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Trump’s perception of Russia and Putin

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] A [/yt_dropcap]mong all bilateral ties, the ones between the Cold War foes play most significant place in world politics. Answers to several questions on international tensions could easily be found if one knows the aspects of US-Russia relations. At least for this reason, the relations between these top most rival powers need to be comprehended properly.

Donald Trump is perhaps the only US president who in years since the WW-II never made any criticism of Russia as part of his policy rhetoric. All his predecessors, keeping in view the views of the Neocons and Israeli leadership that speaks through the powerful Jewish leaders in USA, made a special reference to Russian policy to slam that arch rival as US key position.  

Upon the unexpected and rather shocking victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential election held in December 2016. In this context there have been ongoing allegations of Russia’s involvement in hacking in the election campaign by the Kremlin meaning thereby on the order of the Russian President Putin, supporting Doland Trump and against the “official” candidate Hillary Clinton. This has been emphatically denied not only by the Russian Government. Even as there is an ongoing debate and controversy, the US President-elect, Donald Trump, has shrugged off allegations that Russia meddled in the election. Thus even as both Putin and Trump denied wrong doing, both seem to have benefited, according to a few critics.

As White House was battling to stop master of aggressive rhetoric Donald Trump’s arrival as its custodian, President Putin has managed to showcase his leadership quality, often critical, in the media in the USA. Putin has long believed that the United States has sought to manipulate Russia’s political structure, and provided covert support for democratic insurgencies through nongovernmental organizations.

On top of all this is blatant Russian interference in the recent US national election, clearly aimed along partisan lines against the Democratic Party and its candidate, Secretary Clinton.

Every president at one point or other said USA must reset ties with Russia for creating a genuinely peaceful world. But none has been serious about what they say in public. Trump has aloe said it. The Obama regime tried to have a reset with Russia, and ended up badly. The efforts of the George W. Bush administration ended up badly, too. There are fundamental differences in how the USA and Russia view the world. It is very easy to come to the agreement that we collaborate on fighting the Islamic State and other emerging threats. But putting these pledges into real actionable policies is quite difficult.

Alliance or enmity?

Today, Russia is becoming the scandal the Trump regime just can’t shake. A steady drip of revelations regarding the Trump team’s communications with Russian officials is dismaying congressional Republicans as well as Democrats, leading to calls for a more intensive investigation into the circumstances and substance of these connections. In particular, many lawmakers were surprised by a report in The Washington Post that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had twice spoken with the Russian ambassador during the presidential campaign. In sworn testimony during his confirmation hearing, Sessions had appeared to say that no such conversations took place.

Trump might not be a thorough politician or authoritative diplomat but he is well versed in business diplomacy. Putin’s shrewd diplomacy is evident from the fact that (as reported by the Russian press on December 30, 2016) after Trump got elected he opted out of a tit-for-tat retaliation against the USA which under Obama’s government in November 2016 had kicked out 35 Russian officials over allegations of hacking aimed at interfering in the US election, espionage, and harassment of US diplomats in Russia. At any rate this has further helped Trump to hold on to his contention in favour of Putin and improve relations with Russia. As a successful businessman Trump knows he would reap dividends from Russia if the ties are strengthened.

President Trump is therefore very interested in trying to figure out a way to improve relations with Russia, while Putin wants all economic sanctions slapped on the Kremlin following the annexation of Crimea, withdrawn. It appears, Trump is not entirely averse to that. But there is a lot of talk in Washington about having a grand bargain with Russia. Trump wants to use Russia to fight ISIS but Russia wants USA to support Syrian Assad but Israel and Neocons warn Trump not fall into the Kremlin’s trap. Israel is unhappy that USA refused to abide by the Zionist demand of attacking Iran.

Throughout the campaign and the initial days of his presidency, Trump has continued to express admiration for President Putin and his desire for warmer relations with Moscow. Though he seemed to backtrack at a press conference in Washington and a weekend rally in Florida, and though Vice President Mike Pence offered boilerplate reassurances at a conference in Munich that Washington intends to hold Russia “accountable” for provocations aimed at undermining NATO and the European Union, Trump himself has clung to his view that closer cooperation with Russia is needed to defeat ISIS and radical Islamic terrorism. “If we have a good relationship with Russia, believe me,” he said, “that’s a good thing, not a bad thing.”

President Trump is yet to make up his mind over foreign policy issues. Against this backdrop, there are what the media call “mixed signals” coming from the White House where Russia, among other topics, is concerned. The president’s attitude (it cannot be called a policy) so far is simply that it is better to have Russia as a friend than as an enemy. The new secretary of state has been silent to date. Our ambassador to the United Nations has taken a traditionally critical position concerning Russia’s actions in opposition to us and our allies. And, perhaps most ominously, senior “strategists” in the White House have signaled, at least indirectly, that they welcome the rise of a right wing, across Western democracies, that identifies with Putin’s nationalism, cultural conservatism, religious orthodoxy, demonization of immigrants and resistance to social toleration.

Given the limited US interests, if the USA were to have some grand bargain with Russia, Central Asia would fall back into the Russian orbit as a place that Trump is not going to focus on. But there is counter-terrorism cooperation between Central Asian states and the USA. Some of the cooperation will remain, but it will be on a limited basis, not any big initiatives.

Compounding the confusion is the appointment of a secretary of state whose considerable interactions with Russian officials have all been corporate and commercial. Conflicts in interests are well known and documented: Russia’s seizure of Crimea and de facto invasion of eastern Ukraine; tacit pressure on the “near abroad,” especially in the Baltic region; troublesome relations between the Putin regime and expanding western European right-wing political parties; and Russian military and political support for the Assad regime in Syria.

