Playing Chicken with Nuclear War

Exclusive: U.S.-Russian tensions keep escalating – now surrounding the murder of Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov – yet almost no one on the American side seems to worry about the possibility that the tough-guy rhetoric and proxy war in Ukraine might risk a nuclear conflagration, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry (Updated with Washington Post editorial on March 3.)

The United States and Russia still maintain vast nuclear arsenals of mutual assured destruction, putting the future of humanity in jeopardy every instant. But an unnerving nonchalance has settled over the American side which has become so casual about the risk of cataclysmic war that the West’s propaganda and passions now ignore Russian fears and sensitivities.

A swaggering goofiness has come to dominate how the United States reacts to Russia, with American politicians and journalists dashing off tweets and op-eds, rushing to judgment about the perfidy of Moscow’s leaders, blaming them for almost anything and everything.

nucleartest-nevada-04-18-53-300x255

A nuclear test detonation carried out in Nevada on April 18, 1953.

These days, playing with nuclear fire is seen as a sign of seriousness and courage. Anyone who urges caution and suggests there might be two sides to the U.S.-Russia story is dismissed as a wimp or a stooge. A what-me-worry “group think” has taken hold across the U.S. ideological spectrum. Fretting about nuclear annihilation is so 1960s.

So, immediately after last Friday night’s murder of Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov, the West’s media began insinuating that Russian President Vladimir Putin was somehow responsible even though there was no evidence or logic connecting him to the shooting, just 100 meters from the Kremlin, probably the last place Russian authorities would pick for a hit.

But that didn’t stop the mainstream U.S. news media from casting blame on Putin. For instance, the New York Times published an op-ed by anti-Putin author Martha Gessen saying: “The scariest thing about the murder of Boris Nemtsov is that he himself did not scare anyone,” suggesting that his very irrelevance was part of a sinister political message.

Though no one outside the actual killers seems to know yet why Nemtsov was gunned down, Gessen took the case several steps further explaining how – while Putin probably didn’t finger Nemtsov for death – the Russian president was somehow still responsible. She wrote:

“In all likelihood no one in the Kremlin actually ordered the killing — and this is part of the reason Mr. Nemtsov’s murder marks the beginning of yet another new and frightening period in Russian history. The Kremlin has recently created a loose army of avengers who believe they are acting in the country’s best interests, without receiving any explicit instructions. Despite his lack of political clout, Mr. Nemtsov was a logical first target for this menacing force.”

So, rather than wait for actual evidence to emerge, the Times published Gessen’s conclusions and then let her spin off some even more speculative interpretations. Yet, basing speculation upon speculation is almost always a bad idea, assuming you care about fairness and accuracy.

Remember how after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, some terrorism “experts” not only jumped to the false conclusion that the attack was a case of Islamic terrorism but that Oklahoma was chosen to send a message to Americans that no part of the country was safe. But the terrorist turned out to be a white right-wing extremist lashing out at the federal government.

While surely hard-line Russian nationalists, who resented Nemtsov’s support for the U.S.-backed Ukrainian regime in Kiev, should be included on a list of early suspects, there are a number of other possibilities that investigators must also consider, including business enemies, jealous rivals and even adversaries within Russia’s splintered opposition – though that last one has become a target of particular ridicule in the West.

Yet, during my years at the Associated Press, one of my articles was about a CIA “psychological operations” manual which an agency contractor prepared for the Nicaraguan Contra rebels noting the value of assassinating someone on your own side to create a “martyr” for the cause. I’m in no way suggesting that such a motive was in play regarding Nemtsov’s slaying but it’s not as if this idea is entirely preposterous either.

My point is that even in this age of Twitter when everyone wants to broadcast his or her personal speculation about whodunit to every mystery, it would be wise for news organizations to resist the temptation. Surely, if parallel circumstances occurred inside the United States, such guess work would be rightly dismissed as “conspiracy theory.”

Nuclear Mischief

Plus, this latest rush to judgment isn’t about some relatively innocuous topic – like, say, how some footballs ended up under-inflated in an NFL game – this situation involves how the United States will deal with Russia, which possesses some 8,000 nuclear warheads — roughly the same size as the U.S. arsenal — while the two countries have around 1,800 missiles on high-alert, i.e., ready to launch at nearly a moment’s notice.

Over the weekend, I participated in a conference on nuclear dangers sponsored by the Helen Caldicott Foundation in New York City. On my Saturday afternoon panel was Seth Baum of the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute who offered a sobering look at how the percentage chances of a nuclear war – though perhaps low at any given moment – add up over time to quite likely if not inevitable. He made the additional observation that those doomsday odds rise at times of high tensions between the United States and Russia.

As Baum noted, at such crisis moments, the people responsible for the U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons are more likely to read a possible computer glitch or some other false alarm as a genuine launch and are thus more likely to push their own nuclear button.

