking the administration for its genuinely lousy policies. That’s an important factor, but there are others.

Another reason why the administration has been able to get away with the Libyan war in all its illegality is that there are very few members of Congress in either party that want to challenge the executive when it comes to waging war. This has become even more obvious as Congress continues to avoid debating or voting on the war on ISIS, but it was already impossible to miss in 2011. Very few in Congress think there is a need to rein in presidential warmaking, and there are even fewer that are willing to make the attempt. The deeper problem that the Libyan war reveals is that our representatives in Congress have completely forfeited their role in deciding whether and how the U.S. should wage war, and that leaves us at the mercy of the whims of the president. When he feels reluctant to intervene, the U.S. stays out, and when he “turns on a dime” and decides that regime change should happen the U.S. works to overthrow a foreign government. Nothing could be more arbitrary and contrary to our system of government, and yet it seems to have become the norm. If members of Congress aren’t interested in keeping the executive in check (and most of them aren’t), they have no incentive to question the dubious and often bogus arguments administration officials and presidents make in support of the latest intervention. Questioning the case for war leads to questioning the president’s right to start the war, and virtually no one wants to do that.

Friedman does a fine job pointing out that the case for the Libyan war was and is exceptionally weak (as some of us said at the time), and looks worse with the passage of time. Libyan war supporters once claimed that discouraging other regimes from resorting to violence against peaceful protesters was “one of the strongest arguments” for intervention. This wasn’t true when the claim was made. In light of the brutal crackdowns in Bahrain, Egypt, and Syria that have happened in the years since then, we can appreciate just how wrong it was. Another argument for intervention was that it would protect civilians, and yet the net effect of a war for regime change has been to make civilians throughout Libya and in other countries less secure than they were. The central claim in favor of the intervention was that it prevented large-scale loss of life in Benghazi, and that has always been very doubtful. The true scandal here is that an administration can concoct a half-baked justification to attack another country and they will encounter very little resistance and their claims will receive almost no scrutiny when it matters.

Source: The American Conservative

Russia’s air force hits 118 terrorist targets in Syria over 24 hours

MOSCOW, October 28. /TASS/. The Russian air force grouping has attacked 118 facilities of the Islamic State terrorist organization in Syria over the past 24 hours, Defense Ministry spokesman Maj.-Gen. Igor Konashenkov said on Wednesday.

Aircraft of the Russian air force grouping in the Syrian Arab Republic have made 71 sorties over the past twenty-four hours against 118 terrorist facilities in the Idlib, Homs, Hama, Aleppo, Damascus and Latakia provinces,” he said.

According to Konashenkov, Russia’s Su-24M bombers have destroyed a militant command post with a communication hub and a large ammunition depot discovered by unmanned aerial vehicles near the village of Salma in Latakia province.

After more reconnaissance, the Su-24M bombers delivered a strike completely destroying the facility,” Konashenkov said

A command post of Jaish al-Islam terrorist organization, which was located on the outskirts of the settlement of Misrabah near the Syrian capital of Damascus, as well as a command post of the Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist organization in the area of the settlement of Tel-Bisa in the Homs province were also destroyed.

The Russian air group in Syria has destroyed a large disguised terrorist supply post with weapons and ammunition, Defense Ministry’s spokesman informed.

Su-25 jets destroyed a large disguised terrorist supply post with weapons, ammunition and materiel in Idlib province,” Konashenkov said. “A bomb hit a truck loaded with ammunition and destroyed both the truck and the nearby depot.”

In Konashenkov’s words, the strikes were also delivered at the exposed infrastructure of militants, which was earlier mothballed or thoroughly masked.

These are first of all bases, transit centers and strongholds of terrorists as well as command posts,” he said.

According to Konashenkov, all Russian aircraft at the Khmeimim airbase in Syria are technically sound, there are enough ammunition and fuel reserves.

Russian warplanes have increased the number of combat sorties in Syria because of receiving more confirmed reconnaissance data about the Islamic State infrastructure facilities, Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson went on to say.

As you can see, the number of combat sorties has increased due to the fact that we have started to receive more accurate reconnaissance information, which is confirmed through various channels, about the location of terrorist infrastructure targets,” Konashenkov said.

“This fact is a convictive answer to various anonymous sources in certain foreign media who take the liberty of making unfounded claims on allegedly insufficient technical soundness of our aircraft,” he noted.

“I want to underscore once again: Russian aircraft at the Khmeimim airbase are all-weather and all support services for our air group work consistently, reliably and effectively,” Konashenkov stressed.