Putin plan?

Putin’s actions indicate he is seeking to make an effort to reestablish Soviet Union in another form, though the Kremlin continues to deny that. While most former Soviet republics have joined the EU and NATO, even the corrupt Central Asian regimes are also not very keen to return to square one. The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, stated prior to that meeting that Putin believed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 was a mistake and disaster. While the disintegration cannot now be reversed, Putin believes in a “new integration in the space of the former Soviet Union”.

Putin’s leadership at domestic and regional levels has assumed significance. On December 26, 2016 Putin met with the leaders of several former Soviet republics in St. Petersburg, a day after the 25th anniversary of the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

The Presidents of Armenia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan were in St. Petersburg recently for the meetings, which included informal summits of the Eurasian Economic Union, that has become a reality in 2015, and Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO). Hence with that objective at that summit Putin expressed his hope that the creation of a favourable business environment was needed to achieve full-fledged development of their economies. He opined that since forming a common market with the other Eurasian Economic Union countries about two years ago, trade between them has already increased significantly. This has been possible since non-tariff trade barriers have been slashed by 30 per cent and a single market for drug and medical products has been created. Thus by 2025 the EEU aimed at the formation of a common financial market and common markets for gas, oil, and petroleum products, with harmonized rules of trade. By this Putin’s objective and vision may partly be achieved. In fact ever since Putin came to power in 1999, his mission has been to make Russia great again and restore its due place in contemporary world history.

Likewise, the Trump government’s attitude toward the Atlantic alliance, especially NATO, is untethered. The new president has called NATO “obsolete,” and costly affair but his secretary of defense confirmed America’s continuing commitment to the alliance to face the “threats”. At the very least, this causes confusion in European capitals. Is the USA committed to its principal post–World War II security alliance, or should each nation make its own arrangement with Moscow? At stake in all this is not simply the future US-Russian relationship, but even more importantly the US relationship with Europe and the democratic world.

Trust deficit

USA does not trust Russia and other Socialist countries mainly because they oppose capitalist ideologies and as such they would perish. Most Americans for sure believe Russia has not fully given up its ideological agenda though the last Soviet President Michael Gorbachev helped Russians shed along with communist-socialist ideals plus implementation and imbibe so-called democratic values being exported by USA and other capitalist nations.

Humanist Gorbachev, however, mistook American political gimmicks for since intent and thought western democracies are sincere about their claim of focusing on creating genuine peace globally but the USA in fact equates its capitalist ideology as mechanism for promoting neocolonialism and universal democratic values. That is the height of nonsense.

President Trump’s visceral belief, that it is better to have Russia as a friend than an enemy, makes sense. On the other hand, it blurs real differences between what Russia views as its interests and what we view as ours. And, for a president with no foreign-policy experience and still-dubious prior relationships with Russia, it can lead to serious misunderstandings and miscalculations.

Trump never criticized Russia or its president openly or rudely as he does with Muslims or even China, thereby leaving a playfield for diplomatic maneuvers. Who then says trump does not know niceties of high level diplomacy?

President Trump has expressed his admiration for the Russian leadership’s quality and strength to deal with problems including fight against Islamic terrorism, which will also be his own policy priority. Moreover there is media speculation whether with improved relations with Putin, Trump will soften Western policy of economic sanctions on Russia for its annexation of Crimea and the ongoing conflict in the eastern part of Ukraine. In fact it is important to note that Trump also did not support the media allegation against Putin as a ‘killer’ that was reported by Times Global on February 6, 2017. Russia has demanded apology from the American media persons. Looking back, in 2016 along with Putin’s rising power certain events proved positive for Russia. For instance, the Brexit vote exposed the deep rifts in the European Union that have benefited Russia as some of the EU members are critical of Putin. It may be argued that Putin’s regime has taken careful aim at the soft underbelly of Western democratic institutions. Hence Donald Trump’s victory might pave the way for a break from the traditional Washington policy towards Moscow that Putin has been looking for.

There is a lot of pushback among the Democratic Party in the USA against a better relationship with Russia. The controversy in the U.S. right now over what sort of influence the Russian government had in the US political system during the campaign complicates Trump’s ability to implement his Russia policy. But Trump is, sometimes, unrelenting and he just decides he wants to do it. My inclination is that it might not be a successful one. Like the Obama, Bush and the Trump regimes may find the US-Russia relations end up far worse than when they began.

No one in US Congress wants to take a stand on the Russia question, then be disproved by later events. After all, former national security adviser Michael Flynn initially denied contacts with the Russian ambassador prior to the election. That turned out to be untrue and he was forced to resign. Some ruling GOP members are now joining Democratic members in calling for Sessions to step aside from an investigation into Russian interference in the election, or even appoint a special prosecutor for an independent effort. Such a probe could distract and dispirit the White House for months, as Benghazi and Iran-Contra investigations did for other administrations in different times and circumstances.

Russia boosts image in Mideast

Energy rich Mideast has one major problem-Israel which succeeded in garnering high precision terror goods from USA and Europe, maneuvering the corrupt US politicians cutting across their bi-party mischief.

Notwithstanding mutual tensions, Russia and USA coordinate their pro-Israeli policies to terrorize the Palestinians whose lands they allowed the Israelis with a managed legal basis on illegal means to confiscate to create Israel on Palestine and begin slashing the Palestinian population by regular genocide efforts on fake pretexts. That is real strength of Israel in attacking and killing the Palestinians, besieged by both Israeli and Egyptians terror blockades.

Both USA and Russia have been competing for bulk military orders from Arab nations and both enjoy their strong presence in Mideast eminently aided by Israeli provocative politics but now wing the Arab Spring and Nato terror wars in Mideast with Israeli backing USA lost its advantage at least for the time being and Russian has overtaken the upper power in selling terror goods to corrupt Arab nations.

