TBR News May 5, 2014

May 05 2014

The Voice of the White House


            Washington, D.C. May 4, 2014: “In the article below, from AlterNet, I am including a paragraph that very clearly explains the sort of thinking that now motivates American bureaucrats, to include the President, in the current situation in the Ukraine. It is certainly no secret that America wants to obliterate Putin and get control of Russia’s vast natural resources. Major American business entities dearly want this and what major American business entities wants, the Administration is eager to obey . It is well-known in Washington that the CIA was directly responsible for the uproar and putsch in Kiev recently but in the following disintegration of the Ukraine, they want no part and have modestly stepped aside for Obama to take the blame. The CIA did the same thing during their instigated Hungarian revolt in 1956. They started it but the Russians finished it. The CIA was once called the “criminal idiots association” by Harry Truman and Truman was overly kind.


“The policy Wolfowitz outlined in 1992 was to establish a world order in which the U.S. military would be so dominant and so ready to use overwhelming force that “potential competitors” would be discouraged ‘from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.’ Even NATO allies would be discouraged from acting independently of the U.S. or forming European security arrangements outside NATO. Once this policy was established, the U.S. would ‘sufficiently account for the interests of the advanced industrial nations to discourage them from challenging our leadership or seeking to overturn the established political and economic order’”


. Paul Wolfowitz:At one timeDeputy Defense Secretary, and a member of Perle’s Defense Policy Board, in the Pentagon. Wolfowitz was a close associate of Perle and has close ties to the Israeli military. Wolfowitz holds Israeli citizenship and his sister lives in Israel. Wolfowitz was connected with the think tank, JINSA. Wolfowitz was the number two leader within the Bush administration behind the disastrous Iraqi war. He had been targeted by Iraqi resistance fighters on several occasions and they only narrowly missed blowing him up in his well-guarded headquarters in Baghdad. Wolfowitz was subsequently appointed by President Bush to head the World Bank


Comment: Too bad the Iraqui’s failed! Ed.



93 countries that have flip-flopped on Obama

A new report reveals an erosion of approval for U.S. leadership in countries all over the world — including Kenya


May  3, 2014

by Nicolas J.S. Davies



            During the Bush years, people all over the world were horrified by America’s aggression, human rights abuses and militarism. By 2008, only one in three people around the world approved of the job performance of U.S. leaders. The election of President Obama broadcast his message of hope and change far beyond U.S. shores, and Gallup’s 2009 U.S.-Global Leadership Project (USGLP) recorded a sharp rise in global public approval of U.S. leadership to 49 percent.


As in the U.S., the reality of Obama’s policies has gradually eroded global approval of his leadership, which dropped to 41 percent in 2012 before rebounding to 46 percent in 2013. The 2013 USGLP report includes a caveat that Europe and other areas were surveyed in early 2013, soon after Obama’s reelection and before revelations of NSA wire-tapping, so the improved 2013 figures may reflect a fleeting revival of hope rather than a favorable response to U.S. policy.


A closer look at the U.S.-Global Leadership Project report reveals an erosion of approval for U.S. leadership in countries all over the world since 2009. The specific question Gallup asks is, “Do you approve or disapprove of the job performance of the leadership of the United States?” Large numbers in some countries refuse to answer or express no opinion, masking unvoiced disapproval behind fear, deference or politeness. I don’t believe that 71 percent of Vietnamese really have no opinion of U.S. global leadership. But the approval figures are probably not as flawed as the disapproval ones.


In 2008, a majority of respondents approved of the job performance of U.S. leaders in only 30 out of 109 countries. After Obama’s election, this jumped to 54 out of 112 or almost half the countries surveyed. But, in the 2013 report, only 37 percent, 48 out of 130, still had majorities who approved of U.S. leadership. Overall, the number of people who approve of U.S. leadership has declined in 93 countries since 2009, as the impact of Obama’s policies has gradually displaced his iconic image in people’s minds.* In 31 countries, Obama’s leadership approval figures have sunk below Bush’s.**


            The most striking drops in approval of U.S. leadership have come in Africa, where U.S. leadership has always enjoyed its highest approval ratings. The continent’s high hopes for Obama may partly account for lower approval in 28 out of 34 countries compared to his “honeymoon” in 2009. But that doesn’t explain why people in 15 out of 27 countries, or most of the continent, now rate U.S. leadership under Obama worse than under Bush. That even includes Kenya, the home of the Obama family. The enthusiasm Obama’s election generated in Kenya and the rest of Africa led Africans to pay greater attention to U.S. policy, but what they discovered has left them severely disillusioned.


Europe was the continent that most unequivocally rejected Bush’s leadership. Only 18 percent of Europeans approved of U.S. leadership in 2008, with approval falling as low as 8 percent in Austria and Belgium and 6 percent in Spain. Obama’s charm offensive was also more effective in Europe than anywhere else, boosting approval to 47 percent in 2009. This fell back to 34 percent by 2012, but recovered to 41 percent in early 2013. But Gallup surveyed Europe in 2013 before Edward Snowden’s revelations of NSA spying, and before Assistant Secretary Nuland organized a coup in Ukraine, turning it into the latest battlefield in the global American war that so alienated Europeans during the Bush administration. So we’ll have to wait for the 2014 report for a read-out on Europe’s reaction to mass wiretapping and “Fuck the E.U.” regime change.


The approval rating of U.S. leadership in Asia varies a lot but has grown along with the region’s economic growth, to 45 percent in 2013, also sweetening the global approval ratings. Latin America looks more like Europe, with a 34 percent rating in the Americas at the end of the Bush administration spiking to 53 percent in 2009, declining to 40 percent in 2013. Argentina rose from 11 percent in 2008 to 42 percent in 2009 but fell back to 19 percent in 2012 and 23 percent in 2013.


Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign promises of hope and change have faded from the headlines around the world as they have in America. His foreign and military policy has conspicuously failed to make a clean break with the Bush policies that alienated so much of the human race. He has failed to close Guantanamo or to hold senior U.S. officials accountable for war crimes. He escalated the war in Afghanistan, where he has conducted 22,000 air strikes, along with hundreds of illegal drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. He has expanded special forces operations to an incredible 134 countriesand launched bloody proxy wars in Libya andSyria, reducing them to chaos and warlordism to rival Iraq and Afghanistan.


Obama has overseen an evolution in U.S. war policy from mass military occupations to a greater reliance on covert operations, proxy wars and a naval buildup in the Pacific. But this evolution was dictated by the failed occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and the rise of China rather than by any new vision Obama brought to U.S. policy. A President McCain would have followed roughly the same policy and likely committed many of the same crimes.


