Tag Archives: Russia

From Vimy to Gibraltar, Obamacare to Russia: Journalism Matters at F&O

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New on F&O this weekend:  Sunday April 9 marked the 100th anniversary of the WWI battle of Vimy Ridge — said to have marked Canada’s passage from colony to country status. Read our report with photo-essay by Reuters, France, Canada leaders mark centenary of Vimy Ridge WWI battle. In Commentary Tom Regan notes that for Canada and the United States, the battle and World War I have very different meanings.  Read Regan’s column,“War to End All Wars” fading from history, here.

Jonathan Manthorpe this week considers Gibraltar — “The Rock” Caught In A Hard Place — in a new column about the territory in British hands since 1713, and is now emerging as an issue in negotiations with Brussels to leave the European Union. Read more about Gibraltar.  Manthorpe’s previous column, Beijing brings order to its colonial “Savage Reservations,” contends that Beijing is reaching back into the excesses of Maoist Stalinism and forward into the high-tech social control of Aldus Huxley’s “Brave New World” to try to contain the restive natives of its colonial outposts, Tibet and Xinjiang, setting the stage for grief for Hong Kong. Click here for the column on China, or here for the list of all of Manthorpe’s F&O works.

Americans turn Canadian about health care, writes Penney Kome in a new piece about how U.S.  public opinion is forcing Republicans to think “expansion,” not “repeal,” of the Affordable Care Act. Read the column, or find Kome’s complete  F&O OVER EASY columns here.

Jim McNiven has been pondering the fuss made by America over Russia, and asks this week, Why Does America’s President Bother with Russia? That column is here, or find all of McNiven’s THOUGHTLINES columns for F&O here.

Noteworthy items elsewhere on the web:

“Why do so many in the news media love a show of force?” asks Margaret Sullivan in the Washington Post.
Good question. The answer is probably found in audience ratings and social media shares– and so, as with everything in the world of commerce, with citizen’s demands.

First Draft News produced a well-received “Field Guide to Fake News,” launched this month at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy. The Columbia Journalism Review reports.
Stories about America’s political meltdown have become a flood. As mentioned earlier, these diverse, authoritative and credible news sites are worth following for breaking news: Reuters, the New York TimesPolitico,Washington PostBBC, The GuardianAl Jazeera, France24Financial Times, and The Economist.

Last but not least, here are some of our other recent stories, in case you missed them:

Trump Staffers’ Financial Disclosures /ARIANA TOBIN & DEREK KRAVITZ, ProPublica

Trump and Russia: “There is a smell of treason in the air”/TOM REGAN    Column

Beijing brings order to its colonial “Savage Reservations”/JONATHAN MANTHORPE  Column

European leaders renew fraying Union’s vows/ALASTAIR MACDONALD & JAN STRUPCZEWSKI  Report

Lights go out around the world for 10th Earth Hour/REUTERS   Slideshow

Fukushima still in hell/PENNEY KOME    Column

McGill University mangles academic freedom/TOM REGAN   Column

America’s Republican Quandary/ JIM McNIVEN   Column

Sri Lanka’s slow shuffle to lasting peace/JONATHAN MANTHORPE  Column

Reader-Supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and ad-free. We survive on an honour system. Thanks for your interest and support. Details.

Note: this post was updated April 9 to include our report on the Vimy Ridge event in France.

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Why Does America’s President Bother with Russia?

List of countries by GDP, Wikipedia (Screen shot)

JIM MCNIVEN: THOUGHTLINES
Spring, 2017

Like a lot of people in North America and Europe, I lived through years and years of paying attention to the Soviet Union, and later, Russia. It always seemed to me that this huge country, with the largest land area in the world, and possessor of nuclear weapons, was and is engaged in a more or less evenly-matched competition with the US and with Europe. I took for granted that Russia had a big economy to (sort of) go along with their big land mass. But then, a month or so ago, I ran across a visual diagram of the world’s economies on The Visual Capitalist. (1)

The founder and editor of this website, Jeff Fairbanks, took some data from one of the international agencies and turned it into a visual that compared the relative size of the world’s economies. Startling stuff, when shown this way.

Now, there are a lot of countries that have nukes, such as North Korea, Pakistan, India, France and China, yet these seem benign or very far away, so we pay little attention to them, except perhaps for the publicity-seeking North Koreans. Russia has always seemed close and antagonistic. Yet, other than the fact they are in the ‘nuclear club’, do the Russians deserve the attention they get? Yes, they have meddled in some of their much weaker neighbors and bit off small pieces of land, but the Chinese are eating their lunch in the former eastern Soviet Asian Republics, the ‘Stans’ as they are called. The Russians also sent their only aircraft carrier around to the eastern Mediterranean to launch planes at Syrian rebels who had no anti-aircraft capability. Do these compare with the Soviet threat that launched the Marshall Plan and NATO? I don’t think so.

What the Visual Capitalist diagram showed is that almost a quarter of the world’s GDP is generated by the US. Canada is good for 2.09% and Mexico 1.54%. Russia comes in at 1.8%, right up there with Australia. Australia!! Mexico?? Where’s the Canadian aircraft carrier? Why hasn’t Mexico invaded Belize or Guatemala recently?

Also, how can Russia have all these billionaire ‘oligarchs’ with an economy so small? Mexico has Carlos Slim and maybe one or two drug lords, but that seems small potatoes by comparison. Anyway, how does having these oligarchs buying up properties in Florida or London help the Russian economy? Who’s paying to run that aircraft carrier?

Today, the Russian economy is not exactly a powerhouse. The population has been declining to stagnant and is aging. The main Russian export has been oil and gas, but the drop in world oil prices from $100 per bbl. to $40-$50 was a real body blow. They do have a lot of computer engineers, but they seem to be misplaced, hacking US Democratic Party emails and data rather than producing neat stuff to sell to the world economy instead of all that cheap oil. My guess is that the US has more, and more sophisticated, techies than Russia and that the Russian activity around the US election is no more than another one-off surprise attack like Pearl Harbor or 9/11. Very effective — once, but it is not a wise idea in the long run to get those trusting Yankees seriously aggravated. American hackers invented this game of messing around with somebody else’s software in Iran over a decade ago. It may take a couple of years, but I anticipate nothing good for Russian software infrastructure happening after then.

Of course, the US has an Administration now with a lot of Russian ties, and it remains to be seen whether the nature of their ties is strong enough to cause its downfall. Given the latent American anti-Soviet fears and the unpopular strident anti-globalization of the President, his desire for some kind of rapprochement with Russia seems to be endangered. Many people are puzzled by it and wonder if the President sees himself as a kind of an American Putin.

Parts of the ill-coordinated Administration are overtly hostile to Russia, while the Senate, especially, is engaged in an investigation of Americans with business or political ties to Russia and the FBI has been on the trail of the Russian hackers for most of the past year. The whole thing is taking on the cast of the Watergate mess of 40 years ago. Like then, the scandal is starting to overshadow the policy initiatives of the Administration. Congress has problems in getting anything of substance passed and the simple slogans of the campaign are running into the complicated details in their realization. Maybe a rethink is in order.