Arrogance and Zionist instincts displayed openly by President Donald Trump leave very little hopes for the humanity and its survival. His anti-Muslim rhetoric has emboldened already criminalized Israel. As one of first foreign “dignitaries”, Trump welcomed criminal PM Netanyahu at White House who speaks American English fluently facility that the Palestinians leaders badly lack. Trump, like a prominent Israeli lobbyist Mrs. Clinton would have done, would even embark upon his first foreign trip to Israel.  

Image of Putin’s Russia as becoming a very important military power has become explicit with its interventions in Crimea, East Germany, Syria. It is a matter of great global significance that Putin has been able to bring about a ceasefire deal in the Syrian conflict. On December 28, 2016 the Syria ceasefire deal was signed and Russia and Turkey were ‘Guarantors’ for the same. Putin, having signed the ceasefire agreement with Turkey, stated that the Russian military would scale down its presence in Syria, but he didn’t say how many troops and weapons would be withdrawn. It appears, both USA and Russia do not vacate the land they occupy and as Putin may not withdraw his forces from Syria at least in the near future because most Russians resent the way the Soviet troops were given the march-back order by Gorbachev and now they don’t appreciate ay withdrawal from Syria. More importantly, Putin has asserted that Russia will continue “fighting international terrorism in Syria” and supporting the Assad Government. The terrorism plank offers Russia the right to stay in Syria as long as it wants. While the West had been critical of Russia’s aggressive acts in Syria during the last couple of years, there has been a drastic change with the signing of the peace treaty in Astana in January 2017. It is opined by some analysts including Vasily Maximov that Moscow’s intervention under the leadership of Putin in Syria has an important dimension and that Russia has succeeded in trying to boost its position in the Middle East and demonstrate its global stature while attaining leverage in negotiations with the West.

In fact Putin is aware that what is binding Russia and China together has been their shared interest in balancing the USA on global issues. Putin has succeeded in increasing convergence between Russia and China on many global issues during the past few years. It is significant that in December 2016 Putin displayed renewed interest in the long-delayed China-Russia highway across the Amur River by extending technical and financial assistance to it; it is to be completed by 2019 and will enhance trade relations. China is thirsty for energy and raw materials from Russia to fuel its economic growth. It needs to be stated that another major factor drawing them together is a mutual dependence because even as Russia, though superior to China in nuclear weapons, is no match as far as the Chinese conventional military weaponry is concerned. Russia’s Look-East policy subsequent to the conflict with Ukraine on the Crimean issue in 2014, which worsened Russia’s political and economic relations with Europe and the USA, was welcomed by Beijing and that was “an axis of convenience” as rightly stated by Alexander Gabuev of the Carnegie Moscow Centre highlighting Russia-China relations.

Russia is also in recent years growing closer to Pakistan and this is a matter of anxiety, especially at a time that India is trying to isolate Pakistan in this region by supporting USA against funds meant for Pakistan. China is already a strong supporter of Pakistan and with the two major powers involving themselves with Pakistan; it is certainly not good news as far as India is concerned. Russia held its first ever joint military exercise with Pakistan days after the Uri terror strike in September 2016 in the Indian administered State of Jammu Kashmir and at the BRICS Goa Summit, India felt let down by Russia as Moscow did not support Delhi’s stand by publicly naming the Pakistan-based “terror outfits”, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, as opined by Sachin Parashar. It needs to be noted that one cannot deny that both Russia and Pakistan are opening a new era of strategic and political alliance. President Putin’s proposed visit to Pakistan in May of this year will witness the inauguration of the US $ 2 billion LNG North-South Pipeline from Karachi to Lahore, as reported in the International News by Noor Aftab. This is possibly intended by Putin who wants to enhance Russia’s presence and influence in South Asia.

All said and done, a steady drip of revelations regarding the Trump team’s communications with Russian officials is dismaying congressional Republicans as well as Democrats, leading to calls for a more intensive investigation into the circumstances and substance of these connections.   A report in The Washington Post notes that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had twice spoken with the Russian ambassador during the presidential campaign. In sworn testimony during his confirmation hearing, Sessions had appeared to say that no such conversations took place. Some Republican (GOP) members are now joining Democratic members in calling for Sessions to step aside from an investigation into Russian interference in the election, or even appoint a special prosecutor for an independent effort. For Trump administration officials, their deepening Russia problems are a frustration at best. White House is in a fix now as an investigation on the subject, something analogous to the Benghazi inquiry, ostensibly about a 2012 tragedy at a US outpost in Libya, turned up evidence that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton conducted government business on a private email service.

On the domestic front Putin enjoys support and popularity by over 80 per cent of the population. Even as there are some Opposition parties and political leaders, including Alexei Navalny who proposes to contest in the presidential election against Putin, he has made sure that no political Opposition exists to challenge his authoritarian rule. It is worth noting that Russia’s annexation of Crimea has boosted Putin’s popularity at home even as there is strong opposition in the West. Russians constitute a substantial portion of the population in Crimea which has helped in the referendum held for the annexation. Russia claims that all legal processes were in place for that purpose.

In his annual state-of-the-nation address on December 1, 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the country is unified like never before and is fully capable of achieving its strategic economic and geopolitical goals. Speaking at the Defence Ministry on December 22, 2016 Putin asserted that Russia’s military is now stronger than any possible attacker but must be prepared to adjust plans to neutralise the potential threats to the country.