Obama’s global charm offensive was always more about style than substance, and the substance behind the mask of “change” was “continuity.” Neither the American nor the global public would have submitted quietly to another George W. Bush. So the challenge for the power brokers of America’s capitalist political system in 2008 was to find and promote a face and a voice that a jaded public would welcome but who would ensure continuity for Wall Street’s control of the economy and America’s relentless but ever more elusive quest for global military dominance. The pretense of change was essential to sidetrack and silence growing demands for actual changes in U.S. policy.


This was the challenge that defined Obama’s inherently deceptive role as the new CEO of America Incorporated. How to change public perceptions without changing the underlying policies that they were based on? The U.S.-Global Leadership Project explicitly defines itself as a tool in such efforts. Its introduction reads, “The (USGLP) gives public- and private-sector leaders a better understanding of what is driving global views of U.S. leadership, creates a context for collaboration on how to improve those views, and enhances U.S. public and private global engagement efforts.”


But the report does not suggest fundamental changes in U.S. policy. The authors implicitly accept that the views of the people they are polling have no voice in such matters. But U.S. leaders must “engage” with them to manufacture consent and minimize resistance to U.S. policy. This was precisely what American power brokers hired Barack Obama to do, and the USGLP is a useful report card on his performance.


The parameters of post-Cold War U.S. foreign policy were first defined in 1992, to provide a stable and predictable framework for “public- and private-sector leaders” to exploit the power dividend gained by the collapse of the Soviet Union. They were spelled out in a “Defense Planning Guidance” document drafted by Under-Secretary of Defense for Policy Paul Wolfowitz and his assistant Scooter Libby, which was leaked to the New York Times in March 1992. The document was substantially revised to obscure its globally offensive implications before it was officially released a month later. But the policy framework outlined by Wolfowitz in 1992 was later codified in the Clinton administration’s 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review and the 2002 National Security Strategy, which Senator Edward Kennedy described as “a call for 21st-century American imperialism that no other nation can or should accept.”


The policy Wolfowitz outlined in 1992 was to establish a world order in which the U.S. military would be so dominant and so ready to use overwhelming force that “potential competitors” would be discouraged “from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.” Even NATO allies would be discouraged from acting independently of the U.S. or forming European security arrangements outside NATO. Once this policy was established, the U.S. would “sufficiently account for the interests of the advanced industrial nations to discourage them from challenging our leadership or seeking to overturn the established political and economic order.”


The 1992 “Defense Planning Guidance” implicitly violated the U.N. Charter’s prohibition on the threat or use of force by threatening unilateral U.S. military force against “potential competitors.” As the New York Times noted at the time, “the Pentagon document articulates the clearest rejection to date of collective internationalism, the strategy that emerged from World War II when the five victorious powers sought to form a United Nations that could mediate disputes and police outbreaks of violence.”


During the Bush administration, the “neoconservative” political philosophy of Wolfowitz, Libby and their cabal came out of the shadows and became a target of widespread public criticism. The roots of U.S. aggression against Iraq were traced to the neoconservative “Project for the New American Century,” founded in 1997 by Robert Kagan and William Kristol, the editor of the Murdoch-funded Weekly Standard. Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Libby were all PNAC members.


But the role of Kagan’s wife, Victoria Nuland, as the leader of the State Department/CIA team that organized the U.S. coup in Ukraine has drawn new attention to the fact that the neocons still hold positions of power and influence in Washington under Obama. The neocons today are not just influencing policy as an outside pressure group as they did with their “Team B” in the 1970s and PNAC in the 1990s. They remain comfortably ensconced in Obama’s State Department, the CIA, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and corporate-funded Washington think-tanks.


Victoria Nuland was Deputy National Security Adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney and then U.S. Ambassador to NATO. Hilary Clinton installed her as State Department spokesperson, and then John Kerry appointed her as Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs. Her husband, PNAC co-founder Robert Kagan, works at the Brookings Institution, and he and Kristol have now co-founded the Foreign Policy Initiative, widely seen as the successor to PNAC and lampooned as, “The Project for the Rehabilitation of Neoconservatism.”


But Robert Kagan doesn’t seem to need rehabilitating. President Obama prepared for his State of the Union speech in January 2012 by studying Kagan’s essay, “The Myth of American Decline” and discussing it paragraph by paragraph with network news anchors at a White House meeting. In contrast to the USGLP report, Kagan’s essay completely fails to consider the point of view of anybody outside America, but of course that’s not necessary in a propaganda piece for an American audience. Obama drew heavily on the essay in his speech, climaxing with a cheap applause line based on Kagan’s wishful thinking, “Anyone who tells you that America is in decline, or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about.”


Anther neocon with influence in the Obama administration is Kagan’s brother Frederick.Frederick Kagan is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and his wifeKimberly is president of the Institute for the Study of War. They were among the principal advocates of escalation in Afghanistan in 2009 and their close relationships with Secretary Gates and Generals Petraeus and McChrystal gave them critical influence in Obama’s decision to escalate and prolong the war.


Former PNAC director Bruce Jackson is the president of the Project on Transitional Democracies, dedicated to integrating Eastern Europe into the EU and NATO. Reuell Marc Gerecht, of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and a former CIA officer in Iran, is one of the most strident voices in Washington urging U.S. aggression against Syria and Iran and working to torpedo diplomatic solutions to either crisis.


Carl Gershman and Vin Weber are president and chairman respectively of the National Endowment for Democracy, which laid the groundwork for the coup in Ukraine, spending more than $3.4 billion of our tax dollars on 85 projects there. Ron Paul has called NED, “an organization that uses U.S. tax money to actually subvert democracy, by showering funding on favored political parties or movements overseas.”


But the influence of neoconservatism extends well beyond the cabal of neocons who rode in with the Bush administration. Despite failing every test in their application to the real world for 22 years, the policy framework and goals developed by Paul Wolfowitz in 1992 have become set in stone throughout Democratic and Republican administrations alike. The goal of U.S. military supremacy has become such an article of faith that rational alternatives are viewed as sacrilege or treason.


As Gabriel Kolko noted in “Century of War” in 1994, “options and decisions that are intrinsically dangerous and irrational become not only plausible but the only form of reasoning about war and diplomacy that is possible in official circles.” There are no limits to the crimes that American exceptionalism can justify, and genuine compliance with the rule of law is viewed as an unthinkable existential threat to the new premises of American power.


