Sunday, October 16, 2016

Russian-American Relations

The War in Syria has severely damaged relations between Russia and The United States. Tony Burman writes:

Not since the darkest days of the Cold War, we are being told, are the dangers of a catastrophic conflict between Russia and the West so genuine.

Last Sunday on Russian television, Dmitry Kiselyov, an influential current affairs host, warned that U.S. military action against the Russian-backed Syrian regime could provoke a world war: “Offensive behaviour toward Russia has a nuclear dimension.”

This week, Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, wrote that today’s global situation is “more dangerous” than the Cold War. And former Soviet leader and Nobel winner Mikhail Gorbachev warned that “the world has a reached a dangerous point” because of the deepening Russia-U.S. clash over Syria.

But there are differences between the standoff which followed World War II and today's standoff:

Putin may strut, may preen and may bluster — and, like the KGB operative he once was, he is skilled at manipulating the optics of a situation. But like Trump, his comrade-in-arms in the U.S., Putin is a phoney. When all is said and done, he doesn’t have the economic or military firepower to deliver on his threats. Compared with the Soviet Union, Russia’s economy is strikingly weak and integrated with the West. If tensions ever escalated to the point of actual war, Russia would be annihilated. And Putin, above all, knows that.

Russia’s sabre-rattling is unnerving the West. It is messing with the heads of American and European politicians, military leaders and opinion-makers. In response, NATO and its member states, led by the U.S., are embarking on their own military buildup, particularly in countries neighbouring Russia. They are using the Russian threat, exaggerated as it is, as a pretext for challenging Russia in its own backyard. That’s a recipe for disaster. Putin isn’t the only threat here: our leaders also need to be watched.

Even though Trump will likely crash and burn on election day, Nov. 8, the poisoned American political system will still be with us. And it’s a system increasingly corrupted by money. Regardless of who resides in the White House, there will be many Republican members, perhaps a majority, whose political success is tied to America’s war machine. This is reflected in those military bases and military jobs that reside in their districts. Even though the Pentagon itself admits that the American military is bloated and over-resourced, it is in the interests of these politicians to keep this war machine growing.

And, should Hillary win, we're told that Putin loathes her. The West is in a tight spot. It's easy to get into a war -- much easier than it is to get out. 


thwap said...


I like you as a person and I tend to respect your opinion.

But you have to stop reading liberal garbage. These are serious times. Obviously, nuclear war would be a terrible catastrophe for the world. So we have to think critically and logically.

It is the United States that is the villain here. It is US belligerence and provocations that have brought us to this crisis. Putin has been RESPONDING to US initiatives. Not the other way around. Burman has gotten everything ass-backwards and in so doing, helps to feed the narrative that Washington is the "good guy" in the world; responding to threats, defending democracy, spreading freedom. And it is this delusion that allows atrocities to occur and crises to arise.

I have never been a fan of Putin. He's a nasty piece of work who murders political opponents and who panders to the worst sort of reactionary, right-wing elements in Russian society. (Of course you have to also compare him to the corrupt, US-puppets he prevailed against. People like Boris Yeltsin who let criminals fleece Russia, and presided over a catastrophic fall in ordinary Russians' living standards resulting in millions of deaths.) And you see, the last time we chatted, you tried to maintain your blinkered view that it is Putin who is the danger by responding to facts with the statement that Putin probably harbours worrisome imperialist ambitions. Owen, the simple fact of the matter is that whatever Putin's ultimate ambitions he has neither the means, nor the desire to carry them out. Therefore, his ambitions are totally irrelevant.

But let's put the blame where it belongs. The USA has been fomenting coups in countries on Russia's borders, trying (sometimes successfully) to install pro-USA/anti-Russian governments.

The USA has been pushing the anti-Russian NATO alliance right up to Russia's borders.

The USA under Obama has been experimenting with "tactical" nuclear weapons and conducting military exercises in Russia's bordering states.

The USA has been manipulating foreign institutions (such as the IMF) to rule against Russia in foreign agreements.

In Syria, the USA has ILLEGALLY been co-sponsoring a mercenary war against the regime of Putin ally Assad.

Think of that and reflect Owen. Is it, or is it not in violation of the UN treaty to pay mercenaries to conduct military operations against the government of another state? Were India and Thailand found to be paying and arming a huge mercenary army to try to topple the government of Burma, is there any doubt what world opinion would be on the matter? They would see clearly that India and Thailand were violating international law.

Owen Gray said...

I'm not trying to excuse American imperial ambitions, thwap. And, frankly, I'm worried that Hillary is an old Democratic warrior in the mode of Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson.

Nor can I excuse Putin who is, as you say, a nasty piece of work. I'm simply pointing out that these are perilous times which require careful thought and strategy. This is no time to think foolishly.

Troy said...

Are Western commentators this bad? Is their knowledge of Russia this pitiable?