Observations

It is difficult to imagine normalization of US-Russian relations, either in a traditional sense or on some new, yet unarticulated basis, until the mystery of the president’s personal attitudes toward Putin and whatever background they represent are clarified and laid to rest. It is difficult to disprove a negative, to prove that something that didn’t happen didn’t happen. But the only known way to do that is to turn over every rock, not only where Trump is concerned, but also regarding the several individuals close to him who have dabbled in Russia in recent years. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Unfortunately, one of the rocks that must be overturned has to do with Trump’s taxes, and that seems an immovable stone wall.

For US presidents, no single foreign policy challenge is more contentious, or crucial, than getting Russia right. Under President Donald Trump, Republicans and Democrats have embraced diametrically opposing views on how to handle President Vladimir Putin. Both seem to have got it wrong. Resisting Russian intimidation should be more than a campaign slogan. While almost no one wants a return to the Cold War, a world in which Russian hegemony is unrestrained increases the chance of global conflict.

For Trump officials, their deepening Russia problems are a frustration at best. Many of their attempts to get past the controversy end up feeding it – witness their attempt to enlist the FBI to knock down a previous New York Times story about administration/Russia connections. That only produced more headlines on the subject. In that context, an independent prosecutor could turn the probe into something analogous to Benghazi – much more difficult for the subject of the investigation to limit in time or subject. Remember that the Benghazi inquiry, ostensibly about a 2012 tragedy at a US outpost in Libya, turned up evidence that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton conducted government business on a private email service.

Perhaps a new approach to clearing the air and the deck where the Trump regime and Russia are concerned should be considered. Because of the role it played in the recent election, whatever investigations the FBI is undertaking regarding Russian connections may be suspect or discredited. Congressional inquiries, even with a Republican majority, will be partisan, politicized and media saturated. Consideration, therefore, might be given to a special panel composed of respected statesmen and stateswomen of both parties empowered to compel testimony under oath, inspect personal and classified documents (including tax returns), and issue a public report that either eliminates all suspicion of prior Trump-related activities in Russia or identifies areas of conflicting interest.

Otherwise, it seems inevitable that a cloud will linger for years to come regarding how relations between the current US government and the Putin government are being formulated, and whether in response to some prior arrangements or personal understandings. That will confuse whatever policies are adopted, either to strengthen U.S.-Russian ties, or draw lines against Russian actions in opposition to the interests of the United States and our allies.

Depending on what the investigations in the USA about relations between the Trump campaign and Russia find out, it could have very significant impacts on the Trump presidency and Trump’s ability to engage with Russia. There is harsh anti-America rhetoric in Russia. After this campaign, among a certain sector of the American population, there is harsh anti-Russia sentiment in the U.S. Overcoming that will be challenging.

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Americas

America’s Deep-seated and Almost Universal Bigotry

Eric Zuesse

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On May 12th, Politico headlined “‘A dream ticket’: Black lawmakers pitch Biden-Harris to beat Trump”, and reported that:

The Congressional Black Caucus may have found an answer to its Joe Biden dilemma: Vice President Kamala Harris.

Some black lawmakers are agonizing over whether to back Biden or two members of the close-knit caucus — Sens. Harris and Cory Booker — who are also vying for the White House, according to interviews with a dozen CBC members.

But with the former vice president jumping out to a huge, if early, lead in the polls, several CBC members are warming to the idea of a Biden-Harris ticket to take on President Donald Trump.

“That would be a dream ticket for me, a dream ticket!” said Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.). “If she is not the nominee, that would be a dream ticket for this country.”

Harris is everything the 76-year-old Biden is not. The freshman senator from California is younger, a woman and a person of color. …

America’s billionaires — who love it when the public are so obsessed with “Blacks versus Whites” or “women versus men” or other such distinctions amongst the public — hire politicians and ‘news’-media that play up to those distinctions instead of to themselves versus the public, because this way the public will accept those billionaires’ controlling the government — as they do.

Blacks are just as bigoted as Whites, and women are just as bigoted as men — and that goes also for Jews, Christians, Muslims, and every other distinction within the public — every other rage by the public, that’s being redirected away from the billionaires (who virtually own the government) to being instead against some mass of the public who DON’T control the government, and who AREN’T the cause of this country’s massive economic inequalities of opportunity, and who DON’T benefit from extending the American empire by bombs (or otherwise) to Afghanistan, and Iraq, and Libya, and Syria, and Iran, and Venezuela, and Ukraine, and Russia, etcetera.

Therefore: the first question that should be asked of every Democratic Presidential candidate isn’t (like it is) “man or woman?” or “Black or White?” or “Muslim or Christian?” or anything like that, but instead: Did you vote for the invasion of Iraq, and of Libya, and for economic sanctions (which are the first step toward declaring a nation officially as being an ‘enemy’ and thus the first step toward war) against Iran, and Syria, and Venezuela, and Russia? 

Those international hostilities are just great for the billionaires’ corporations, such as Lockheed Martin, but they bring billions to the billionaires and nothing but increased taxes and death and disabilty to the public and to our soldiers — and vastly worse to the people who live in the tragic lands where we are sanctioning or invading, or doing regime-change by means of coups. So: they hire the distractors. 

This isn’t to say that Trump isn’t a racist, but it’s about how the billionaires’ Democratic Party agents who are in Congress deal with this in such a way that the racist distractionism is on both sides and drowns-out any authentic progressivism (that being what the billionaires of both Parties fear). Part of progressivism is an opposition to regime-change wars — international dictatorship (including not only invasions but also the earlier stages: economic sanctions, and coups). The U.S. violates international law whenever it does those, and it does the vast majority of the ones that are done. The U.S. is thus the last nation in the world that should be pontificating to other countries. Whenever the U.S. Government does it, we should all be ashamed of it. 

So: the billionaires need the distractionaires. 

