For reasons that have no rational explanations at this time, the US and Europe have embarked on a concerted program to demonize Putin, ostracize Russia, and bring the world as close to a major conflict as it's been since the Cold War, a time hardly memorable to many in the current crop of our elected officials.
Within hours of the MH-17 plane crash, the United States pinned the blame on Russia generally, and Putin particularly. The anti-Putin propaganda (and if there were a stronger term I'd use it) has been relentless and almost comically over-the-top (see image above, and those below).
The US and the UK in particular, are leading the charge. Indeed, the UK's Daily Mail managed to crank out an article on the MH-17 affair within just a few hours on the very same day it occurred with this headline:
Jul 17, 2014
The world may have averted its gaze towards Israel and Gaza, but this week the rumbling warfare in eastern Ukraine has been erupting into something growing daily more dangerous.
Meanwhile the Russian bear, still pretending to be an innocent party despite blood dripping from its paws, has begun stealthily rebuilding its forces on the border.
Now we may well have witnessed the kind of shocking event that happens when heavy armaments are placed in the hands of untrained and desperate militias.
That's really an amazing piece of journalism to have managed to have figured out the who, the what and the why of a major catastrophe without the benefit of any evidence or investigation. One wonders who the author's source was for obtaining what have become very crisp talking points that both the US and Europe are echoing as they exert increasing pressure on Russia?
Nearly two weeks later, neither the US nor Europe has provided substantial evidence of any sort to support their assertions that Ukrainian separatists and/or Russia are to blame for the MH-17 catastrophe. There's literally been nothing.
In the meantime, very important questions surrounding the shoot-down have gone entirely unaddressed by US officials and the western media. Why? Perhaps because they raise the possibility that there could be an alternative explanation:
- What about the Russian satellite photos showing Kiev controlled BUK-1 missile batteries in the area on July 17th?
- What about Russia's evidence that the radar of these units were active on July 15th, 16th and 17th?
- What were on the air traffic control recordings that were immediately seized by Ukrainian authorities, and why have they not been released?
- Why was a Ukrainian SU-25 flying within a few kilometers of MH-17 at the moment of the shoot-down and what did that pilot see?
- Why has the US not responded to nor released the satellite images and data from its spy satellite that Russia claims was in the right position to capture the precise moment of the MH-17 shoot-down?
So far, the entire case made by the US State Department and Obama administration boils down to a few highly-questionable social media clips gathered right after the incident, plus several out-of-date low-resolution satellite photos taken from a private company (DigitalGlobe) along with a bevy of 'trust us' statements.
Nonetheless, despite the lack of solid, verified and credible evidence, the current narrative has now been embedded firmly in the media cycle and nearly everyone on the streets of the US, UK and most European nations will tell you that Putin and/or Russia was responsible.
Similarly, in 2007, years after all the facts were verified and known, when asked "Do you think Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq was directly involved in planning, financing, or carrying out the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001?" 41% of Americans answered 'yes' when the proper answer was (and remains) 'Absolutely not.'
It's a fact of modern life that most people really don't pay close attention to important world events. Due to that lack of engagement, even the most patently obvious lies can quickly become entrenched in the public mind as truth if touted by mainstream news outlets.
Here now in July 2014, there is a rush towards war similar to those that proceeded Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. Important questions are not being asked by the media, our once again missing-in-action fourth estate, and unsubstantiated and unverified political talking points are simply being reprinted as facts.
But this time the war fervor is being directed at a nuclear powerhouse, not a derelict Middle East country. And the stakes could hardly be higher. For Europe, even if things don't progress much further than they already have, economic damage (we don't know how much yet, or how much worse it may get) has already been done to its fragile recovery. The people of Europe really ought to be asking what exactly they're hoping to achieve by attempting to box Putin into a corner.
After all, that might not even be possible. He enjoys an 83% approval rating in Russia, a level beyond the fantasies of most western politicians, plus his country supplies a vast amount of Europe's natural gas and a hefty percentage of the world's exported oil. Temporary loss of either would be a painful body blow to Europe, while a sustained loss of oil exports would be crippling to the world at large.
In all of the thousands of column inches I've read demonizing Putin over the developments in Ukraine and MH-17, I've yet to identify a single compelling answer to this question: What vital US interest is at stake if Russia keeps Crimea and helps to defend the Russian-speaking people along its border? To my knowledge, it's not yet been articulated by anyone at the State Department or White House.
