June 8, 2016 Justin Raimondo / AntiWar.com & Conn Hallinan / Foreign Policy in Focus
The US and Russia are moving inexorably toward WW III. NATO's Operation "Anakonda 16" involves 31,000 troops (14,000 of them American) engaged in a war game "to secure an Allied victory in World War III." The upcoming NATO summit is expected to approve stationing increased numbers of US troops in eastern Europe – along Russia's border. One critic warns: if Hillary Clinton gets into the White House, "you can be sure the tensions with Russia will reach fever pitch."
"Since March 2105 there have been over 60 incidents that could have triggered a major crisis between Russia and the United States." -- Conn Hallinan, Foreign Policy in Focus
Rehearsing for World War III Justin Raimondo / AntiWar.com
(June 7, 2016) -- As I write this, US troops are building a bridge across Poland's Vistula river, and conducting a nighttime helicopter assault to secure the eastern part of the country against a Russian assault.
Has World War III started? Well, not quite yet, although it's not for want of trying.
This is Operation "Anakonda 16." Thirty-one thousand troops, 14,000 of them American, are conducting war games designed to secure an Allied victory in World War III. The exercises involve "100 aircraft, 12 vessels and 3,000 vehicles," and precede the upcoming NATO summit, which is expected to approve the stationing of yet more troops -- mostly Americans -- in eastern Europe.
NATO claims this is all strictly "defensive" in nature, designed to deter Russian "aggression" -- but who is the real aggressor?
It is the Western powers who, ever since the fall of the USSR, have pushed eastward relentlessly, expanding the "defensive" NATO alliance to include such useless nonentities as Albania and Montenegro, and even extending "associate" status to distant Georgia.
Their policy has been to eliminate the buffer between NATO and Russia, absorbing previously neutral Ukraine into the Western orbit by means of a violent coup d'etat, and launching a propaganda war that targets Russian President Vladimir Putin as the second coming of Stalin.
The Russian reaction has been to reverse Nikita Khrushchev's 1954 decision to hand Crimea to Ukraine, pull out of a treaty limiting the number of troops in Europe, launch a military build up on their borders, and upgrade their nuclear arsenal to parallel a similar effort by the US.
With the collapse of international communism, the need for NATO was obviated, and yet -- like any and all government programs -- it not only persisted, it expanded. Complementing the idea of "Greater Europe" and the creation of the European Union, the NATO-crats enlarged the original "defensive" vision that was supposedly the rationale for the alliance and embarked on an ambitious program that involved the creation of a permanent military architecture, which inevitably sought to absorb real estate in the east.
Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, the Baltic states -- all eventually joined NATO's ranks as Moscow looked on in alarm. As the "war on terrorism" commenced, NATO became the instrument of Western military operations in the Middle East, sending its tentacles into the former Soviet republics of Central Asia and insinuating itself into the Caucasus region.
From a cold war policy of containment, US/NATO has since moved into regime change mode: the idea is to encircle Russia militarily, while using "soft power" to undermine pro-Russian regimes in Russia's periphery and eventually achieve regime change in Russia itself.
The Ukrainian operation was an example of the "soft power" approach: utilizing Western-funded "civil society" groups, they succeeded in evicting the democratically elected government from office and installing one handpicked in Washington.
With the imposition of sanctions, and the continued encirclement of Russia, the idea is to squeeze the Russian bear until he either gives up or collapses. Which is why "Anakonda" -- an iteration of the giant snake that crushes its victims to death and then devours them -- is truly an evocative name.
As is usual with the regime-changers in Washington, they approach their task with little or no understanding of their intended victim. In Iraq and Afghanistan, they thought they could destroy the regime, and then create a Middle Eastern version of Kansas. It didn't work out that way -- but our political class is incapable of learning the lessons of experience.
In the case of Russia, they believe that a Russian collapse would have to mean the ascension to power of a figure much like the late Boris Yeltsin, who was too drunk to resist the incursions of Western power most of the time, and went along with the marginalization of his country without too many protests.
However, the memory of the Yeltsin era is abhorred by the Russian people, who saw their country plundered by the oligarchs, and their standard of living fall into a veritable abyss, while Russia was pushed around on the international stage like a freshman pledge on fraternity row.
What the NATO-crats want is a "pro-Western" figurehead in power in Russia, but what they don't get is that Putin is as pro-Western as they come in the current political milieu. His main opponent in the election that brought him to power was the virulently anti-Western Communist Party, which he handily defeated, with the even more anti-Western Russian nationalists coming in third.
Initially, Putin sought to include Russia in "Greater Europe," and he proposed an agreement with NATO to ensure that Europe would be a "common space." Yet his initiatives to create an inclusive Europe were met with implacable hostility by the Western powers, who rejected the idea that Russia would be treated as an equal and insisted on the primacy of NATO and the EU. This set up the present standoff, in which the countries of the former Warsaw Pact were forced to choose between Brussels and Moscow.
If and when the West succeeds in collapsing the Russian economy and taking down Putin, it won't be a Yeltsin-like figure who will inherit the ruins. What comes after Putin, in this context, is something much worse. And in that case, the prospect of war will loom large on the horizon.
