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TBR News June 6, 2018

Jun 06 2018

The Voice of the White House 

Washington, D.C. June 6, 2018:”

Department of Defense

NUMBER 2905.17

June 6, 2013 USD(I)

SUBJECT: DoD Domestic Military Order-Counterinsurgency Overview :

See Enclosure 1

What is a domestic  insurgency? The Department of Defense (DOD) defines domestic insurgency as “an organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through use of subversion and armed conflict.” Simply put, a domestic  insurgency is a struggle between a non-ruling group and their ruling authority. Domestic insurgents use political resources, to include the increased use of the media and international opinion, as well as violence to destroy the political legitimacy of the ruling authority and build their  own political legitimacy and power. Examples of this type of warfare range from the American Revolution to the previous situations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The conflict itself can range from acts of terrorism to the more conventional use of the media to sway public opinion. Whatever form the insurgency takes, it serves an ideology or political goal.

Some of the motivating factors in the current politico/sociological situation are:

Massive and continuing unemployment in all levels of American business and industry. Only those who are technically proficient, i.e. in fields of computer science, are employable. Another point of contention is the huge influx of illegal foreign immigrants and the perception that these prevent Americans from obtaining work and also are perceived as draining the national welfare rolls. Also, a growing functional illiteracy in the American public, which has sharply diminished the reading of newspapers and increased the popularity of the Internet with its brief “sound bites.”A growing public perception of both disinterest and corruption on the part of National and State legislators has caused massive disillusionment on the part of the people. The recent revelations that the American (and foreign) public is closely watched and spied upon by governmental organs at the behest of the President has created a very volatile and very negative attitude towards any and all official programs.



The decisive operation is preventing any population support for the insurgents.

Supporting operations focus on preventing any popular support for the insurgents.

Secure vital infrastructure using local personnel as the security force.

  • All firearms, to include pistols, rifles and shotguns, to be seized and impounded.
  • No ammunition to be sold and any found .to be confiscated.
  • National ID card to be carried by all American citizens and carried at all times
  • All unemployed Americans to be inducted into a CCC type organization and put to work on public projects like forest clearance, road work, governmental construction projects. Youths between 18 and 25 will be inducted and then sent to work projects sufficiently distant from their homes to discourage and prevent desertions, escapes, etc.
  • Certain breeds of dogs, such as German Shepherds, Pit Bulls and Rottweilers will be subject to confiscation and euthanasia
  • Citizens on Social Security or other governmental support programs must present the National ID card in order to collect benefits
  • All current US passports will be revoked and new ones with tracking chips embedded in them will be issued.
  • It shall be strictly forbidden to make or fly any kind of radio controlled aircraft, under penalty of law.
  • The possession or wearing of any garment or covering designed to deflect infrared observation shall be prohibited by law.’”

The Table of Contents

  • Boehner’s Right — It’s Trump’s Party Now
  • Democratic hopes for House control buoyed by voting results
  • US, UK and France ‘Inflicted Worst Destruction in Decades on Raqqa’
  • US ambassador Richard Grenell should ‘reconsider role’ after Europe comments: German lawmaker
  • Argentina Won’t Play Israel in Soccer Because Slaughtering Palestinians Has Consequences
  • US-China relations deteriorating fast over flashpoint issues
  • Russia and Germany: From Estranged Partners to Good Neighbors
  • Watches and shoes among most counterfeited products in EU
  • Farmer pressure forces Trump biofuel policy suspension; credit prices jump
  • AP: Environmental impacts of ethanol may outweigh the benefits
  • US Army commander approves Bergdahl sentence, no prison time

 Boehner’s Right — It’s Trump’s Party Now

June 5, 2018

by Pat Buchanan

The Unz Review

“There is no Republican Party. There’s a Trump party,” John Boehner told a Mackinac, Michigan, gathering of the GOP faithful last week. “The Republican Party is kind of taking a nap somewhere.”

Ex-Speaker Boehner should probably re-check the old party’s pulse, for the Bush-Boehner GOP may not just be napping. It could be comatose.

Consider. That GOP was dedicated to free trade, open borders, amnesty and using U.S. power to punish aggressors and “end tyranny in our world.” That GOP set out to create a new world order where dictatorships were threatened with “regime change,” and democratic capitalism was the new order of the ages.

Yet, Donald Trump captured the Republican nomination and won the presidency — by saying goodbye to all that.

How probable is it that a future GOP presidential candidate will revive the Bush-Boehner agenda the party rejected in 2016, run on it, win, and impose it on the party and nation?

Bush-Boehner Republicanism appears to be as dead today as was Harding-Coolidge Republicanism after 1933. And if Trumpism is not the future of the GOP, it is hard to see what a promising GOP agenda might look like.

A brief history: In seven elections starting in 1992, Republicans won the presidency three times, but the popular vote only once, in 2004, when George W. was still basking in his “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq.

What fractured and overwhelmed the Bush-Boehner Republican Party?

First, demography. The mass immigration of Third World peoples that began with the 1965 immigration act, and the decline in the birth rate of native-born Americans, began to swamp the Nixon-Reagan New Majority.

Second, the collapse of the Soviet Empire and USSR removed the party’s great unifying cause from Eisenhower to Bush I — the Cold War.

After the Red Army went home, “America First” had a new appeal!

Third, faithful to the free trade cult in which they were raised, Republicans championed NAFTA, the WTO, and MFN for China.

Historians will look back in amazement at how America’s free trade zealots gave away the greatest manufacturing base the world had ever seen, as they quoted approvingly 18th- and 19th-century scribblers whose ideas had done so much to bring down their own country, Great Britain.

Between 1997 and 2017, the EU ran up, at America’s expense, trade surpluses in goods in excess of $2 trillion, while we also picked up the bill for Europe’s defense.

Between 1992 and 2016, China was allowed to run $4 trillion in trade surpluses at our expense, converting herself into the world’s first manufacturing power and denuding America of tens of thousands of factories and millions of manufacturing jobs.

In Trump’s first year, China’s trade surplus with the United States hit $375 billion. From January to March of this year, our trade deficit with China was running at close to the same astronomical rate.

“Trade deficits do not matter,” we hear from the economists.

They might explain that to Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

And perhaps someone can explain the wisdom of handing 4 percent of our GDP each year to an adversary nation, as U.S. admirals talk tough about confronting that adversary nation over islets and reefs in the South China Sea.

Why are we enriching and empowering so exorbitantly those whom we are told we may have to fight?

Fourth, under Bush II and Obama, the U.S. intervened massively in the Near and Middle East — in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen. And the forces that pushed up into those conflicts, and so disillusioned the nation that it elected Barack Obama, are back, pushing for a new war, on Iran. They may get this war, too.

Yet, given the anti-interventionist and anti-war stance of Trump’s winning campaign, and of the Bernie Sanders campaign, U.S. involvement in Middle East wars seems less America’s future than it does her past.

After his 16 months in office, it appears as though the Trump presidency, no matter how brief, is going to be a watershed moment in U.S. and world history, and in the future of the GOP.

The world is changing. NATO and the EU are showing their age. Nationalism, populism and tribalism are pervasive on the Old Continent. And America’s willingness to bear the burden of Europe’s defense, as they ride virtually free, is visibly waning.

It is hard to see why or how Republicans are ever again going to be the Bush-Boehner party that preceded the rise of Trump.

What would be the argument for returning to a repudiated platform?

Trump not only defeated 16 Bush Republicans, he presented an agenda on immigration, border security, amnesty, intervention abroad, the Middle East, NAFTA, free trade, Putin and Russia that was a rejection of what the Bush-Boehner Party had stood for and what its presidential candidates in 2008 and 2012, John McCain and Mitt Romney, had run on.

If the Republican Party is “napping,” let it slumber on, undisturbed, for its time has come and gone. We are in a new world now.


Democratic hopes for House control buoyed by voting results

June 6, 2018

by Sharon Bernstein and Joseph Ax


SACRAMENTO, Calif./PRINCETON, N.J. (Reuters) – U.S. Democrats on Wednesday said the results of nominating contests in California and New Jersey put them in a stronger position to gain control of Congress in November and oppose Republican President Donald Trump.

The morning after the busiest day of the primary election season, when voters in eight states picked candidates for the November election, California Democrats ensured they would have a chance of winning back some of the 10 Republican-held U.S. House of Representatives seats they are targeting.

California is key to Democrats’ hopes of gaining a majority in the 435-seat House, which would require flipping 23 seats.

A Democrat-controlled House would likely stall much of Trump’s policy agenda and could lend strength to any potential effort to impeach Trump if Democrats decide grounds exist, either by virtue of the ongoing probe into Russian election interference by special counsel Robert Mueller or other reasons.

“As we await final results in multiple districts, it is clear that Democrats are in a stronger position than ever to take back the House, and winning districts in California will be central to that path,” said Tyler Law, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in a Wednesday email.

But solid turnout by Republican voters on Tuesday underscored the challenges Democrats will face in trying to win in the conservative areas like suburbs of Los Angeles and Sacramento, as well as in rural areas that supported Trump in the presidential election two years ago.