The only way a government can maintain such an illegitimate position is by the most elaborate use of propaganda, deception and secrecy, both against its own people and the rest of the world. The Obama model has evolved beyond traditional propaganda with techniques of branding and image-making developed in the corporate public relations sector, not least to build a deep sense of trust into the iconic image of a hip, sophisticated president with strong roots in African-American and modern urban culture. The contrast between image and reality, which is such an essential element in Obama’s role, represents a new achievement in “managed democracy,” enabling him to continue and expand policies that are the polar opposite of the change his supporters thought they were voting for.


But this regime of secrecy, deception and propaganda is an essential feature of the neoconservative political philosophy that now drives the leadership of both major political parties. Leo Strauss, the intellectual godfather of the neocons, was a refugee from 1930s Germany who believed that any genuine effort to achieve “government of the people, by the people, for the people” was doomed to end as the Weimar Republic did in Germany with the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. Strauss had a very dark Hobbesian view of human nature, which he justified with “secret” meanings he claimed were hidden in the works of Plato, Nietzsche and all philosophers. Strauss did not believe that the general public could handle the truth as he saw it, so that any system in which the public held real power would surely end in barbarism.


The Straussian solution to this imaginary problem is a system of “managed democracy,” in which a privileged high priesthood or oligarchy monopolizes real power as it oversees a superficial structure of democracy and promotes patriotic and religious myths to ensure the loyalty of the public and the cohesion of society. Political scientist Sheldon Wolin has dubbed this “inverted totalitarianism.” Because it is less openly offensive than “classical totalitarianism,” the inverted form may be more sustainable and therefore more successful in achieving a total concentration of wealth and power, paradoxically making it more insidious and dangerous than the classical totalitarianism the Straussians claim to be saving us from.


In her 1997 book, ‘Leo Strauss and the American Right’, Shadia Drury wrote,


Strauss believes that every culture and its morality are human fabrications designed by philosophers and other creative geniuses for the preservation of the herd. Because the truth is dark and sordid, Strauss maintains that the philosophic love of truth must remain the hidden preserve of the very few. But in their public posture, philosophers must pay lip service to the myths and illusions they have fabricated for the many. They must champion the immutability of truth, the universality of justice, and the selfless nature of goodness, while secretly teaching their acolytes that all truth is fabrication, that justice is doing good to friends and evil to enemies, and that the only good is one’s own pleasure. The truth must be deliciously savored by the few, but it is surely dangerous for the consumption of the many.


If this sounds uncannily like the cynical attitude of the people who run America today, it is because we are now living under a neoconservative, Straussian political system, and President Obama, far from representing some sort of alternative, is a neoconservative, Straussian president. In fact, by drawing on the sensibility and tools of Hollywood and the advertising industry to carefully balance traditional appeals to patriotism and religiosity with urban identity politics and inclusive and populist rhetoric, Obama and the Clintons are more sophisticated and masterful practitioners of Straussian politics than Bush or Cheney ever were.


The 2013 U.S.-Global Leadership Project report is the latest evidence that you can fool all the people some of the time and some people all the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time. And yet fooling all the people all the time is precisely the Straussian model for American politics and government. Behind a smokescreen of democracy and American values, a capitalist political system recycles wealth into political power and vice versa. Behind a consumerist American Dream, a corporate command economy drives a concentration of wealth and power such as 20th-century totalitarians never imagined, supported by a corresponding explosion of poverty, debt and mass criminalization. And behind an endlessly waving flag, a militarized foreign policy wrecks country after country in the name of democracy.


If Leo Strauss was right, the American people will passively accept a diet of endless propaganda and deception fed to us by a wealthy, powerful high priesthood as they gorge themselves on the fruits of our labor. If he was wrong, we will reject Straussian politics, organize effectively to elect a very different political class, and ensure that they democratically represent us to build the better world we all know is possible. But the problems facing the world today will not wait very long for us to make up our minds whether Leo Strauss was right or wrong in his dark, disdainful view of who we are.




* Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bolivia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Congo Brazzaville, Congo Kinshasa, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Ivory Coast, Japan, Kenya, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Liberia, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Palestine, Panama, Peru, Russia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, Somaliland, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uganda, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe.


** Afghanistan, Armenia, Chad, Colombia, Congo Brazzaville, Djibouti, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Kenya, Laos, Lebanon, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Nicaragua, Nigeria, the Philippines, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Uganda, Vietnam, Zimbabwe.




US Ambassador to Ukraine: No evidence of direct Russian involvement in violence in Odessa


May 4, 2014

Washinigton Times


U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt said Sunday that while Russia is exercising influence across eastern Ukraine, there’s no evidence the country was directly involved in the most recent spate of violence over the weekend.


Dozens were killed in Odessa in southern Ukraine over the weekend after a violent clash between demonstrators on both sides culminated in dozens of pro-Russia supporters ending up inside a building set ablaze.


The context of the deadly incident “suggests that somebody wanted this violence to explode the way it did,” Mr. Pyatt said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”


“At this point, the whole country is trying to figure out what happened, how to pull together, and how to make sure that those who would try to divide the country will not be successful,” he said.


Mr. Pyatt said that while Russia is “exercising influence” across eastern Ukraine, there’s no evidence of the country’s direct involvement in what happened in Odessa.






The US/NATO Enlargement Project: Building a Russian Wall


April 23, 2014

by Renee Parsons  



            In February, 1990, US Secretary of State James Baker (1989-1992), representing President George HW Bush, traveled to Moscow to meet with Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev regarding the possible reunification of Germany and the removal of 300,000 Soviet troops. There is little serious dispute that as the Berlin Wall teetered, Baker promised Gorbachev “there would be no extension of NATO’s jurisdiction for forces of NATO one inch to the east.” Gorbachev is reported to have taken the US at its word and responded “any extension of the zone of NATO is unacceptable.” “I agree,” replied Baker.”


Unfortunately, Gorbachev never got it in writing and most historians, at the time, agreed that NATO expansion was “ill conceived, ill-timed, and above all ill-suited to the realities of the post-Cold War world.”


President Bush’s National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft and Bill Clinton’s Defense Secretary were also in agreement. But by 1994, that verbal contract had not deterred the concerted efforts of a handful of State Department policy professionals to subdue the overwhelming bureaucratic opposition according to James Goldgeier in his classic “Not Whether but When: The US Decision to Enlarge NATO.” By 1997, the Gorbachev-Baker-Bush agreement was a forgotten policy trinket as Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic were accepted into NATO. In 2004, former Soviet satellite countries Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were admitted and in 2009, Croatia and Albania joined NATO.