If Hillary Clinton gets into the White House, you can be sure the tensions with Russia will reach fever pitch. She has compared Putin to Hitler -- always the signal that we are about to embark on yet another crusade -- and her neoconservative supporters are eager to restart the cold war. The great danger is that a cold war may very well become a hot one -- and that raises the specter that we lived with for half a century, the very real possibility of a nuclear war.
To compare Putin to Stalin, or Hitler, is absurd: Russia has come a long way since the days of the Gulag, when 60 million people were killed and imprisoned. If we want to push Russia back into the darkness, then the policy we are presently pursuing is the way to go: if, however, we want peace, then it's high time to disband NATO -- which is outdated and expensive -- give up our dreams of regime change in Russia, and start cooperating with Moscow in solving our mutual problems.
(August 27, 2015) -- Operation Swift Response 15 is the U.S. Army’s largest combined airborne training event in Europe since the end of the Cold War. More than 4,800 service members from 11 NATO nations – including Bulgaria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States – will take part in the exercise on training areas in Bulgaria, Germany, Italy and Romania, August 17 through September 13, 2015. Swift Response 15 is designed to integrate multiple Allied crisis response forces into a cohesive team to demonstrate the combined ability to rapidly deploy and operate in support of a strong and secure Europe. Filmed August 26, 2015.
NATO's Dangerous Game: Bear-Baiting Russia After the Cold War ended, many of the safeguards preventing war between Russia and the West have been allowed to lapse Conn Hallinan / Foreign Policy in Focus
(May 8, 2016) -- Since March 2105 there have been over 60 incidents that could have triggered a major crisis between Russia and the United States.
Aggressive, revanchist, swaggering: These are just some of the adjectives the mainstream press and leading US and European political figures are routinely inserting before the words Russia, or Vladimir Putin. It is a vocabulary most Americans have not seen or heard since the height of the Cold War.
The question is, why?
Is Russia really a military threat to the United States and its neighbors? Is it seriously trying to revenge itself for the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union? Is it actively trying to rebuild the old Soviet empire?
The answers to these questions are critical, because, for the first time since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, several nuclear-armed powers are on the edge of a military conflict with fewer safeguards than existed 50 years ago.
Consider the following events: * NATO member Turkey shoots down a Russian warplane.
* Russian fighter-bombers come within 30 feet of a US guided missile destroyer, and a Russian fighter does a barrel roll over a US surveillance plane. Several US Senators call for a military response to such encounters in the future.
* NATO and the US begin deploying three combat brigadesabout 14,000 troops and their equipment in several countries that border Russia, and Washington has more than quadrupled its military spending in the region.
* US State Department officials accuse Russia of dismantling arms control agreements, while Moscow charges that Washington is pursuing several destabilizing weapons programs.
* Both NATO and the Russians have carried out large war games on one anothers borders and plan more in the future, in spite of the fact that the highly respected European Leadership Network (ELN) warns that the maneuvers are creating mistrust.
In the scary aftermath of the Cuban missile crisis, the major nuclear powers established some ground rules to avoid the possibility of nuclear war, including the so-called hot line between Washington and Moscow. But, as the threat of a nuclear holocaust faded, many of those safeguards have been allowed to lapse, creating what the ELN calls a dangerous situation.
According to a recent report by the ELN, since March of last year there have been over 60 incidents that had the potential to trigger a major crisis between a nuclear armed state and a nuclear armed alliance. The report warns that, There is today no agreement between NATO and Russia on how to manage close military encounters.
Such agreements do exist, but they are bilateral and dont include most alliance members. Out of 28 NATO members, 11 have memorandums on how to avoid military escalation at sea, but only the US, Canada and Greece have what is called Preventing Dangerous Military Activities (DMA) agreements that cover land and air as well. In any case, there are no such agreements with the NATO alliance as a whole.
The lack of such agreements was starkly demonstrated in the encounter between Russian aircraft and the US The incident took place less than 70 miles off Baltiysk, home of Russias Baltic Sea Fleet, and led to an alarming exchange in the Senate Armed Services Committee among Republican John McCain, Democrat Joe Donnelly, and US Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, soon to assume command of US forces in Europe.
McCain: This may sound a little tough, but should we make an announcement to the Russians that if they place the men and women on board Navy ships in danger, that we will take appropriate action?
Scaparrotti: That should be known, yes.
Donnelly: Is there a pointwhere we tell them in advance enough, the next time it doesnt end well for you?
Scaparrotti: We should engage them and make clear what is acceptable. Once we make that known we have to enforce it.
For the Americans, the Russian flyby was aggressive. For the Russians, US military forces getting within spitting range of their Baltic Fleet is the very definition of aggressive. What if someone on the destroyer panicked and shot down the plane? Would the Russians have responded with an anti-ship missile? Would the US have retaliated and invoked Article 5 of the NATO Treaty, bringing the other 27 members into the fray?
Faced by the combined power of NATO, would the Russiansfeeling their survival at stakeconsider using a short-range nuclear weapon? Would the US then attempt to take out Moscows nuclear missiles with its new hypersonic glide vehicle? Would that, in turn, kick in the chilling logic of thermonuclear war: Use your nukes or lose them?