If the Russian economy is barely larger than Mexico’s and smaller than Canada’s, then why not pivot back to North America? The Russians can’t offer an import market like Mexico can. Check the stats…. Canada has as much oil as Russia and it does not have a history of beating up its smaller neighbors, like Danish Greenland. Spanish is easier to learn than Russian. There is also the benefit that Canadian and Mexican ties are more palatable to Americans, since nearly half of them live within a couple of hundred miles of these countries.

Someone who can habitually deny tomorrow what he said yesterday, ought to be able to just deny a couple of more promises and assurances. This is the President who promoted a health-care bill that would hurt the very people he promised would be given better care than they have with Obamacare. He promised he would build an Israeli-style wall across the desert southwest, when it has become apparent it will be both costly and ineffective (Drones can fly over it, etc.) and is located just where most illegals do not come (They fly in to US airports and disappear.). He ought to find it easy to pivot away from Moscow, unless there are some personal entanglements we still know nothing about..

Turning his back on Russia sure would go a long way toward easing a lot of tensions inside the country. Getting friendlier with Canada and Mexico could help remake him from the pro-Russian Grinch into a pleasant grandfather figure, no matter how improbable that may seem right now.

 

 Copyright Jim McNiven 2017

Facts and Opinions, employee-owned, survives only on an honour system: please chip in (at least .27 per piece) or make a sustaining donation. Details. 

Links:

Visual Capitalist: http://www.visualcapitalist.com/74-trillion-global-economy-one-chart/

Wikipedia, List of countries by GDP: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nominal)

~~~

Jim McNiven’s latest book is The Yankee Road: Tracing the Journey of the New England Tribe that Created Modern America

Who is a Yankee and where did the term come from? Though shrouded in myth and routinely used as a substitute for American, the achievements of the Yankees have influenced nearly every facet of our modern way of life.

Join author Jim McNiven as he explores the emergence and influence of Yankee culture while traversing an old transcontinental highway reaching from the Atlantic to the Pacific — US 20, which he nicknames “The Yankee Road.”

~~~

Jim McNiven

James McNiven has a PhD from the University of Michigan. He has written widely on public policy and economic development issues and is the co-author of three books. His most recent research has been about the relationship of demographic changes to Canadian regional economic development. He also has an interest in American business history and continues to teach at Dalhousie on a part-time basis.

 

 

 

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. Real journalism has value. Thank you for your support. Please tell others about us, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Trump and Russia: “There is a smell of treason in the air”

Photo of the Kremlin by Larry Koester, Creative Commons

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
April 1, 2017

As American presidential historian Douglas Brinkley said after the recent hearing of the House Intelligence Committee, when FBI director James Comey testified that the FBI is indeed investigating members of Donald Trump’s campaign for ties to Russia and its hacking program, there is a “smell of treason in the air.”

Or as new CNN analyst Chris Cillizza put it when he was still writing for the Washington Post, “Where there is smoke and smoke and smoke and smoke, there is fire.”

The story of Russia’s hacking of the 2016 election campaign and the role the Trump team may have played in that effort is the story that will not die, much to the consternation of President Trump and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

Every day brings new revelations, which are coming so fast that it’s difficult to keep track of each one. As I write this, the major news outlets are reporting former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn is willing to testify before the House and Senate Intelligence Committees in exchange for immunity from prosecution. This news is, no doubt, causing heart palpitations at the White House, because no one asks for immunity from prosecution unless they are worried that they may have committed criminal acts. (In fact, Flynn himself made this same comment in 2016.)

Meanwhile, at yesterday’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, national security expert Clint Watts told the committee to “follow the trail of dead Russians.” He pointed out that “several Russians linked to the investigation into Kremlin disinformation activities have been killed in the past three months.” And he charged Donald Trump with using Russian tactics to undermine his political opponents.

Two Story lines

There are two elements to the story that are separate and yet connected. The first element is the Russian hacking of the election: the stealing of files from the DNC and their release at key moments designed to undercut Hillary Clinton, and continuing Russian efforts to undermine western democracies. The second element is the possible relationship between members of the Trump campaign team and Russians, officials and unofficial, and the roles they might have played in the Russian hacking campaign.

There is no doubt that the Russian hacking of the campaign took place. Numerous American intelligence agencies have confirmed this, and it matches the behavior of the Russians in other democratic Western nations. Even if the Trump campaign played no role in the hacking, it still took place and, as Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have pointed out, it will severely affect our relationship with the Russians at a time when President Trump wants to be buddy-buddy with Putin.

Over the past few years Russia has relentlessly sought to undermine democratic elections in the Western world. It has also aggressively conducted disinformation campaigns about its illegal actions in the Ukraine and in Syria. Germany recently accused Russia of trying to undermine Chancellor Angela Merkel, and there is also some question surrounding Russian aid to the pro-Brexit side in the United Kingdom vote. It’s also known that Russia tried to promote anti-European Union presidential candidate Geert Wilders in the recent Netherlands’ election, and is promoting Marie Le Pen in France.

Only two months ago, Russia announced the formalization of this process when it publicized the creation of a specialized unit to engage in informational warfare. Until now most of the Russian hacking has been done by so-called “state actors,” which intelligence agencies around the world knew were under the command of the Kremlin. It was this kind of team that hacked the emails and information at the Democratic National Committee, and which organized their slow but steady release during the 2016 election campaign which helped undermine the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.

A key part of this disinformation campaign was the role played by Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. Assange and Putin shared a common goal: the destruction of Hillary Clinton, reportedly because of perceived personal issues. It is likely, despite its denials, that WikiLeaks served as the broker for information hacked by the Russians. Although the Trump team’s connection to WikiLeaks is not well-known,  Nigel Farage (the anti-Brexit campaigner and friend of Donald Trump) visited Assange at the Ecuadoran Embassy in London (where Assange has taken refuge to avoid deportation to Sweden where he faces rape charges) after the November election. There is speculation that Farage was delivering a message from Trump to Assange.

There can be no doubt about Putin’s objective: he wants to make Russia a superpower again. In the same way class school bullies unable to achieve status through effort tear high achievers down to their level, Putin has crafted a campaign of innuendo, disinformation, lies, and intimidation to bring other countries down to his level. This is particularly true of his efforts to undermine the European Union and to diminish the power of the United States by covertly helping to elect actors, such as Donald Trump, who he feels he can manipulate.

Regardless of the question of whether or not members of the Trump team actively coordinated with the Russian “state actors” in their campaign to discredit Hillary Clinton, this issue of Russian interference in the elections of the United States cannot be overlooked.

Trump team

But the question of the role that several key members of the Trump team played in connection with the Russian activities is also important. Four men (Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Roger Stone and Michael Flynn) deserve particular attention. It is interesting that the White House is madly trying to disconnected itself from the four men, which it now describes as “minor players” in the campaign. But as John Dean, of the Watergate scandal, said, “I know something about cover-ups and there is a cover-up happening here.”

The question of whether or not members of Donald Trump’s campaign team, or Trump himself, had knowledge of the Russian hacking successes, and helped to coordinate the release of information obtained in these break-ins, is now the subject of an FBI investigation.

