Ukraine/U.S./Russia: Current Media Frenzy

By Ray McGovern

On The Critical Hour today, I was asked to discuss the latest drivel from British intelligence about Russia planning a coup in Kyiv, and to put it in context. What came immediately to mind was the spurious British intelligence report of Sept. 2002 warning that Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons that could be used just 45 minutes after he gave the order. ( See: Perfidious Albion Giving Grist to NYT https://raymcgovern.com/2022/01/23/perfidious-albion-giving-grist-to-nyt/ )

That one helped start a war.

Our discussion focused on the truly remarkable performance of the corporate media, incessantly beating the drums for more aggressive action against Putin “if/when Russia invades Ukraine”.

Then, at mid-afternoon came word that the Pentagon had just raised the alert status of 8,500 troops, reportedly to bolster NATO’s Quick Response Force, so I drafted a piece for antiwar.com, which will be the next posting here.

Perfidious Albion Giving Grist to NYT

By Ray McGovern

British ‘Intelligence’ is still weaving whole cloth for the [David] Sanger Sewing Machine, just in time for it to be “wowed at” on today’s Sunday TV talk shows.

This time it is the Russians, who supposedly are, in addition to everything else, now plotting a coup in Ukraine [Ed. like the West did exactly 8 years ago?].  ( See this morning’s piece co-authored by Sanger: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/22/world/europe/ukraine-russia-coup-britain.html?campaign_id=9&emc=edit_nn_20220123&instance_id=51083&nl=the-morning&regi_id=69540701&segment_id=80520&te=1&user_id=e69a6cb2bbba5cd47ffe27ec9fb45fbe  .) 

This episode brings a wicked flashback to Sept. 2002 when miscreants in British ‘Intelligence’ astounded the world by reporting that Saddam Hussein could order a chemical attack that would go boom in just 45 minutes! That piece of fabricated ‘intelligence’ was seized on to help get Congress to approve the US/UK attack on Iraq.  (If memory serves, it also was given pride of place on the Sunday TV talk shows — as was the case this morning with the latest British drivel.)

The “Lord Butler report” in July of 2004 poured discredit on that ‘intelligence’ and the way Tony Blair used it. https://irp.fas.org/world/uk/butler071404.pdf

Even former CIA Director George Tenet, not particularly known for his honesty, seemed to lapse into momentary truth, when he alluded to that British report on Iraq as the “they-can-attack-in-45-minutes shit”.  Yes, that’s how he described it to Bob Woodward later.  It would have been nice if Tenet had had the courage and integrity to have told the rest of the world THEN, before Cheney and Bush created havoc in the Middle East.  Tenet was one of the few acutely aware of what was going on and — specifically — how intelligence (over which he had purview) was being politicized.

We in Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) tried to warn President George W. Bush that attacking Iraq would bring “consequences likely to be catastrophic”. See our “Powell’s UN Speech and the Case for War”, Feb. 5, 2003 ( https://consortiumnews.com/2003/02/05/powells-un-speech-and-the-case-for-war/ ). Neither Bush nor Cheney were listening to us; they were listening to Cheney. 

As Blinken & Lavrov Fly Into Geneva…

By Ray McGovern

On The Critical Hour earlier today, I discussed why I thought it reasonable to expect some progress to come out of tomorrow’s meeting between Secretary Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva. When it was announced just two days ago, plans for a Lavrov-Blinken meeting Friday came as a surprise; I suggested then that one could breathe a little easier amid all the talk about an imminent Russian attack on Ukraine. (See:  https://original.antiwar.com/mcgovern/2022/01/19/breathe-easier-blinken-lavrov-meet-friday/  )

Rather than repeat the material in that piece, I included two more straws in the wind — one of them suggesting that Blinken was not the only one thrown off his horse on the road to Damascus.  Lying on the road beside Blinken, so to speak, was NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg — a super-hawk if there ever was one.

1 — Under-reported is Stoltenberg’s sudden conversion, the day after the NATO-Russia talks in Brussels, to an advocate for talks on “re-establishing some kind of limits on missiles as long as this is reciprocal, balanced, and verifiable.” Stoltenberg added that NATO “was ready to discuss not only limitations, but also a ban on intermediate range weapons.”  He emphasized that this is “the kind of diplomatic negotiations that should not take place in public as that will only undermine the possibility for a successful outcome.” (See: https://tass.com/world/1387915 )

2 — Also under-reported is a Washington Post article from two months ago reporting that the White House had asked the Pentagon to provide a rundown of exercises the U.S. military has taken in recent years in Europe to deter Russia, and how each was justified. It is no secret that the Russians have protested loudly at the number and the intrusiveness of many of those exercises, but in vain — at least up until now.

This strikes me as a rare leak of a highly unusual White House request.  One cannot rule out the possibility that President Putin is now being heard — and by someone in the White House. In any case, limitations on exercises is one of the issues U.S. negotiators are willing to discuss with their Russian counterparts.  And it is a significant issue.

The entire article by Paul Sonne and John Hudson on Nov, 19, 2021 bears a close read for what light it sheds on the current back and forth about what the U.S. and Russia should focus on. (See: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/us-military-exercises-russia-ukraine/2021/11/19/074c6b40-4884-11ec-973c-be864f938c72_story.html ) I include excerpts below:

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EXCERPTS

Amid tensions with Russia, White House scrutinizes military exercises in Europe

The White House has asked the Pentagon to provide a rundown of exercises the U.S. military has taken in recent years in Europe to deter Russia, as well as the justification for each mission, as the Biden administration takes stock of military operations in the air, on land and at sea that are designed to check Kremlin power and reassure U.S. allies and partners in Europe.