Currently, the former Soviet republics of Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Armenia, and Azerbaijan are pending membership and all five former Soviet republics in Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan) provide NATO with logistical support for the US war in Afghanistan.


As the US-led NATO alliance tightens its grip on the Caucasus countries, the American public has not been informed about the Ukrainian Parliament’s approval for a series of NATO military exercises that would put US troops on Russia’s border, even though the Ukraine is not yet a member of NATO. Rapid Trident is a 12-nation military ‘interoperability’ exercise led by the US who will commit the majority of participating troops and Sea Breeze is a naval exercise that will take place on the Black Sea adjacent to Russian ports. The NATO buildup includes joint ground operations with Moldova and Romania.


Most recently, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced that the military alliance has cut Russia off from civilian and military cooperation and that there would be the deployment and reinforcement of military assets including increased air patrols over the Baltic Sea and AWACS surveillance flights over Poland and Romania.


It goes without saying that the NATO build up is in addition to the deployment of US troops and F-16 warplanes to Poland, F-15C warplanes to Lithuania and aircraft carriers to the Black and Mediterranean Seas.


All this raises the question about whether a promise and handshake in the world of international diplomacy is a real commitment and what is a 1991 international promise made by a Republican Administration worth in 1994 to a Democratic Administration? Apparently zilch.


In a 1999 article for the NATO Review “Not When but Who,” Goldgeier shed further light on the early political wrangling as the US became the ‘main driver’ of NATO enlargement beginning with President Bill Clinton’s declaration while attending his first NATO summit in 1994 that “it was no longer a question of whether NATO would enlarge but how and when.” Clinton offered no explanation of why the Baker-Gorbachev agreement was no longer relevant. So much for political handshakes.


As Goldgeier recounts, “the timing was left deliberately vague until after Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s re-election in July 1996.” While Yeltsin bears much of the responsibility for Russia’s predicament today, he was not a tough-minded figure and the remnants of the Soviet Union were confused and disorganized immediately after its 1991 disintegration. Goldgeier reports that “President Yeltsin tried unsuccessfully to get President Clinton to shake hands in Helsinki in March 1997 on a “gentleman’s agreement” that the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania would never become NATO members.” The result being that all three were admitted to NATO in 2004 and Russia was hoodwinked in its effort to limit NATO expansion by a more experienced, better organized State Department.


What all this means is that, behind the diplomatic landscape of verbal jujitsu and summit meetings, there had been a concerted effort at the US State Department with the creation of a NATO Enlargement Office to establish what has become a Russian Wall – an impenetrable US – defined barrier of estrangement along the Russian border meant to cut the country off from land and sea access – as NATO, itching for war, continues to bait Russia with isolation and threats.


The task of member recruitment fell to US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke’s in 1994 with the driving force of NATO enlargement being the introduction of neoliberal economics and prevention of a Russian resurgence. Unbeknownst to the American public, the impetus to expand NATO was not solely on the initiative of the Warsaw Pact countries but facilitated by the US State Department’s NATO Enlargement project.


With the west’s military encroachment and political intimidation of Russia, NATO and the US are currently organizing the most extensive buildup of weapons and combatants in the Caucasus since WWII.


In February, 2010, the Council on Foreign Relations sponsored a discussion on “A Little War that Shook the World” written by Ronald Asmus about the 5-day war in Georgia. While at State, Asmus, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs was responsible for “formulation and implementation of US policy on all European security institutions” which can only mean that he blazed the trail for Victoria Nuland’s recent efforts in Ukraine.


More than just a key participant in the State Department’s NATO Enlargement project (1997-2000), Asmus displayed the typical mindset of a professional foreign policy nerd who sees only one limited vision and that is US supremacy dominating every sphere of the planet. American Exceptionalism reeks as one constant theme throughout the interview and here are just a few choice morsels from that 2010 CFR discussion:


“we need to convince Russia that we are not their biggest problem. We are their potential partner but there has to be certain rules and pre-conditions for this partnership which is why we have to keep doors open even if we have to be tough with them on certain issues in which they have done things that are wrong and which violate the rules.”


“if Ukraine goes European, it will have huge impact on Russia in a positive sense; ultimately pull Russia in the right direction.”


“If you asked me in the 1990s when I was in the State Department in charge of NATO Enlargement and all these other things; had I ever thought about Ukraine and Georgia joining the NATO the honest answer was not really.. it wasn’t on my radar screen. I thought it was a miracle that we got Poland and Baltic States and everyone else.”


“…instead we spent a billion dollars to help Georgia after the war. We’re calling for a modest reinvestment of American political and economic leverage and muscle to stabilize the situation on the ground and help rebuild these countries.”


“We should be investing more, we should be more present and active on the ground in Ukraine in Georgia and all these places – without triggering the Russian hyper-reaction.”


When asked if Russia didn’t have a point that their buy-in was necessary for a safe, secure Europe, Asmus replied:


“I always say the project is not complete, the project that I have spent my life working on is not complete until we have a Russia that is part of the European security system. They all think I’m anti Russian because of everything I’ve done.”


Originally created as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, today’s NATO has become an international entity with a reach far beyond the Atlantic – and this time Russia is the Big Enchilada. As its participation in global bombing campaigns continue to justify its existence, NATO has a vested interest in creating war – just as the ultimate intent of the State Department’s Enlargement project has been war.


            Renee Parsons was a staffer in the U.S. House of Representatives and a lobbyist on nuclear energy issues with Friends of the Earth. in 2005, she was elected to the Durango City Council and served as Councilor and Mayor. Currently, she is a member of the Treasure Coast ACLU Board.


Apple, Facebook, others defy authorities, notify users of secret data demands


May 1, 2014

by Craig Timberg 


Major U.S. technology companies have largely ended the practice of quietly complying with investigators’ demands for e-mail records and other online data, saying that users have a right to know in advance when their information is targeted for government seizure.


This increasingly defiant industry stand is giving some of the tens of thousands of Americans whose Internet data gets swept into criminal investigations each year the opportunity to fight in court to prevent disclosures. Prosecutors, however, warn that tech companies may undermine cases by tipping off criminals, giving them time to destroy vital electronic evidence before it can be gathered.


             Technology is advancing so rapidly that most industry leaders will be fighting for survival soon.


            .Fueling the shift is the industry’s eagerness to distance itself from the government after last year’s disclosures about National Security Agency surveillance of online services. Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Google all are updating their policies to expand routine notification of users about government data seizures, unless specifically gagged by a judge or other legal authority, officials at all four companies said. Yahoo announced similar changes in July.