We now know that despite repeated denials, many members of the Trump team met with Russian officials, in particular the Russian ambassador to the United States (including former national security advisor Michael Flynn, current Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, White House advisor and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, campaign advisors Roger Stone and Carter Page) during the 2016 election campaign. This despite the repeated earlier denials that there was no contact between any member of the Trump team and the Russians.

Important members of the Trump team also have long associations with Putin, Putin’s friends, or sketchy Russian business interests. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was described as “a gift to Putin” because of his long-standing personal and financial ties to Russia and Putin. Wilbur Ross, the Commerce Secretary, has extensive ties to a billionaire friend of Putin and their shared interest in the national Bank of Cyprus. The New York Times recently reported that Donald Trump had business dealings in New York with Russians with alleged criminal connections.

Meanwhile the BBC reported earlier this week that that US officials “verified” a key claim in a report by former British intelligent agent Christopher Steele about Kremlin involvement in Donald Trump’s election – that a Russian diplomat in Washington was in fact a spy.

Pieces are falling into place faster and faster. Meanwhile, the US intelligence committee reports that Russia is still spying on the US and already has plans to influence the next American election.

This scandal, which it seems like has been with us forever, is only just starting to heat up.

Copyright Tom Regan 2017

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

Further reading: 

 

Former FBI agent details how Trump and Russia team up to weaponize fake news

https://thinkprogress.org/clinton-watts-senate-intelligence-committee-trump-russia-fake-news-trail-of-bodies-1900e6fde054
Trump Russia dossier key claim ‘verified’

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-39435786
Fired Trump aide Michael Flynn wants immunity to testify on Russia allegations

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-39451358
Devin Nunes Is Just the Errand Boy in the Trump-Russia Scandal
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2017/03/31/devin-nunes-is-just-the-errand-boy-in-thes-trump-russia-scandal.html?via=desktop&source=twitter

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Tom Regan Tom Regan is a journalist in the Washington, D.C., area. He worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92, and is a member of the advisory board of the Nieman Foundation for journalism at Harvard.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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America’s Republican Quandary

JIM MCNIVEN: THOUGHTLINES
Spring, 2017

There is a classic John Cleese TV comedy performance, as the owner/manager of a small British hotel called ‘Fawlty Towers.’

Cleese, as the bumbling hothead Basil Fawlty, is confronted with the arrival of a group of German tourists. He goes around warning his staff,  ‘Don’t talk about the War’ — referring to the Second World War when Britain and Germany were enemies.

In due course, Basil gets hit on the head by a moosehead falling off a hotel wall and, in a concussed daze, goes off on a mad rant in front of his guests, goose-stepping around and mocking them with some ‘Heil Hitlers,’ forty or fifty years after the War ended.

Washington, DC,  these days is not far removed from this Fawlty Towers episode.

The problem is this: America’s President seems to be going on a kind of Basil Fawlty rant with wiretapping claims that only embarrass his staff and alienate the serious politicians in his own party.

The more he is pressured to leave the issue, let alone apologize for it, the more he parades it out in front of the media, and the cycle goes on. At the same time, the Republicans would like nothing more than to have the issue of Russian interference in the US elections go away. But for that, they need a controlled President who can resist making relevant statements for the next year or two, and get on supporting party policies and legislation. That’s not likely, given his penchant for early morning tweets.

Here is the core of the issue: if the Republican majorities want to execute a major policy shift, they need their focus to be on that shift, not on Presidential fantasies or other distractions. They cannot count on keeping their majorities in 2018, in part because the massive restructuring of programs and finances they hope to make may not appeal to their voters, even if they would be, at least to Republican politicians, good for the country.

This is how Obama put through Dodd-Frank financial legislation and Obamacare, the Patient Care and Affordable Care Act.

The super-sized distraction bubbling below the surface is the role the Russian government played in the election, and how complicit the President and his campaign staff might have been in co-operating with its intelligence operatives, financial flows and the like.

It is not credible that the experienced Republican politicians who were critical or hurt by the President do not see the outlines of this cooperation. There are just too many Administration appointments of people with Russian ties to be overlooked. The hacking of the DNC and the coordinated release of files through Wikileaks is too heavy-handed to be ignored as well.

Like the famous Watergate scandal, this is beginning as a small thing involving relatively minor players getting caught. Nixon’s ‘plumbers’ breaking into the DNC headquarters almost 50 years ago, like General Flynn’s ‘consulting’ for the Russians last year, was a small event, but, with Nixon, things began to unravel, and the cover-up inflated the stakes and destroyed his Presidency.

The quandary facing the Republican majorities in the House and Senate is whether to go after this Russian connection ,or ignore it and push on with their agenda. Unfortunately for the latter option, the involvement of an adversarial foreign power in the federal elections presents them with a serious issue. It may be true that a number of countries, including the US, have played around in foreign elections, but this has generally been seen as the ‘big boys’ playing with minor countries.

Somehow, it seems like it should be insulting to American self-esteem to be placed on a level with Bolivia or Angola.

Further, if this interference practice is not stopped, and an example made of one or more people, then can we expect the Democrats to do a deal with Chinese hackers in the next election? This sounds ludicrous, but if American billionaires can play in politics with impunity, why shouldn’t American politicians not just sell out to the highest bidder, domestic or foreign?

I don’t for a minute feel that American politicians should go down this route, but it already seems to have begun with last fall’s election.

This is why Congress, possibly against its own wishes, but in terms of its individual and collective survival, cannot afford to ignore, and thereby legitimize, foreign interference by anybody in American elections.

Whether it was critical in the election result is irrelevant; the issue is one of patriotism and American identity.

Gradually, this whole scheme will come to light. It is inconceivable that this relationship just developed in an uncoordinated fashion among a variety of people who did not realize that others were also doing the same thing. Normally, things in politics, in my experience, do not happen like that.

Connections and permissions come from the top. Sometimes the top people get away with it, but often there is someone who, for whatever personal or public reason, spills the beans. All that is needed is for investigative pressure to exist before that someone decides to work with the investigators, rather than take the charge that they fear will destroy him.

Meanwhile, the investigators will gradually take over the media’s attention and the credibility of the President goes down. If there are crimes suspected, the whole issue will tend to consume the attention of Congress to the detriment of the political agenda—and we are back to the essential quandary.

How do you get your agenda through with a President, who might be implicated in the scandal and cannot exercise both discipline and silence? Diverting attention will at some time lose its efficacy, especially as we have seen in the wiretapping fantasy, when no one except the faithful believes a word of it.

As the Russian scandal develops—and I believe it will develop slowly but in fine detail—the temptation for the President to speak to it will prove disastrous, not least in part because he has conditioned all of us to not believe a word he says.

This president will not need a falling moosehead to set him into gear, ‘talking about the War.’

This is not going to end well.

 Copyright Jim McNiven 2017

Facts and Opinions, employee-owned, survives only on an honour system: please chip in (suggest at least .27 per piece) or make a sustaining donation. Details. 

~~~

Jim McNiven’s latest book is The Yankee Road: Tracing the Journey of the New England Tribe that Created Modern America

Who is a Yankee and where did the term come from? Though shrouded in myth and routinely used as a substitute for American, the achievements of the Yankees have influenced nearly every facet of our modern way of life.

Join author Jim McNiven as he explores the emergence and influence of Yankee culture while traversing an old transcontinental highway reaching from the Atlantic to the Pacific — US 20, which he nicknames “The Yankee Road.”

