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21 October 2019

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Babak Makkinejad

It is not balance sheet. US could have sold more to Iran than to Saudi Arabia. MBS is US man, and thus must be preserved. Trump is hiding behind "balance sheet", carrying out the same bone-headed policies in the Middle East since 1968.

David Habakkuk

Jack,

One slip in my previous comment – I left out the 2007, in describing the ‘Losing Russia’ piece by Dimitri Simes as having been in the November/December 2007 issue of ‘Foreign Affairs’.

More recently he has, unlike so many Western ‘experts’, taken the trouble actually to talk to relevant people in Russia about how their attitudes to China have changed.

A useful account was published in an article in the ‘National Interest’ back in July headlined ‘Is Russia Worried About China’s Military Rise? Strained relations between Moscow and Washington are making Russians more accepting of Chinese military power.’

(See https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/russia-worried-about-china’s-military-rise-70201 .)

The short answer is, yes, Russian experts can see plenty of potential problems with China, and might in private be less sanguine than they will be talking to an American.

But they do not regard it as anything like the kind of threat they see the United States as being. Accordingly, creating a situation where the Chinese will have a long-term interest in co-operation is their least worst option.

It is worth looking further at the intellectual evolution of one of those Simes quotes, Alexander Lukin, whom he describes as ‘A China scholar at the Higher School of Economics.’

Back in January, Strobe Talbott published an article in ‘Politico’ headlined: ‘It’s Already Collusion. We don’t need news reports to tell us that Trump is giving Putin what he wants. Take it from this longtime Russia hand: It’s staring us in the face.’

The following month, in response, Lukin published in the ‘National Interest’ an ‘insider’s account’ of the devastating effect of the ‘spinach strategy’ not just on the attitudes of his countrymen to the United States but on the prospects for liberalism in Russia – a cause with which he was once himself strongly identified, under the title: ‘How the United States Got Russia Wrong.’

(See https://nationalinterest.org/feature/how-united-states-got-russia-wrong-42977 .)

A key paragraph:

‘Many Russians who advocated democratic reforms in the early 1990s and for whom both the Yeltsin kleptocracy and the Communist dictatorship were anathema now have reason to blame Talbott and his like-minded associates for contributing to authoritarianism in Russia. Those policies served to discredit Russia’s pro-Western forces completely because everything was lumped together in the public’s perception – kleptocracy, corruption, Western aid, pro-Western policies, and Russia’s abasement. And it was the policies developed by Talbott and his associates that gave rise to this perception.’

Developing his argument, Lukin suggests that people like Talbott are really ‘neo-Brezhnevites’, unable to understand the realities of other societies and their own because of a bizarre combination of outdated ideological dogma and humbug. And he concludes:

‘From this perspective, Trump’s policies are far more understandable because they are less ideologized and hypocritical. Trump candidly states that his goal is to preserve the U.S. hegemony and economic advantage. He wanted to improve relations with Moscow not because of some mythical collusion, but because he viewed Russia as less of a threat than China and Iran. This position is at least rational. Talbott and his like-minded associates in Washington’s political class, however, prevented Trump for pursuing this plan. I think both Russians and Americans will not be grateful to them for this, just as they will not be grateful to them for the U.S. foreign policy of the 1990s.’

Whether, if Trump’s efforts to make your country pursue a more ‘realist’ policy succeeded, apprehensions about China might again play a much larger role in Russian thinking is an interesting question.

As it happens, evidence coming out as a result of ‘Russiagate’ has reinforced my longstanding conviction that the notion that, somehow, if they serve up more helpings of ‘spinach’, they can have the ‘Nineties back again, dies very slowly among American, and British élites.

Unless there is a radical change in this situation, the Russians who matter are likely to continue to think ‘appeasement’ of China their least worst option.

Xenophon

Great link eakens...... thank you

LondonBob

Yes Blair was keener than Bush on the invasion of Iraq, the poodle thing was perhaps to quell the discontent of the antiwar left, whatever happened to the antiwar left?

Blair was lavishly funded by Zionists.
https://www.lobster-magazine.co.uk/free/lobster73/blair-israel.pdf
Indeed Blair himself was just a telegenic front man for Peter Mandelson(Mendelsohn) and Alastair Campbell, he of the Iraq war dodgy dossier fame. Campbell had worked for Robert Maxwell at his newspaper the Daily Mirror. Probably just a coincidence but it is funny how Maxwell people keep turning up, Bill Browder worked for Maxwell.

David Habakkuk

EO,

You raise some fundamental questions, not least in relation to what our country should do. The caravan is now moving on, as it were, but I will attempt to say something about your final one.