As this position becomes uniform across the industry, U.S. tech companies will ignore the instructions stamped on the fronts of subpoenas urging them not to alert subjects about data requests, industry lawyers say. Companies that already routinely notify users have found that investigators often drop data demands to avoid having suspects learn of inquiries.


“It serves to chill the unbridled, cost-free collection of data,” said Albert Gidari Jr., a partner at Perkins Coie who represents several technology companies. “And I think that’s a good thing.”


The Justice Department disagrees, saying in a statement that new industry policies threaten investigations and put potential crime victims in greater peril.


“These risks of endangering life, risking destruction of evidence, or allowing suspects to flee or intimidate witnesses are not merely hypothetical, but unfortunately routine,” department spokesman Peter Carr said, citing a case in which early disclosure put at risk a cooperative witness in a case. He declined to offer details because the case was under seal.


The changing tech company policies do not affect data requests approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which are automatically kept secret by law. National security letters, which are administrative subpoenas issued by the FBI for national security investigations, also carry binding gag orders.


The government traditionally has notified people directly affected by searches and seizures — though often not immediately — when investigators entered a home or tapped a phone line. But that practice has not survived the transition into the digital world. Cellular carriers such as AT&T and Verizon typically do not tell customers when investigators collect their call data.


Many tech companies once followed a similar model of quietly cooperating with law enforcement. Courts, meanwhile, ruled that it was sufficient for the government to notify the providers of Internet services of data requests, rather than the affected customers.


Twitter, founded in 2006, became perhaps the first major tech company to routinely notify users when investigators collected data, yet few others followed at first. When the Electronic Frontier Foundation began issuing its influential “Who Has Your Back?” report in 2011 — rating companies on their privacy and transparency policies — Twitter was the only company to get a star under the category “Tell users about data demands.” Google, the next mostly highly rated, got half a star from the civil liberties group.


The following year, four other companies got full stars. The preparation of this year’s report, due in mid-May, has prompted a new flurry of activity in the legal offices of tech companies eager to gain a coveted star.


Google already routinely notified users of government data requests but adopted an updated policy this week detailing the few situations in which notification is withheld, such as when there is imminent risk of physical harm to a potential crime victim. “We notify users about legal demands when appropriate, unless prohibited by law or court order,” the company said in a statement.


Lawyers at Apple, Facebook and Microsoft are working on their own revisions, company officials said, although the details have not been released. All are moving toward more routinely notifying users, said the companies, which had not previously disclosed these changes.


“Later this month, Apple will update its policies so that in most cases when law enforcement requests personal information about a customer, the customer will receive a notification from Apple,” company spokeswoman Kristin Huguet said.


The trend toward greater user notification gained new urgency amid the government surveillance revelations made by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Although the bulk data collection he disclosed was for national security purposes, not routine criminal investigations, companies grew determined to show that they prized their relationships with customers more than those with authorities — a particularly sensitive issue overseas, where the American tech industry has been lambasted as too cozy with the U.S. government.


“Post-Snowden, there is a greater desire to compete on privacy,” said Marc Zwillinger, founder of ZwillGen, a Washington-based law firm that has major tech companies as clients. “Companies have had notice policies and cared about these issues for years. It’s only now that it’s being discussed at the CEO level.”


The changing legal standards of technology companies most directly affect federal, state and local criminal investigators, who have found that companies increasingly balk at data requests once considered routine. Most now refuse to disclose the contents of e-mails or social media posts when presented with subpoenas, insisting that the government instead seek search warrants, which are issued only by judges and require the stricter legal standard of probable cause.


             Subpoenas, by contrast, can be issued by a broader range of authorities and require only that the information sought be deemed “relevant” to an investigation. A 2010 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit backed the industry’s contention that search warrants should be required for digital content, a standard now widely accepted.


For data other than content — such as records showing the senders and recipients of e-mails, the phone numbers registered with accounts or identifying information about the computers used to access services — companies have continued accepting subpoenas but warn investigators that users will be notified before disclosure occurs.


“That was one of the purposeful burdens that was supposed to limit government surveillance,” said Marc Rotenberg, a Georgetown University law professor and executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “As a historic matter, the intent always was that a person would be notified.”


The shifting industry practices force investigators to make difficult choices: withdraw data requests, allow notification to happen or go to magistrate judges to seek either gag orders or search warrants, which typically are issued under seal for a fixed period of time, delaying notification. Such choices were made even more difficult by the rising skepticism of magistrate judges, many of whom in recent years have scrutinized such requests more carefully or rejected them altogether, legal experts say.


“It’s sort of a double whammy that makes law enforcement’s job harder,” said Jason M. Weinstein, former deputy assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s criminal division, now a partner at Steptoe & Johnson. “It has the potential to significantly impair investigations.”


Ronald T. Hosko, a former FBI special agent who until his recent retirement oversaw the criminal division at the Washington field office, said the development of cases has been hurt by the threat of user notification, especially during early phases when investigators try to work discreetly, before a suspect potentially can destroy evidence. He said the shift among tech companies has been driven mainly by concern about their public images, at the expense of public safety — an issue he said was particularly acute when it came to cases involving child predators or terrorists.


“My fear is that we will be less secure in our country, in our houses, because of political decisions, because of the politics of the day, rather than what will keep us safe,” Hosko said. “I’m concerned that that gets people killed, that that gets people hurt.”


Companies that have policies to notify users of government data collection say they make exceptions for cases of imminent danger to potential victims, especially if the safety of a child is at risk. In the vast majority of situations, however, users deserve to know who is collecting their data and why, the companies say. The exceptions, they say, should be decided by a judge — not by a company lawyer, and not by an investigator.


“The intent is to make sure it’s not a rubber stamp,” said Dane Jasper, chief executive of Sonic.net, an Internet and phone provider in California whose notification policy has won a star from EFF. “That way we’re not releasing customer information without due process.”



Ann E. Marimow contributed to this report.


White House seeks legal immunity for firms that hand over customer data

Obama administration asks legislators drafting NSA reforms to protect telecoms firms complying with court orders


May 2, 2014

by Spencer Ackerman in New York



The White House has asked legislators crafting competing reforms of the National Security Agency to provide legal immunity for telecommunications firms that provide the government with customer data, the Guardian has learned.