~~~

Jim McNiven

James McNiven has a PhD from the University of Michigan. He has written widely on public policy and economic development issues and is the co-author of three books. His most recent research has been about the relationship of demographic changes to Canadian regional economic development. He also has an interest in American business history and continues to teach at Dalhousie on a part-time basis.

 

 

 

 

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. Real journalism has value. Thank you for your support. Please tell others about us, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Russian interference threatens European democracy

By Richard Maher, European University Institute
March, 2017

With important national elections scheduled this year in the Netherlands, France and Germany, European officials on edge about possible Russian interference are pursuing various measures to counter it. The Conversation

But with a daily onslaught of fake and misleading news, repeated attempts to hack computer systems of “anti-Moscow” politicians and political parties, their task is immense.

Vladimir Putin, official photo

Vladimir Putin, official photo

Russian efforts to tilt elections and national referenda to suit its interests are ongoing. According to a report released by the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Russia’s influence on the 2016 US election, Putin’s government “has sought to influence elections across Europe”.

Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of Germany’s domestic security agency, also warned of “growing evidence” of Russian attempts to influence Germany’s federal elections, set for September.

Alex Younger, the head of MI6, Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, finds “profound” the risk to British sovereignty posed by the kind of state-directed fake news, propaganda, and other acts of subversion the Kremlin routinely engages in.

Russia has denied interference in the US or European elections, and calls such accusations examples of rampant “Russophobia” in the West.

Undermining democracy

Disinformation campaigns, or what are also sometimes called “active measures” in the “information space”, have become an increasingly important feature of Russian military doctrine.

The goal of these campaigns is to weaken and undermine support for the European Union, NATO, and public trust and confidence in democracy itself. And with the rise of anti-establishment, anti-EU politicians across Europe, Russia has found an increasingly receptive audience for such operations.

Russian propaganda campaigns date back to before the Cold War. But the sophistication and volume of these efforts are greater today than in the past. The internet has opened up new modes and opportunities for Russia to influence foreign elections — and new vulnerabilities for democratic societies, for which the free flow of information is a fundamental feature.

There is evidence, for example, that Russia played a role in several key national referenda across Europe last year: in April, when Dutch voters rejected an EU treaty with Ukraine that would have led to closer political and economic ties; in June, when British voters opted to leave the EU; and in December, when Italian voters rejected constitutional reforms championed by then Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, leading to his resignation.

The results of each of these votes served Russia’s broad interest in undermining EU cohesion.

Russian interference in Western elections can take various forms. Its operators may disseminate false or misleading news via blogs, websites, and social media or hack into computer networks and email accounts to steal and then leak compromising information against politicians seen to be anti-Russia (for example, Hillary Clinton). At the extreme, hackers may rig computer systems to manipulate election vote counts.

Russia’s disinformation campaigns also aim to instil doubt, confusion, and cynicism in the democratic process, erode public trust in institutions and in the news media — even to the point of eliminating the very idea of “a shared reality”. This foments populist anger and anxiety.

Thus disinformation campaigns and cyberespionage are for Russia attractive means to undermine Western governments and societies.

They’re also hard to track down and stop, offering Russia plausible deniability. Russian officials can operate covertly and through intermediaries, making it hard to find conclusive evidence directly implicating top Kremlin authorities.

It is often not clear if hackers are working with clear directions from Moscow or if they simply share sympathies with the Russian government and are acting independently.

A clear and present threat

Dutch authorities are so concerned about the possibility that its election could be manipulated that the interior minister announced that ballots will be counted by hand in the upcoming national election. Experts had warned that government computer systems were vulnerable to attack and disruption by state actors.

Likewise, the German government has advised of the possibility of a Russian cyberattack against the country’s federal elections. Russia is already suspected of hacking into the German Parliament’s computer network in 2015. German officials also suspect that Russia was behind a computer hack last November that resulted in 900,000 Germans temporarily losing internet and telephone service.

Putin has a powerful incentive to undermine German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been one of his most outspoken critics in Europe. She is also one of the strongest voices in favour of maintaining EU sanctions against Russia for its 2014 invasion and annexation of Crimea and its support for separatist rebels in the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine.

In France, Emmanuel Macron, who is running on a pro-EU platform ahead of French presidential elections in April and May, has accused Russian hackers of targeting him in an attempt to smear his candidacy. Richard Ferrand, the secretary-general of Macron’s En Marche party, has said that the campaign’s website and databases have been subject to “hundreds, if not thousands” of attacks from inside Russia.

An existential threat

Gérard Araud, France’s ambassador to the United States, argues that Russian election interference and manipulation, if unchecked, could pose an “existential threat” to Western democracies.

European governments are taking various steps in response. They have tried to educate voters on how to identify fake news and have threatened retaliatory measures against Moscow if its subversive activities persist.

The EU has even created a team whose mission is to address “Russia’s ongoing disinformation campaigns” by weeding out false or misleading online news.

Despite the various successes it can plausibly claim, election interference can also backfire on Russia. US intelligence agencies have traced the hacking of the Democratic National Committee computer systems back to the highest levels of the Kremlin and before leaving office in January, President Barack Obama imposed a range of sanctions and other retaliatory measures on Russia.

Such public hacking and disinformation campaigns have further damaged its relations with the West. Russia will now be the primary suspect for any electoral problems or irregularities in the future.

With Brexit negotiations, the rise of anti-EU and anti-establishment political parties, and the uncertainty surrounding the presidency of Donald Trump, Europe already faces a precarious moment. But since Russian disinformation campaigns target the very foundations of liberal democracy, they represent something perhaps even more sinister, threatening, and potentially destructive than Europe’s many other troubles.

Creative Commons

Richard Maher is a Research Fellow, Global Governance Programme, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, at the European University Institute. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Russia’s Military Buildup Focuses on Arctic

A Russian serviceman of the Northern Fleet's Arctic mechanised infantry brigade participates in a military drill on riding reindeer and dog sleds near the settlement of Lovozero outside Murmansk, Russia January 23, 2017. Picture taken January 23, 2017. Lev Fedoseyev/Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation/Handout via REUTERS

A Russian serviceman of the Northern Fleet’s Arctic mechanised infantry brigade participates in a military drill on riding reindeer and dog sleds near the settlement of Lovozero outside Murmansk, Russia January 23, 2017. Picture taken January 23, 2017. Lev Fedoseyev/Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation/Handout via REUTERS

By Andrew Osborn 
February, 2017

A general view shows ships moored in the Northern Fleet's Arctic headquarters of Severomorsk, Russia July 30, 2016. Picture taken July 30, 2016. REUTERS/Oleg Kuleshov

A general view shows ships moored in the Northern Fleet’s Arctic headquarters of Severomorsk, Russia July 30, 2016. Picture taken July 30, 2016. REUTERS/Oleg Kuleshov

MURMANSK, Russia (Reuters) – The nuclear icebreaker Lenin, the pride and joy of the Soviet Union’s Arctic great game, lies at perpetual anchor in the frigid water here. A relic of the Cold War, it is now a museum.