The Congressional Black Caucus, according to Fact Check, as posted in 2008 and never since revised, “has never had a white member in its 36-year history” (and, today, that would be never in its 47-year history), so that if for example Bernie Sanders or Pete Buttigieg or maybe even the warmongering Joe Biden himself, were to apply to join and then be turned down by them, and this were to become public, then the resultant bad publicity for that Caucus would likely reduce, instead of increase, that candidate’s standing with black voters. Consequently, he probably won’t even apply to join.

In any case, being a member of a victimized group doesn’t mean that one is less bigoted than other groups are. And who is to say that Americans weren’t bigoted against Iraqis when we did to them the catastrophe that we did

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A More Nakedly Aggressive United States

M Waqas Jan

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Of all the instability and unrest the US has been accused of fomenting over the last three years, no other example comes close to the lengths the US has gone to in its unilateral attempt at isolating Iran. Long accused by Russia and other major powers as the leading cause of instability in the Middle East, the recent escalation of tensions between Iran and the US forms part of a wider more troubling trend. This has included the US ratcheting up tensions with both friends and foes alike such as the escalating trade war with China, calls for regime change in Venezuela and the estrangement of its allies across both the European Union and NATO.

The last bit, regarding the US’s growing differences with the EU’s major powers such as France and Germany is also to a large extent directly linked with its hardline stance on Iran. This is evident in the clearly divergent stances both the US and EU have taken regarding Iran’s Nuclear program. President Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) last year had brought about considerable shock and dismay amidst European powers that had spent years negotiating the agreement with Iran alongside the US. Signed back in 2015, the JCPOA had set a historic precedent in international diplomacy, garnering support from China and Russia as well as the US, UK, France, Germany and the EU. Based on years of painstaking negotiations it was widely hailed as presenting a successful model for Nuclear Arms Control and non-proliferation.

In fact, a number of experts had hailed the JCPOA as being even better than the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in a number of ways. Its emphasis on monitoring other research and attempts at nuclear weaponisation beyond the involvement of nuclear materials was a major step in further expanding the role and scope of the IAEA’s monitoring mechanisms. These same mechanisms which based on the consensus of world powers have been successful in both monitoring and limiting Iran’s attainment of Nuclear weapons capability. The only exception has been the United States, and particularly the Trump White House that has made it a policy imperative to undo the years of work put in by both former US President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.

President Obama had even quite recently publicly lamented how reneging on the JCPOA not only undermined the United States credibility as a negotiating partner, but also dismantled a whole non-proliferation mechanism that was to prove crucial in addressing the growing threat from North Korea as well. As apparent in the failure of the recent talks between the US and North Korea in Vietnam, the US’s seriousness and commitment to the non-proliferation regime has been openly questioned as it continues to prioritize its own geo-political imperatives. Its ‘maximum pressure’ campaign on Iran, which is flirting dangerously with yet another large-scale military conflict involving US armed forces, threatens to undo the last decades’ painstaking rollback of US troop deployments throughout the Middle East.

Since the end of the Cold War, the US’s unilateralism and more maximalist approach was never in question considering its series of interventions particularly in the Middle East. There was however a semblance of unity and International leadership which either under the aegis of the UN or NATO still more or less carried the garb of a multi-lateral consensus. That instead of simply employing naked aggression as accused of by its adversaries, the US was justified by its ideology and the success of its international diplomacy. This perhaps was best and most positively evident in the JCPOA, which had brought all the world’s major powers into a concerted agreement on one of the world’s most pressing issues, namely Nuclear Proliferation.

However, as the Trump administration beats its war drums to the tune of nothing short of a regime change in Iran, there is most definitely a marked difference in how the US has previously built its cases for military intervention in the Middle East. In the absence of any international support from its partners, or in the lack of any overarching ideal based on non-Proliferation or plain old human freedoms (à la Iraq), the recent case for the US military intervention in Iran appears outright indolent if not unjustified as has mostly been the case with US hegemony over the last few years.

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The crisis in Venezuela and its strategic significance

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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Venezuela’s economy – in a country that has better oil reserves than Saudi Arabia and Iran – began with the OPEC oil price crisis, when Chavez was still alive, until the heavy fall in oil prices in 2013.

  The social spending of Venezuelan “Bolivarianism” was very high and a country living on oil permanently needs stable and growing markets. This is inconceivable with the current dislocation of strategic roles within OPEC and in the context of the struggle between Iranian Sunnis and Shiites.

  Saudi Arabia will decrease production as soon as prices fall – and this will be the rule for everyone.

 With Maduro, the primary choice for oil – i.e. Venezuela’s true economic policy -has remained in the wake of Bolivarianism. Oil resources, however, have fallen to less than half of those recorded during the Chavista boom and inflation has quickly grown to such a point that it is currently the largest in the world. It reminds us of the Weimar Republic and for the same reasons. The State of Caracas prints money with the same criterion with which newspapers in crisis print more copies.

 At the beginning of the Chavista era, the inflation rate was already 29.5%. In 2005, when the oil market was still bullish, the inflation rate dropped to 14.4% instead.

 Eight years after the former city bus driver in Caracas, namely Chavez, had risen to power, food prices in the capital city were nine times higher than at the beginning of Chavez’ new Bolivarian regime, while salaries had decreased by 40%.

 The full nationalization of the oil company PVDSA was the first step that Chavez made down to the road for total economic disaster.

 Currently the oil companies operating in the Orinoco Basin – which is one of the largest in the world – do no longer make the necessary investment to make extraction possible, and nowadays oil extraction has leveled off at merely one million barrels a day.

 Certainly, we need to consider the US sanctions on exports, but extraction could still halve down to half a million by the end of 2019.