At this stage, all we know is: the West thinks that Russia is bad, and Putin is worse. But, given the stakes involved, we all deserve to know more than that. A lot more. We deserve proper and complete answers.
There's a lot of context to this story. It involves broken promises, desirable resources, power plays, and a dangerous lack of diplomatic sophistication by the current US administration.
Diplomacy and Statesmanship
My greatest concern in seeing this rush towards judgment before the facts are in — or worse — war, is that the people running the show in the White House and the US State Department are not cut from the same cloth as the old-school diplomats that preceded them.
After all, extremely dangerous conflicts transpired in the past (the Cuban Missile crisis, anyone?) and yet talks between sides were held and resolutions reached, preventing the more dire of outcomes from coming to pass.
In that spirit, I found this recent piece by Pat Buchanan (someone I've not always agreed with in the past), to be spot on:
When then did this issue of whose flag flies over Donetsk or Crimea become so crucial that we would arm Ukrainians to fight Russian-backed rebels and consider giving a NATO war guarantee to Kiev, potentially bringing us to war with a nuclear-armed Russia?
From FDR on, U.S. presidents have felt that America could not remain isolated from the rulers of the world's largest nation.
Ike invited Khrushchev to tour the USA after he had drowned the Hungarian Revolution in blood. After Khrushchev put missiles in Cuba, JFK was soon calling for a new detente at American University.
Within weeks of Warsaw Pact armies crushing the Prague Spring in August 1968, LBJ was seeking a summit with Premier Alexei Kosygin.
After excoriating Moscow for the downing of KAL 007 in 1983, that old Cold Warrior Ronald Reagan was fishing for a summit meeting.
The point: Every president from FDR through George H. W. Bush, even after collisions with Moscow far more serious than this clash over Ukraine, sought to re-engage the men in the Kremlin.
Whatever we thought of the Soviet dictators who blockaded Berlin, enslaved Eastern Europe, put rockets in Cuba and armed Arabs to attack Israel, Ike, JFK, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush 1 all sought to engage Russia's rulers.
Avoidance of a catastrophic war demanded engagement.
How then can we explain the clamor of today's U.S. foreign policy elite to confront, isolate, and cripple Russia, and make of Putin a moral and political leper with whom honorable statesmen can never deal?
That's really an amazing piece of context. Past US presidents managed to hold dialogs with Stalin, who killed millions, and Khrushchev, who directly threatened the US with nuclear missiles.
What exactly has Putin done to surpass the excesses of past Russian/Soviet leaders? What the US still refers to as the "illegal annexation of Crimea" was actually the result of a heavy turn-out vote by the Crimean people where 97% of the votes cast were in favor of rejoining Russia.
So, to recap, Crimea's people voted overwhelmingly to shape their future in the way they best saw fit, and not one life was lost during the annexation. That sounds pretty peaceful and democratic if you ask me. What would Washington DC prefer? To undo that particular vote and have the people of Crimea be forcibly reunited with Ukraine? For what purpose? To prevent map makers from having to once again redraw Ukraine's wandering borders?
More likely — and this is the part that concerns me — is that the current people in power in Washington DC are just not the equals of the statesmen of old.
In researching this piece, I came across this 1998 interview with George Kennan that I found both illuminating and troubling:
His voice is a bit frail now, but the mind, even at age 94, is as sharp as ever. So when I reached George Kennan by phone to get his reaction to the Senate's ratification of NATO expansion it was no surprise to find that the man who was the architect of America's successful containment of the Soviet Union and one of the great American statesmen of the 20th century was ready with an answer.
''I think it is the beginning of a new cold war,'' said Mr. Kennan from his Princeton home.
''I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the Founding Fathers of this country turn over in their graves. We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. [NATO expansion] was simply a light-hearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs.''
''What bothers me is how superficial and ill informed the whole Senate debate was,'' added Mr. Kennan, who was present at the creation of NATO and whose anonymous 1947 article in the journal Foreign Affairs, signed ''X,'' defined America's cold-war containment policy for 40 years.
''I was particularly bothered by the references to Russia as a country dying to attack Western Europe. Don't people understand? Our differences in the cold war were with the Soviet Communist regime. And now we are turning our backs on the very people who mounted the greatest bloodless revolution in history to remove that Soviet regime.
''And Russia's democracy is as far advanced, if not farther, as any of these countries we've just signed up to defend from Russia,'' said Mr. Kennan, who joined the State Department in 1926 and was U.S. Ambassador to Moscow in 1952.