But nearly three decades after the Lenin was taken out of service to be turned into a visitor attraction, Russia is again on the march in the Arctic and building new nuclear icebreakers.

It is part of a push to firm Moscow’s hand in the High North as it vies for dominance with traditional rivals Canada, the United States, and Norway as well as newcomer China.

Interviews with officials and military analysts and reviews of government documents show Russia’s build-up is the biggest since the 1991 Soviet fall and will, in some areas, give Moscow more military capabilities than the Soviet Union once had.

The expansion has far-reaching financial and geopolitical ramifications. The Arctic is estimated to hold more hydrocarbon reserves than Saudi Arabia and Moscow is putting down a serious military marker.

“History is repeating itself,” Vladimir Blinov, a guide on board the icebreaker Lenin, which is named after communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, told a recent tour group.

“Back then (in the 1950s) it was the height of the Cold War and the United States was leading in some areas. But we beat the Americans and built the world’s first nuclear ship (the Lenin). The situation today is similar.”

Under President Vladimir Putin, Moscow is rushing to re-open abandoned Soviet military, air and radar bases on remote Arctic islands and to build new ones, as it pushes ahead with a claim to almost half a million square miles of the Arctic.

It regularly releases pictures of its troops training in white fatigues, wielding assault rifles as they zip along on sleighs pulled by reindeer.

The Arctic, the U.S. Geological Survey estimates, holds oil and gas reserves equivalent to 412 billion barrels of oil, about 22 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas.

Low oil prices and Western sanctions imposed over Moscow’s actions in Ukraine mean new offshore Arctic projects have for now been mothballed, but the Kremlin is playing a longer game.

It is building three nuclear icebreakers, including the world’s largest, to bolster its fleet of around 40 breakers, six of which are nuclear. No other country has a nuclear breaker fleet, used to clear channels for military and civilian ships.

Russia’s Northern Fleet, based near Murmansk in the Kola Bay’s icy waters, is also due to get its own icebreaker, its first, and two ice-capable corvettes armed with cruise missiles.

“Under (Soviet leader Mikhail) Gorbachev and (Russian President Boris) Yeltsin, our Arctic border areas were stripped bare,” said Professor Pavel Makarevich, a member of the Russian Geographical Society. “Now they are being restored.”

FILE PHOTO: Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu watches honor guards passing by during a wreath-laying ceremony to mark the 71st anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the Kremlin walls in Moscow, Russia May 9, 2016.  REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu watches honor guards passing by during a wreath-laying ceremony to mark the 71st anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the Kremlin walls in Moscow, Russia May 9, 2016. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo

‘AGGRESSIVE STEPS’

Russian servicemen of the Northern Fleet's Arctic mechanised infantry brigade participate in a military drill on riding reindeer and dog sleds near the settlement of Lovozero outside Murmansk, Russia January 23, 2017. Picture taken January 23, 2017. Lev Fedoseyev/Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation/Handout via

Russian servicemen of the Northern Fleet’s Arctic mechanised infantry brigade participate in a military drill on riding reindeer and dog sleds near the settlement of Lovozero outside Murmansk, Russia January 23, 2017. Picture taken January 23, 2017. Lev Fedoseyev/Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation/Handout

The build-up, which echoes moves in Crimea and Kaliningrad, has been noticed in Washington. U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis told his confirmation hearing this month it was “not to our advantage to leave any part of the world” to others.

Mattis, in a separate written submission, described Moscow’s Arctic moves as “aggressive steps” and pledged to prioritise developing a U.S. strategy, according to Senator Dan Sullivan.

That poses a potential dilemma for President Donald Trump, who wants to repair U.S.-Russia ties and team up with Moscow in Syria rather than get sucked into an Arctic arms race.

The build-up is causing jitters elsewhere. Some 300 U.S. Marines landed in Norway this month for a six-month deployment, the first time since World War Two that foreign troops have been allowed to be stationed there.

And with memories of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea still fresh, NATO is watching closely. Six of its members held an exercise in the region in 2015.

The Soviet military packed more firepower in the Arctic, but it was set up to wage nuclear war with the United States not conventional warfare. Arctic islands were staging posts for long-range bombers to fly to America.

But in an era when a slow-motion battle for the Arctic’s energy reserves is unfolding, Russia is creating a permanent and nimble conventional military presence with different and sometimes superior capabilities.

Sergei Shoigu, the defence minister, is presiding over the re-opening or creation of six military facilities, some of which will be ready by the year’s end.

They include an island base on Alexandra Land to house 150 troops able to survive autonomously for 18 months. Called the Arctic Trefoil, officials have said they may deploy military jets there. MiG-31 fighters, designed to shoot down long-range bombers, or the SU-34, a frontline bomber, are seen as suitable.

Moscow’s biggest Arctic base, dubbed “Northern Shamrock”, is meanwhile taking shape on the remote Kotelny Island, some 2,700 miles east of Moscow. It will be manned by 250 personnel and equipped with air defence missiles.

Soviet-era radar stations and airstrips on four other Arctic islands are being overhauled and new ground-to-air missile and anti-ship missile systems have been moved into the region.

Russia is also spending big to winterise military hardware.

“The modernisation of Arctic forces and of Arctic military infrastructure is taking place at an unprecedented pace not seen even in Soviet times,” Mikhail Barabanov, editor-in-chief of Moscow Defense Brief, told Reuters.

He said two special Arctic brigades had been set up, something the USSR never had, and that there were plans to form a third as well as special Arctic coastal defence divisions.

“Russia’s military activity in the Arctic is a bit provocative,” said Barabanov. “It could trigger an arms race.”

Atomic icebreakers Russia and Yamal are seen moored at Atomflot (Rosatomflot), the operator of Russia's nuclear icebreaker fleet, base in the Arctic port of Murmansk, Russia December 22, 2011. Picture taken December 22, 2011. REUTERS/Andrei Pronin

Atomic icebreakers Russia and Yamal are seen moored at Atomflot (Rosatomflot), the operator of Russia’s nuclear icebreaker fleet, base in the Arctic port of Murmansk, Russia December 22, 2011. Picture taken December 22, 2011. REUTERS/Andrei Pronin

‘FRIENDLY PEOPLE’

In Murmansk, home to Russia’s icebreakers and just an hour from the Northern Fleet’s headquarters, the prospect of an Arctic renaissance is a source of pride.

The city is steeped in Arctic and military history. The conning tower of the Kursk submarine, which sunk in 2000 after an explosion, looks down from a hill above the port.

And in central Murmansk, scale models of dozens of icebreakers crowd the halls of the Murmansk Shipping Company, while sailors, wrapped in great coats, barrel along its streets.

“These Arctic bases are on our territory. Unlike some other countries we are not building them overseas,” said Denis Moiseev, a member of the Russian Geographical Society.

“Other countries are also very active in trying to push their borders towards the North Pole. Our army must be able to operate on all our territory in extreme conditions.”

One country regularly mentioned as an unlikely Arctic rival is China, a close Moscow ally, which has observer status on the Arctic Council, the main forum for coordinating cooperation in the region, and is starting to build its own icebreakers.

Politicians are keener to discuss a commercial Arctic push.

New roads and a railway are being built and ports overhauled as Moscow expands its freight capacity and, amid warmer climate cycles, readies for more traffic along its Arctic coast.

