Citizen Action Monitor

Breakdown in U.S.- Russia relations far worse than a new Cold War, says U.S. expert

Professor of Russian and European Politics rips apart Washington’s spin on escalating war of words.

No 1801 Posted by fw, October 17, 2016

“We’re balancing on the edge of a volcano.”Professor Richard Sakwa

In a 13-minute videorecorded interview, Professor Sakwa counters the U.S. spin on who’s to blame for the rising tensions between the two long-time adversaries. The US buildup and deployment of nuclear weapons abroad are ominous signs.

Consider these examples:

Kerry calls for an investigation in Russia’s “war crimes” in Syria – Sakwa counters, noting that the US triggered the collapse of the ceasefire agreement in Syria by bombing Syrian forces, killing nearly 100, and then saying it was an “accident.” Accident? The Americans knew the exact location of the Syrian forces.

As for US allegations of Russian email hacks, Sakwa points out that so far Washington has provided no hard evidence to back up their claims. The US hacking accusations are meant to deflect attention from the real scandal – the DNC’s covert support for Clinton. And that’s not talked about at length in the toady mainstream media.

Re U.S. accusations that Russian planes bombed the humanitarian relief convoy, Sakwa responds that the evidence suggests it was probably an ISIS or militant attack.

There has been considerable speculation, and much ado about how president Putin prefers to have a Trump presidency over a Hillary Clinton presidency. In fact, retorts Sakwa, the choice is between two candidates with “huge negatives”. Some choice!

Last year, the US responded to Russian air bombing by equipping US-backed militants with more than 1000 anti-tank weapons, which, Sakwa argues, intensified the conflict, characterizing the tactic as “Quite extraordinary!”

Clinton’s call for the overthrow of Assad back in 2011 was, in Sakwa’s opinion, “unbelievable!”. Clinton and Washington appear to have learned nothing after the disastrous outcome following the overthrow of Gadhafi and the utter fiascos in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Syria.

Below is the embedded 13-minute Real News Network interview with professor Sakwa, followed by my abridged proofread and corrected version of an error-riddled transcript caused in large part by poor audio transmission. Subheadings and text highlighting have been added to my transcript. [Note: Part 2 of the interview is not included in my transcript].

To watch the video and access the full transcript for parts 1 and 2 on TRNN’s website, click on the following linked title.


We’re Not in a New Cold War – It’s Far Worse by The Real News Network, October 14, 2016

Between nuclear weapons, election-time informational warfare, and the conflict in Syria, we’re balancing on the edge of a volcano, says professor Richard Sakwa


Sharmini PeriesIn the past two weeks, relations between Russia and the United States have dramatically deteriorated. First the US broke off talks with Russia over cessation of hostilities in the bombing campaign in Aleppo in Syria. Russia then disengaged from a critical nuclear armament negotiations related to a treaty that had been in place since 2000 as a part of a post-Cold War disarmament framework. Now more recently, White House Press Secretary Josh Ernest said that US is considering a response to alleged Russian hacking of US political groups such as the DNC. Here’s a clip of John Kerry, Secretary of State, alleging that Russia has been engaged in war crimes in Syria, truly escalating things.

Kerry calls for an investigation in Russia’s “war crimes” in Syria

John Kerry — Russia and the regime owe the world more than an explanation about why they keep hitting hospitals, medical facilities, and children, and women. These are acts that beg for an appropriate investigation in war crimes.

Peries — Then here’s what the Russian foreign ministry spokesperson had to say about Russia-US relations and alleged cyber hacks.

Russian foreign ministry spokesperson responds- “There is no good news here.”

Speaker — I would also like to comment on what is now happening with Russia-US relations. I do this with great regret because there’s no good news here. We regret we observe how Washington continues to destroy mutual relations. What we hear on a daily basis about Russian hackers is simply a lie. Nobody has seen them but everyone already knows of them.

Peries — Joining us to discuss how serious the deteriorating circumstances between Russia and US are, is Richard Sakwa. He is professor of Russian and European politics at the University of Kent and an associate fellow of the Russian and Eurasian program at Chatham House. He has published widely on Soviet Russian and post-Communist affairs. His upcoming book is titled Russia Against the Rest: Pluralism and the Post-Cold War Crisis of World Order.