            In a statement of principles privately delivered to lawmakers some weeks ago to guide surveillance reforms, the White House said it wanted legislation protecting “any person who complies in good faith with an order to produce records” from legal liability for complying with court orders for phone records to the government once the NSA no longer collects the data in bulk.


The brief request, contained in a four-page document, echoes a highly controversial provision of the 2008 Fisa Amendments Act, which provided retroactive immunity to the telecommunications companies that allowed the NSA to access calls and call data between Americans and foreigners, voiding lawsuits against them. Barack Obama’s vote for that bill as a senator and presidential candidate disappointed many supporters.


A congressional aide said the telecommunications companies were expected to “fight hard” for the provision to survive in any surveillance bill. Those firms, including Verizon and AT&T, have typically kept far more silent in public about NSA surveillance and their role in it than internet giants, like Yahoo and Google, which have pushed for reforms.


Unlike in 2008, the firms are not facing a spate of lawsuits, although Verizon was named as a defendant in Larry Klayman’s suit against the Obama administration challenging the constitutionality of bulk phone metadata collection.


A senior administration official noted that the provision is typical for surveillance law, to protect companies who comply with Fisa court orders for customer data.


“This would refer to any new orders issued by the court under the new regime we are proposing. This is similar to the way the rest of Fisa already operates, and Fisa already contains virtually identical language for its other provisions, including Section 215,” the official said, referring to the portion of the Patriot Act cited as justification for bulk phone data collection.


The telecommunications immunity is already contained within a bill authored by the House intelligence committee leadership, key legislative allies of the NSA.


But another aspect of the White House document points to an obstacle that congressional sources said is holding up the House intelligence bill – something its opponents consider an opportunity.



That bill, sponsored by Republican chairman Mike Rogers of Michigan and ranking Democrat Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, would permit the government to access phone records without specific prior approval by a judge. Ruppersberger said while unveiling the bill in late March that they were “very, very close” to a deal with the White House, though the principles document favors prior court orders.


“Absent an emergency situation, the government would obtain the records only pursuant to individual orders from the Foreign intelligence surveillance court approving the use of specific numbers for such queries, if a judge agrees based on national security concerns,” it reads.


Several congressional aides said that the discrepancy between the White House and the intelligence committee on the issue had stalled the momentum of a bill backed by the House leadership over a rival effort in the judiciary committee – also stalled – that would go far further in reining in bulk data collection.


Ruppersberger said he was in a “constructive dialogue” with stakeholders on his surveillance bill, and expressed confidence in its prospects.


“The chairman and I continue to engage in a constructive dialogue with the administration, members of our respective caucuses in the House and Senate, privacy groups, and technology and telecommunication companies. The issue of increasing transparency while maintaining an important capability to protect our country is extremely important and we will continue to work together in the best way forward,” Ruppersberger said in a statement to the Guardian.


Rogers and Ruppersberger’s legislative rival is a bill sponsored in the House by Republican Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, a member of the judiciary committee. Known as the USA Freedom Act, it has been bottled up in the committee since its introduction six months ago, owing to the uncertain support of chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican.


The White House surveillance principles document poses its own complications for Ruppersberger’s bill. While that bill requires prior judicial approval for government acquisition of phone records, the White House principles are agnostic about the bulk collection of any other data, which the USA Freedom Act would prevent for Americans.


Jockeying is said to have intensified recently within the judiciary committee to reach a breakthrough on the USA Freedom Act, fueled in part by institutional incentives created by the introduction of Rogers and Ruppersberger’s bill.


The House intelligence committee leaders attempted unsuccessfully to circumvent the judiciary committee through a parliamentary procedure. But since the bill would amend a major surveillance law, it received a secondary referral to the judiciary committee, a hotbed of hostility to it. Opponents are using the circumvention attempt to galvanize Goodlatte into finalizing a modified version of the USA Freedom Act, possibly under a new name. Privacy activists have been pressuring Goodlatte in Virginia to pass the bill.


Goodlatte “doesn’t love everything in USA Freedom, but he’s not the type to get rolled on his jurisdiction,” a congressional staffer explained.


The upcoming legislative calendar also adds a potential element of uncertainty to congressional surveillance maneuvers.


Representative Justin Amash, a Michigan Republican and USA Freedom Act supporter, is warning that he may attach an amendment to defund domestic bulk collection to critical legislation, to include the annual defense authorization bill, known as the NDAA. An earlier version of that amendment, last summer, came surprisingly close to passing, giving the Obama administration a near-death experience on surveillance.


NSA supporters are also rumored to be considering adding their own amendments to the NDAA in order to check privacy advocates. The House leadership wants the NDAA to go for a floor vote the week of May 19. But both civil libertarians and NSA defenders are concerned that amending unrelated bills could introduce rancor and volatility to an already arduous process of surveillance reform.


“If leadership on both sides decide that they want to push through pseudo-reforms through the NDAA or through another piece of legislation, than we’re certainly prepared to offer an amendment like we offered before to any piece of legislation that requires it,” Amash told the Guardian.


“We have to keep all options on the table, and my goal is to protect the American people and do it as soon as possible. We can’t keep waiting. At the same time, I’m willing to sit down and talk with leadership and others, and if I feel that they are moving in the right direction, then certainly, we’re happy to work with them on more comprehensive legislation, like the USA Freedom Act.”






Side deals with Moscow thwart drive to wean Europe off Russian gas


May 4, 2014

by Henning Gloystein



 LONDON  – While officials in Brussels were calling for Europe to reduce its dependency on Russian natural gas and negotiate with Moscow as a bloc, Austria was quietly bypassing the European Commission to cut its own bilateral deal on building a pipeline.


The deal on the South Stream pipeline, which will be built under the Black Sea to Bulgaria and on to central Europe, shows the European Union’s difficulty in creating a unified energy policy on Moscow during the Ukraine crisis.


While EU officials are calling for Europe to wean itself off Russian gas, private and state-owned firms, with the support of politicians, are pushing ahead with projects to buy ever more.


 true  Austrian energy firm OMV agreed last week with Russia’s state-controlled Gazprom to bring the South Stream pipeline to Austria’s Baumgarten gas hub, outmaneuvering Italy which had wanted it to end there.


The deal is also likely to please some in neighboring Germany, as the gas will now be delivered closer to customers.


It shows that when it comes to natural gas diplomacy, European countries still have their own competing interests which are difficult to unite under an EU flag.


The timing of the deal, which coincided with Europe announcing new sanctions on a list of Russians designed to push the Kremlin to reduce its support for separatists in Ukraine, could hardly have been more at odds with official EU policy.