It hopes the Northern Sea Route, which runs from Murmansk to the Bering Strait near Alaska, could become a mini Suez Canal, cutting sea transport times from Asia to Europe.

But while the route’s popularity inside Russia is growing, relatively high transit costs and unpredictable ice coverage means it has lost some of its lustre for foreign firms.

Grigory Stratiy, deputy governor of the Murmansk Region, told Reuters there was strong interest in sea route from Asian nations however and that new icebreakers would allow for year-round navigation in the 2020s.

“Whatever the weather, the Northern Sea Route will be needed. Its use will definitely grow,” said Stratiy, who said Russia was keen to attract foreign investment to the Arctic.

When asked about his country’s military build-up, he smiled.

“There’s no reason to be afraid I can reassure you,” he said, saying it was driven only by a need to modernise.

“Russia has never had any aggressive aims and won’t have them. We are very friendly people.”

Copyright Reuters 2017

(Editing by Janet McBride)

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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The Russian government is not America’s friend

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifies before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on foreign cyber threats, on Capitol Hill in Washington. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifies before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on foreign cyber threats, on Capitol Hill in Washington.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
January 7, 2017

Let’s be perfectly clear about this: Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government are not America’s friends. They are not friends of democracy, nor are they really interested in promoting any sense of peace in the world – at least a balanced peace. Russia is primarily interested in undermining Western democracy as much as it can without firing a shot … at the west. (Countries like the Ukraine and maybe the Baltic states, that’s a different matter.)

Vladimir Putin, official photo

Vladimir Putin, official photo

Russian hacking of the US election is well known. But as the hearing on Capitol Hill showed this week, it’s not just computer hacks and digital break-ins that Putin is relying on. There is also the classic Russian tactic of disinformation (practiced by many nations but done particularly well by Russia) that it is using to promote its agenda around the world, often with the help of “useful idiots” (defined as “a person perceived as a propagandist for a cause whose goals they are not fully aware of, and who is used cynically by the leaders of the cause.”) These include right-wing pro-Trump sites that seek to undermine any legitimate reporting about Russia activities, and promote Trump’s position that Russia is being unfairly targeted.

How Russia is dealing with accusations against its troops and those of its ally, the Syrian government, in the recent siege of Aleppo provides a clear example of this tactic.

Russia’s propaganda machine has worked hard to influence opinion in the West about what happened Aleppo. This propaganda takes several forms – for instance stories that depict news about civilian deaths in Aleppo as made up by anti-Kremlin forces, often found on numerous pro-Kremlin and far-right sites. These sites constantly allege that videos shot in Aleppo, by nonpartisan international organizations that graphically depict the carnage in the city, never actually happened but were manufactured to undermine Russia and the Syrian government.

More interesting is how these Kremlin-generated stories have been picked up by right-wing and alt-Reich sites that supported Donald Trump in the recent US presidential election. Eager to echo anything of Trump’s positions, these sites have become vehicles for the Kremlin to promote its own version of the events.

If you really want to get to the main engine of Russian disinformation in the West, you need to look at RT, or Russia Today. Billing itself as a “news” channel, RT is little more than a mouthpiece for Vladimir Putin. It is owned lock, stock and barrel by the Russian government.

A quick Google search will reveal a trove of RT stories over the past year about how “corrupt corporate media” in the West is promoting fake news about civilian casualties in Aleppo. In contrast, RT features stories about how civilians are so happy to be freed from the grip of the “terrorists” after the Syrian government forces recaptured Aleppo that they are literarily dancing in the streets. You would hardly know any civilians were killed at all.

If Putin can create even a seed of doubt in people’s minds about what really happened, then legitimate news stories from or about Aleppo become suspect. This is part of the overall assault on journalism practiced not just by the Kremlin but by anyone who wants to make sure that its own version of the story is the main one, even if it is nothing more than a tissue of lies.

Friday’s story in the Washington Post, reporting that US intelligence agencies captured audio of senior Russian official celebrating the victory of Donald Trump, shows that these officials believe that Russia will now have a “useful idiot” in the White House, a prospect that should concern any American. And Trump’s response to the Russians interference, no doubt approved by Putin himself, of calling into question the work of his own intelligence officials, is worrisome.

Not to the Russians, though. Things could not have worked out better. Putin and his minions will continue to try and undermine Western democracies and their allies. Don’t be surprised if you start to see a lot more fake news in places like Canada, Britain, and European countries. Expect more hacking attacks. Putin is a self-serving egotist and brutal dictator, but he’s not dumb. He senses weakness. He knows that Russia really can’t take on the combined military strength of the West, so he must ty to weaken it in any way he can.

Putin wants sanctions relaxed so he and his friends can make more money. He wants to rebuild a greater Russia, without the West interfering with his plans for the Ukraine or Georgia, or with his menacing moves towards the Balkans. He wants his way and he will do what he can to accomplish that.

The only advice is to be alert. Believe nothing that comes out of Russia, or from its propaganda outlets like RT. If we who care about Western democracy want to protect our democracies from being turned upside down, the next few years (four to be exact starting January 20th with Trump’s inauguration) will be crucial.

Copyright Tom Regan 2016

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

Further reading:

Office of the Director of National Intelligence Statement on Declassified Intelligence Community Assessment of Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections

From the news release: “On December 9, 2016, President Barack Obama directed the Intelligence Community to conduct a full review and produce a comprehensive intelligence report assessing Russian activities and intentions in recent U.S. elections. We have completed this report and briefed President Obama as well as President-elect Trump and Congressional leadership. We declassified a version of this report for the public, consistent with our commitment to transparency while still protecting classified sources and methods.”  Read the entire declassified document here: https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/ICA_2017_01.pdf

 

Related on F&O:

 

Why Putin Fears a President Clinton, TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA, October 15, 2016

Putin, Grand Master of the Great Game, awaits next opponentJONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs, October 1, 2016

Insight: The road to Aleppo – how the West misread Putin, By Tom Perry, Laila Bassam, Jonathan Landay and Maria Tsvetkova, February, 2016

~~~

Tom Regan Tom Regan is a journalist in the Washington, D.C., area. He worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92, and is a member of the advisory board of the Nieman Foundation for journalism at Harvard.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 

 

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Battle Ends, Bloody Syrian War Grinds On

By Laila Bassam, Angus McDowall and Stephanie Nebehay 

Rebel resistance in the Syrian city of Aleppo ended on Tuesday after years of fighting and months of bitter siege and bombardment that culminated in a bloody retreat, as insurgents agreed to withdraw in a ceasefire.

The battle of Aleppo, one of the worst of a civil war that has drawn in global and regional powers, has ended with victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his military coalition of Russia, Iran and regional Shi’ite militias….

However, the war will still be far from over, with insurgents retaining major strongholds elsewhere in Syria, and the jihadist Islamic State group holding swathes of the east and recapturing the ancient city of Palmyra this week. …. Read our full report here  

Related on F&O:

In 2013 F&O partner Jonathan Manthorpe called Syria our modern Gordian knot. Here are F&O’s works that explain and put Syria’s agony in context:

Aleppo will fall, but Syrian war will go on — Analysis, by By Samia Nakhoul October, 2016

Syria’s mobile amputee clinic, photo-essay, By Khalil Ashawi April, 2016

Heartbreak in starving Syrian town, By Lisa Barrington and Stephanie Nebehay January 12, 2015

Our selective grief: Paris, Beirut, Ankara, and Syria, by  Tom Regan November, 2015  Column

Syria: new weaponry test bed By David StupplesCity University London  October, 2015

Ethnic groups flee as Syrian Kurds advance against Islamic State, By Humeyra Pamuk July, 2015

Al-Qaida Jihadists Suspicious of Iraq-Syria Caliphate, by Jonathan Manthorpe July 16, 2014   Column

Putin supports Syria for fear of revolution spreading to Russia’s Muslims, by Jonathan Manthorpe  : September 6, 2013 Column

Cutting Syria’s Gordian knot no simple feat, by Jonathan Manthorpe   August 28, 2013  Column