“Great night for Republicans!” Trump tweeted on Wednesday. “So much for the big Blue Wave, it may be a big Red Wave. Working hard!”

Republicans control the Senate by a two-seat majority, but political analysts see Democrats as having a weaker chance of turning the balance of power there since they must defend a bevy of seats in Republican-leaning rural states including Indiana, Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia.


California saw an unusually large number of Democrats vying for office, many energized by anger over Trump administration policies restricting immigration and abortion access as well as easing environmental regulations.

The large field could have undercut the party’s chances for success since the state’s system for choosing candidates allows the two top vote-getters to advance to the general election regardless of party. Splitting of the Democratic vote could have led to two Republicans running in the general election.

Most other U.S. states have rules allowing one candidate from each party into the general election.

Democrats had eight candidates on the ballot in the race to unseat Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher, who has served in Congress since 1989 and was re-elected in 2016 in a southern California district that also chose Democrat Hillary Clinton for president.

Harley Rouda, a real estate executive and first-time congressional candidate with the support of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, looked poised to challenge Rohrabacher based on state election data.

Democrat and venture capital executive Josh Harder held a narrow edge in a central California district over Republican Ted Howze, a long-time local government official. Harder or Howze will challenge four-term incumbent Republican Jeff Denham.

California Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox won a chance to face Democrat Gavin Newsom in November. Analysts saw that as a positive for the Republican Party, reasoning that not having a candidate on the ballot for governor could have diminished turnout among party supporters.


Candidates backed by the national Democratic Party succeeded in winning spots on the November ballot in eight races in New Jersey, California, Iowa and New Mexico. Results for the ninth candidate, Rouda, were not final early on Wednesday.

Those candidates included four New Jersey moderates who had faced more liberal challengers.

Women Democrats won spots on the November ballot in key House races in Iowa, New Jersey, Montana and New Mexico, continuing a trend that began earlier this year.

Voters in five more states, Nevada, Maine, North Dakota, South Carolina and Virginia, on June 12 will choose candidates for their states’ November congressional races.

Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, California and Joseph Ax in Princeton, New Jersey; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Cynthia Osterman


US, UK and France ‘Inflicted Worst Destruction in Decades on Raqqa

June 4, 2018

by Patrick Cockburn

The Independent/UK

Air and artillery strikes by the US and its allies inflicted devastating loss of life on civilians in the Isis-held city of Raqqa, according to an Amnesty International report. It contradicts claims by the US, along with Britain and France, that they precisely targeted Isis fighters and positions during the four month siege that destroyed large swathes of the city.

“On the ground in Raqqa we witnessed a level of destruction comparable to anything we have seen in decades of covering the impact of wars,” says Donatella Rovera, a senior crisis response adviser at Amnesty. She says that the coalition’s claim that it had conducted a precision bombing campaign that caused few civilian casualties does not stand up to scrutiny. She quotes a senior US military officer as saying that “more artillery shells were launched into Raqqa than anywhere since the end of the Vietnam war”.

The air and artillery strikes by the US and its allies killed many civilians – the number is unknown because so many bodies are buried under the ruins – during the four-month-long siege, beginning on 6 June and ending on 17 October last year according to the report. Citing the testimony of survivors, it contradicts assertions by the US-led coalition that it took care to avoid targeting buildings where civilians might be present. Witnesses say that again and again their houses were destroyed although there were no Isis fighters in them or nearby.

“Those who stayed died and those who tried to run away died. We couldn’t afford to pay the smugglers: we were trapped,” says Munira Hashish. Her family lost 18 members, of whom nine were killed in a coalition airstrike, seven as they tried to escape down a road mined by Isis, and two were hit by a mortar round, probably fired by an Syrian Democratic Forces unit. She says that she and her children only escaped “by walking over the blood of those who were blown up as they tried to flee ahead of us”.

Many families were hit more than once by airstrikes and artillery as they fled from place to place in Raqqa, vainly trying to avoid being close to the front lines but these were often changing. The Badran family lost 39 members, mostly women and children, as well as 10 neighbours, killed in four different coalition airstrikes. “We thought the forces who came to evict Daesh (Isis) would know their business and would target Daesh and the leave the civilians alone,” said Rasha Badran, one of the survivors. “We were naive.”

Many cities have been destroyed in the wars in Iraq and Syria since 2011, but the destruction is worse in Raqqa than anywhere else. Streets are simply lane-ways cut through heaps of rubble and broken masonry. The few people on the streets are dazed and broken, and this has not changed much in the months since the city was captured from Isis by local ground forces backed up by the devastating firepower of the US-led coalition.

The claim by the coalition that its airstrikes and artillery fire were precisely targeted against Isis fighters and their positions is shown up as a myth as soon as one drives into the city. I visited it earlier in the year and have never seen such destruction. There are districts of Mosul, Damascus and Aleppo that are as bad, but here the whole city has gone.

I went to look at the al-Naeem Roundabout where the spikes on top of metal railings are bent outwards because Isis used them to display the severed heads of people whom it deemed to be its opponents. On every side, as far as the eye can see, there are ruined buildings, some reduced to a mound of rubble while others have been turned into concrete skeletons that look as if they might collapse at any moment.

Given the level of violence in Iraq and Syria, it is difficult to prove that one place is worse than another, but this has now been established with a wealth of evidence in this Amnesty report entitled War of Annihilation: Devastating Toll on Civilians, Raqqa – Syria.

The report, based on 112 interviews and visits to 42 strike locations, was sharply criticised by a coalition spokesman even before it was published. US Army Colonel Sean Ryan was quoted by news agencies as inviting Kate Allen, the director of Amnesty International UK, to “personally witness the rigorous efforts and intelligence gathering the coalition uses before any strike to effectively destroy IS while minimising harm to civilian populations”. Although the report cites the detailed evidence of many surviving witnesses whose family members were killed in airstrikes, Col Ryan says that allegations of indiscriminate and disproportionate bombardment were “more or less hypothetical”.

The reality in Raqqa, despite claims of the precise accuracy of modern weapons and great concern for civilian life, is that the ruins look exactly like pictures of the aftermath of the carpet bombing of cities like Hamburg and Dresden in the Second World War.

US forces fired 100 per cent of the artillery rounds used against Raqqa and over 90 per cent of the airstrikes, but British and French aircraft were also involved. The Ministry of Defence says the UK carried out 275 airstrikes and killed no civilians at all. Despite pledges that civilian loss of life would be thoroughly investigated, Amnesty says there is no sign of this happening.

A consequence of the assertion by the coalition that they seldom harmed civilians, there has been little humanitarian support for people returning to Raqqa. Aid agencies say that one problem is finding a safe place where there no unexploded munitions or mines where they can distribute provisions. The report says that many residents ask: “Why those, who spent so much on a costly military campaign which destroyed the city, are not providing the relief so desperately needed.”

An MoD spokesman said: “Keeping Britain safe from the threat of terrorism is the objective of this campaign and throughout we have been open and transparent, detailing each of our nearly 1,700 strikes, facilitating operational briefings and confirming when a civilian casualty had taken place.

“We do everything we can to minimise the risk to civilian life through our rigorous targeting processes and the professionalism of the RAF crews but, given the ruthless and inhuman behaviour of Daesh, and the congested, complex urban environment in which we operate, we must accept that the risk of inadvertent civilian casualties is ever present.”


US ambassador Richard Grenell should ‘reconsider role’ after Europe comments: German lawmaker

A senior German lawmaker told DW that Richard Grenell had used language reminiscent of the pre-WWII period when he spoke of “empowering” anti-establishment European leaders. Grenell’s comments sparked a broad backlash.

June 6, 2018

by Alexander Pearson


US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell,who is scheduled to meet with German Foreign Ministry officials on Wednesday, needs to rethink his role in Germany or risk becoming a “highly ineffective” ambassador, a prominent lawmaker from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives told DW.

“[Grenell’s] time may be quickly running out to be an effective and workable ambassador to this country,”  Andreas Nick, a Christian Democratic Union (CDU) lawmaker who also sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee in the German parliament, said on Tuesday.

‘Learn more about German history’

Grenell has been roundly condemned in Germany after he said it was his goal to “empower” anti-establishment conservative forces in Europe in an interview with right-wing news outlet Breitbart.

Grenell’s language, Nick said, was “highly inappropriate” and, when translated into German, reminiscent of language used by extremist politicians in the 1930s.

“If you translate ‘awakening’ and ’empowering’ in this context, very ugly German language comes up, which resonates with the 1920s and 1930s,” he said, adding that Grenell would “be well advised” to learn more about German history “and the sensitivities that result from that.”

‘PR person for the alternative-right’

Grenell, 51, had already caused a stir in May when he told German companies to “immediately” wind down their business in Iran following US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Asked whether Germany should expel Grenell, Nick said it was up to the United States to decide on its representative in Berlin. But he added that Grenell risked his long-term clout in Germany if he continued to act as he had until now.

“If he is not here to be a traditional ambassador but a PR person for the alternative-right movement in Europe,” Nick said, “we will have an issue.”