“Analyzing the methods of work of our foreign colleagues on that issue and without waiting for their next [information] injection, we report: we have the required volumes of reserves of materiel, petroleum, oil and lubricants, ammunition and everything required for effective hostilities,” the general said

Source: TASS. Russian News Agency

US Forced to Cooperate with Russia on Syrian Quagmire

The Syrian peace process is clearly in a state of stagnation, yet it has seen a number of dramatic developments involving Russia and the US which could potentially bring about a diplomatic breakthrough. Over the last few days, Russia has significantly increased its deployment of military specialists to its naval facility in Tartus and reportedly to Latakia. According to satellite imagery and statements by US officials, Moscow has also sent a significant amount of military hardware, including over twenty fighter jets, to Syria.

The White House was clearly taken by surprise by Russia’s quick and assertive military movements in Syria. Following reports of a Russian military build-up in the country, US Secretary of State John Kerry called Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Kerry expressed his concern that Russian actions in Syria could escalate the conflict and lead to confrontation with the US-led coalition that is fighting ISIS.

The US position on Syria has remained unchanged throughout the conflict. The White House argues that Bashar Al Assad has lost all legitimacy and must leave office. Yet starting in 2015, the international media has started to note that the tone of rhetoric regarding the Syrian President has changed. It looks as if the US position on Assad has somewhat softened since Russia stepped up its military presence in Syria. John Kerry continues to state that the Syrian President must go, yet the timing is negotiable. “It doesn’t have to be on day or month one,” he recently said.

But the most significant of John Kerry’s comments came when he expressed hope that Russia would bring Bashar Al Assad to the negotiating table, something the US was previously against. While the US State Department spokesman has repeated publicly in his statements that Washington’s position on Syria has not changed, it does seem that the country has become “more receptive” to Russia’s arguments, as Sergey Lavrov put it on Wednesday.

While John Kerry has played a pivotal role in trying to negotiate with his Russian counterpart on Syria, including on issues of a military nature, it turns out that Pentagon was sidelined on discussions with Moscow. Despite initial reports of a Russian military build-up appearing in the media in mid-August, there were no contacts between the defense chiefs of the two countries for over a month following. A remarkable change took place on September 18th when US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter called Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu to discuss Russia’s military movements in Syria.

The renewal of contacts between the two militaries is a significant event considering that almost all military communication channels have remained closed as a result of the Ukraine crisis. It is unlikely that reengagement with the US Department of Defense was the endgame of the Russian military build-up in Syria, yet the fact that the two highest-ranking defense officials are now continuously in touch means that there is a chance that Moscow and Washington will begin to coordinate their actions in Syria.

Another event that did not get much coverage in the media, yet reveals how Vladimir Putin’s bold moves in Syria are changing the dynamic of US-Russia relations, was the visit of a CIA delegation to Moscow last week. According to Build Am Sonntag’s sources, the delegation met with the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) and agreed to some level of coordination in Syria. The renewal of military-to-military and intel-to-intel contacts between Moscow and Washington means that there will be much less finger-pointing and reliance on dubious political guesswork from now on.

Russia’s moves in Syria as well as general tensions in the bilateral relations may lead to a meeting between Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. While neither side has confirmed these reports, quite a few media outlets in Russia and the US have quoted sources saying that such a meeting is in the works. Over the last two years, Obama and Putin have had only passing encounters, so their one-on-one talks is a breakthrough in itself. If the meeting takes place, Vladimir Putin will certainly try to persuade Obama that his Syria plan is the only option that can work and that it will help the US-led coalition in Syria to save face.

By uniting forces with the existing coalition, Moscow wants to prove to the West that it is wholeheartedly determined to defeat the Islamic State and that it is impossible to reach peace in Syria without Russia’s participation. The endgame here is likely to prove to the West that isolating Russia is counterproductive.

The current dynamic is not similar to a real thaw in relations and it will certainly not lead to a new “reset.” Much depends on the outcome of Vladimir Putin’s speech and subsequent meetings in New York. The current situation in Syria is similar to what we saw in 2013 when Russia and the United States managed to resolve the issue of Syrian chemical weapons diplomatically. Moscow, however, should be wary of its current tactic because “forcing” the White House into cooperation on Syria does not result in building more trust.

Source: Russian Council

Russian aircraft destroy IS militants’ bridge across Euphrates

The Russian forces thus cut off the route of supply of the Islamic State (IS) militants from Iraq.