''It shows so little understanding of Russian history and Soviet history. Of course there is going to be a bad reaction from Russia, and then [the NATO expanders] will say that we always told you that is how the Russians are — but this is just wrong.''
As he said goodbye to me on the phone, Mr. Kennan added just one more thing: ''This has been my life, and it pains me to see it so screwed up in the end.''
The master statesman pretty much nailed it. Instead of bringing Russia into the fold, a petulant strain of 'diplomacy' took over that goaded and threatened Russia and now we are, in fact, being treated to endless repetitions of oh you know – that's just how Russians are. Instead we might also note that the current debate seems superficial and ill-informed.
As I recently wrote in the piece on the Ukraine Flashpoint, the expansion of NATO to the east towards Russia happened even though the US had previously struck an explicit agreement not to progress any further. Not one inch, was the vow. That vow was consciously and repeatedly broken. So who exactly is it that has cause not to trust the other?
The West had the opportunity to bring Russia and its extensive abilities and resources closer into partnership. But for some reason (Military industrial complex anyone? Campaign contributions from same?), the decision was made during the Clinton administration to violate the NATO agreement instead and move many millions of inches eastward.
The last encroachment both brought NATO right to Russia's borders and placed millions of culturally-Russian people under the heavy-handed rule of Ukrainian ultra-nationalists. Some of these same ultra-nationalists were caught on tape recommending that the 8 million Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine should be "nuked".
Perhaps an idle threat. However, one of the first actions of Kiev's new government this February was to immediately revoke legal equality for the use of Russian language:
Perhaps the most obvious of the new Kiev government's mistakes came last week, when deputies in the nationalist party Svoboda, or Freedom, pushed through the cancellation of a law that gave equal status to minority languages, such as Russian.
The previous law had allowed regions across the country to use languages other than the official national language, Ukrainian, on commercial signs, in schools and government documents. When it passed in 2012, it was seen as a victory for the areas where Russian was the dominant language, particularly in the east and south.
Suffice it to say, there's a very long list of very good reasons why the Russian-speakers in the east of Ukraine might want nothing to do with being under the rule (thumb?) of western Ukraine.
Propaganda is information that is designed to mislead and provoke an emotional response. The covers of western newspapers and magazines have been absolutely choked with anti-Putin propaganda. After such yellow journalism, what sort of dialog, what rapprochement, can be proposed with Putin?
Would not Obama (or any other leader) be seen as 'siding with the enemy' if he engaged in dialog with Putin after all this?
That Newsweek cover with the darkened face and mushroom clouds reflected in the glasses is especially ominous. Exactly what's the message being represented there? Well that's easy. It's Armageddon.
Before you take Newsweek's views too seriously, you need to know that the once respectable publication went through some hard times, went out of print for while, was bought and is now run by these folks:
Aug 4, 2013
On Saturday, news broke that IBT Media, a company that runs the online business (at least, in theory) newspaper International Business Times, had purchased Newsweek from IAC. So IBT Media now owns Newsweek. But exactly who controls IBT Media?
IBT Media’s corporate leadership site lists two cofounders: Etienne Uzac, the company’s CEO, and Johnathan Davis, its chief content officer.
But some say that the company is actually controlled by—or at least has very close undisclosed ties to—someone whose name appears nowhere on the site: David Jang, a controversial Korean Christian preacher who has been accused of calling himself “Second Coming Christ.”
Before founding IBT, Mr. Davis was the journalism director at Mr. Jang’s Olivet University.
So Newsweek may or may not have a larger agenda to push beyond just getting the facts out. It's another case where knowing that an editorial slant exists can be helpful in maintaining a healthy stance of skepticism.
But beyond Newsweek, the entire suite of publications ranging from the NYTimes, Washington Post, Financial Times, and nearly every other main pillar of the Fourth Estate have been running with the "Putin's responsible" meme.
And, it bears repeating, all without any solid evidence, none(!), plus a host of legitimate serious questions that are being met with zero investigative vigor by the mainstream media and complete radio silence from the government agencies that should be examining and addressing them.
This relentless campaign of propaganda directed against Russia (generally) and Putin (specifically) is now at a fever pitch. My caution to you is that you should be actively suspicious of any media outfit that chooses to run this propaganda.
Perhaps their travel and dining sections can be trusted; but I'd advise reading the front section with a huge grain of salt.