Among the German politicians expressing concern at Grenell’s behavior has been former Social Democrat leader and ex-European Parliament president Martin Schulz. “What this man is doing is unheard of in international diplomacy,” Schulz told the German press agency DPA.

US State Department defends Grenell

The US State Department defended Grenell’s comments on Tuesday. Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said US envoys “have a right to express their opinions.”

“As an American, we believe in the right to free speech that other countries elsewhere around the world have the right to elect whoever the population chooses,” Nauert said.

“They’re representatives of the White House, whether it’s this administration or other administrations, and we hear them voicing their opinions,” she added. “And they’re sometimes opinions that people may or may not like. And there is the right to free speech as well.”



Argentina Won’t Play Israel in Soccer Because Slaughtering Palestinians Has Consequences

June 6 2018

by Robert Mackey

The Intercept

Palestinians celebrated a diplomatic victory on Wednesday as Israel confirmed the cancellation of a high-profile visit to Jerusalem by Argentina’s national soccer team, which had been scheduled for Saturday.

A statement from the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires claimed that Argentina’s players had decided to back out of a planned game against Israel’s national team because of “threats and provocations directed at Lionel Messi,” the superstar Argentine captain. Supporters of Israel’s government were quick to assert, without evidence, that the player and his teammates had been threatened with violence.

While Palestinian officials and activists from the grassroots Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement had appealed to Messi to not take part in what they called a political stunt, the only threat they leveled against the player was that his popularity would suffer. The Palestine Football Association president, Jibril Rajoub, called on fans to burn replicas of the star’s shirt if he played in Jerusalem.

Catalan protesters who waved two Argentina soccer jerseys daubed with red paint outside the squad’s training ground in Barcelona on Tuesday told the Argentine newspaper Clarín that they were not threatening Messi but appealing to him to not help Israel launder its image by distracting attention from its ongoing slaughter of Palestinian protesters in Gaza.

In a letter to his Argentine counterpart last week, Rajoub had urged Argentina to cancel the match because Israel’s sports minister, Miri Regev, had intervened to move it from Haifa, a city inside Israel’s 1948 borders, to Jerusalem, where Israel has ruled over hundreds of thousands of Palestinians it denies full civil rights since in 1967. “The Israeli government has turned a regular sports match into a political tool,” Rajoub argued. The match, he added “is now being played in order to celebrate the ’70th anniversary of the State of Israel,’ and the match itself is to take place in a stadium built on one of the at least 418 Palestinian villages destroyed by Israel 70 years ago, Al Malha.”

While Rajoub thanked Messi on Wednesday, and said that he would not have objected if the game had been played in Haifa as originally scheduled, supporters of the BDS movement pledged to keep pressing for a full sports boycott of Israel, modeled on the pressure campaign against Apartheid-era South Africa.

Even if the Argentine captain has not endorsed the boycott movement, Palestinian and Israeli activists correctly noted that his team’s refusal to play in Jerusalem was a blow to a central plank of the offer Israel’s government makes to its people: that the country can be accepted as a normal member of the international community without making any concessions for peace.

As Hagai El-Ad, the director of the Israeli rights group B’Tselem, told me two years ago in Jerusalem, most Israeli voters are clear on what they want: “more of the same, with no consequences.”

By pressing the Argentine soccer team to avoid Israel after the country’s military used snipers to shoot thousands of unarmed Palestinian protesters in recent weeks, activists have forced Israelis to suffer at least some consequences.

“Whatever the real reasons for the cancellation,” the Israeli journalist Anshel Pfeffer observed on Twitter, “the Netanyahu government’s politicization of the match, particularly the ego-trip of vainglorious Sports Minister Regev made it a convenient target and unearned win for the boycotters. BDS is not a real threat to Israel. Hubris is.”

Ahmad Tibi, a Palestinian member of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, posted an old photo of himself with Messi on Twitter along with the comment, “Another victory for Messi (and the Palestinians), 1:0 from the own-goal of Miri Regev.”

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Regev’s boos, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, personally telephoned Argentina’s president, Mauricio Macri, late Tuesday at her request, to attempt to keep the match from being cancelled. Macri, however, informed Netanyahu that he would abide by rules imposed by international soccer’s governing body which prevent governments from interfering in such sporting decisions.

“Netanyahu’s government may be gaining Trump, but it’s losing the world,” Ayman Odeh, who leads a coalition of Palestinian parties in the Knesset, said. “You can’t just keep enjoying games while the rights of millions of Palestinians are being trampled. There’s only one way to win — ending the occupation and a real peace treaty. It’s still possible.”



US-China relations deteriorating fast over flashpoint issues

Clashes over South China Sea, Taiwan and trade have plunged Trump and Xi into the diplomatic deep freeze

June 5, 2018

by Simon Tisdall

The Guardian

China’s expanding efforts to impose its will on neighbours through diplomatic, commercial and military pressure – the so-called Xi doctrine – have drawn the sharpest riposte to date from the Trump administration, with Taiwan once again the main flashpoint in a sea of accelerating Sino-American rivalry.

Following recent verbal clashes over US “freedom of navigation” patrols in disputed South China Sea waters, officials in Washington say they plan to send a US aircraft carrier battlegroup into the Taiwan Strait separating the island from mainland China. The move was in response to China’s military “turning up the heat” on Taiwan, an official said.

Such a US deployment, if it goes ahead, would be seen as highly provocative by China’s president, Xi Jinping, who has vowed to reunify China with its “renegade province” in his lifetime. It would potentially bring the US navy into contact with Chinese surface and submarine forces and hundreds of People’s Liberation Army missile batteries lining the shores of the strait. Xi warned Taiwan’s pro-independence government in March that it would face the “punishment of history” if it pursued a separatist course.

On Tuesday, a foreign ministry spokeswoman cautioned Washington not to jeopardise peace. “We have repeatedly emphasised that the Taiwan issue is the most important and sensitive core issue in the China-US relationship,” she said.

Although the US does not recognise Taiwan as an independent country, it is, to all intents and purposes, its principal defender and guarantor against attack. Donald Trump outraged Beijing after he was elected by talking directly to Taiwan’s president by phone. Washington has sold Taiwan more than $15bn (£11.2bn) in arms since 2010, and Trump has increased bilateral contacts, including with the Pentagon.

Meanwhile, China has accelerated efforts to isolate Taiwan diplomatically, using its economic clout to pressure countries and international institutions into breaking off ties. It has curbed bilateral trade and cultural exchanges while increasing naval exercises and fighter-bomber sorties, including the deployment of its own aircraft carrier in the strait. That has led to warnings China could “do a Crimea” in Taiwan, aping Russia’s action in Ukraine.

The US response is being closely watched for signs of weakness by America’s other allies in the region, who are also feeling the squeeze. Australia’s government strongly protested this week at Chinese pressure on Qantas to list Taiwan as Chinese territory on its website. Australia is already involved in disputes with Beijing over alleged covert meddling by China in its internal political affairs. Similar allegations of Chinese interference have surfaced in New Zealand.

Rodrigo Duterte, the volatile Philippines president, recently became so upset about Chinese encroachment on South China Sea islands claimed by Manila (which refers to the area as the West Philippines Sea) that he threatened to declare war. That led Vietnam, which has its own disputes with Beijing, to call for calm.

Dangerous US-China flashpoint issues appear to be multiplying fast. The two superpowers are locked in a worsening trade dispute. China took furious exception to American and Taiwanese comments about this week’s anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators. It flatly rejects criticism of its repression of similar sentiments in Hong Kong.

Now the US and China may also be heading for a collision over Trump’s attempts to cut a denuclearisation-for-normalisation deal with North Korea at a summit next week. China may greatly benefit from an end to sanctions. But if Pyongyang comes in from the cold, Beijing could catch a strategic chill.

Speaking in Singapore at the weekend, James Mattis, the US defence secretary, had a tough message for China, indicating how far relations have deteriorated since Trump visited Beijing last year. “We have seen those who wanted to dominate the region come and go, and we have been with you,” Mattis told America’s allies. China would ultimately pay a heavy price for bullying its neighbours.


Russia and Germany: From Estranged Partners to Good Neighbors

June 6, 2018

by Dmitri Trenin


Summary:  Russia can strengthen its geopolitical positioning in Europe in some respects by seeking to cooperate more with Germany, its most important European partner.


Like Moscow’s relations with the West more broadly, Russia’s ties with Germany—its most important European partner—have grown increasingly strained over the past few years. Previous hopes of Russia’s integration into a Greater Europe from Lisbon in the west to Vladivostok in the east have evaporated. The formerly cordial relationship between Moscow and Berlin has cooled off, as estrangement and even mutual alienation have set in.