It is often difficult, with Trump, to know whether statements which are taken to be ludicrous reflect confusion or concealed calculation.

One case in point was the reference to the ‘server’ in the conversation with Zelensky. If one assumes that the reference is to the DNC server, it appears absurd.

An alternative possibility, that the actual suggestion is that ‘CrowdStrike’ collaborated with Ukrainians in producing a ‘false flag’ that left what appeared to be Russian traces on the DNC servers, does not seem to me absurd at all.

And then we have Trump’s suggestion to Hannity, on Monday, in relation to the dossier supposedly compiled by Steele, that ‘he had been hearing about Ukraine, that ‘I heard Clinton was involved,’ and that ‘I heard they got somebody who wrote the fake dossier was out of Ukraine.’

(See https://www.foxnews.com/media/trump-hannity-barr-ukraine-hillary-clinton-steele-dossier .)

It has long been my view that Steele’s primary role in that document was in giving a veneer of intelligence legitimacy to a ‘camel produced by a committee’, put together by his long-term collaborators inside Fusion GPS – and also making it possible to disguise where the material, insofar as the gang had not simply invented it themselves, originated.

I have from the start been puzzled by the use of the transliteration ‘Alpha’ for the Fridman/Aven/Khan group.

It could be expected that someone whose native language was English, like Steele, the Ohrs, and Simpson, would use the company’s own transliteration, ‘Alfa’. If the memo was drafted by someone whose native language was Ukrainian, and/or Russian, it would make better sense.

Also, if you look at the ‘Manafort Chronology’ which Nellie Ohr produced within Fusion, and which her husband emailed to himself on 5 December 2016, you will see that it draws, repeatedly, on the ‘Third Complaint’ in Yuliya Tymoshenko’s lawsuit against Dymtro Firtash and others.

By the time that document was submitted, in November 2014, those included Mogilevich, Yanukovych and Manafort.

The document is freely available on the ‘Courtlistener’ site, as is its dismissal – ‘with prejudice’ – by Judge Kimba M. Wood in September 2015.

(See https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/4615105/tymoshenko-v-firtash/ )

Certainly, this dismissal does not mean that the factual claims made by the Tymoshenko camp on which Nellie Ohr relied can simply be assumed to be false.

By the same token, however, there are no grounds for simply discounting the account of Tymoshenko’s allegedly criminal involvement in gas trading in the ‘Counterclaim’ filed by Firtash on 11 July 2011, which can be accessed at http://uaba.org/Resources/Documents/Blog Docs/11-07-16 Universal Trading v Tymoshenko Counterclaim.pdf .

When ‘pots’ are busily accusing ‘kettles’, a prudent person should be cautious about taking sides, as not only the Ohrs but very many people in Washington and London have done.

In fact, the conventional wisdom according to which Yanukovych, Firtash and Manafort were instruments of a dastardly plot by Putin to keep Ukraine in the grip of his corrupt ‘tenacles’, from which Tymoshenko, Yushchenko, Poroshenko et al have been striving to free it, has always been BS.

Rather obviously, the disasters to which the attempt to split Ukraine totally from Russia have led have meant that some of the proponents of this course in the former country have had every reason to do everything possible to prevent Trump’s election.

By the same token the fact that powerful elements in the United States have so patently sided with Tymoshenko – among other things waging a protracted battle to get Firtash extradited to the U.S., on charges that look somewhat questionable – has provided his camp with strong reasons to use their intelligence capabilities, which I suspect may be formidable, on Trump’s side.

Also needing to be added into the ‘mix’ are two recent pieces by Eric Zuesse – one of many figures writing about the post-Soviet space whose material needs to be handled with great caution, but is sometimes very useful.

On 28 September, he published a piece on the ‘Vineyard of the Saker’ site headlined ‘Here is the dirt Trump wanted from Zelensky about the Bidens and why Zelensky doesn’t want to give it to him – hidden by rampant falsehoods in the press.’

A follow-up piece on the ‘Strategic Culture Foundation’ site, on 19 October, was headlined ‘Ukrainegate: Is It Waterloo for Trump, or for America’s ‘News’-Media?’

(See https://thesaker.is/here-is-the-dirt-trump-wanted-from-zelensky-about-the-bidens-and-why-zelensky-doesnt-want-to-give-it-to-him-hidden-by-rampant-falsehoods-in-the-press/ ; https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2019/10/19/ukrainegate-is-it-waterloo-for-trump-or-for-americas-news-media/ .)

