Monday, June 8, 2015

The Fourth Estate's Russophobia Obscures Euro Storm on the Horizon

I live in a part of the country that is Democrat and pro-Obama. When I voice misgivings about Obama administration policies -- for instance, I have publicly complained about regime change in Syria and the private health market aspects of Obamacare -- I am usually greeted with confused, quizzical stares. Most people interpret news through a partisan filter. Understanding is a tribal affair. If the conversation continues, my liberal interlocutor will eventually find a way to excuse Obama's shortcomings by invoking the Republican devils in Congress. It is at this point that I bring up the New Cold War. I say, "Republicans didn't instigate a coup in the Ukraine and launch another Cold War with Russia."

This invariably halts the conversation. People have been taught to hate Putin. (Who is Public Enemy #1 if not the Russian president? It's not ISIS's Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He's not in the news enough.) But people cannot articulate why it is they hate Putin other than to fall back on the contradictory lies they are fed by the mainstream Western media: that he is corrupt beyond accounting; that he tirelessly works for a rebirth of Imperial Russia; that he is a brutal thug, an assassin, and so on. People are not equipped to discuss the turmoil in Ukraine with what they have been provided by the MSM. All they know is Ukraine is being attacked by Russia. When this understanding is challenged or problematized, conversation halts because there is no depth of knowledge to sustain it.

Therefore it makes perfect sense that rather than try to deepen the public's knowledge of the conflict in Ukraine and the New Cold War with Russia, a course which would necessarily lead to more popular Western support for Russia's position, the Fourth Estate continues to pump air into the inflatable cartoon Boris and Natasha version of reality. Take this morning's story by Peter Baker and Steven Erlanger, "Russia Wields Aid and Ideology Against West to Fight Sanctions," the gist of which is that there is no legitimate popular support for Russia in Europe; it is all bought and sold by Putin:
WASHINGTON — The war in Ukraine that has pitted Russia against the West is being waged not just with tanks, artillery and troops. Increasingly, Moscow has brought to bear different kinds of weapons, according to American and European officials: money, ideology and disinformation. 
Even as the Obama administration and its European allies try to counter Russia’s military intervention across its border, they have found themselves struggling at home against what they see as a concerted drive by Moscow to leverage its economic power, finance European political parties and movements, and spread alternative accounts of the conflict. 
The Kremlin’s goal seems to be to sow division, destabilize the European Union and possibly fracture what until now has been a relatively unified, if sometimes fragile, consensus against Russian aggression. At the very least, if Russia can peel off even a single member of the European Union, it could in theory prevent the renewal later this month of economic sanctions that are scheduled to expire absent the unanimous agreement of all member states.
What follows is a compendium of alleged Russian subversion of European democracy by bribing officials and financing splinter parties on both the left and right:
American and European officials have accused Moscow of financing green movements in Europe to encourage protests against hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a move intended to defend Russia’s gas industry. And a shadowy “troll farm” in St. Petersburg uses Twitter to plant fake stories about chemical spills or Ebola outbreaks in the West.
Since long before the Ukraine crisis, money has been a means for Mr. Putin to try to shape events in the West.
After Chancellor Gerhard Schröder stepped down in Germany, he was given a lucrative position with Gazprom, the Russian state energy giant. When President George W. Bush was in office, Mr. Putin asked “would it help you” if Donald L. Evans, Mr. Bush’s close friend and former commerce secretary, were given a high-paying Russian corporate job. (Mr. Bush rejected the idea.)
Russia appears to be getting some traction lately in countries like Greece, Hungary, the Czech Republic and even Italy and France. Not only is it aligning itself with the leftists traditionally affiliated with Moscow since the Cold War, but it is making common cause with far-right forces rebelling against the rise of the European Union that are sympathetic to Mr. Putin’s attack on what he calls the West’s moral decline.
The most prominent example has been the National Front in France, which under Marine Le Pen has confirmed taking an $11.7 million loan from the First Czech-Russian Bank in Moscow, which has been tied to the Kremlin. She has denied a news report that the money was just the first installment of an eventual $50 million in loans to help her party through a presidential election in 2017.
Baker and Erlanger quote think-tank reports and Joint Chiefs head Martin Dempsey. Russia is trying to break apart the European Union; Russia is trying to fracture NATO. Thankfully, they do include one dissenting voice:
But Fiona Hill, a former national intelligence officer on Russia and now a scholar at the Brookings Institution, said that with the exception of Ms. Le Pen’s party in France, the assertions about Russia financing European parties seemed based more on speculation than facts. 
“The question is how much hard evidence does anyone have?” she asked. “And it’s useful for the Russians themselves not to refute rumors and maybe even perpetrate some of them. They want everyone to think everyone is corrupt, everyone can be influenced.”
Baker and Erlanger, if they had been tasked with writing a substantive report rather performing mouth-to-mouth on a dummy, should have focused on Greece and the probability that Athens, locked in an existential struggle with the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF, will block the sanctions. The timelines on Greece's debt negotiations are converging with the EU's re-authorization of Russian sanctions. A catastrophic storm for the U.S./EU is clearly on the horizon. It is not impossible that Greece could both default and simultaneously block the Russian sanctions.

But Baker and Erlanger give us no idea that a storm is on the horizon. You have to read Yves Smith's "G-7 Throws Greece Under the Bus" this morning to find that out. Greece's European creditors are not budging on their demand for a cut to pensions. Anyone following the debt negotiations should know by now that this is an issue on which Syriza will not waver:
As we’ve said for months, there is no solution space on the issue of pensions. This has become an enormously visible issue in the Eurozone lender countries, and their leaders would have to spend an a considerable amount of political capital to support the Greek position, even if they were willing to do that. And in the countries where parliamentary approval is required to release bailout funds, it’s not clear the ruling coalitions could muster the votes, particularly given the late date. There’s not enough time to do the weeks of messaging needed to soften opinion. 
Having said that, I’d like to know how anyone pushes Greece absent giving bribes (aka relenting) given that Tsipras has deeply committed himself to his position between his Le Monde op ed and his speech last Friday, plus by being boxed in by the Left Platform. If Tsipras tries snap elections, the Left Platform MPs have threatened to bolt and form a new party. Tsipras would need them to form a new coalition. The new party would have more freedom of action and visibility outside Syriza. 
Moreover, Tsipras can create an easy excuse for a default by calling elections, either snap elections or more likely a referendum. He could argue, as he has weakly threatened before, that at such an important juncture he can proceed only in accordance with voter wishes. Given the normal minimum times for elections, everything would still be in play by June 30, the IMF default date.
 There very well could be a lot of thunder and lightning by the end of the month.

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