Yet, while past illusions of integration cannot and should not be revived, Russian-German relations can be made more productive. Russia could take steps to streamline and strengthen its geopolitical posture in Eastern Europe, while improving the climate for Moscow’s relations with Berlin. Such steps would include easing tensions in eastern Ukraine and a series of costly frozen conflicts involving Moldova and Georgia, while also seeking to improve Russia’s ties with Germany, especially economically. Of course, Moscow needs to remember that Germany is not a stand-alone power but an integral part of the EU and NATO. With that in mind, Russian efforts to improve relations with the EU’s premier economy should be seen as a key element in a wider strategy of repairing Russia’s strained ties with Europe.

The Ups and Downs of German-Russian Relations

Russian-German relations have been at the center of European politics for three hundred years. While Russia and Germany have been allies on many occasions, in the twentieth century they twice went to war against each other. In World War II, Adolf Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union eventually led to the defeat of Nazi Germany, a victory that made the Soviet Union the leading power in control of half of Europe and Germany. Soon thereafter, the Soviet Union became a nuclear superpower. Even today, the legacy of World War II serves as a foundation for Russia’s international status and moral authority and as one of the bases of modern Russian identity. For Germany, too, the end of World War II and the demise of the Third Reich became a watershed event, which helped mold a new German identity based on the rule of law, market economics, a respect for humanity, tolerance, and restraint in the use of military force.

Historical Reconciliation

The impending end of the Cold War, which resulted in the reunification of Germany in 1990, marked another important turning point. Moscow’s support for German reunification under the framework of the Federal Republic of Germany became a symbol of historical reconciliation forty-five years after the bloodiest war in the history of the two countries, in which 28 million Soviet citizens died. This reconciliation got under way soon after the end of the war, especially on the territory of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), a state that the Soviet Union helped to create. The rapprochement between Russians and Germans continued with then West German chancellor Willy Brandt’s Neue Ostpolitik (New Eastern policy) in the early 1970s, which resulted in the 1970 Moscow Treaty between the Soviet Union and West Germany, as well as West Germany’s treaties with Poland and Czechoslovakia and the Quadripartite Agreement on Berlin. The breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 that came on the heels of German reunification did not roll back the relations between Germany and what came to be the Russian Federation, the historical successor to the Soviet Union. To the contrary, bilateral relations actively developed at every level and in many spheres.

For a quarter of a century after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, relations between Russia and Germany progressed steadily. Berlin tried to serve as Moscow’s guide in its efforts to integrate with the West, creating a Greater Europe spanning from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Over time, Germany would become Russia’s most important trading and economic partner. Many German companies established themselves in the Russian market. At the same time, cultural and humanitarian ties between Russia and Germany reached new heights. Between 2.5 and 3 million ethnically German people from Russia and other former Soviet republics, such as Kazakhstan, moved to Germany, creating a sizable Russian-speaking diaspora in the center of Europe. Subsequently, many Germans stopped seeing Russia as a threat, and most Russians started seeing Germany as one of Russia’s closest, most loyal partners. In his September 2001 speech at the Bundestag, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that Russia had committed itself to the “European choice.”

Of course, the two countries did encounter some problems during this period. For their part, the Germans were concerned about the challenges Russia faced during its democratic and market transformations. They warily watched authoritarian rule and oligarchic capitalism take root in Russia; specifically, they were dismayed by the atrocities committed during the Chechen Wars, human rights violations in Russia, and the Kremlin-sponsored resurgence of conservative and traditional values. In turn, the Russians were disappointed with Germany’s role in the breakup of Yugoslavia and, subsequently, the Kosovo conflict, as well as with German support for the eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Finally, Moscow did not welcome the restored Atlanticist tilt toward the United States in Berlin’s foreign policy after Chancellor Angela Markel replaced Gerhard Schröder in 2005. At the same time, tensions were mounting in U.S.-Russian relations. In an oft-cited February 2007 speech at the Munich Security Conference, Putin sharply criticized the global hegemony of the United States.

Nevertheless, on the whole, Russian-German and Russian-European relations continued moving forward up until 2011. Berlin launched the Partnership for Modernization initiative, with the goal of helping modernize the Russian economy and other aspects of life in the country. For its part, Moscow proposed the signing of a treaty on European security and supported Berlin’s proposal to create a Russian-EU foreign policy and security committee to resolve frozen conflicts, known as the Meseberg initiative. On his visits to Germany, Putin personally promoted the concept of Greater Europe as a platform for close economic, technological, and potentially political cooperation.

A Deepening Diplomatic Reversal

The trend of largely positive Russian-German relations began to unravel in earnest after Putin announced that he would again run for president in 2012. Many Germans were deeply disappointed with this decision, which they interpreted as a sign of regression in Russian politics that foreshadowed a negative turn in Moscow’s foreign policy. For what it is worth, Putin’s decision to return to the Kremlin was largely influenced by his interpretation of U.S. policies on missile defense, NATO expansion, support for the Arab Spring, and the intervention in Libya. Putin concluded that European states, including Germany, were unable or unwilling to positively influence these U.S. policies.

After winning the election, Putin accused the West of interfering in Russia’s internal affairs and proceeded to eliminate or reduce foreign influence in the country, asserting Russian sovereignty over domestic politics. As part of this process, the government curtailed the activities of Russian NGOs with funding from overseas. Restrictions were also imposed on a number of foreign foundations, including German ones. Russia’s image, as reflected by German media coverage and public opinion, became clearly more negative; many Germans increasingly perceived Russia as an authoritarian, kleptocratic state, proving unable to build a modern economy and instead living off its natural resources. Furthermore, Germans tended to see Russia more and more as cracking down on political dissent and threatening the democratic choices of its neighbors (including Estonia, Georgia, and Ukraine). Moderate German politicians that called on their peers to seek to understand the motives behind these Russian polices were harshly criticized by their fellow party members.

The Fallout of the Ukraine Crisis

The 2014 Ukraine crisis put a more decisive end to the era of friendly cooperation between Russia and Germany, as cool diplomatic relations gradually devolved into outright alienation. Even back in 2012 and 2013, before the onset of the Ukraine crisis, Berlin had been irked by Moscow’s efforts to keep Ukraine within its orbit and integrate it into the Eurasian Economic Union, a Putin-created customs union of several former Soviet states. For its part, Moscow blamed Berlin for Brussels’s refusal to discuss with Russia the terms of the EU’s proposed Association Agreement with Ukraine. The Kremlin also accused Germany and other EU members—specifically, France and Poland—of not insisting on honoring the compromise that then Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych had reached with the opposition in February 2014, which these three countries helped bring about. Consequently, Moscow believed these countries to be complicit in what it saw as a coup d’état that toppled Yanukovych’s government in Kiev.

Moscow’s heavy-handed reaction to the events in Kiev shocked Germany. Soon after, Russian armed forces took control of the Crimean Peninsula, where a referendum on Crimea and Sevastopol’s joining the Russian Federation then took place. Immediately thereafter, Moscow supported a failed attempt to create a state of Novorossiya (New Russia) in eastern Ukraine and helped assemble and support a motley crew of anti-Euromaidan forces from Donbas, as well as volunteers and ultranationalists from Russia. The ensuing confrontation with Kiev led to war in the Donbas region. Russian foreign policy changed drastically, as the country used force to intervene in the affairs of a neighboring state and annexed part of its territory, where the population overwhelmingly gravitated toward Russia.

Faced with this crisis, the Kremlin essentially shifted into military mode. Lacking either a strategy or an action plan, Moscow was forced to improvise and made many mistakes. In the course of the war in Donbas, especially in 2014 and 2015, Moscow did not just help local insurgents assembled by the so-called counterelites of Donetsk, but also provided various forms of military and intelligence support. At key moments, Russian military units were clandestinely involved in combat operations to stave off the defeat of the Donbas militants at the hands of the Ukrainian troops loyal to Kiev.

But accomplishing this mission came at a high price. Many Germans gradually stopped trusting Russia’s actions and its leaders’ words. Berlin categorically rejected Putin’s statement that Germans should “relate” to the sentiments of Russians in Crimea who were “returning home to Russia,” because the Germans themselves were given an opportunity to reunify their country twenty-five years earlier with Moscow’s permission. Germany viewed Russia’s actions in Ukraine as an unprovoked use of military force, the annexation of territory belonging to a neighboring state, and support for separatism there. From the German government’s perspective, such actions undermined the post–World War II European political order and violated fundamental agreements on the underpinnings of European security. Some Germans could not help but draw historical parallels, comparing the situation in Ukraine to Berlin’s annexation of German-populated territories in the 1930s and the calls on all ethnic Germans abroad to return home, so to speak.

Further escalation in the conflict to the rest of Europe was avoided in 2014–2015. Speculation about so-called Russian revanchism and the threat Moscow might pose to the Baltic countries and Poland, which had been far-fetched from the start, subsided. Germany and France played an important role in reaching the February 2015 Minsk agreement (Minsk II) on ceasefire and conflict resolution measures for eastern Ukraine. Minsk II, which Merkel and Putin were personally involved in shaping, theoretically remains the pathway to a resolution of the Donbas conflict. At the same time, it is obvious that this agreement was more amenable to Moscow’s interests, and it became clear that the government in Kiev never intended nor had the ability to implement it. Besides, Ukraine’s leaders were mostly relying on U.S. assistance and were not inclined to respond to rather restrained German and French attempts to steer Kiev toward complying with the conditions of Minsk II.

