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Melkulangara Bhadrakumar

US Shows the Exit Ramp to Russia

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Getting off your high horse is never easy and it remains to be seen how deftly Moscow navigates its path in the downstream of President Vladimir Putin’s 50-minute phone conversation Thursday with his American counterpart Joe Biden. 

Washington highlighted that the conversation took place following Putin’s “request” — meaning, the Kremlin is on the back foot. 

The Russian readout claims that the forthcoming diplomatic engagements in Geneva in the second week of January between Russia and the US, NATO and the OSCE successively will be about “providing Russia with legally binding security guarantees.” but the White House is non-committal. 

The Kremlin readout claims that Biden emphasised that “Washington had no intention of deploying offensive strike weapons in Ukraine.” But the US statements failed to acknowledge it. Instead, in a background press call, a senior White House official was categorical that “there were certainly no declarations as to intentions.” 

He firmly reiterated that any “further invasion of Ukraine” on Russia’s part will entail “costs (that) include economic costs, include adjustments and augmentations of NATO force posture in Allied countries, and include additional assistance to Ukraine.”
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Ten years on, Syria is almost destroyed. Who’s to blame?

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In George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm, the ruling pigs led by Napoleon constantly rewrote history in order to justify and reinforce their own continuing power. The rewriting by the western powers of the history of the ongoing conflict in Syria leaps out of Orwell. 

The joint statement issued by the foreign ministers of the US, UK, France, Germany and Italy last week to mark the tenth anniversary of the Syrian conflict begins with an outright falsehood by holding President Bashar al-Assad and “his backers” responsible for the horrific events in that country. It asserts that the five western powers “will not abandon” the Syrian people — till death do us part. 

The historical reality is that Syria has been a theatre of the CIA’s activities ever since the inception of that agency in 1947. There is a whole history of CIA-sponsored “regime change” projects in Syria ranging from coup attempts and assassination plots to paramilitary strikes and funding and military training of anti-government forces. 

It all began with the bloodless military coup in 1949 against then Syrian president Shukri al-Quwatli which was engineered by the CIA. As per the memoirs of Miles Copeland Jr, the CIA station chief in Damascus at that time — who later actually went on to write a fine book of high literary quality on the subject — the coup aimed at safeguarding Syria from the communist party and other radicals!
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US-Russia Tensions Flare Up on Multiple Fronts

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Amidst the escalating tensions with China, the United States should have kept the troubled relationship with Russia on an even keel. But the opposite is happening. For the first time since the presidential election in Belarus on August 9, Washington has openly sided with the protests in Minsk and dared Russia to intervene. 

Berlin has simultaneously announced that the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was poisoned by Novichok nerve agent. Curiously, Germans went public with the explosive information without even notifying Moscow first. Presumably, the US was in the loop, given Navalny’s standing in Russian politics. 

Most certainly, Washington and Berlin have moved in tandem over Belarus and Navalny respectively. A major confrontation is brewing. The warning over Belarus came at the level of the US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun who conveyed a harsh message to the Kremlin via the cold war era megaphone Radio Liberty:
“The last four years has been very challenging for US-Russian relations, but it is possible that it could be worse. And one of the things that would limit the ability of any president, regardless of the outcome of [the US presidential election in November], in developing a more cooperative relationship with Russia, in any sphere, would be direct Russian intervention in Belarus.”
Within hours, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stepped in “demanding an immediate end” to the Belarus government’s moves to curb the protests and warning of “significant targeted sanctions” in consultation with Washington’s transatlantic partners.
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Anatomy of Coup Attempt in Belarus

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The Russian President Vladimir Putin disclosed in a TV interview on August 27 that the Americans, amongst others, had fuelled the unrest in Belarus. He explained that the controversial presence of 33 Russian nationals (with military background) in Minsk in the run-up to the presidential election in Belarus on August 8, which briefly created misunderstanding between Minsk and with Moscow, was itself was a joint operation by Ukrainian and US intelligence agencies. 

The Russian nationals were apparently given job offers and were “simply lured there (Minsk), dragged across the border … de facto they were brought in on fake documents.” Evidently, Russia is in possession of hard intelligence. 

Putin spoke up even as US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun wrapped up talks with top Russian officials in Moscow Wednesday. According to a VOA report, Biegun’s consultations “marked an intensifying US effort to find a peaceful solution in Belarus.” The report took note that en route to Moscow, Biegun had “signalled that Washington was not eager to accept efforts by [Belarus President Alexander] Lukashenko to cast the election standoff as an East versus West showdown that might trigger direct Russian involvement.” 

Simply put, Biegun was on a “damage control” mission. This can be taken as admission of defeat in the US-backed regime change project in Belarus. Conceivably, Russian officials shared with Biegun their intelligence regarding the CIA involvement. Later, crisply anodyne identical readouts were released by the Russian and American sides without divulging any details.
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Iran 'snapback' sanctions is a pantomime. Spectacle to watch is Trump-Putin summit.

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As expected, the Trump Administration delivered letters on Thursday to both the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and to the president of the Security Council Dian Triansyah Djani notifying them that the United States is initiating the restoration of virtually all UN sanctions on Iran lifted under UN Security Council Resolution 2231. 

This process, if successful, could lead to those sanctions coming back into effect 30 days from August 20. Explaining the move, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated at the UN Headquarters in New York at a press conference that the US “will never allow (Iran) to freely buy and sell planes, tanks, missiles, and other kinds of conventional weapons. These UN sanctions will continue the arms embargo… also reimpose accountability for other forms of Iranian malign activity… 

“Iran will be again prohibited from ballistic missile testing. Iran will be back under sanctions for ongoing nuclear activities – such as the enrichment of nuclear material – that could be applied to a nuclear weapons program,” Pompeo added.
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Trump foreign policy enters lame duck period

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There was a time when President Trump’s personalised diplomacy seemed a hydra-headed phenomenon with tentacles reaching far and wide. He engaged such diverse politicians — from Shinzo Abe and Kim Jong-Un to Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi, from Mohammed bin Salman and Recep Erdogan to Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel. But as time passed, the circle began shrinking and the scope for personalised diplomacy altogether diminished as coronavirus epidemic spread and countries turned inward, including the US. 

Today, Trump is left largely with Putin’s company – although they have had only one formal summit in Helsinki on July 16, 2018 – to whom he keeps going back with an extraordinary frequency. Trump and Putin have held at least seven calls since March 30, amid the coronavirus pandemic. On July 23, Trump again spoke with Putin. He hasn’t spoken to any other foreign politician so frequently this year. And the paradox is that while Trump is famous for his pursuit of transactional relationships, there is very little transaction taking place between the US and Russia. 

The Kremlin often describes these Putin-Trump phone conversations as “constructive and substantive,” although we hardly see any concrete results. The two leaders strove to create and atmospherics but failed to create content in the relationship — foreplay without consummation. The leading think tanker at Moscow Carnegie and author, Dmitry Trenin tweeted after yesterday’s Putin-Trump conversation that they “appear as a parallel universe with no connection to real Russia-US relations. Weird.”
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