The Commission had put the approval process for South Stream on hold after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region in March, hoping the delay would push Moscow to stop what the West says is its intervention in Ukraine.


Brussels says South Stream does not comply with its regulations on ownership and pipeline access. But Austria and Russia have circumvented this by announcing that their deal is based on a bilateral agreement between the countries rather than an EU accord.



South Stream’s main purpose, like the German-Russian Nord Stream pipeline under the Baltic Sea, is to circumvent Ukraine. This would ensure that disputes between Moscow and Kiev do not interfere with the flow of Russian gas to Europe, much of which crosses Ukraine in existing pipelines.


“If we agree to South Stream, Europe will sell the rope with which Russia will hang Ukraine, and it will also agree to increase its energy dependency on Russia,” said Frank Umbach, at the European Centre for Energy and Resource Security (EUCERS), a research team at King’s College London.




Austria was motivated to push for the South Stream deal after it lost out to Italy in a competition last year over a separate pipeline bringing gas to Europe from Azerbaijan.


OMV’s Nabucco pipeline project was dropped in favor of the rival Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) to Italy. That derailed years of Austrian lobbying, which the EU had initially backed, for Nabucco to bring the Azeri gas to central Europe.


“Current international developments show once again that in the long-term we don’t only have to diversify our energy sources, but also our routes,” said Austrian economy and energy minister Reinhold Mitterlehner. “Should the South Stream pipeline end in Baumgarten, we will get closer to this target.”


Gazprom sources said they had been approached during the last four weeks by Austria, and a deal was put together as fast as possible.


Gazprom and OMV aim to get the remaining permits by the end of next year and start delivering gas by 2017.


“For Russia, this project is a clear signal to Ukraine that it intends to avoid any future disputes or supply disruptions,” said Friedbert Pflüger, director of EUCERS. “The reference to a 2010 bilateral agreement for regulatory approval demonstrates Moscow’s intention to circumvent the EU’s regulations that would make the realization of the project more difficult.”




The Gazprom-OMV agreement continues Russia’s strategy of making bilateral deals that undermine the Commission, the EU’s executive arm, which wants to build up a European front on energy supplies.


Bulgaria, which imports almost all its gas from Russia, also backed South Stream last month in defiance of Commission calls that member states should not enter bilateral deals with Gazprom without its approval.


“South Stream is a project of strategic importance. Now they (the European Parliament) want to stop South Stream. How are we to develop? This crisis at the moment shows that we do not have security of natural gas supplies for Bulgaria,” energy minister Dragomir Stoynev said.


Quietly supporting smaller EU member states such as Austria and Bulgaria is Germany, where the government has said it sees Moscow as a reliable gas supplier and industry has made big investments in securing Russian gas.


Germany is by far Gazprom’s biggest customer in the EU, paying around $15 billion a year for Russian gas.


After years of lobbying by former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, the Nord Stream pipeline began operations in 2011.


Schroeder chairs Nord Stream’s board and has been an outspoken critic of moves to isolate Russia diplomatically. He drew strong criticism in the German press last week for bear-hugging President Vladimir Putin during a visit to Russia.


South Stream’s proposed 2,500 km (1,500 mile) route would stretch from Russia under the Black Sea through Bulgaria and Serbia to Hungary and now Austria.


Germany’s BASF, the world’s biggest chemicals company, is a partner in South Stream through its gas supply subsidiary Wintershall.


The head of BASF’s advisory board is Eggert Voscherau, brother of Henning Voscherau, who is chairman of South Stream Transport’s board of directors and a prominent former politician of Schroeder’s Social Democratic Party.


A government adviser in Berlin, speaking on condition of anonymity said Berlin was happy that the new pipeline was now going to Austria rather than Italy: “Bringing South Stream’s gas to Austria is far better for Germany’s industry and gas security than pumping it far to the South to Italy.”


(Additional reporting by Georgina Prodhan in Vienna, Stephen Jewkes in Milan, and Dmitry Zhdannikov in London; editing by Peter Graff)


Kiev Struggles to Break Russia’s Grip on Gas Flow


May 4, 2014

by Andrew Higgins 

New York Times


             CHASLOVTSY, Ukraine — As Ukraine tries to contain a pro-Russian insurgency convulsing its eastern region, a perhaps more significant struggle for the country hinges on what happens beneath the ground here in a placid woodland in the far west, on the border with Slovakia.

This is where about $20 billion worth of Russian natural gas flows each year through huge underground pipelines to enter Europe after a nearly 3,000-mile journey from Siberia. It is also, the pro-European government in Kiev believes, where Ukraine has a chance to finally break free from the grip of Gazprom, Russia’s state-controlled energy behemoth.

In an effort to do this, Ukraine has for more than a year been pushing hard to start so-called reverse-flow deliveries of gas from Europe via Slovakia to Ukraine, thus blunting repeated Russian threats to turn off the gas tap.

An agreement signed last week between Slovak and Ukrainian pipeline operators opened the way for modest reverse-flow deliveries of gas from Europe, where prices are much lower than those demanded by Gazprom for its direct sales to Ukraine.

But the deal, brokered by the European Union and nudged along by the White House, fell so far short of what Ukraine had been lobbying for that it left a nagging question: Why has it been so difficult to prod tiny Slovakia, a European Union member, to get a technically simple and, for Ukraine and for the credibility of the 28-nation bloc, vitally important venture off the ground?

Some cite legal and technical obstacles, others politics and fear of crossing the Kremlin, but all agree that a major obstacle has been the power and reach of Gazprom, which serves as a potent tool for advancing Russia’s economic and geopolitical interests, and is ultimately beholden to President Vladimir V. Putin.

            All the same, a fog of mystery surrounds the reluctance of Slovakia to open up its gas transit corridor — through which Russia pumps a large portion of its gas to Europe — for large reverse-flow deliveries to Ukraine.

Built during the Soviet era to link Siberian gas fields with European markets, Slovak pipelines, according to Ukrainian officials and experts, could move up to 30 billion cubic meters of gas from Europe to Ukraine a year — more than all the gas Ukraine is expected to import from Russia this year.

Instead, the majority state-owned Slovak company that runs the system, Eustream, has offered only a small, long-disused subsidiary pipeline that still needs engineering work before it can carry gas to Ukraine. Once the work is finished in October, Eustream will provide just a tenth of the gas Ukraine has been looking for from Europe. The company says that small amount can be increased sharply later.