The Specter of Hybrid Warfare

The current relationship between Russia and the West is frequently labeled a new Cold War. This is the wrong way to approach this issue. The Cold War was a unique set of historical conditions that will never be repeated. The current standoff has a different nature, takes different shapes, and occupies different spheres. A more apt alternative for the current confrontation chiefly between Russia and the United States is the term “hybrid warfare,” which has become a common shorthand for Western analysts to describe Russia’s efforts to undermine the political foundations and social unity of other countries—from Montenegro to the United States.

This ongoing conflict has placed Moscow and Berlin at odds with each other. Germany has not just taken part in the collective Western sanctions regime targeting Russia but also leads and coordinates this policy within the EU. Merkel got the segment of the German business community most closely involved in economic cooperation with Russia to reluctantly acquiesce to the need to pressure Moscow to change its foreign policy. Most of the German business community that is not involved in such cooperation readily accepted the sanctions and supported the government’s position. Many Russians initially thought that Germany’s position was mostly a product of the extremely close ties between German political, business, and media elites and their U.S. counterparts. Moscow often tends to overestimate Washington’s role in various international situations, and the opposite is also true. In reality, solidarity with Washington was not the only reason Berlin acted the way it did. The categorical rejection of military intervention in Europe, especially territorial annexation, is at the core of post­–World War II German identity. Germany has made some exceptions to that principle, but only as it has related to the United States and NATO (in places like Kosovo and Serbia). Evidently, Berlin tends to trust the good intentions of its senior ally and other members of the military/political bloc it belongs to, but Russia cannot count on that same courtesy.

Today, the German government essentially views Russia as a potential threat to European security and supports NATO’s collective efforts to strengthen the eastern members of the alliance to contain Russia. A symbolic German Bundeswehr battalion has already been deployed in Lithuania on a rotational basis. Germany adopted the program to help increase its military spending, although the country’s spending levels have not yet reached the NATO-mandated 2-percent threshold. Despite all that, German citizens and even the German political class still do not appear to feel that the Russian threat is as great as it was during the Cold War. After all, a survey published in late 2017 by the German public broadcaster ARD shows Germans who view Russia as a reliable partner outnumber those who view the United States as such. Clearly, in this context, the United States stands for the administration of President Donald Trump, and the views of the general public differ substantially from those of political elites; but even with those caveats, this finding is striking.

Russia, meanwhile, sees the United States as its chief foe and, recently, the UK joined the list of Russian adversaries. Moscow unofficially considers NATO’s European members to be some sort of semi-combatants rather than full-on adversaries, insofar as they take part in the confrontation—especially in the intelligence, military, economic, and information spheres—but do so mostly out of a sense of solidarity with or dependence on their senior ally, the United States. Russia treats these NATO members, including Germany, in a fundamentally different way than it does the United States. In terms of politics and especially propaganda, Russia’s treatment of these European countries is similar to how the West treated Eastern Europe during the Cold War. At the same time, in terms of economic and technological cooperation, EU members—unlike the United States—continue to remain extremely important partners for Russia.

Notably, while Berlin is a consistent critic of Moscow, Germany still engages in dialogue with its Russian peers. Amid the hybrid war between Russia and the United States, Germany has taken the peculiar position of a loyal U.S. ally that is permitted to maintain constant contact with Russia. On an official level, the transatlantic allies have the same view on Russia. But unlike the U.S. foreign policy establishment (which views Russia as toxic and treats it as it would Iran or North Korea), Germany sees Russia as an important neighbor that it has to deal with.

The military sphere does not play the central role in this hybrid war, at least for now—the competition in the information space is far more intense. Practically all German media outlets have taken a critical stance on Moscow’s policies, although these publications are far more moderate than the U.S. or British press corps. German media outlets continue their professional coverage of Russia, its foreign policy, and relations between the two countries. A diverse range of ideas and approaches, in fact, exists.

On the other side, apart from criticizing Berlin’s handling of its relations with Moscow, Russian state-run media have started to criticize German domestic policies on, for instance, the issue of immigration. Germany, a country that many people born in the former Soviet Union call home, saw such Russian criticism as an intrusion into its domestic politics and an attempt to destabilize the sociopolitical situation in the country. (A notable example is a 2016 news story picked up by several Russian media outlets, in which a young girl in Germany made allegations—later proven to be false—that she had been raped by an immigrant.1) Recently, the Russian media’s lack of restraint and a slew of personal insults directed at German politicians, including Merkel, have further damaged the bilateral relationship.

Suspicions of election interference have only made matters worse. Following allegations of Russian cyber-enabled interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, the German government accused Russia of attempts to penetrate its servers. Even though no official statements on interference into Germany’s 2017 Bundestag elections were issued, Germans have come to associate cyberattacks and espionage with Russia. In addition, German media outlets have repeatedly criticized Russia for its military operation in Syria, especially for supporting President Bashar al-Assad and bombing his opponents’ positions in the densely populated neighborhoods of Aleppo and Eastern Ghouta.

In addition to these specific charges, Russia has been accused of undermining the liberal democratic world order, of which Germany and the United States are viewed as prominent members. The seriousness of these accusations increased after Trump’s election, since many observers see Germany as a temporary leader of the liberal democratic order until the political situation in the United States normalizes. Germany interprets this order as a set of principles, norms, and rules rather than a case of U.S.-led geopolitical domination of the West. Germany has just a few supporters of the conception of a unipolar world with the United States at the helm.

By contrast, Russia sees a direct link between the liberal democratic order and U.S. hegemony, which Moscow began challenging more forcefully in 2014. From Russia’s perspective, a new world order based on a stable power equilibrium and interactions between several centers of power will inevitably emerge in the future. But, in all fairness, Russia tends to care more about its own place in the new world order than it does about what this order will look like in overall terms.

As this rendering of the past quarter century shows, Germany has a history of closer relations and cooperation with Russia than with many other European countries, although Moscow and Berlin have had their share of serious differences. The situation in Ukraine and the hybrid war between Russia and the United States have led to a general worsening of Russia’s ties with Europe, although (again) this tendency has been somewhat less pronounced with respect to Germany.

A Dispassionate Appraisal of Germany’s Stance on Russia

Yet Russia’s long track record of warm relations with Germany should not be allowed to obscure the real limits imposed on Russian-German relations by Berlin’s close integration with its EU partners and NATO allies. This is especially true amid the heightened tensions of the last few years. Consequently, Russia must adopt a full, realistic understanding of how Berlin views Moscow—the Kremlin must calibrate its own policies accordingly.

The new German government formed in the spring of 2018 mostly has continued the previous government’s policies on Russia. The revamped grand coalition between the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) has reaffirmed Germany’s prioritization of transatlantic relations and European integration. Meanwhile, the most influential parties outside of the governing coalition—the Free Democratic Party, the Left, and Alternative for Germany—are trying to offer an alternative to the mainstream conception of relations with Moscow. The Green Party consistently has advocated for a value-centered approach to Russian-German relations. At the same time, Germany is now reinventing Brandt’s conception of Ostpolitik by paying more attention to its relations with Eastern European countries—from Poland to Ukraine. The CDU/CSU bloc and even the SPD unequivocally oppose the pursuit of any form of special relationship between Russia and Germany, let alone the creation of a Berlin-Moscow axis of some sort. Berlin is prepared to have dialogue with Moscow but will do so from the moral high ground, supported by other EU and NATO members.

The German government’s position precludes or at least postpones previously discussed ideas, including possibilities such as Russia’s returning to the G8 under some pretext, the gradual weakening of anti-Russian sanctions as the situation in Donbas normalizes, and the partial revival of the Russian-German partnership—particularly as it relates to restoring Ukraine’s economy. One has to admit that some of these ideas, such as the notion of restoring Russia’s G8 membership, are already obsolete, but Berlin is expecting Moscow to take the initiative on the others. In any event, there are sufficient grounds for productive Russian-German dialogue to foster peaceful coexistence although the countries have different and occasionally opposing geopolitical interests.

For its part, Moscow has lost hope that Berlin’s Russia policy would be significantly more liberal than that of its partners and allies. The methods of advancing a policy do not determine its content. Moscow strongly believes that even if the German government wanted to, it would not be able to treat Russia radically differently than the United States does. Berlin’s reaction to the poisoning of former Russian and British double agent Sergei Skripal in the UK, which Moscow considered an anti-Russian provocation, further confirmed this belief. If and when the U.S.-Russian hybrid war escalates, Berlin will likely, however reluctantly, have to toughen its stance on Moscow.

Given that likelihood, it is important that Russia appraise Germany’s Russia policy realistically. Moscow should not be upset with Berlin and accuse it of failing to repay its historical debt of gratitude for Russia’s support of German reunification at the turn of the 1990s. If Germany significantly departs from its allies’ and partners’ position on Russia, it will face enormous problems in its bid to play the leading role in the EU. While smaller German parties and individual politicians may voice softer views on the issue of Russia, Germany’s leading political forces consistently follow a pro-Atlantic path and have no doubts about which side to take.