A central claim underlying these pieces is that control of Burisma, the company which is at the heart of all the questions relating to Biden and his son, passed in 2011 from Mykola Zlochevsky, who had been associated with Yanukovych, to the ferociously anti-Russian – and spectacularly corrupt and unpleasant – oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky: to whom Zelensky is linked.

What makes this rather hard to ignore is that the research on which Zuesse is drawing was published back in 2014 on the ‘Naked Capitalism’ site by Richard Smith, who is a long-term collaborator of Susan Webber, aka ‘Yves Smith’, who runs it. Both have high and patently deserved reputations for analytical competence and integrity.

One does not need to swallow Zuesse’s claims about the implications of this hook, line and sinker to agree that if indeed Hunter Biden was being employed not by Zlochevsky but by Kolomoisky, then the suggestion that his father was seriously concerned with corruption collapses – and a lot else with it.

Also interesting here are the recent closed door testimony of William B. Taylor, who was U.S, Ambassador in Ukraine from 2006-9, and is now back there as Chargé d 'Affaires, to the House impeachment inquiry.

In a discussion on the ‘National Interest’ site, Hunter DeRensis writes that this figure’s ‘Manichean introductory and concluding remarks suggested that he views Russia as an inveterate enemy of America and Ukraine as a white knight.’

(See https://nationalinterest.org/feature/blob-strikes-back-90471 .)

One then comes back to the fact that the – common and egregious – misrepresentation of Manafort’s role is bound up with a peculiarly ‘Manichean’ understanding of the conflict between Firtash and Tymoshenko.

Here, it becomes very interesting to read the cables which Taylor sent back to Washington, following visits by Firtash to the Embassy in December 2008 and March 2009, which have been published by ‘WikiLeaks.’ Some useful context is provided by cables from his predecessor, John Herbst, notably one from 14 April 2006.

(See https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/08KYIV2414_a.html ; https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/08KYIV2414_a.html ; https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/06KIEV1531_a.html .)

One thing that comes out clearly is that Firtash, like Manafort, had been championing an alternative strategy for wresting the whole of Ukraine away from Russia: based on the argument that Tymoshenko’s opposition to Yanukovych was deepening the East/West divide, and it was crucial to co-opt the ‘Party of the Regions’ into a pro-Western orientation.

Also very interesting is the account which Firtash gave to Taylor about the history of his relations with Semyon (misspelled Seymon by both Taylor and Herbst) Mogilevich.

This, however, needs to be set in the context of – thoroughly plausible – allegations discussed in the April 2006 cable from Herbst, that two key associates of Tymoshenko, the then chairman of the SBU, Oleksandr Turchynov and his deputy had ordered the destruction of ‘13 volumes of material on Mogilievich, dating back to 1993’ – the day before she was sacked as Prime Minister.

In an interview with Betsy Woodruff of the ‘Daily Beast’ back in March, Firtash produced a clearly tongue-in-cheek response on the subject if his relations with Mogilevich.

‘“Half of the Soviet Union knows him, everyone knows him,” Firtash said. “He’s from Ukraine. Everyone knows him, I’m not the only one who knows him.’

(See https://www.thedailybeast.com/indicted-oligarch-dmytro-firtash-praises-paul-manafort-says-trump-has-third-grade-smarts .)


The response to Ms. Woodruff’s question as to whether Putin was manipulating Trump was also entertaining:


“Bullshit,” Firtash replied. “It’s just the Mogilevich fairytale, Part 2.”


In fact, the whole history of the gas trade to and through Ukraine, and of the role of Mogilevich in it, which underpins the scare stories about that figure, is complex.

It is symptomatic of the ‘Manichean’ mentality of Taylor and so many others that, commenting in his March 2009 cable on what Firtash had had to say about the recent gas dispute with Russia, he should write ‘Although no friend of PM Tymoshenko, he echoed her claims that 1) Russia caused the crisis, and that 2) Ukraine had not stolen any Russian gas.’

It is too complex to go into here, but an alternative view has long been that the background to the existence of the intermediary companies, and the involvement of Mogilevich and the ‘Solntsevskaya Bratva’, had to do with the difficulties of making the gas trade work in the chaotic world created by the collapse of the Soviet Union.

And part of the problem, it has been cogently argued, is that Ukraine was exploiting its stranglehold on Russian gas exports to Europe to get gas without paying for it.

However, so many have committed their reputations, and indeed their self-esteem, to an account of post-Soviet realities which is not simply ‘Manichean’ but frankly ‘fairytale’, that the ‘information operations’ contests in Ukraine are now being carried over into American politics.

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