In all honesty, whenever a commentator like Burman spouts off on Russia, I shake my head. If we can't even be honest about our enemies, then we can't be honest about ourselves.

I understand the point he was trying to make, but his ignorance of Russia needs correction.

I don't know much about Russia myself, but I do know that Putin is competent. Far more than any Western leader. There's a reason he has 80% approval rating in Russia. It shows how bad neo-liberalism, in general, and Boris Yeltsin, in particular, were for Russia. They'd prefer to amend their constitution and allow a dictator back into power than allow their nation to turn back into what had happened in the dark days.

In terms of the Russian economy, the West, especially Europe is far more dependent on Russia than they will ever admit. They can shut off the gas all they want from Russia, but they never threaten Russian oil, which is the important detail that never gets mentioned. And Russia's spent the past few years decoupling their economy from the West. They'll probably be independent in terms of food rather shortly, and really that's all they need from the West. Almost everything else, they can provide for themselves. And whatever they can't, they'll procure from China.

And Russia's military is probably superior to the USA's in terms of training and technology; they don't waste monies like they USA, and they spend far spend less overall.

And Russia still has untold numbers of nuclear weapons. If 'tensions ever escalated to the point of actual war', both Russia and the West would both be annihilated: Russia still follows the doctrine of MAD. It's incredibly unnerving for a Western commentator not to know this.

Owen Gray said...

Putin stands in a long line of Russian potentates, Troy. Democracy is not the preferred method of governance. Competence? At what cost?

thwap said...

That's precisely my point Owen.

There are two nuclear powered states careening towards war with each other. Both of them are run by monsters but one of them is provoking and the other is responding.

It is therefore important to correctly identify which one is doing which.

To read Burman, the impoverished Russians, with their "strikingly weak" economy have decided to rattle their sabres and are "unnerving" western leaders. Why is Putin doing this? Burman doesn't say. He writes something about right-wing Republicans in the USA relying on the military-industrial complex (which betrays his ignorance of how this extends to Democrats and even "socialist" Bernie Sanders)for campaign contributions and jobs in their districts.

Actually looking at what's going on, we see, as I pointed out, the USA and its regional allies conducting an illegal war by mercenary proxies against the government of Syria, a Russian ally.

Can you point to any of your posts in which you've written as concernedly and disparagingly about Obama as you are doing with Putin?

Toby said...

Owen, whenever the issue arises I always ask what would the US do if the situation was reversed. As an example, if Russia did in Mexico and Central America (or even Canada) what the US does in Eastern Europe how would America react? We know what happened when Russia put missiles in Cuba; imagine the same along the Rio Grande.

Americans have a double standard in all things. They consider nobody their equals.

BTW, Russia has a long and sorrowful history of being invaded. Even Canada invaded Russia during WWI, an expression of Imperial silliness which fortunately accomplished nothing however be sure that Russians remember.

Owen Gray said...

The Russians have every reason to be worried about the expansion of NATO, Toby. It was part of the triumphalism which followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. International relations have always been a delicate balancing act. The problem these days is that both sides are indelicate.

Owen Gray said...

I will be the first to admit that, in both international and domestic affairs, Obama has not delivered on some of his promises, thwap. Some of them -- like closing Guantanomo -- have met with fierce resistance. Others have been chewed up by the American sense of Manifest Destiny.

But we're fooling ourselves if he don't take the full measure of Putin.

thwap said...


Forgive my persistence on this matter but I find the idea of myself and millions of other people being incinerated to be damned important.

Let's take the full measure of Putin. If we do we find out that within his borders he's a ruthless authoritarian reactionary.

In foreign affairs he is cementing ties with Middle East and neighbouring states opposed to the US-Israeli-Saudi alliance. He's friendly towards China since it's another Asian power being targeted by the United States. He maintains civil relationships with most West-European states. In response to a coup in The Ukraine, he seized the Crimea (he didn't have to invade since Russian troops were already there through a treaty) and he has protected ethnic-Russian separatists in the eastern portion of that country. He does not appear to be funding separatists in other countries. Or plotters. He is not funding mercenary armies or other countries' militaries to invade other states and overthrow their governments.

Russia is, as Burman writes, economically weak. Foreign military adventures are costly and Russia doesn't have the resources for foreign adventures that conflict with the aims of the United States.

Taking his full measure, we see that Putin is probably not aggressively sabre-rattling to unnerve western politicians for unspecified reasons.

I'll continue in another comment to avoid blogger comment space restrictions.

thwap said...


Now let's look at Barack Obama.

We won't look at what he hasn't able to do for reasons of Repugnican resistance or inertia. Because that's irrelevant. Totally irrelevant. I can't even imagine why you thought it to be a worthwhile response.

Let's talk about what Obama has done.