After all, even the strongest, most influential members of the EU cannot conduct a purely national foreign policy. Germany is part of the EU, and as one of the union’s most European members (so to speak), Berlin consciously constructs its policy toward Russia as European from the outset. The more staunchly anti-Russian views of Poland and the Baltic states, in no small measure, inform the EU’s approach to Russia. Neither the UK’s impending departure from the EU scheduled to occur in 2019 nor the victory of populist factions in the March 2018 Italian elections will make the Europeans’ collective position any more pro-Russian. A number of other countries—from Sweden to Spain, the latter of which was friendly toward Russia until recently—are suspicious of Russia and its policies. The importance of individual states notwithstanding, the EU’s supranational governing bodies—the European Council, the European Commission, and the European Parliament—also play their own roles and are skeptical about Russia. It would be impossible for Moscow to ignore Brussels and focus exclusively on Berlin, nor would that be the right way for Moscow to proceed.

Beyond intra-EU politics as a whole, the domestic political futures of Europe’s two biggest actors—France and Germany—will have a significant effect on Russian-German relations. As Merkel’s political position weakens and her tenure as the German chancellor nears its end, France and its ambitious president, Emmanuel Macron, may start playing a more active role. The German-French duo suddenly have become more competitive, although the fundamentals of Germany’s international standing are clearly stronger than those of France. Another related question is who will succeed Merkel as head of the German government.

Meanwhile, in economic terms, the importance of the Russian market to Germany has declined, due to the stagnation of the Russian economy. Meanwhile, Eastern Europe’s integration with the EU has proven to be successful. German-Czech trade volumes have now exceeded German-Russian trade flows. And when Germans talk about the East, they tend to have China rather than Russia in mind. Germany’s political class sees Russia’s role and place in the world in a totally different light than the Kremlin does. Russia must take all of this into account when planning its long-term approach to the bilateral relationship.

Given Russia’s current geopolitical position, Moscow no longer has the strategic goal of creating a common Greater European space from Lisbon to Vladivostok. Instead, Russia should focus on building neighborly relations with Europe as it actually exists, from Lisbon to Helsinki—a Europe that will remain a junior partner of the United States for a long time. By the same token, Germany should not treat Russia as an economically and socially backward part of Europe that has to be civilized and integrated with the rest of the continent by bringing Moscow closer to EU standards. Russia should not be conceived of as the biggest part of some imagined “other Europe” that should be brought to the level of so-called advanced Europe. Rather, Russia is Europe’s largest immediate neighbor, alongside other neighbors such as Arab-majority countries, Iran, and Turkey. Berlin should certainly take Moscow into account, but more importantly, Germany should accept the way Russia is now to avoid new disappointments.

Consequently, the Russian-German political relationship is almost certainly going to remain strained over the long haul, including as it relates to the broader relationship between Russia and the West collectively. While interactions between Russia and Germany are likely to remain much less hostile than those between Russia and the United States, bilateral progress between Berlin and Moscow will be curtailed by Germany’s adherence to NATO and EU solidarity. Germany will not sacrifice even a small part of its relationship with the United States and its EU partners for the sake of improving relations with Russia.

A Russian Alternative to a Greater Europe

Russia’s history of constructive relations with Germany coupled with the constraints Berlin’s alliance partners place on Russian-German bilateral cooperation mean that Russia must proactively seek to shape these dynamics in ways that are more helpful than harmful to its interests. Much of this burden will fall on unilateral actions Russia can take of its own volition—cooperation with Germany would be useful, but in essence complementary (and secondary) to these efforts.

Imagining a Unilateral Russian Strategy

Because relations with Germany (and with Europe more broadly) are likely to remain strained for some time, the onus will be on Moscow to proactively free up Russia to tackle domestic challenges and bolster its geopolitical positioning as much as possible. Good starting points would be for the Kremlin to find ways to roll back its involvement in several lingering and frozen conflicts across Europe, and to seek to attract Russia-sympathizing people who live in these places to resettle in Russia rather than sustain strongholds along Russia’s periphery. While important to Russia’s development in view of the country’s worsening demographic outlook, doing so could also have the added benefit of reducing European threat perceptions of Russia, and perhaps could offer Moscow an easier path to gradually reknitting economic and societal ties with its most important European partner, Germany.

To cut its geopolitical losses where necessary and recalibrate its geopolitical positioning vis-à-vis Europe, Russia will need to focus on taking unilateral steps to achieve these goals, while also engaging with its immediate neighbors and other European countries, including Germany, as necessary. The current trouble spots in Europe that should be up for discussion include Ukraine and Donbas, Moldova and Transnistria, and (further down the road) Georgia in relation to Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The suggestions that follow about how Russia should handle these points of tension are not primarily aimed at changing the fundamental character or even the climate of Russian-German relations. That will remain an unattainable goal for the foreseeable future. Instead, Russia’s main objective should be freeing up resources Moscow has been using to prop up unviable political actors in these flashpoints (that are generating diminishing returns) and use the proceeds to strengthen human capital and address other needs in Russia. In some cases, cooperation with Berlin might help Moscow optimize the geopolitical situation surrounding these lingering or frozen conflicts. Such a move cannot be interpreted as a concession on Russia’s part, or as a sign of Russian escalation. This approach might even have a positive side effect, if it encourages Europeans, and specifically Germans, to view Russia as less threatening.

Ukraine: Russia should act within the framework and the spirit of the Minsk agreements, demonstrating its sincere commitment to the full implementation of the agreement to Germany and other relevant European parties. First and foremost, the parties should ensure that the ceasefire on the line of contact be upheld, so as to eliminate the absolutely senseless bloodshed. Other steps should include conducting prisoner exchanges, aiding the population of the region, and normalizing day-to-day life in Donbas, which should be treated as part of Ukraine. Russia has no territorial claims in Donbas and believes that the future of the region should be determined in the course of implementing the Minsk agreements. During that process, the parties should decide whether the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission would be allowed access to the Donbas segment of the Russian-Ukrainian border.

It is time for Moscow to acknowledge that Ukraine has now completely severed its geopolitical ties to Russia, effectively becoming a military and political partner of the United States and an economic responsibility of the EU. Ukraine no longer shares the same political, economic, humanitarian, and intellectual conditions as Russia. Now, it is up to Russia to exclude Ukraine from its orbit and treat it as a full-fledged foreign state. Moscow should abandon its hopes for regime change in Kiev and the restoration of its however minor influence over Ukraine. Russia should refrain from trying to influence Ukraine’s political processes: any changes in the country for the foreseeable future will likely have a solid anti-Russian slant. In the years to come, Moscow should start treating Ukraine as it treats countries like Bulgaria and Romania.

While Russia and Ukraine’s growing estrangement does not make their conflict any less serious, it is becoming less emotionally charged. Russia can approach the question of Ukraine’s NATO membership more calmly now. This question is not on the agenda now, and it does not even make much sense given the new political realities. Ukraine will be a potential Russian adversary even if the country remains outside of NATO, and this fact will not change until the issues of Donbas and Crimea are resolved. (Addressing the former may take years, while fixing the latter may require decades.) In the meantime, with help from the United States and other NATO countries, Ukraine can strengthen and rearm its military, making it a more formidable opponent for the Russian armed forces than it is today. Even without NATO membership, Ukraine—in principle—may offer to host U.S. military bases and other sites. For instance, having lost its chance to be based in Sevastopol, the U.S. Navy may be stationed in Odessa. Besides, being under no obligation to defend Ukraine as long as Kiev remains outside of NATO, the United States can allow the Ukrainian armed forces to act more freely without fearing that Washington might be automatically drawn into a conflict with Russia.

In economic and political terms, while Ukraine will not become a member of the EU for the foreseeable future, it will increasingly engage with the EU. Germany will take the lead in this process on the EU side. Russian-Ukrainian economic relations are rapidly collapsing, as did Russia’s trade relations with former Comecon members and the Baltic countries in the early 1990s. Russia will probably not have a chance to participate in Ukraine’s economic reconstruction alongside Germany but, then again, it will not have to pay for its neighbor’s modernization either. Nevertheless, Ukraine remains a transit state for some of Russia’s gas exports to Europe. Moscow will have to agree with Berlin’s position: the Nord Stream pipeline should be expanded if the Ukrainian gas-transit arrangement continues, at least to some degree. The question of volumes will be subject to negotiations.

In the course of an ultimate divorce with Ukraine, it would be reasonable for Russia to switch from gathering territories to gathering people. Specifically, Moscow should launch a program that would attract pro-Russian Ukrainians to the Russian Federation. This program could be actively implemented in the parts of Donbas controlled by the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic, and (if successful) it could be further expanded. If pro-Russian elements leave Ukraine for Russia, the problem of Donbas, control of which will sooner or later revert to Ukraine, can be solved more easily. If and when this happens, Russia would lose a geopolitical buffer that it essentially does not need but would acquire people willing to cast their future with the Russian Federation.