 Companies such as Malaysia’s Petronas and even the Russian Lukoil already left Venezuela in 2014. The Iranian company Petropars did the same in early 2015 and PetroVietnam in late 2015. Finally Exxon and Conoco had to leave quickly under the threat of Venezuela carrying out a punitive nationalization, with both companies’ related and immediate starting of formal proceedings before the international courts.

 Moreover, there is no legal framework – not even in Venezuela-delimiting possible operations, in the case of ongoing confiscations of foreign capitalists’ assets or of nationalizations. Hence those who remain, paying bribes left and right, obviously do not extract the amount of oil they could. This also applies to the Venezuelan non-oil economic sector.

 Even PDVSA – the always open coffer of Bolivarianism – has reduced its oil production from 5 million barrels a day to the current one million barrels a day. Later, with the embargo imposed by the United States, this trend will continue.

 The national oil company has long been heavily indebted with China and Russia, as well as with other countries, such as Iran.

 China has already requested the quick and full payment of its credits. China is not used to the structural inefficiency of Latin American countries.

 It is a process that China has started also with Brazil.

 Furthermore, Russia has already granted a rescheduling of its Venezuelan debt, which is already three billion and seven hundred million US dollars.

 Obviously, from a strategic viewpoint, Russia is interested in maintaining its own area of influence in a Latin American continent that, after Bolsonaro’s victory in Brazil, is fully siding with President Trump’s policies.

  Hence, where possible, it is subject to Russian specific pressures.

As can be easily imagined, Venezuela’s weight in the OPEC area is now less than minimal- and this creates further difficulties.

 But the entire oil producers’ organisation, whose relations of its Sunni area with Trump’s America are currently very strong, has now a fixed rule we have already clarified: cutting production when the oil barrel prices decrease –  exactly the opposite of what Venezuela currently would like to do.

 Moreover, Venezuela keeps on exporting only 800,000 oil barrels a dayto the United States.

 Here not only geopolitics, but also the first global commodity, namely oil, has a role to play in this respect.

 For the United States, buying oil from Venezuela means trying to counter Russia’s weight – although with increasing difficulty.

 The United States clearly sees how Russia and China still support Venezuelan Chavism – also to recover their huge credits. Hence a geopolitical rather than economic clash between opposing blocks emerges in the country with the largest oil and gas reserves in the world.

 Inter alia, with shale oil and gas the United States is becoming a net oil exporter. Hence it is ever less interested in the fate of the countries that were once powerful suppliers, but are currently only tired competitors.

 Even the deep crisis of Madurism could favour the US oil and natural gas export market. Hence there is not much desire in the USA to solve the Venezuelan crisis, but only the desire to prevent Venezuela from choosing Russia, Iran, China or even the crazy and silly European Union.

 Moreover, the United States has an extreme need for high oil barrel prices, so as to recover the extraction costs which are still higher than the traditional ones.

 Hence, paradoxically, a regional production crisis near the US territory could even be good for the United States in the medium term.

 Therefore, apart from the usual creation of petrodollars, the United States is entirely in favour of an increase in the oil barrel price- and hence indirectly in favour of tension in Venezuela.

 The United States does no longer even need Venezuelan oil – as was the case in the past.

 There is no more room for Venezuela to even export its oil to the Caribbean at the usual low prices – a clear sign of an old and now impossible local hegemony.

 Hence, as is currently the case, the Hezbollah – currently guarding also Maduro – set in, while the Cuban intelligence services have defined a precise program for opposing Guaido’s possible “counter-revolution” and also the Russian contractors of the Wagner group are present, in force, in the Venezuelan territory to defend the wells and the other nerve centres of the former Chavista regime and, currently of Maduro’s regime, for which Russia has no esteem.

 The relationship between Hezbollah and Chavez was very complex – and it is still so currently with Maduro.

 At the beginning of Guaidò’s campaign against Maduro, the members of the Lebanese militia – that was Imam Khomeini’s “eye – hoisted a poster with Chavez’ and Maduro’s faces alongside that of Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Lebanese Shiite militia.

 Furthermore, the Hezbollah were the first to advertise and make public the US hidden presence in favour of Guaidò in Venezuela.

 The reason for this particular relationship between the pro-Iranian Lebanese Shiites and the “Bolivarian” regime is simple and concrete: right from the start, Chavez and Maduro gave carte blanche for the laundering of Hezbollah’s secret funds in Venezuela, especially through drug trafficking activities.

  Furthermore, the Lebanese group operating in Venezuela collected essential data on international crime, which was useful exactly for Hezbollah to find its place into the global cycles for money laundering and acquisition of illegal funds.

 Even Cuba – which, despite the all-too-touted “liberalization” of the post-Castro regime, kept on serving as air passage of drugs to the United States – used the Venezuelan “Bolivarians” for money laundering activities, as well as a basis for the operational shift of South American drugs to the ever more drug-addicted United States.

 Some Hezbollah’s people also have important positions in Maduro’s government.

 Just think about Tarek el Assaimi, the 28thVice-President of Venezuela and later Oil Minister, who currently “covers” many of the Lebanese from Hezbollah that very easily acquire a Venezuelan passport.

 El Assaimi has also been reported to the US Drug Administration since 2017.

 Why does Iran need Venezuela?

 Firstly, to avoid US trade restrictions. Iran sees the US support for Guaidò as a direct threat to its interests in Latin America, which are manifold and very widespread.

 Coincidentally, the Venezuelan gold – that was said to have so far been exported to Turkey for security reasons -is currently heading for Iran.

Cuba’s drug system has been essential to maintain Castro’s regime as early as the time of Ochoa, who had supported the Medellin cartel in the cocaine shipments to the United States. At the time, however, the proceeds were in the banks of Noriega, the President of Panama who laundered 80% of Cuban illegal cash flows.