He's continued the war in Afghanistan. He tried to nullify bush II's date for the withdrawl of US troops from Iraq but was stymied when the Iraqi government would not give those troops immunity from Iraqi law which Obama insisted upon, despite the long documented list of atrocities they've committed in Iraq.

He has made children in Pakistan and Yemen and elsewhere fear clear blue skies because those are the days when US predator drones are flying and can come from nowhere and kill them. He has murdered hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent civilians in these countries with these drones.

He is working on developing tactical nuclear weapons so that he can vaporize thousand of human beings on a smaller scale than the present weapons are capable of.

He is positioning missiles pointed at Russia in bordering countries.

He (and his psychopathic SoS Hillary Clinton) used NATO bombers and murderous fundamentlist jihaadists to destroy the government of Mummar Qaddafi and drag Libya down into violent chaos.

He has ....

I could go on, but it's pointless. Unless you can open your eyes to the obvious reality that Obama is as big a monster as Putin, as well as a far more dangerous one, you will be incapable of understanding global affairs.

I believe there is genuine cognitive dissonance that prevents you from seeing this obvious reality. You need to shake off your liberal prejudices and avoid reading liberal sources. Because they cause you to do things such as refer to irrelevancies such as Obama's inability to close Guantanamo Bay's prison, when discussing his actions in Syria and against Russia.

That little Syrian boy whose drowned body washed up on the beach and saddened the world was a victim of OBAMA'S policies, not Putin's policies.

Whatever evil Putin has done, will do, or wants to do, is irrelevant to understanding the evil that Obama has done or that Clinton will do. It is the US elite that is the greatest danger to the world's safety. Address this issue.

Owen Gray said...

I think you're misreading both Obama and Putin, thwap, Our disagreement is that simple.

Owen Gray said...

This is getting repetitive, thwap. Obama a monster? Come off it. By the way, Putin is no monster, either.

thwap said...


I had thought better of you. Perhaps subsequent reflection will allow you to see my point.

Let me just dispense with your two replies one by one:

You say that I'm misreading both Obama and Putin and that is the source of our disagreement.

I have no idea how you justify your assertion that I'm misreading these men. Given how much I've typed about either of them it would have been nice if you could have pointed to one of my errors for either of them.

Then you say this is getting repetitive. Indeed. It is similar to this:

A: "One plus one equals three."

B: "No. One plus one equals two."

A: "No it doesn't."

B: "Yes it does."

A: "The answer is 'three'."

B: "No. It's 'two.'"

and etc.,

Then you challenge my use of the term "monster." Do you suppose I meant some green, wart-covered ogre? If so, you're mistaken. I'm only saying that Obama is behaving monstrously. That he is guilty of monstrous crimes. (Which could also also mean enormous crimes. They are both enormous and terrible, so either usage fits.)

How would you describe Obama's murdering innocent people with predator drones?

How do you respond to the millions of lives devastated by US-led foreign policies?

What DO you say when confronted with the thousands of deaths produced directly by Obama's policies?

What is your opinion of Obama trying to keep US troops in Iraq with legal immunity after all their horrible crimes committed there?

I don't suppose you'll bother to answer. But please think about this.

It's bad enough that people on the left and the right don't listen to one another. Its worse when people with similar values close up when they disagree with each other.

Owen Gray said...

You're going to have to think less of me, thwap. You obviously are no fan of Obama or American foreign policy. And I understand your reasons for that. But there are two sides here. I believe you're letting Putin off the hook. And, therefore, we disagree -- profoundly.

Toby said...

Obama is very personable and easy to like however thwap is correct in his observations; an awful lot of carnage has happened under Obama's watch. From what I understand, he signs off on all this stuff. If war crimes applied to Americans every President since WWII, including Obama would have had to face the World Court. American exceptionalism is no justification. Sorry, Owen, but I side with Thwap on this.

Owen Gray said...

I do not insist that commenters agree with me, Toby.

Steve said...

The West has been at war with Russia for centuries. The reason is they represent a challange to the desires of the west. Russia has always been the invaded country. The idea we should go to war over Ukrainie is simply ludicours. This is a family fued fueled by neocon false promises. We all have a chance to see the real Russia, at least as real as anything from Hollywood.

Owen Gray said...

Russia has also been the invading country, Steve. As is the case in life, one should choose one's battles carefully.

Steve said...

Owen aside from WW2 what country has Russia invaded? Considering the Russian Empire included Ukraine, Belurus etc.

Owen Gray said...

Exactly, Steve. And Russian control over Eastern Europe lasted for a long time.

Anonymous said...

Owen, is Steve too young to remember Afghanistan 1979 to 1989?

Czechoslovakia in 1968 and earlier.

Hungary in 1956.

Owen Gray said...

History isn't considered important anymore, Anon. When I attended high school in Quebec, I had to take four years of history. When I left the province, one year of history -- Canadian history -- was compulsory. But you didn't have to pass the course to get a diploma.