Moldova: Russia could adopt a similar approach with respect to Moldova and Transnistria. Political forces there that claim ties to Russia or the West have long competed for power, a struggle that is really between factions of elites pursuing their own interests. Russia boasts long-standing connections with Moldova, but closer integration with the country seems out of reach. Meanwhile, not even the supposedly pro-Russian forces in the country can change Moldova’s Association Agreement with the EU, which entered into force in July 2016.

So far, Moldova has remained neutral. Its hypothetical NATO membership or the prospect of eventual unification with Romania (a NATO member) does not pose a significant additional threat to Russia in the context of a de facto partnership between Ukraine and the United States. On the contrary, drastic geopolitical changes in Ukraine in 2014 and the start of the new confrontation between Russia and the United States make the small Russian contingent in Transnistria extremely vulnerable. The fact is that Moscow has no need to latch on to Transnistria as a mythical bridgehead at the Dniester River that has no strategic significance and lacks resources. It makes no sense for Russia to financially support the top government officials of the Transnistrian Republic, who have long set their sights on engaging with EU countries. Just as in the case of Ukraine, Russia could offer all Transnistrians and other residents of Moldova who wish to resettle in Russia an opportunity to do so and a chance to subsequently receive Russian citizenship if they do not have it already.

Past joint Russian-German attempts in the early 2010s to broker a diplomatic settlement largely failed. Still, Moscow (in possible collaboration with Berlin) could urge Chișinău and Tiraspol to start negotiations under the OSCE aegis on the resolution of the Transnistrian conflict and the reunification of Moldova. If successful, such negotiations could become an important precedent for overcoming a decades-old conflict and reducing tensions in at least one part of Europe. In addition, cooperation between Russia and Germany and/or the EU on the reunification of Moldova could become a model for further cooperation on security in Eastern Europe.

Georgia: If Russian-German cooperation on Moldova were to prove successful, cooperation on the South Caucasus could follow. The multilateral consultations in Geneva on Abkhazia and South Ossetia have already gone on for ten years and are effectively stalled. Neither side appears willing to substantially change its position for the foreseeable future, but enhancing security along the line of separation between the Russian and Georgian border guards seems possible. In addition, the parties could expand humanitarian exchanges, as well as economic and cultural cooperation. The dialogue on conflict resolution between all interested parties could first be restarted on an unofficial level, with the Europeans acting as a moderator. At present, Germany appears tired of its involvement in the unproductive conflict settlement, but progress in Moldova could create a positive momentum.

Another important, albeit distant, goal is starting to normalize Russia’s relationship with the EU, primarily in economic terms with respect to Germany. The most immediate objective of Russian-German economic relations and scientific cooperation for Moscow is to limit the impact of the sanctions to designated economic sectors, companies, and individuals. Such restrictions need not be an obstacle to the development of economic relations in other areas. At the same time, Russia needs to take into account that the nature of U.S.-German relations, for some time, will allow Washington to pressure Berlin to limit and reduce its economic ties with Moscow.

Russian oil and gas exports to Germany remain a critical economic link. The export revenues comprise a significant part of Russia’s budget, and it is also in Germany’s interest to continue receiving pipeline gas from Russia, including by completing the Nord Stream 2 project across the Baltic Sea. For its part, Russia will have to bear in mind Germany’s political interests as the EU’s leading member and abandon Moscow’s plans to completely discontinue gas transit through Ukrainian territory. Additionally, Russia needs access to German technology, which has traditionally stimulated its economy. The question is to what extent Germany can provide this access given the confrontation between Russia and the United States.

Like Russia’s actions with respect to the aforementioned European flashpoints, Moscow can take many important unilateral steps to brighten its economic outlook. For instance, Russia direly needs an improved business climate at the time of increasing economic sanctions. Moscow could open the country up to midsize European, particularly German, businesses, while doing more to guarantee them property rights, fair and legal due process, and freedom from bureaucratic interference. If these steps are taken, economic relations between Russia and Germany will probably receive greater political and public support in Germany. Similarly, expanding visa-free travel for citizens of EU countries could help Russia as well. In this respect, Russia could follow China’s recent example.

Beyond the economic sphere, Germany and Russia should seek to preserve and strengthen the historic reconciliation they reached after World War II. This truly unique reconciliation occurred outside of common alliances and integration projects, but it requires strengthening in the current geopolitical climate. To accomplish this, Russia should refrain from any steps that could be interpreted as interference in Germany’s domestic affairs, drop public insults directed at German politicians, and foster cooperation between German and Russian NGOs.

In addition, preserving historical cooperation between Russians and Germans requires maintaining and developing contacts between German and Russian civil society. This is especially true among historians, political scientists, young people, school teachers, professors, journalists, clergymen, and other influential groups. Unlike during the Cold War, the current brand of hybrid war between Russia and the United States has not yet produced any equivalents to the Iron Curtain or the Berlin Wall. For the most part, the present confrontation is limited to elite groups, and this leaves space for professional, cultural, and humanitarian exchanges between Russia and Western countries, including Germany. Relevant parties should take advantage of this fact to stabilize their political relations as well.

The Real but Limited Merits of German-Russian Dialogue

Despite the constraints on robust, constructive ties between Berlin and Moscow, more cooperation is possible. The silver lining is that most German politicians believe that, in light of the current adversarial relationship between Russia and the United States, it is impossible to ensure European security without Russian participation. Thus, German leaders’ openness to admittedly limited cooperation creates conditions for maintaining ongoing political dialogue between Russia and Germany at the highest levels of government—at least to exchange information.2

Apart from Europe, it is worth noting that Moscow and Berlin have previously shared and continue to share a number of interests in other regions of the world. Germany and Russia both criticized the U.S. and British invasion of Iraq in 2003. As for the Iranian nuclear issue, unlike the United States, both Russia and Germany remain committed to upholding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action agreement adopted in 2015. Both countries also advocate for reducing tensions on the Korean Peninsula. As for the Middle East and North Africa, despite some differences on a number of key issues, Russia could conceivably cooperate with EU members, including Germany, to stabilize the situation in Syria and the country’s postwar reconstruction. Similarly, Russia and Germany, as well as other EU members, can cooperate to help restore stability in Libya. Of course, such cooperation is only possible if the parties first agree on the fundamental questions that divide them now, such as the future of the Syrian political regime.

Despite these common global interests, Russian-German dialogue and cooperation will not be sufficient for resolving the pressing issues of European security. The United States and NATO play the leading role in this sphere, and reaching a compromise between them and Russia seems out of the question for now. Washington is demanding that Moscow completely change its political course, which essentially would mean capitulating—the Kremlin cannot make meaningful concessions under such conditions. The prospect of a UN peacekeeping operation in Donbas could only serve as a means of implementing the Minsk agreements, not as a substitute for the agreements. Here, a caveat is in order. If Moscow were to simply surrender Donbas to Kiev, that would not make the United States weaken its pressure on Russia and would not lead to a schism in the Western bloc that could benefit Moscow. Rather, the opposite is more likely to happen: Western pressure on Moscow would increase on all fronts—from Crimea to Kaliningrad. Instead of a coveted seat at the negotiation table to hammer out a contemporary equivalent to the Yalta Conference, the Russian leadership may receive a subpoena to a tribunal in The Hague. Given this political climate, the hybrid war between Russia and the United States is going to continue.

Nevertheless, some opportunities for stabilizing the conflict do exist, and Russian-German cooperation in this respect may prove useful. One such avenue is the preservation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the abrogation of which could bring this type of weapon back to Europe and drastically increase military risks in the region. In addition, Russia and NATO could try to exercise mutual restraint in deploying weapons and engaging in military activities in Europe. As traditional forms of arms control threaten to gradually recede into the past, interested parties need to discuss how to ensure security in an increasingly unregulated regional and global strategic environment. To this end, Russia and Germany, in conjunction with other members of the OSCE, could intensify professional dialogue on modern non-nuclear weapons.

Looking Beyond the Horizon

Russian and German politicians should not just look toward the historical relationship of reconciliation between their two countries but should also be mindful of long-term global trends. When looking at Germany, Russians should realistically assess the chances that Europe will rise to become a full-fledged strategic player independent of the United States. The gradual weakening of U.S. global hegemony and the emergence of new non-Western centers of power are clearly apparent. The EU’s prospects are not that certain. On the one hand, EU countries’ population and GDP are comparable to those of the United States; in addition, European countries have abundant experience as global players. On the other hand, there seem to be no forces in Europe today able and willing to conduct their defense and foreign policies independently of Washington. At this point, Europe’s propensity for Atlanticism looks stronger than any streak of Europeanism.