 Now the system works in favour of Venezuela, which no longer has the financial controls that were previously unavoidable in a fully pro-American country like Panama.

 Certainly, for Cuba, the Medellin cartel’s drug transfer to the United States was also a purely political operation to plague the American society and make it powerless and unproductive.

  It has largely already succeeded to reach this goal.

 After Noriega’s fall, that network has largely moved to Venezuela and is currently operating at full capacity and in full swing.

 Meanwhile, the Cuban intelligence services were directly connected to the Colombian FARC and later to the Venezuelan security forces, formerly regional leaders of drug trafficking at the time.

 As is the case today, since then the Cuban secret services have trained the Bolivarian intelligence services. In fact, at the time, the former eliminated most of the Venezuelan opposition to Chavez.

 Indeed, after the Cuban training, Chavez’ intelligence services established the Cartel de los Soles(the “Cartel of the Suns”) and in fact the name comes from the “sun” insignia of Venezuelan generals.

 Currently, it is precisely corruption and the illegal drug trafficking led by Maduro’s generals to directly support the regime and to strengthen and fund the fight against Guaidò’s forces.

 The Venezuelan narcomilitaries know all too well that, if they lose power, they will soon be judged by some US or international court.

 This kleptocracy removes from Venezuela’s coffers an officially declared sum worth around 70 billion US dollars, but some Latin American security services speak of about 300 billion US dollars taken away for paying bribes inside the kleptocratic regime in Venezuela.

 Hence an inflation triggered and maintained only by the criminal kleptocracy of those who also organize a highly lucrative drug trafficking, even within the regime and the whole country.

 Furthermore the controls on money and prices, introduced by Chavez in February 2003, quickly turned Venezuela into a Mafia-State.

 At the time of the founder of “Bolivarianism”, the illegal system created by those price controls, was even larger than it currently is.

 It should be remembered that in 2002 a military coup  ousted Chavez from office for 48 hours only.

 With a view to avoiding the return of the military, Chavez delegated most of the State functions to criminal gangs – and also to the very inefficient Armed Forces.

  The illegal gangs were mainly two, namely the Colectivos and the Pranes.

 The Colectivos took power mainly in the suburbs of Caracas.

 Currently, despite having been supported and often created by the government, the Colectivos are not answerable to anyone – much less to the opposition.

 The democratization of kleptocracy.

 They live mainly on extortion and drug dealing.

 Currently, however, they have been essential to repress Guaidò’s insurgency and make some areas of Caracas  support Maduro again.

 The Pranes are instead criminal gangs operating within the Venezuelan prison system.

 However, they have also expanded outside prisons, in collaboration with the so-called megabandas.

 The “peace zones”, reached after a long negotiation between criminal gangs and what remains of the police, are just eight in Venezuela.

 Nowadays, the most widespread illegal activities among criminal gangs are those relating to the smuggling of subsidized fuel to Brazil and Colombia.

 There is an ever more limited market for this fuel in the countries of arrival and an increasing number of buyers in Venezuela, which experiences the paradox of being a huge oil producer, but with empty pumps for its citizens.

 Other key sectors, left in the hands of the bandas, are the smuggling of food and pharmaceutical products. This was the reason why the Red Cross aid could not work at the beginning of the crisis.

 In Caracas people die very easily: 89 murders per 100,000 people a day.

 In 2017 there were 26,616 murders – over 5,535 of which carried out by the security forces, while the others were carried out by the gangs of the Operativos para la Liberacion del Pueblo.

 A network created exactly by Maduro.

Furthermore, as already seen, Venezuela is the favorite base for the Colombian narcocrime, while the hungry e Venezuelan proletariat is pushed right out of the cities of Bolivarianism towards Colombia, where the Venezuelan poor people become members of the “cartels” or victims of them.

 In just one year, the last for which we have complete statistics, namely 2017-2018, at least one million Venezuelans fled to Colombia alone, with a rate of at least 37,000 citizens of the Bolivarian State who crossed the border with the territory of Bogotà everyday.

 Panama, which now has no interest in the survival of Maduro’s “Socialist” regime, also included 37 “big shots” from the current Venezuelan regime into a “high-risk list” for money laundering, including Maduro himself, as can be easily imagined.

 That list also included Diosdado Cabello, the No. 2 of Venezuela’s regime and Party, as well as other figures, well known to the Venezuelan public, such as Gustavo Gonzales Peres, the former Head of the Bolivarian Intelligence Service.

 Panama is also part of the “Lima group”, an organization of 14 Latin American countries in the region, which is above all opposed to maintaining the Maduro system in Latin America.

 Even the European Union – with its well-known quick decision-making in foreign policy – imposed personal sanctions on figures such as Interior Minister Nestor Revarol, the President of the Supreme Court, Maikel Moreno, and even the Head of the External Intelligence Service, Gustavo Gonzales Lopez and, finally, to the aforementioned No. 2 of the regime’s Party, Diosdado Cabello.

  They can no longer travel to EU countries and their bank funds deposited there will be frozen.

 The appeal for a general upheaval that interim President Juan Guaidò had announced on the morning of April 30th – together with the recently-released military Leopoldo Lopez, and with a military group from La Carlota air base – seems to have failed.  In a country like Venezuela, the “Arab Spring” model does not work at all.

 US intelligence services’ greater intellectual imagination would be needed.

 Meanwhile Lopez has recently taken refuge at the headquarters of the Spanish embassy in Caracas, while the Spanish government has declared it will never release Lopez to the Maduro government.