MOSCOW, October 22. /TASS/. Russian aircraft have delivered airstrikes on a bridge across the Euphrates River in Syria, cutting off the route of supply of the Islamic State (IS) militants from Iraq, chief of the Russian army General Staff’s main operations directorate, Colonel-General Andrey Kartapolov told reporters on Thursday.

The bridge over the Euphrates River in the Deir ez-Zor area was a key facility in the [terrorists’] supply chain. Russian pilots delivered a pinpoint strike on this facility today, as a result of which the bridge has become unfit for further use by terrorists for their own purposes,” Kartapolov said.

According to him, this route of supply for the militants of the outlawed in Russia Islamic State terrorist organization was detected by Russia’s drones. “I’d like to emphasise that the airstrike was made on the area that, according to our American partners, is fully controlled by IS formations,” Kartapolov said.

He said that this airstrike helped the Syrian military that have for more than a year been surrounded in the Deir ez-Zor area to launch an offensive and reconquer the stronghold from the militants.

Earlier on Thursday, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov said that Russian aircraft in Syria over the past twenty four hours had flown 53 sorties to attack 72 terrorist targets in several provinces. “Over the past 24 hours the crews of Sukhoi-34, Sukhoi-24 and Sukhoi-25SM planes flew 53 sorties to attack 72 terrorist targets in six provinces: Hama, Idlib, Latakia, Damascus, Aleppo and Deir ez-Zor.

Read full article and see Gallery: TASS. Russian News Agency

Only Syrian people together can choose their leader

MOSCOW, October 23. /TASS/. Russia has never changed its stance on Syria and supports only the legitimate power, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Friday.

In a statement posted on his Facebook page, the prime minister said it was up to the Syrian people and not up certain ethnic or political groups to choose the country’s leader. Russia would help Syria defend its sovereignty, he pledged.

On Tuesday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visited Moscow,” said the prime minister, noting that he had taken part in negotiations of the Syrian leader with the leadership of the Russian Federation.

Prior to that, I saw the Syrian president during my visit to Damascus in May 2010. Syria was a completely different country at that time — calm and civilized,” he added.

Historic center of Damascus where I managed to take a stroll and speak with its residents, looked as a city where people of different nationalities and confessions were coexisting peacefully,” he continued.

“I talked to Syrians, who spoke very warmly of Russia and its people, took photos of ancient mosques and churches. It was a modern secular country,” he continued.

“It all changed literally in a year’s time. From 2011, the life of the Syrian people has turned into a nightmare: war, terror, deaths, destruction of religious shrines and monuments of universal importance,” he stated.

Russia has never changed its stance on the Syrian issue. We have always supported and keep supporting only the legitimate authorities,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “Despite the years that have passed, I want to say that during his latest visit to Moscow President Bashar al-Assad was as calm and sober minded as five years ago,” the prime minister continued.

“It is obvious that Syria today is one of the key issues on the global agenda. Russia has come to assistance at the request of the Syrian leadership, and we are now fighting all together against terrorism. But the destiny of the country remains in the hands of the Syrian people,” he continued.

“It is the people, and not certain ethnic groups or political forces that are to determine how and under whose leadership they will go forward. We will keep helping the Syrian people in their maintaining sovereignty. And we believe in a peaceful future of that ancient land,” he summed up.

Source: TASS. Russian News Agency

Italy ready to back enterprises cooperating with Russia — Economic Development Minister

The country’s government is ready to contribute to exchange of technologies between Russian and Italian companies as well as import substitution operations in Russia.

VERONA, October 23. /TASS/. Italy is ready to back enterprises, which cooperate with Russia, the country’s Economic Development Minister Federica Guidi said on Friday on the sidelines of an economic forum in Verona bringing together politicians and business executives of Russia and Italy.

“Italy is ready to back enterprises, which are cooperating with Russia,” she said, adding that the country’s government is ready to contribute to exchange of technologies between Russian and Italian companies as well as import substitution operations in Russia.

Guidi also called for focusing on cooperation in the sectors, which are not under sanctions.

Source: TASS. Russian News Agency

Putin offers condolences to Hollande over heavy loss of life in Libourne bus accident

MOSCOW, October 23. /TASS/. Russian President Vladimir Putin has offered condolences to France’s President Francois Hollande over the heavy loss of life in a road accident near Libourne, the Kremlin’s press-service said.

Putin expressed sympathy and support for the relatives and dear ones of those who died and wished early recovery to survivors.

The road accident that claimed at least 42 lives occurred early Friday morning in southwestern France. A passenger bus collided with a truck on a narrow local road in Gironde Department. Both vehicles caught fire.

Most of the victims were elderly people, who were going on an excursion to the south of the country. Several others were injured.