Here in Chaslovtsy, in southwestern Ukraine, where technicians from Ukraine’s pipeline company, Ukrtransgaz, and Gazprom monitor the flow of Russian gas into Slovakia, the Ukrainian head of the facility, Vitaly Lukita, said he wondered if gas would ever flow the other way.

“We are all ready here, but I don’t know why the Slovaks are taking so long,” Mr. Lukita said. “Everyone has been talking about this for a very long time, but nothing has happened.”

Continue reading the main story Andriy Kobolev, the board chairman of Naftogaz, Ukraine’s state gas company, said he was particularly mystified by the recalcitrance of Eustream because in 2011 the company had put forward the idea of using spare capacity in its trunk pipelines for reverse-flow supplies to Ukraine.

He said the Slovaks had rejected this option in recent negotiations, citing secret contracts with Gazprom. He added that he did not know what the problem was exactly, because he had not been allowed to see the contracts.

Eustream executives declined repeated requests for interviews. Vahram Chuguryan, the company’s spokesman, declined to comment on the apparent change of heart or on whether it was related to an ownership shuffle in early 2013, when a group of wealthy Czech and Slovak businesspeople purchased a 49 percent stake in Eustream. At the time, Czech news media speculated that they were acting as a stalking horse for Gazprom.

Daniel Castvaj, a spokesman for Energeticky a Prumyslovy Holding, the company that made the purchase, denied Ukrainian assertions that Eustream has sought to limit reverse-flow deliveries to Ukraine, describing these as “not only untrue but nonsensical” since the pipeline operator, which makes its money off transit fees, has a strong commercial interest in boosting flows regardless of direction.

He said he was unaware of any 2011 offer by Eustream to use the trunk transit system to deliver gas to Ukraine, but added that such an option has always been technically and legally impossible “without the consent of Gazprom,” which has not been given.

European Union officials, frustrated by months of haggling and worried about possible legal problems raised by Gazprom’s contracts with Slovakia, hailed last week’s modest deal as offering at least an end to the logjam. José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, described it as a “breakthrough” but also called it a “first step,” signaling hope that Slovakia may, over time, allow more substantial reverse-flow deliveries to Ukraine.

Ukraine’s dependence on Gazprom to heat homes and power factories — it buys more than half its supplies from Russia — has not only left the country vulnerable to sudden price changes, which fluctuate depending on whether Moscow wants to punish or favor the authorities in Kiev, but has also helped fuel the rampant corruption that has addled successive Ukrainian governments.

When Gazprom raised the price of gas to Ukraine by 80 percent last month and threatened to cut off supplies if Kiev did not pay up, Ukraine’s interim prime minister, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, blasted Moscow for “aggression against Ukraine.”

“Apart from the Russian Army and guns, they decided to use one of the most efficient tools, which are political and economic pressure,” he said.

            By pushing to buy the bulk of its gas from Europe instead of from Gazprom and murky middlemen endorsed by Gazprom, Ukraine hopes to protect what it sees as a dangerously exposed flank from Russian attack. The best-known of those middlemen, the Ukrainian businessman Dmytro Firtash, was detained in Austria in April and has been fighting extradition to the United States.

             “Imagine where you’d be today if you were able to tell Russia: Keep your gas,” Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. told Ukrainian legislators during a visit to Kiev last month. “It would be a very different world you’d be facing today.”

Nearly all the gas Washington and Brussels would like to get moving into Ukraine from Europe originally came from Russia, which pumps gas westward across Ukraine, into Slovakia and then on to customers in Germany and elsewhere. Once the gas is sold, however, Gazprom ceases to be its owner and loses its power to set the terms of its sale.

            All Ukraine really wants, said Mr. Kobolev, the chairman of Naftogaz, Gazprom’s biggest customer after Germany, is a “fair and transparent price” and a stable, uninterrupted supply.

 The role of natural gas in Ukraine’s economy is key to understand possible outcomes of the political mess in Kiev. The economic trade off is…

            Russia is currently demanding $485 per thousand cubic meters for the gas Ukraine buys directly — instead of the price of $268 it offered the Ukrainian government under President Viktor F. Yanukovych before his ouster — while “Russian” gas sold via Europe, which should be more expensive because of additional transit fees, costs at least $100 per unit less.

Russia denies using gas as a political weapon and says all Ukraine needs to do to secure a stable supply at a reasonable price is pay its bills on time and clear its debts, which Gazprom said total $3.5 billion.

Ukraine has already started taking reverse-flow deliveries from Poland and Hungary. But the quantities, around 2 billion cubic meters last year, have been too small to make much of a difference. Only Slovakia has the pipeline capacity to change the balance of forces.

“We have been struggling for a long time to convince them to find a solution,” said Mr. Kobolev, the Ukrainian gas chief. “We have now identified the problem, which was obvious from the beginning — restrictions placed by Gazprom.” Ukraine’s energy minister, Yuri Prodan, dismissed Gazprom’s legal and technical arguments as a red herring. “I think the problem is political. We don’t see any real objective obstacles to what we have been proposing,” he said.

Opposition politicians in Slovakia, noting that 51 percent of Eustream belongs to the Slovak state, attribute the pipeline company’s stand to the country’s prime minister, Robert Fico, a center-left leader who has sometimes seemed more in sync with Moscow’s views than those of the European Union.

“Fico thinks that it is necessary to be very nice and polite to Mr. Putin,” Mikulas Dzurinda, a former prime minister of Slovakia, said in a telephone interview. “This is the heritage of old communists in a new era: The big guys are still in Moscow,” he said.

At a news conference in April, Mr. Fico insisted that Slovakia was “really ready” to help assist reverse-flow deliveries to Ukraine. But he added, “We naturally protect our own interests” and will not risk punishment by Gazprom for moves that violate Slovakia’s own deals with the Russian energy giant.

Slovakia depends on Gazprom for around 60 percent of its gas supplies and worries that upsetting the Russian company would lead to higher prices for itself or even cuts in supplies.

Alexander Medvedev, the head of Gazprom’s export arm, said he had no problem in principle with reverse-flow supplies to Ukraine but said such arrangements “require the agreement of all parties involved,” including Gazprom.

             “Normally, you can’t arrange a physical reverse flow without a new pipeline,” he added, indicating Gazprom’s opposition to the use of existing Slovak pipelines.

Watching over workers in Chaslovtsy as they laid new underground pipes, Ivan Shayuk, a Ukrainian engineer for Ukrtransgaz, shook his head when asked why the scheme was taking so long.

“What is the problem? The problem is simple — Putin,” he said.


Hana de Goeij contributed reporting from Prague, and Alison Smale from Berlin


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