The purpose of the request, according to a senior Biden administration official, is to give the White House full visibility into U.S. military exercises and other deterrence activities in Europe so new missions can be evaluated and scheduled in the context of past actions. The bulk of the exercises in Europe focus on protecting against Russia …

U.S. military missions in Europe have grown in scope in recent years amid tensions with Moscow, leading to a slew of exercises, observation flights and maritime operations undertaken to ward off the Russian military from any further adventurism in Europe and reassure allies in the region that the United States takes seriously its commitments to their defense.

Some outside experts have raised concerns that some of the missions have become too provocative and should be reevaluated, even though the senior Biden administration official said the White House isn’t seeking the information from the Pentagon with a view to curtailing the activities.

In many cases, the missions have extended beyond NATO allies to include partner nations bordering Russia, such as Ukraine and Georgia. The United States doesn’t have a treaty obligation to defend those nations but has backed their right to sovereignty and provided support to their militaries. …

Russian President Vladimir Putin has become increasingly vocal in recent months about military activities by the United States and its allies near Russia, particularly in Ukraine. …

Putin said NATO countries were crossing “certain limits” by flying strategic bombers 20 kilometers (about 12 miles) off the coast of Russia over the Black Sea that carry “very serious weapons,” a reference to the nuclear warheads the planes can hold.

“We regularly express our concerns about this, we talk about red lines, but of course we understand that our partners are very idiosyncratic and — how to put it mildly — they treat all our warnings and conversations about red lines very superficially,” Putin said.”

“We regularly express our concerns about this, we talk about red lines, but of course we understand that our partners are very idiosyncratic and — how to put it mildly — they treat all our warnings and conversations about red lines very superficially,” Putin said. …

The White House hasn’t made any decision to modify or curtail the U.S. military’s missions and exercises in Europe, the senior Biden administration official emphasized.

“The important thing is that all we are looking for is basic information from the last several years of where we have done exercises, how many troops were involved, what policy objectives they were in support of,” the senior administration official said, describing the request from the White House National Security Council to the Defense Department, which was sent earlier this year, as “regular order.” …

Envelope-pushing missions

In the years since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, the United States and its NATO allies have backed Ukraine with training and arms, in addition to mounting regular exercises, at times with Ukrainian forces, to deter Russia from escalating the conflict in the country’s east. U.S. and NATO troops from Western Europe rotate through Poland and the Baltics, keeping a constant presence on the alliance’s eastern flank as a deterrent to a Russian invasion. …

Some of the activities have led to close calls.

Last year, a Russian fighter jet came within 100 feet of an American B-52 conducting an exercise with NATO allies over the Black Sea, rocking the heavy bomber with its afterburner and prompting a condemnation by the Pentagon. …

“Asking the question about the purpose of all this [NATO exercise] activity is totally legitimate and important, because if we are just doing stuff for the sake of doing stuff, which tends to be the default mode, then that can lead to problematic situations where we are having dangerous interactions with Russia for reasons unclear,” said Samuel Charap, a senior political scientist and Russia expert at the Rand Corp. … [Emphasis added.]

Russia’s military has also engaged in escalating activities, most recently holding a joint exercise with Belarus called Zapad 2021, which reportedly involved 200,000 troops, making it one of Europe’s biggest military exercises in decades. …

END OF EXCERPTS

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In my view, this issue of military exercises — including efforts to prevent cowboy-type behavior leading to incidents at sea or in the air — is another important area in which sober heads in both Russia and the U.S. share a common interest. And on this issue, the two sides could negotiate without either having to worry about appearing the supplicant.

As for tomorrow, at this point, one can only guess how the talks between Blinken and Lavrov will go. “The Critical Hour” has invited Scott Ritter and me to spend a half-hour mid-afternoon tomorrow discussing whatever is known about the talks by that time (to air tomorrow evening).

Russia-US Talks, on The Critical Hour

By Ray McGovern

We picked up where we left off after my mini-debate with Scott Ritter on Friday (See: https://raymcgovern.com/2022/01/08/scott-ritter-ray-are-geneva-talks-doomed-or-is-there-hope/ ).

Tuesday’s interview homed in on what happened in Geneva on Monday, against the backdrop of Scott’s post early Monday morning (See: https://consortiumnews.com/2022/01/10/what-war-with-russia-would-look-like/ ) predicting the Geneva talks were “doomed to fail from the start”.

My interview remarks reflected a very different take, as seen in the piece I wrote Monday evening (See: https://original.antiwar.com/mcgovern/2022/01/10/us-russia-talk-about-where-not-to-place-missiles/  ).

Also discussed was my feeling of identification with John the Baptizer as a lone voice in the desert. (I don’t mind the loneliness — I’m sort of used to it — and I love wild honey. (The locusts are lousy.) 

On the key U.S.-Russia negotiations issue, it seems Scott and I cannot both be right.  We’ll all know more in a week or two.

A new tidbit today: talking about the bilaterals on Monday, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, “It would be naive to think that one round of negotiations can bring comprehensive results”. He described the bilaterals in Geneva as “open, substantive, and direct”. (See: https://archive.vn/FfsE0#selection-359.6-452.0 )