Category Archives: Russia

Rand Paul’s Objection was Justified

Earlier this month, Senator John McCain spoke in support of a bill to advance Montenegro’s bid to join NATO. Sen. Rand Paul objected, exited the Senate chamber, and as the door closed behind him, Sen. McCain said to his colleagues, “The only conclusion you can draw when he walks away is he has no justification for his objection to having a small nation be part of NATO that is under assault from the Russians. So I repeat again, the senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin.”

On Tuesday, the bill came to a vote and every senator but Sen. Paul and Sen. Mike Lee voted in its favor. Even though Sen. Paul’s objection was fruitless, it was justified: allowing Montenegro into NATO is counter to American interests.  

Montenegro, a tiny Balkan nation boasting a GDP of $3.97 billion and a population of 622,388, has doggedly pursued membership in NATO since it declared its independence in 2006. Over the last year, the possibility of Montenegro’s accession to NATO has grown increasingly likely, as its bid has received ratification by one member state after another. Now that the United States has lent its support, Montenegro needs only Spain’s approval to succeed. This bodes well for Montenegro, but Americans are liable to suffer.

Montenegro is neither strategically necessary to the prevention of existential threats to American security, nor is it likely to meet the 2 percent of GDP defense spending benchmark set by NATO for member countries—it currently spends only 1.6 percent of its GDP ($63.52 million) on defense. Furthermore, Montenegrin accession to NATO could do substantial harm to U.S.-Russia relations.

If Montenegro joins NATO, the United States would be obligated under Article 5 of the NATO treaty to come to Montenegro’s aid if attacked. Since Montenegro is currently mired in an ongoing geopolitical feud with Russia — the latest antics of which include a failed coup orchestrated by Russian nationals —the Senate’s vote in favor of Montenegrin accession to NATO might have had the unintended effect of increasing the likelihood of a conflict between the U.S. and Russia.  

A spokesperson for President Vladimir Putin told the BBC in 2015 that Montenegrin accession to NATO would result in “retaliatory actions.” The spokesperson, however, left the exact nature of these prospective actions to legislators’ imaginations.

It is entirely possible that talk of retaliation is nothing but a bluff intended to preserve Russia’s sphere of influence and reduce the potential consequences of increased Russian activity in Montenegrin affairs, yet the United States has no particularly compelling reasons to call Russia out on this bluff.

If Montenegro wins Spain’s support, Montenegro stands to gain access to American aid if Russian interest in Montenegrin affairs escalates, but America would have nothing to gain besides the likelihood of an even larger financial burden and the possibility of having to, one day, deploy American forces to protect the interests of a tiny, relatively new, country.

In that vein and in response to the remarks made by Sen. McCain after his exit, Sen. Paul jibed in an interview with MSNBC that Sen. McCain “makes a really strong case for term limits,” before adding in a more somber tone, “there is a bipartisan consensus that’s incorrect that we should have the whole world be in NATO. For example, if we had Ukraine and Georgia in NATO—and this is something McCain and the other neocons have advocated for—we would be at war now.”

Sen. Paul is right; tensions between the United States and Russia are higher now than they have ever been since the height of the Cold War and the Senate should be working to reduce these tensions and lay the groundwork for a relationship based on mutual interests instead of gambling with America’s national security.

Michael Shindler is an Advocate with Young Voices. Follow him on Twitter here.

Snowden Claims “All Governments Break the Law,” Comments on Russian Hysteria

Dearborn, a town in Michigan with fewer than 100,000 residents, has one of the largest Muslim populations in the U.S. An astounding number of people in Dearborn are on the U.S. government’s watch list. That these two exist at once should come as no surprise, said writer Jeremy Scahill, as he opened the eighth episode of Intercepted and began interviews with Muslim rapper Kayem and Edward Snowden.