 ~~~

Recommended:

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Why Putin Fears a President Clinton

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
October 15, 2016

Vladimir Putin, official photo

Vladimir Putin, official photo

For all of his and his lackeys’ denials, there seems little doubt that the hacking of emails from the U.S. Democratic National Committee, and Clinton advisor John Podesta, was carried out by Russians under the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

As if the US needed more evidence that Mr. Putin wants to sway the election in favor of Republican candidate Donald Trump, there is this week’s statement by a longtime Putin ally –  known for voicing radical opinions to test reactions for Putin – that if Trump is not elected, there will be nuclear war.

“Relations between Russia and the United States can’t get any worse. The only way they can get worse is if a war starts,” Vladimir Zhirinovsky told a reporter from Reuters in his office on the 10th floor of Russia’s State Duma, or lower house of parliament.

“Americans voting for a president on Nov. 8 must realize that they are voting for peace on Planet Earth if they vote for Trump. But if they vote for Hillary it’s war. It will be a short movie. There will be Hiroshimas and Nagasakis everywhere.”

To quote my grandfather, horse hockey.

Before you continue: to our supporters, thank you. To newcomers, please know that reader-supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and ad-free. We continue only because readers like you pay at least 27 cents per story, on an honour system. Please contribute below, or find more payment options here.

Yes, things are bad between the two countries at the moment, primarily over Syria and the Ukraine. The email hacking, and attempts to disrupt American voting systems, don’t help. But Putin is trying to take advantage of the space left by the end of one administration and the beginning of another to create as much chaos as he can. Creating chaos is the one thing he can do effectively, because the truth is that Russia is not the military power Putin boasts about, and he knows it.

So why work so hard to elect Trump? There are several theories.

  • Putin believes the Obama administration, and Clinton in particular, helped orchestrate the protests against him during the 2011 Russian presidential elections, and going after Clinton is pay back.
  • There is  the statement Clinton made in the early 2000s about Putin. When then-President George W. Bush said he looked into the eyes of Putin and saw his soul, then-Senator Clinton said that was impossible because Putin, a former KGB agent, didn’t have a soul. Like Trump, Putin never forgets a slight.
  • Another strategy being suggested is that Putin knows Trump can be easily handled. A little flattery here and there, and Putin could get most of what he wants from Trump.

But I believe there is another reason that Putin wants Trump to win. He’s terrified of Clinton.

Clinton has shown little inclination to buy into the PR machine that is the ego of Vladimir Putin, such as his bare-chested bear-fighting calendars and his scoring multiple goals while playing against seasoned Russian hockey stars. It’s easy to see that Clinton sees it all for the baloney that it is. Clinton is also not some newbie on the world stage. As secretary of state, she has clashed with Putin before and has a much better measure of him than does Trump, who barely takes time to learn about anything that is not about him.

No doubt the idea was that by giving hacked emails to WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange, who hates Clinton for entirely different reasons, the Russians would help kill Clinton’s candidacy. But Putin didn’t count on two things.

First, the emails are not all that damaging. They are more the “inside’ baseball of the Clinton campaign. Time magazine’s Joe Klein, no friend of the Clintons and author of  the book Primary Colors, a fictionalized account of her husband Bill’s presidential campaign, said the mail shows her to be, well, a normal politician, which he wrote was “reassuring in this crazy election.”

A Washington Post editorial (and remember the Post’s opinion and editorial section is moderately conservative) wrote that the leaked emails showed her to be (gasp!) “reasonable.”

But even Putin could not know that Donald Trump’s past indiscretions and alleged sexual assaults would blow up to swamp coverage of every other issue. Even if the leaks had been truly bad for the Clinton campaign, it is doubtful that most people, other than Trump’s true believers, paid any solid attention. As each new woman comes forward to allege that Trump sexually assaulted her, the hacked emails retreat farther and farther into the background noise of the campaign.

In the end, Putin will have to deal with Clinton. And it’s my guess that after all he’s done to do in her candidacy, she won’t be in a mood to fool around with Russia.

Clinton won’t be stupid – her advocacy of a no-fly zone in Syria was done more to spook Putin than to actually institute one – but she will be tough. Putin will have to face the fact that he won’t get want he wants as easily as he thought he could.

 

Copyright Tom Regan 2016

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

LINKS

US finds growing evidence Russia feeding emails to WikiLeaks
http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/13/politics/russia-us-election/

Why the Russian Hacks of Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Should Reassure Us All
Why the Russian Hacks of Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Should Reassure Us All

Vladimir Putin’s Bad Blood With Hillary Clinton
Vladimir Putin’s Bad Blood With Hillary Clinton

Scandal! WikiLeaks reveals Hillary Clinton to be . . . reasonable
https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/scandal-wikileaks-reveals-hillary-clinton-to-be–reasonable/2016/10/10/bbad509c-8f19-11e6-9c52-0b10449e33c4_story.html?utm_term=.7668018fbcc8