Far-fetched? Unfortunately, not at all. The world came within minutes of a nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis and, as researcher Eric Schlosser demonstrated in his book Command and Control, the US came distressingly close at least twice more by accident.
One of the problems about nuclear war is that it is almost impossible to envision. The destructive powers of todays weapons have nothing in common with the tiny bombs that incinerated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, so experience is not much of a guide. Suffice it to say that just a small portion of worlds nukes would end civilization as we know it, and a general exchange could possibly extinguish human life.
With such an outcome at least in the realm of possibility, it becomes essential to step back and try to see the world through anothers eyes.
Is Russia really a danger to the US and its neighbors? NATO points to Russias 2008 war with Georgia and its 2014 intervention in eastern Ukraine as examples of Russian aggression.
But from Moscow, the view is very different.
In 1990, US Secretary of State James Baker and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl pledged to then Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would not move eastward, nor recruit former members of the East bloc military alliance, the Warsaw Pact.
By 1995 NATO had enlisted Pact members Romania, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Bulgaria, Slovakia, and signed on Montenegro this year. Georgia is currently being considered, and there is a push to bring Ukraine aboard. From Moscows perspective NATO is not only moving east, but encircling Russia.
I dont think many people understand the visceral way Russia views NATO and the European Union as an existential threat, says US Admiral Mark Ferguson, commander of US naval forces in Europe.
Most NATO members have no interest in starting a fight with Russia, but others sound like they think it wouldnt be a bad idea. On April 15, Witold Waszczykowski, the foreign minister of Polands right-wing government, told reporters that Russia is more dangerous than the Islamic State, because Moscow is an existential threat to Europe. The minister made his comments at a NATO conference discussing the deployment of a US armored brigade on Polands eastern border.
Is Russia reneging on arms control agreements? The charge springs from the fact that Moscow has refused to consider cutting more of its nuclear weapons, is boycotting nuclear talks, deploying intermediate range nuclear missiles, and backing off a conventional weapons agreement. But again, Moscow sees all that very differently.
From Moscows point of view, the US is continuing to spread its network of anti-missile systems in Europe and Asia, which the Russians see as a threat to their nuclear force (as does China). And as far as reneging goes, it was the US that dumped the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, not Russia.
The US is also pouring billions of dollars into modernizing its nuclear weapons. It also proposes using ICBMs to carry conventional warheads (if you see one coming, how do you know its not a nuke?), and is planning to deploy high velocity glide vehicles that will allow the US to strike targets worldwide with devastating accuracy.
And since NATO is beefing up its forces and marching east, why should the Russians tie themselves to a conventional weapons treaty?
What about Russias seizure of the Crimea? According to the US State Department,redrawing European boundaries is not acceptable in the 21st centuryunless you are Kosovo breaking away from Serbia under an umbrella of NATO air power, in which case its fine. Residents of both regions voted overwhelmingly to secede.
Georgia? The Georgians stupidly started it.
But if Russia is not a threat, then why the campaign of vilification, the damaging economic sanctions, and the provocative military actions?
First, it is the silly seasonAmerican electionsand bear baiting is an easy way to look tough. It is also a tried and true tactic of the US armaments industry to keep their production lines humming and their bottom lines rising. The Islamic State is scary but you dont need big-ticket weapons systems to fight it. The $1.5 trillion F-35s are for the Russkies, not terrorists.
There are also those who still dream of regime change in Russia. Certainly that was in the minds of the neo-cons when they used The National Endowment for Democracy and Freedom House to engineerat the cost of $5 billionthe coup that toppled Ukraine into NATOs camp.
The New American Century gang and their think tankswho brought you Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syriawould to leverage Russia out of Central Asia.
The most frightening aspect of current East-West tension is that there is virtually no discussion of the subject, and when there is it consists largely of distorted history and gratuitous insults.
Vladimir Putin might not be a nice guy, but the evidence he is trying to re-establish some Russian empire, and is a threat to his neighbors or the US, is thin to non-existent. His 2014 speech at the Valdai International Discussion Club is more common sense than bombast.
Expansionist? Russia has two bases in the Middle East and a handful in Central Asia. The US has 662 bases around the world and Special Forces (SOF) deployed in between 70 and 90 countries at any moment.
Last year, SOFs were active in 147 countries. The US is actively engaged in five wars and is considering a sixth in Libya. Russian military spending will fall next year, and the US will out-spendMoscow by a factor of 10. Who in this comparison looks threatening?
There are a number of areas where cooperation with Russia could pay dividends. Without Moscow there would be no nuclear agreement with Iran, and the Russians can play a valuable role in resolving the Syrian civil war. That, in turn, would have a dramatic effect on the numbers of migrants trying to crowd into Europe.
Instead, an April 20 meeting between NATO ministers and Russia ended in profound disagreements according to alliance head Jens Stoltenberg. Russian ambassador to NATO Alexander Grushko said that the continued deployment of armed forces on its borders makes it impossible to have a meaningful dialogue.
We are baiting the bear, not a sport that ever ends well.
Conn Hallinan is a columnist for Foreign Policy In Focus
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