  25 other rebel military applied for asylum at the Brazilian embassy, but it should be noted that Lopez had previously addressed to the diplomatic offices of Chile, although he declared – after being accepted by the Spanish diplomacy in Venezuela – he had never asked for political asylum.

 Nevertheless many Venezuelans have anyway agreed to take to the streets, where two other young people have recently died, thus rising to 55 the number of victims of Maduro’s repression since the beginning of this year.

 Meanwhile, the opposition denounced a toll of other 74 severely injured people, followed by 168 arrests, including at least a dozen journalists.

 Meanwhile Guaidò goes from one hiding place to another, but he was seen by the crowd on May 1stwhen he called for a strike of all Venezuelan workers in the short term.

 Maduro responded to Guaidò’s call to strike only the day after, but it was a clearly recorded TV broadcast.

 Shortly afterwards, in his official capacity as Trump’s National Security Advisor, John Bolton – an old heir to the neocon foreign policy – informed the international media that Defense Minister Valentin Padrino Lopez, Supreme Court President Maikel Moreno and the Director of the DG for Military Counterintelligence, Ivan Hernandez Dala, had negotiated directly with the USA to oust Maduro.

 Instillation of suspicions in Maduro’s elite, or also truth? Hence evident psychological war or US indecision between the choice of staging a coup inside Maduro’s Party, with some US trusted elements, or the reaffirmation of US trust in Juan Guaidò?

Mike Pompeo, Trump’s Secretary of State and former CIA Director, also stated that Maduro was already on a plane to Cuba, immediately after the May 1st demonstrations, but that Russia harshly ordered him to stay in Venezuela.

 Could the reason underlying the US support to Guaidò’s attempted coup – which is now not matched by the same support it had gained at the beginning of the insurgency – beoil, as usual?

 With the oil barrel price around 50-60 US dollars, the price of Venezuelan oil is still acceptable, but we are talking about heavy hydrocarbons, which need successive and obviously expensive further refining.

 Exxon-Mobil is still trying to acquire the Essequibo extraction area, where sovereignty over it is still being discussed between Venezuela and Guyana.

 In Venezuela, there are still 15 billion barrels a day of not extracted oil, in addition to as many as 42 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

 It should be considered that Venezuela is still the second country – if not the first, depending on explorations- in terms of oil and gas reserves available.

 The USA, however, is mainly exploiting its national basins and is selling natural gas and oil, by sea, even to some European countries.

 Hence, currently for the United States the issue of Venezuelan oil and gas is not to acquire them – although the oil barrel production cost in Venezuela is still lower than the shale oil and gas of the US Permian basin – but above all to prevent those oil and gas reserves from being used by China and the Russian Federation.

 In fact, in the years of the sharp drop in the oil barrel price, until 2016, Maduro chose to assign as much as 49.9% of a PVDSA subsidiary, namely CITGO, to Russian Rosneft – in exchange for a loan against the transfer of the company shares to the tune of 1.5 billion dollars directly to the Venezuelan State.

 Also Russia, however, is a net exporter, and Goodness knows how powerful that country is in terms of oil and gas, with a primary focus of its markets on the EU.

 In this case, however, for Russia the Venezuelan oil could be a strong way to put pressure on the United States – exactly due to the lower price of the Venezuelan crude oil – with a view to reducing the negative impact of the US (and EU) sanctions on Russia for the Ukrainian issue.

 Hence, by spending a relatively little sum, namely 1.5 billion US dollars, Russia became the true arbiter of Venezuelan oil to use it as a leverage over the United States – indeed, really for purposes of blackmail against the United States.

 In fact, it is by no mere coincidence that, in February 2018, a group of US investors of unclear complexion tried to buy back the Russian shareholding of CITGO, asking the Venezuelan government to accept payment to them of the remaining Russian loan and also asking Rosneft to transfer the remaining amount of the loan already granted in Venezuela to the new CITGO.

 Needless to say, the offer was declined.

 As always happens in these cases, the United States is also operating with economic pressures and embargoes.

 It is imposing a further embargo for Petroleos de Venezuela SA, namely the whole PDVSA, which legally began in early January 2019.

 This means that the proceeds from Venezuelan oil will be very limited, as if Venezuela were an economic hostage.

 With a view to favouring – even among the elites of the “Maduro system” – the shift to the US camp, instead of remaining within the sphere of Russian economic control (and of Iranian control for the non-oil criminal economy).

 President Trump’s desire to invade Venezuela is now well-known to the international public, at least based on his statements of June 2018, when, at a meeting in the Oval Office, President Trump expressed that clear desire to the then Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, former President of Exxon-Mobil, and also to the then National Security Adviser, General MacMaster.

 It should be clarified that neither of the two advisors was favourable to the operation.

 In late 2018,Maduro – increasingly under pressure as a result of the international economic crisis and of the huge internal crisis, particularly heavy for the oil-dependent countries – gave to the companies of the strong Russian mining sector access to the Venezuelan gold mines – those that had created the myth of Eldorado in Spain in the  seventeenth century.

In Venezuela there are also mineral reserves of nickel, diamonds, iron, bauxite and aluminum.

  Clearly, however, Latin America’s new strategic and political positioning – especially after Bolsonaro’s victory in  Brazil – is fully in favour of the United States and, specifically, of President Trump, while the assets in favour of the Russian Federation are diminishing.

   This means that Russia, along with its traditional allies, such as China, will keep Venezuela very close, especially for geopolitical purposes and ever less for strictly economic ones.

  While the real strategic variable will soon be China. Will it accept to participate in Russia’s very interested support for Maduro’s regime, taking what remains of the Venezuelan economy, or will it accept the US proposal of taking a large part of Venezuela after breaking China’s ties with Russia, at least in Latin America?

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