Europe’s leadership deficit on the global stage in many ways stems from a similar deficit within Europe. The majority of Germans are unwilling to accept their country’s leadership mantle, a tendency that hampers their country’s guiding role in the EU. Since World War II, German elites have been conditioned to unquestionably accept U.S. global leadership, while exercising caution and self-restraint. In addition, Berlin’s role is checked by its neighbors’ phantom fears of German hegemony in Europe. Washington obviously would not look approvingly at a Europe that is relatively autonomous from the United States and is run collectively with active German participation. Realizing this, Germany and France will most likely advance and protect European economic interests in dialogue with the United States, while remaining loyal to Washington politically and militarily. The Germans and other Europeans have to recognize, however, that, for all the importance of the European dimension of Russia’s foreign policy, its focus has recently shifted. After 2014, Russia has pivoted inward, seeking a balance in its relations with Europe and Asia, especially China. Bolstering ties with Europe, including Germany, would help increase Moscow’s bargaining power vis-à-vis Beijing.

Russia’s future is less clear that that of Germany or Europe. Can Russia achieve an economic breakthrough in the foreseeable future, as Putin promises? What will Moscow’s political system look like after the long Putin era ends? Will Russia have sufficient resources and willpower to endure the hybrid war with the United States, and how might the new U.S.-Russian confrontation end? There are no answers to any of these questions now. The only things observers can be confident about are that Russia will continue to exist no matter what happens, and that Moscow’s relations with Germany and the EU in general will be important factors for Russia’s development and maintaining a stable geopolitical equilibrium in the world of the mid-twenty-first century, during which the United States and China are poised to play the leading roles.

This research was made possible by a grant from the Zeit-Stiftung Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius Foundation.


1 A thirteen-year-old girl with dual Russian-German citizenship was reported missing for thirty hours in Berlin in January 2016. After returning, she first claimed that she had been kidnapped and raped by three strangers of what was termed southern origins. The case was used by Russian officials and media outlets to accuse Germany of tolerating child abuse. Shortly thereafter, police proved the kidnapping story to be false.

2 In March 2018, German Chancellor Angela Merkel remarked that Germany and Russia should “pursue dialogue and promote the relations between our countries and peoples,” and stated that the two countries “should endeavor to address bilateral and international challenges constructively and find sustainable solutions.” Joseph Nasr, “Merkel Urges Dialogue With Russia in Congratulation Message to Putin,” Reuters, March 19, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-election-germany/merkel-urges-dialogue-with-russia-in-congratulation-message-to-putin-idUSKBN1GV2DO.

Watches and shoes among most counterfeited products in EU

EU manufacturers lose billions of euros annually as a result of a rising flood of counterfeit goods being brought into the bloc, a fresh report has shown. The situation is expected to get even worse in the years ahead.

June 6, 2018


Manufacturers in the European Union suffer revenue losses of €60 billion ($70 billion) annually as a result of counterfeit goods, the EU’s Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) revealed in a report published Wednesday.

It added that the situation was likely to get worse over the next couple of years, with revenue losses to reach as much as €85 billion per year.

“Lenient court sentences and high returns on capital are incentives for criminal gangs to engage in counterfeiting activities,” the EU agency said in a statement.

The Alicante-based office noted that counterfeiters had become more sophisticated and now offered a broader range of goods, with almost all branded items, not just luxury goods, being imitated in the shadow economy.

No brands spared

The EUIPO survey analyzed 13 industries and their supply chains, finding that the most commonly counterfeited products included watches, shoes, perfume, cosmetics plus leather and tobacco products.

Low prices and “a low degree of social stigma” around purchasing counterfeit goods were among the reasons for consumers to buy them, the report stressed.

The study noted that Albania, Morocco and Ukraine were the main transit nations for fake goods entering the European Union.

A 2016 report by EUIPO identified Hong Kong, China, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey as the major sources of counterfeit goods in the EU.

Farmer pressure forces Trump biofuel policy suspension; credit prices jump

June 6, 2018

by Jarrett Renshaw and Chris Prentice


(Reuters) – Under pressure from U.S. lawmakers in farming states, President Donald Trump has abandoned an overhaul of biofuels policy aimed at reducing costs for the oil industry, sending U.S. renewable fuel credit prices soaring more than 40 percent on Wednesday.

The White House had been poised to announce proposed changes to the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) this week after hosting months of difficult negotiations between representatives of Big Oil and Big Corn, but delayed the announcement indefinitely, two sources familiar with the matter said late on Tuesday.

Trump abandoned the efforts on Tuesday after learning that farmers in the important Midwestern constituency were uneasy with part of the proposal, one of the sources said. This was confirmed to Reuters by another source on Wednesday.

Pressure to reform the program eased in recent weeks as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took steps that resulted in significantly lower compliance costs for merchant refiners.

The White House and the EPA did not immediately respond to requests on Wednesday for comment on the policy suspension.

Ethanol groups Growth Energy and the Renewable Fuels Association praised the move.

Renewable fuel credit prices traded as high as 29 cents early Wednesday on the news, up from 20 cents Tuesday afternoon, traders said. Prices eased back to 26 cents mid-morning.

The RFS requires oil refiners to mix increasing volumes of biofuels like ethanol into fuel each year, and prove compliance by earning or acquiring the credits and handing them in to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The law has helped corn farmers in the Midwest by creating a 15-billion-gallon-a-year market for ethanol, but refining companies have complained that compliance costs are too high and threaten the type of blue-collar jobs Trump has promised to preserve.

The White House deal would have eased pressure on the refining industry by allowing biofuels exports to count toward the annual volumes quotas. It would also have expanded sales of high-ethanol gasoline, in a concession to biofuels producers.

Republican Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst of corn state Iowa both praised Trump on Twitter on Tuesday evening for dropping the export plan – which they had argued would have cut into domestic demand for ethanol.

But oil companies also have reason to cheer.

Despite Wednesday’s spike in renewable fuel credit prices, they are down sharply since late last year after Trump’s EPA handed out an unusually high number of waivers exempting small oil refineries from the RFS on the grounds complying would have caused them financial stress.

That decline has saved the oil industry billions of dollars in compliance costs, according to a Reuters analysis.

Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw and Chris Prentice; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Grant McCool


AP: Environmental impacts of ethanol may outweigh the benefits

  • Federal law has required American refiners to mix increasing amounts of corn-based ethanol into gasoline since 2007.
  • Ethanol is an alcohol that burns less carbon dioxide than refined petroleum products. The Obama administration has touted the Renewable Fuel Standard as an essential tool for bringing down greenhouse gas emissions.
  • But an Associated Press investigation published today reports the environmental impacts of the “corn boom” may be outweighing the benefits of the biofuel:

November 12, 2013

by Katie Colaneri


Five million acres of land set aside for conservation — more than Yellowstone, Everglades and Yosemite National Parks combined — have vanished on Obama’s watch.

Landowners filled in wetlands. They plowed into pristine prairies, releasing carbon dioxide that had been locked in the soil.

Sprayers pumped out billions of pounds of fertilizer, some of which seeped into drinking water, contaminated rivers and worsened the huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico where marine life can’t survive.

The consequences are so severe that environmentalists and many scientists have now rejected corn-based ethanol as bad environmental policy. But the Obama administration stands by it, highlighting its benefits to the farming industry rather than any negative impact.

Leroy Perkins, the farmer agonizing about what to do with his 91 acres, says he likes ethanol as a product and an industry. But he knows it fuels the corn prices that are transforming his county.

“If they do change the fuel standard, you’ll see the price of corn come down overnight,” he said. “I like to see a good price for corn. But when it’s too high, it hurts everybody.”

Investors from as far away as Maryland and Pennsylvania have bought thousands of acres in Wayne County, sending prices skyrocketing from $350 per acre a decade ago to $5,000 today.

One in every four acres of in the county is now owned by an out-of-towner.

Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey has been pushing to repeal the law or at least cut back on the amount of ethanol the federal government requires refiners to blend into their supplies. On a visit to Delta Airlines’ refinery in Marcus Hook, Delaware County back in August, Toomey told reporters the law has damaging economic and environmental impacts.

“First of all, the original idea is this would be good for the environment,” Toomey said. “Except that everyone’s discovered that it’s counter-productive.”

Refineries can pay to opt out of the program by buying credits. The federal government increased ethanol mandate this year from from 13.2 billion gallons in 2012 to 13.8 gallons which also drove up credit prices. Toomey said it’s putting refineries like the one in Marcus Hook in the red.

“It costs them more to comply with this government mandate than all of the labor and all of the jobs that they have on this facility,” he said. “This makes no sense and as a result, this refinery is not profitable.”

Politico reports the EPA is expected to give refineries some relief when it announces the ethanol mandate for 2014 sometime this week.

 US Army commander approves Bergdahl sentence, no prison time

June 5, 2018

by Lolita C. Baldor


WASHINGTON (AP) — A senior U.S. military commander is endorsing the decision to spare Army Pvt. Bowe Bergdahl prison time for abandoning his post in Afghanistan, endangering military comrades who participated in the lengthy search for him.

Army Gen. Robert Abrams, head of U.S. Army Forces Command, approved the court-martial sentencing handed down last November. Bergdahl was reduced in rank from sergeant to private and ordered to forfeit $1,000 a month in pay for 10 months. The judge also gave him a dishonorable discharge.

The fine and rank reduction were effective two weeks after the judge’s sentence was delivered. The case is now referred to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, which automatically reviews any punitive discharges.

Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban and held for five years.









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