With Kayem, he talked about the surveillance state and targeting of Muslims. Kayem talked about how he’s been needlessly harassed, forced to go through insane scrutiny during airport security (which recently went so far as to prevent him from boarding), and placed on watchlists. He joked that he tells friends, “If something happens and I’m in the news…I didn’t do it!” laughing about the degree to which he’s been wrongfully targeted as a Muslim-American. Scahill chimed in.“The ‘Shaggy’ defense––it wasn’t me!” they laugh, as they found a way to mix glorious hip hop references into an otherwise-difficult conversation.

As the interview progressed and Snowden appeared via video call, Scahill’s questions centered around Russia hysteria and the rise of Trump. Snowden gave many familiar answers related to the value of transparency and the clear constitutional problems associated with mass data collection. Snowden’s thoughts on Trump, though, were less alarmist in comparison to many political observers––perhaps because every aspect of mass surveillance is alarming, Snowden remains unsurprised by the alarm of someone like Trump being elected.

“This isn’t actually new,” reminded Snowden, reinforcing the idea that unchecked abuse of power has pretty much always been happening––this time, though, the Trump administration is “so inept” that they’re honest about their wrongdoing or so bad at hiding it that it’s clearly visible to us. Perhaps visibility of power expansion and incompetence, although awful in the short term, can invigorate longer term structural change.

“All governments lie,” Snowden continued, “and all governments break the law.” If anything, the transparency with which we see the incompetence of the Trump administration might remind us that limited power is always better than its rampant, unchecked alternative. The problem is deeper though––many government officials, despite wrongdoing, have never seen the inside of a courtroom in a criminal proceeding.

But part of the problem with the current administration––and mainstream media reporting––is unbridled Russia hysteria. “MSNBC has basically transformed into a Cold War opponent of the Soviet Union,” laughed Scahill.

Snowden is no stranger to Russia-related fear mongering. When critics fabricated theories about his connection to Russia after the U.S. revoked his passport mid-transit to Latin America, his credibility was put on the line––with no evidence presented by said critics. In an effort to smear him, he was painted as a potential NSA contractor-turned-Russian spy.

Although frustrating, Snowden made it clear that he thinks skepticism is good. Reducing standards for evidence tends to be a bad thing and being conscientious arbiters of which information is true and false is crucial. But both Scahill and Snowden remained fiercely critical of the media’s handling of Russia-related topics, talking about how Russia has been an easy scapegoat for the past few years, given Cold War history, lack of public trust in Putin, and general uneasiness about the Putin administration’s unpredictability.

This makes even more sense put into the context of recent events: as of this month, Politico has started a histrionic Russia timeline, politicians and journalists have been quick to discredit Wikileaks’ trove of CIA documents due to Russian connections, and MSNBC has been fixating on Trump’s relationship with Russia, at the expense of other news. Many in the media are thoughtlessly jumping to quick conclusions about Russia instead of accurately assessing the foreign policy landscape. When hysteria wins, we all lose. Perhaps we should heed Snowden’s advice and be better skeptics, clear-headed arbiters of fact and fiction intent on thinking for ourselves.


Liz Wolfe is Young Voices’ managing editor.

Obama’s Quarrel with Russia Is a Dangerous Way to Try to Delegitimize Trump

Politico recently ran a piece by Bill Scher on the 1980s miniseries Amerika, a program that depicted a Soviet puppet government installed in the US “after a sham election in which both major party candidates were Soviet stooges.” Scher’s dystopian piece compares Amerika to the election of Donald Trump, hysterically rhapsodizing about “American conservatives with a nationalist, and even authoritarian, bent like Donald Trump [who] are not unnerved by the prospect of Russian influence over the U.S. government.”

Scher’s hysterical tone conveys exactly what the highly distrusted left-media means it to, namely that Trump is an illegitimate aberration whose every move must be thwarted. The fourth estate recoils at the effectiveness of Trump’s Twitter bully pulpit, and recognizes that the formerly dominant “media gatekeepers” might soon be settling into a diminished role. Despite the fact that Obama is the one who doggedly pursued media whistleblowers, Trump’s non-cooperation with news outlets who despise him—ditching the press pool time and again—has been labeled “a dangerous precedent.”