The Russian embassy in France has no confirmation yet there were no Russians among the casualties.
Source: TASS. Russian News Agency

Serbian delegates say they recognize Crimea part of Russia

Bosko Obradovic said that “Crimea is part of Russia just like Kosovo is a part of Serbia”

SIMFEROPOL, October 27. /TASS/. The president of the Serbian patriotic Dveri movement, Bosko Obradovic, has responded to Ukraine’s protest over his visit to Crimea.

In my response, I said for us Crimea is part of Russia just like Kosovo is a part of Serbia. In this case, we do not agree with the position of our government. We think that it is like this. The position of our government is disrespectful toward Russia’s territorial integrity,” Obradovic said at a meeting with deputies of the Crimean parliament.

Ukraine’s Ambassador in Serbia Oleg Alexandrovich earlier sent a note of protest to the president of the Serbian patriotic movement “Dveri” over the visit of deputies and public figures to Crimea.

The note of protest demonstrated by Obradovic said: “In accordance with Ukrainian legislation and our country’s official position, Crimea is an indispensable part of Ukraine. This means that the self-proclaimed authorities in Crimea are not recognized [by Ukraine]. Visiting Crimea for official meetings with Crimea’s so-called government is unacceptable and is considered as a threat to Ukraine’s national integrity, security and sovereignty.”

The delegation from Serbia headed by Democratic Party leader Sanda Raskovic Ivic has arrived on the peninsula today. Delegates will meet with colleagues from the Crimean parliament, Russia’s Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy to the Crimean Federal District Oleg Belaventsev, Crimea’s head Sergey Aksyonov and chairman of Crimea’s state council Vladimir Konstantinov.

The delegation includes several Serbian MPs the Vice President of the Democratic Party, Milan Lapcevic, the president of the party’s political council Dusan Prorokovic, a member of the political council presidium Dragan Trifkovic, as well as representatives of the Dveri (Doors) patriotic movement Bosko Obradovic, Zoran Radojicic, Jugoslav Kiprianovic, and Sefan Svrkota.

Deputies of the French National Assembly visited Crimea this summer. Italy’s former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has also made an unofficial trip to the peninsular region. Members of parliament from Germany, Italy and Switzerland have made known their preparedness to make fact-finding visits to Crimea.

Source: TASS. Russian News Agency

More than 70% SUPPORT for Vladimir Putin’s bombing campaign despite Middle East tensions

VLADIMIR Putin’s intense campaign of airstrikes in Syria has the support of more than two in every three Britons, according to an exclusive Express.co.uk poll.

More than 27,000 people have voted in our Express.co.uk poll with 71 per cent saying they “support Vladimir Putin’s bombing campaign in Syria“, which is blitzing a large number of Islamic State owned buildings and vehicles.

The emphatic approval rating comes despite growing tensions between Russia and the US-led coalition, including Britain, over Putin’s actions in the Middle East.

Claims have been made Russia is predominantly targeting rebel forces against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, who Moscow admits it wants to prop up.
It has led to the Russian ambassador in London to say he “urgently requested explanations” from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office while Putin was said to be “furious”.

Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko said: “The very premise of a potential conflict of UK and Russian combat aircraft over Iraq is incomprehensible.”

British pilots were given the shock order as UK ministers believe Russia is making the situation in the Middle East “much more dangerous“.
There are fears an air battle could take place sooner rather than later.

A UK senior defence source said: “We need to protect our pilots but at the same time we’re taking a step closer to war.

“It will only take one plane to be shot down in an air-to-air battle and the whole landscape will change.”

Putin’s support for Assad has raised huge concerns with the West which has been trying to remove the Syrian leader.

Assad’s government has been involved in a bloody civil war for the past four years, with rebels steadily gaining ground on Damascus, until Putin’s intervention in the battle at the end of September helped turn the tide.

However, some military experts suggest teaming up with Assad, who has been attacked for crimes against his own people including targeting them with barrel bombs, is the only way to defeat the scourge of ISIS in the Middle East.

SAS hero Chris Ryan told Express.co.uk last month a coalition between the West, Putin and Assad was the only hope of destroying the terror organisation.

He said: “For us to get ISIS would need to have a link up with Syria and the targeting of its strongholds. All the areas along the Anbar Province – between Iraq and Syria – that’s where we need to hit.

“The best idea would be to hit them both sides with Europe and the United States on one side and Russia on the other.”

However, David Cameron has repeatedly spoken out against Assad saying the Syrian leader had “butchered his own people”.

Source: UK Express News