 

~~~

 

Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92. He is based near Washington, D.C.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 

 

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Aleppo will fall, but Syrian war will go on — Analysis

The sun sets over Aleppo as seen from rebel-held part of the city, Syria October 5, 2016.  REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail

The sun sets over Aleppo as seen from rebel-held part of the city, Syria October 5, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail

By Samia Nakhoul
October, 2016

A public garden converted to a graveyard due to overcrowding is pictured in the rebel held Salah al-Din neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria October 6, 2016. The text on the grave reads in Arabic: "Unknown, Salah allah." REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail

A public garden converted to a graveyard due to overcrowding is pictured in the rebel held Salah al-Din neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria October 6, 2016. The text on the grave reads in Arabic: “Unknown, Salah allah.” REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail

BEIRUT (Reuters) – It may take weeks or months, but Aleppo is likely to fall to Syrian government forces backed by Russian air power and the most lethal bombardment in nearly six years of war.

Capturing the strategically important city, an economic and trading centre which is key to controlling Syria’s northwest, would be an important military triumph for President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies.

It would be a crippling setback for the Western-backed Syrian rebels who, without quick reinforcements from their foreign backers, look set to be bombed out of their stronghold.

But the fall of Aleppo will not mean an end to the war, military and political analysts say.

Before you continue: to our supporters, thank you. To newcomers, please know that reader-supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and ad-free. We continue only because readers like you pay at least 27 cents per story, on an honour system. Please contribute below, or find more payment options here.

Instead it is likely to give way to a long-term Sunni guerrilla insurgency in which the remaining moderate rebel groups, backed by the West and the West’s regional allies, are driven into the arms of militant jihadis.

In a war with so many global and regional actors backing local clients, Assad will survive as leader of a shrunken, broken and fragmented country enduring the world’s worst refugee crisis since World War Two.

“The Russians are doing in Aleppo and Syria what they did in Grozny — it is the same”, said Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria in 2011-14, referring to the fierce bombardment that all but destroyed the capital of Russia’s Chechnya region during Moscow’s 1999-2000 war against Islamist separatists there.

The opposition to Assad, he told Reuters, will “go from holding territory … to being an insurgency, a guerrilla war, and that will continue a long time.”

Syria’s war began in 2011 after a popular uprising, against the Assad family’s more than four-decade rule, that was inspired by the Arab Spring revolts across the Arab world.

The war, pitting rebels mostly from Syria’s Sunni majority against a minority rule rooted in Assad’s Alawite community, has killed more than 300,000 people. Half the population has been displaced and much of urban Syria has become a wasteland.

There have been moments during the conflict when it looked like Assad might be toppled. Russia sent its air force to bolster Iran-backed militias a year ago when Moscow and Tehran feared Assad was on the point of succumbing to rebel offensives.

The bombing of eastern Aleppo, with a pro-Assad force on the ground spearheaded by seasoned Iran-backed fighters such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, is meant to deal a decisive blow against the rebels.

People walk past a burnt bus in the rebel held Seif al-Dawla neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail

People walk past a burnt bus in the rebel held Seif al-Dawla neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail

ASSAD LUCKY WITH FRIENDS AND ENEMIES

A damaged road is pictured in the rebel held al-Shaar neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail

A damaged road is pictured in the rebel held al-Shaar neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran’s clerical leaders have not wavered in their support for Assad.

But the backers of the rebellion — ranging from the United States to Turkey and the Gulf — have been wary of being sucked into a Levantine quagmire and unnerved by concerns that Islamic State will fill the vacuum if Assad’s rule implodes.

Yet, despite the ferocity of the bombardment of eastern Aleppo, it may be too soon to count the rebels out.

Assad loyalist forces encircled the opposition enclave in July. But with manpower shortages, the Syrian army could not keep step on the ground with the Russian aerial assault. In August, rebels broke through government lines southwest of Aleppo, opening a corridor and briefly lifting the siege.

As a harbinger of the future, the rebel counter-offensive was led by Nusra Front, the jihadi force that had just split from Al Qaeda and rebranded itself as the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, or Front for the (Islamic) Conquest of the Levant.

Even while negotiating the terms of a short-lived ceasefire with Washington, Russia kept bombing the corridor south of Aleppo. When the brief break in hostilities ended, the intensity of the bombing increased.

The Russian and Syrian forces have been using much more powerful “bunker-buster” bombs, which residents of opposition-held areas say have the force to bring down entire buildings.

A boy plays with a bicycle past damaged buildings in the rebel held Seif al-Dawla neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail

A boy plays with a bicycle past damaged buildings in the rebel held Seif al-Dawla neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail

Western countries say Syria’s government and its Russian allies are guilty of war crimes for targeting civilians, aid deliveries and hospitals. Moscow and Damascus say they target only militants and deny they have hit hospitals.

Despite the intensity of the bombing, the opposition are unlikely to stop fighting, not least because the Syrian establishment has left it nowhere else to go.

“Aleppo is not a turning point, not yet,” said Ford, who is now a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington who has criticised U.S. President Barack Obama for failing to arm the mainstream rebels.

“It shows that the (Assad) regime is winning the war now but there will be no end to the war because the opposition will continue to fight,” he said. “Aleppo will fall but it may not be quick, it may take one year but it will fall.”

Rolf Holmboe, a former Danish ambassador to Lebanon, Syria and Jordan who is now a research fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, says Aleppo’s fall would be devastating for the rebels, who have used it as a major hub throughout the war.

“The rebels will be isolated in enclaves. The regime will continue attacking one after another without difficulty,” he said. “If Aleppo falls, it will be a strategic loss for the rebels … Now there is no getting around the fact you have to make peace with Assad –- basically he would have won the war.”

Holmboe considers it would be very difficult for the West or Turkey to resupply rebels in Aleppo — even supposing they wanted to — and that Russia and Assad have unleashed a two-pronged attack on eastern Aleppo.

Like Ford, he drew comparisons with Russia’s bombardment of Grozny.

People walk near an over-crowded graveyard in the rebel held al-Shaar neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail

People walk near an over-crowded graveyard in the rebel held al-Shaar neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail

CHANGING DYNAMICS

Crucial to the outcome of the war in Syria is the stance of external powers: how much they support their Syrian proxies and how they interpret their interests in a conflict with regional and global ramifications.

Russia and Iran not only want to salvage Assad but also hope to establish themselves as regional or global powers, though such goals leave Moscow with little way out of a conflict that could be a huge financial burden.

Under Obama, whose presidency ends in January, the United States seems to have more limited goals — the main one being to drive Islamic State out of its strongholds in Iraq and Syria.

An over-crowded graveyard is pictured in the rebel held al-Shaar neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail

An over-crowded graveyard is pictured in the rebel held al-Shaar neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail

Washington’s attention is divided, with the U.S. presidential election campaign nearing a climax and U.S. forces also focusing on driving IS out of Mosul and Raqqa.

Gulf Arab countries, which supply weapons and funds to the Syrian opposition, have also been distracted — by a war in Yemen against Houthi rebels aligned to Iran, their regional foe.

Ford said some regional powers could have more influence in Syria but no longer had the stomach for the war.

Jordan, he said, has all but shut down a supply route it ran for the so-called southern front of the rebel Free Syrian Army.

Turkey, which backs the Syrian rebels, is now preoccupied with halting Syrian Kurdish advances near its border. It has diverted its proxies away from Aleppo to fight Kurdish militia crossing west of the Euphrates river at the Syrian city of Jarablus, a move seen by some Syrian rebels as ruinous.

But it remains important for Ankara that the rebels are not defeated, not least because this could increase the flow of refugees to Turkey, which is already sheltering 3 million people who have fled the conflict.

Holmboe foresees the rebels becoming “isolated in various enclaves”, with Assad in control of all big cities and “able to dictate a peace solution on his own terms”.

“Maybe it’s going to take five years, maybe it will take 10 years … (but) he (Assad) will be the leader of a broken country,” Ford said.

Sarkis Naoum, a leading Arab commentator, predicted a protracted conflict and the de facto partitioning of the country. But he suggested countries in the region would opt to increase their arming of rebel groups.

“The Gulf states are not pleased with the way things are going. They’re willing to repeat the experience of Afghanistan,” he said in reference to the 1980s when they supplied arms for the Mujahideen to fight the Soviet Union.

“For them this is the war of the century.”

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova and Christian Lowe, Writing by Samia Nakhoul, Editing by Tom Perry and Timothy Heritage)

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