Richard, at the surface it looks like relations between Russia and the United States are heavily deteriorating and we can add the additional component of the UK now who’s been authorized to engage the military exercises that’s going on over Syria if they’re feeling threatened by it. These are the airstrikes that are going on in Syria. Is the situation as bad as it sounds?

Relations between Russia and US are probably worse than they appear and no sign they will get better

Richard SakwaIt’s probably worse. I think that we are – in fact, the world as a whole — is balancing on the edge of a volcano. You may know that the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists argue that we are now, their doomsday clock is at 3 minutes to midnight and that’s about as bad as it’s ever been — like the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Berlin Wall going up in 1961. So it’s extremely bad and the worst thing is that there’s actually no particular sign, no sign of it possibly getting better in the near or even immediate future. One of the things which makes it particularly dangerous now is that the old Cold War systems that had been put in place after the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 have largely been dismantled. So you could argue, and I would certainly argue, it’s not a new Cold War. It’s far worse.

Peries — Richard, let’s take one of these at a time. First let’s take the situation where the United States is accusing Russia of being involved in the email hacks that are going on in order to influence US elections. Is there any legitimacy to these allegations, and what is the response of Russia here?

As for US allegations of Russian email hacks, so far the US has provided no evidence to back up their claims

Sakwa — Well, the response is clearly negative to say that…. I would have to say that the case is not [certain]. It doesn’t mean to say that Russia isn’t involved. But so far there’s been no evidence. It’s so hard to prove these things. In this case we know, for example, the hack of the Democratic National Committee, that there’s a fellow called Guccifer 2.0 was involved from Romania. You may say that’s got nothing to do with Russia but he’s got a Russia site and he’s got Russian language skills.

The US hacking claims deflect attention from the real scandal – DNC covertly supporting Clinton. That’s not talked about

So it’s completely — so far the evidence is circumstantial. Those specialist agencies who claim Russia’s responsible argue that Russia’s got the technical capacity and the motivation to do it. Certainly that’s the case but it’s unproven. Whether it actually will shake the American election, I’m not sure. For example, what was revealed? The huge amount that was revealed that the DNC was covertly supporting Hillary Clinton against Bernie Sanders. It’s damaging. So I think that we should be careful not to shoot the messenger here but look at the message. It’s quite damaging I think if that was the case. In fact, it was the case that what was meant to be an impartial body was demonstrably not impartial, I think that’s a scandal to be investigated.

Peries — Richard, whenever there is a US election underway, they would like to have the threat of war hovering over them, and Russia and China as enemies of the state is conveniently evoked. How much of these tensions are just posturing in light of the election coming up, or is there real evidence of these hacks?

While there is no imminent threat of war, the mutual condemnation has reached unprecedented levels

Sakwa — It’s certainly a lot of posturing. I think that in this case it’s not a sort of [crisis] that immediately threatens the United States — in offense of the United States specifically coming under attack. So I don’t think that the benefits of incumbency will be derived from attacking Russia, China, or anybody else. However, the level of [rhetoric], informational warfare, and mutual condemnation have reached unprecedented levels. I don’t think it’s just connected with the presidential election. It’s been gathering pace for at least 2 or 3 years. And the dangerous and worst thing is that this is taking place under the watch of President Obama, and he’s a man who’s clearly very rational, very calm, very collected. And yet if this is how bad it can get under an intelligent, calm individual like Obama, imagine what it could be under any possible alternative successor.

Peries — Richard, there’s been a much ado about how the president of Russia, Putin, prefers to have a Trump presidency over a Hillary Clinton presidency. What do you make of that?

Russia faces the choice we all face – a choice between two candidates with “huge negatives”

SakwaI think Russia faces the choice that we all face. Certainly US citizens face. That is a choice between two candidates who both have huge negatives. From the Russian perspective of course, Hillary Clinton has long been very antagonistic to Putin himself. They get on very badly. I think they’ve got mutual contempt for each other. Plus her political baggage goes back quite a long way. Yes, she was involved in Obama’s [reset] early on in 2009-2010. But soon after that their attitudes, relations deteriorated quite badly. And even in the second presidential debate on Sunday, she once again talked about Russian aggression, which is very strange since in Syria and elsewhere it’s the inability to come to terms has led into a situation which, it’s not a question of aggression, it’s a question of just trying to find a way out.