Astute observers will recognize that the controversy about Russian meddling in the election has more in common with Wag the Doga film in which the president’s PR men fabricate a foreign policy crisis as a means of distracting from the commander-in-chief’s sex scandal, than it does with Amerika.

Of late, Barack Obama has done his damnedest to politicize the intelligence community and escalate tensions with Russia to distract from this conclusion from the Intelligence Community Assessment on Russian hacking: “DHS assesses that the types of systems Russian actors targeted or compromised were not involved in vote tallying.” The left-wing calumny that Russia changed the results of the election simply can’t be substantiated.

Continue reading at Townhall.

Crimea: The cost of sanctions and the risk of retaliation

On 7 September, the European Union extended its sanctions blacklisting more than 100 Russian and Crimean officials. A few months from now, in January 2017, the EU will decide on whether or not to extend its economic sanctions against Russian organisations, including several defence companies. The officials and entities targeted by previous and ongoing sanctions were involved in the Russian annexation of Crimea in March 2014. The extension of the blacklist and the possible renewal of full EU sanctions raise the question of how long Putin is willing to accept continuous economic loss, and whether this policy will lead to any Russian attempts at escalation or de-escalation in eastern Ukraine.

Despite the initial success of Russia’s hybrid warfare, there are those in Russia — especially in Crimea — who now question the wisdom of continued fighting and its impact on their livelihoods. Crimeans have dealt with increased inflation in food prices and a collapse of tourism, a vital sector of the local economy that had been reliant on visitors from the rest of Ukraine.

The Russian people are not faring that well either. Between 2014 and 2015, Russia’s GDP dropped 34.71% from $2.031 trillion to $1.326tr. Russia’s unemployment has trended only slightly upward since January 2014 and has recently come down to 5.35% as of July 2016. This surprisingly low figure has led some to question the validity of Russia’s state statistics, while others have suggested that Russia has simply shed its excess foreign workers. Regardless of which is the case, Russia’s average household income remains at a low $500 a month.

On top of existing EU sanctions, Washington recently expanded its sanctions in August to include over 80 additional companies, including subsidiaries of gas companies, shipbuilders, and computer chip manufacturers. The military-economic consulting firm Janes Ships has reported that these sanctions are likely to wreak a fair degree of damage on Russia’s defence industry, as they will have less access to American investment and clients. Finally, these costs do not include those self-imposed by Russia’s retaliatory sanctions, such as a ban on importing EU foodstuffs, dating back to August 2014.

Continue reading at EurActiv.

A Marriage of Convenience

Relations between Turkey and the European Union have become increasingly tense in the aftermath of July’s failed coup against Erdogan.

Hence, when Russian president Vladimir Putin welcomed his Turkish counterpart in St. Petersburg this week, Western observers intently followed the meeting, fearing the two leaders’ first meeting in nearly a year could lead to a dangerous partnership of anti-Western autocrats.

Yet, the emergence of such a partnership is highly unlikely.

Relations between both countries are fraught, anti-EU and anti-Western sentiments cannot unite them in any meaningful or threatening way. One just needs to revisit their opposing stances on Syria to understand their intractable differences.

Last November, Turkey shot down a Russian airplane on the Turkish-Syrian border for violating Turkish airspace. In retaliation, Russia imposed sanctions on Turkey, hitting the country’s economy hard.

The sanctions were lifted a month ago, following a half-hearted apology from Erdogan and an apparent rapprochement between the two countries.

The tensions that led to the downing of the Russian jet remain, Moscow and Ankara have positioned themselves on opposite sides of the region’s crucial geopolitical question: the future of Syria.

Continue reading at EUobserver.