Poking the Bear
With all of that background, we're now at the point where we can understand just how annoyed Russia must be at the sanctions that have been recently levied against it, various of its industries, and in certain cases, specific wealthy and influential citizens.
Since the MH-17 downing and all of those resulting accusations of Russian responsibility, Russia has been accused of firing artillery and rockets across its border into Ukraine. The only "evidence" to this is the aforementioned crude satellite photos taken by a private company. These photos were then drawn upon (literally) to show trajectories the missiles *could* have followed. These very non-rigorous images were then tweeted out of the account of one Geoffrey Pyatt as hard fact. If his name isn't familiar to you, he's the US Ukrainian ambassador who was famously caught on tape with Victoria Nuland (Asst. Sec. of State) discussing the imminent coup against then-Ukrainian President Yanukovych.
Next, a western tribunal in The Hague suddenly ruled that the former shareholders of the dismantled Russian oil giant Yukos were entitled to $50 billion in compensation to be paid by the Russian government. Surprise!
In chilling response, a person close to Putin reportedly said, “There is a war coming in Europe. Do you really think this matters?”
Following that, the US accused Russia of violating the 1987 nuclear arms treaty by testing ground based missiles in…wait for it…2008. I'm sure the timing of this is in no way connected to the dust-up over Ukraine…
And most recently, both the US and the EU levied additional sanctions on Russia and certain Russian individuals:
Jul 29, 2014
WASHINGTON — President Obama announced expanded sanctions against Russia on Tuesday, just hours after the European Union imposed its most sweeping measures yet penalizing Moscow for its role in supporting separatists in neighboring Ukraine.
The latest American actions took aim at more Russian banks and a large defense firm, but they also went further than past moves by blocking future technology sales to Russia’s lucrative oil industry in an effort to inhibit its ability to develop future resources. The measures were meant to largely match those unveiled earlier in the day in Europe.
“Today is a reminder that the United States means what it says and we will rally the international community in standing up for the rights and freedom of people around the world,” Mr. Obama said on the South Lawn of the White House.
While one could be forgiven for thinking that the "rights and freedom of people" might include the freedom to vote for the future one wants, and the right not to be ruled over by people hostile to one's language and customs, apparently the Obama administration has other ideas for the people of Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
The final act of hostility by the US towards Russia that bears mention here concerns a Senate bill introduced by the ranking member of the foreign relations committee, Sen. Bob Corker, that outlines what would happen if Russia does not 'comply' and leave Crimea and Ukraine entirely within seven days of the act's passage:
Jul 29, 2014
Corker’s bill would declare Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine “major non-NATO allies” of the United States, move NATO forces into Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, accelerate the building of an ABM system in Eastern Europe, and authorize U.S. intelligence and military aid for Ukraine’s army in the Donbass war with Russian-backed separatists.
U.S. aid would include antitank and antiaircraft weapons.
S. 2277 would direct the secretary of state to intensify efforts to strengthen democratic institutions inside the Russian Federation, e.g., subvert Vladimir Putin’s government, looking toward regime change.
If Putin has not vacated Crimea and terminated support for Ukraine’s separatist rebels within seven days of passage of the Corker Ultimatum, sweeping sanctions would be imposed on Russian officials, banks and energy companies, including Gazprom.
Economic relations between us would be virtually severed.
In short, this is an ultimatum to Russia that she faces a new Cold War if she does not get out of Ukraine and Crimea, and it is a U.S. declaration that we will now regard three more former Soviet republics – Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia – as allies.
Poor George Kennan. Once again the US Senate is operating without the benefit of either humility or historical perspective.
The people of Russia are not in any mood to be bullied by the US Senate, just as the US Senate would refuse to be dictated to by the Russian parliament. That's just common sense.
It's completely obvious that the impact of any such Act passed by the US legislature would be to further erode, if not collapse, relations and economic ties between Russia and the US.
The main conclusion here is that not only is the US poking the bear, but it is doing so with increasing frequency and upping the ante dangerously with each step.
In Part 2: How The Coming Confrontation Will Unfold, we examine the most likely scenarios for where the current tensions between the West and Russia may head. Whichever path we head down, there will be at least some degree of pain experiences by the West, which Europe will feel first and worst (though the US will not be immune). And, sadly, it's safe to say that this East-West conflict will only accelerate the coming correction of the unstable over-leveraged, bubblicious world markets.