On the other side of course, Trump is no gift, I think, to anybody. I think Russian analysts as much as anybody else understands that his positions are unstable, even though he occasionally has said things which will please Moscow. For example, that NATO is obsolete. But very soon after that, he backtracked and actually said NATO’s absolutely essential. So therefore everybody knows it’s very hard to deal with Donald Trump.

Peries — Richard, let’s turn to Syria. The situation in Syria is intensifying since the talks between the US and Russia have broken off for the time being and the situation in terms of engaging Russian airstrikes in Syria by the UK military RAF. What do you make of all of this and is there any end in sight to this intensification?

Sakwa — Well on the one side, the British debate just recently, and Boris Johnson our foreign minister’s comments, I think is just typical bombast and bluster. I think the most–I mean, talks fortunately, I think are at least starting, and give all credit to him, and there’s going to be a meeting in Switzerland I think this coming weekend. So hopefully they’ll start a diplomatic process again.

The US triggered the collapse of the ceasefire agreement in Syria by bombing Syrian forces, killing 100

The thing is that there’s so many things going on that as you say, it’s difficult to get a handle on it. One of the things which we should really–and obviously the situation in Aleppo’s absolutely awful. But then if you track back a little bit, when you had the ceasefire, what happens? The United States attacked the forces at Deir al-Zour, which was a stationary position. There’s been a stalemate there for over 2 years. The United States perfectly well knew where the Syrian forces were.

The US claimed the attack was an accident, which, if true, suggests military command incompetence

So the fact to say that it was an accident that they attacked is farfetched. It may be the case, in which case it’s incompetence. What it meant was in one minute nearly 100 Syrian soldiers died. It meant the Islamic State took over the position that they’ve been trying to get for a long time, including the air field at Dei Al-Zour. So basically, Russia believes that the United States is trying to push all Syrian forces out from east of Palmyra. That’s one thing. That’s a background thing.

As for the attack on the humanitarian relief convoy, evidence suggests it was probably an ISIS or militant attack and not, as Kerry claims, an attack by Russian planes

As for that convoy which was attacked, again we don’t know. It may have been a Russian force. May have been a Syrian force. But there’s no signature–if it had come from above you’d actually have shell holes below. But it was probably attacked from the side. In other words, it was probably some sort of Islamic State or militant attack. So again that’s not proven. So time after time after time we have these accusations. Of course it’s awful in Aleppo.

Last year, the US responded to Russian air bombing by equipping militants with 1000+ anti-tank weapons thus intensifying the conflict. Quite extraordinary.

But you go back last year when Russia started the air bombing campaign on the 30th of September last year, what did the United States do? It immediately transferred over a thousand TOW anti-tank weapons to the militants in Syria to attack and defeat the Soviet Syrian army. It was quite extraordinary.

In other words, what could have been, as it were, let the state [Assad gov], however unpleasant or sad the regime may have been, it could have put an end to the misery of the Syrian people. Instead of which, the United States rushes in arms to intensify the conflict and conflagration.

Clinton’s call for the overthrow of Assad back in 2011 was unbelievable; she appears to have learned nothing after the Gadhafi and other fiascos.

And as I said we can track back over and over again all the way to Hillary Clinton’s call for the overthrow of the Assad regime soon after the first demonstrations back in 2011. That’s unbelievable. Have they learned nothing after Libya, after Syria, after Iraq, after Afghanistan even?

Tens of thousands of people are dying and suffering because of US-led western sanctions on Syria. The situation is dreadful.

So it’s a complete breakdown of the situation. And I think even though the situation is dreadful, I think that this rhetorical blast at the moment is utterly hypocritical because at the same time the west is imposing sanctions on Syria which across the country hospitals, and schools and all other facilities have no genuine access to medicines. Tens of thousands of people are dying and suffering because of western sanctions on Syria today.



Under the guise of peacekeeping, Trudeau’s Canada “is simply adding to the violence of the U.S. empire”: Absent a foreign policy of its own, Canada could be dragged into World War III by its next war-mongering president. Posted October 15, 2016

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