In other words, it makes good sense to avoid a replay of the Cuban Missile Crisis in reverse by edging U.S. nuclear weapons up against Russia’s borders, especially when U.S. politicians and commentators are engaging in Cold War-style Russia-bashing. Baiting the Russian bear may seem like great fun to the tough-talking politicians in Washington or the editors of the New York Times and Washington Post but this hostile rhetoric could be taken more seriously in Moscow.

When I spoke to the nuclear conference, I noted how the U.S. media/political system had helped create just that sort of crisis in Ukraine, with every “important” person jumping in on the side of the Kiev coup-makers in February 2014 when they overthrew elected President Viktor Yanukovych.

Since then, nearly every detail of that conflict has been seen through the prism of “our side good/their side bad.” Facts that put “our side” in a negative light, such as the key role played by neo-Nazis and the Kiev regime’s brutal “anti-terrorism operation,” are downplayed or ignored.

Conversely, anything that makes the Ukrainians who are resisting Kiev’s authority look bad gets hyped and even invented, such as one New York Times’ lead story citing photos that supposedly proved Russian military involvement but quickly turned out to be fraudulent. [SeeNYT Retracts Russian Photo Scoop.”]

At pivotal moments in the crisis, such as the Feb. 20, 2014 sniper fire that killed both police and protesters and the July 17, 2014 shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 killing 298 passengers and crew, the U.S. political/media establishment has immediately pinned the blame on Yanukovych, the ethnic Russian rebels who are resisting his ouster, or Putin.

Then, when evidence emerged going in the opposite direction — toward “our side” — a studied silence followed, allowing the earlier propaganda to stay in place as part of the preferred storyline. [See, for instance,President Gollum’s ‘Precious’ Secrets.”]

A Pedestrian Dispute

One of the points of my talk was that the Ukrainian crisis emerged from a fairly pedestrian dispute, i.e., plans for expanding economic ties with the European Union while not destroying the historic business relationship with Russia. In November 2013, Yanukovych backed away from signing an EU association agreement when experts in Kiev announced that it would blow a $160 billion hole in Ukraine’s economy. He asked for more time.

But Yanukovych’s decision disappointed many western Ukrainians who favored the EU agreement. Tens of thousands poured into Kiev’s Maidan square to protest. The demonstrations then were seized upon by far-right Ukrainian political forces who have long detested the country’s ethnic Russians in the east and began dispatching organized “sotins” of 100 fighters each to begin firebombing police and seizing government buildings.

As the violence grew worse, U.S. neoconservatives also saw an opportunity, including Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who told the protesters the United States was on their side, and Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, who passed out cookies to the protesters and plotted with U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt on who would become the new leaders of Ukraine. [See [NYT Still Pretends No Coup in Ukraine.]

Thus, a very manageable political problem in Ukraine was allowed to expand into a proxy war between nuclear-armed United States and Russia. Added to it were intense passions and extensive propaganda. In the West, the Ukraine crisis was presented as a morality play of people who “share our values” pitted against conniving Russians and their Hitler-like president Putin.

In Official Washington, anyone who dared suggest compromise was dismissed as a modern-day Neville Chamberlain practicing “appeasement.” Everyone “serious” was set on stopping Putin now by shipping sophisticated weapons to the Ukrainian government so it could do battle against “Russian aggression.”

The war fever was such that no one raised an eyebrow when Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko told Canada’s CBC Radio last month that the West should no longer fear fighting nuclear-armed Russia and that Ukraine wanted arms for a “full-scale war” against Moscow.

“Everybody is afraid of fighting with a nuclear state. We are not anymore, in Ukraine,” Prystaiko said. “However dangerous it sounds, we have to stop [Putin] somehow. For the sake of the Russian nation as well, not just for the Ukrainians and Europe. … What we expect from the world is that the world will stiffen up in the spine a little.” [See  “Ready for Nuclear War over Ukraine?”]

Instead of condemning Prystaiko’s recklessness, more U.S. officials began lining up in support of sending lethal military hardware to Ukraine so it could fight Russia, including Director of National Intelligence James Clapper who said he favored the idea though it might provoke a “negative reaction” from Moscow.

Russian Regime Change

Even President Barack Obama and other U.S. leaders who have yet to publicly endorse arming the Kiev coup-makers enjoy boasting about how much pain they are inflicting on the Russian economy and its government. In effect, there is a U.S. strategy of making the Russian economy “scream,” a first step toward a larger neocon goal to achieve “regime change” in Moscow.

Another point I made in my talk on Saturday was how the neocons are good at drafting “regime change” plans that sound great when discussed at a think tank or outlined on an op-ed page but often fail to survive in the real world, such as their 2003 plan for a smooth transition in Iraq to replace Saddam Hussein with someone of their choosing – except that it didn’t work out that way.

Perhaps the greatest danger from the new neocon dream for “regime change” in Moscow is that whoever follows Putin might not be the pliable yes man that the neocons envision, but a fierce Russian nationalist who would suddenly have control of their nuclear launch codes and might decide that it’s time for the United States to make concessions or face annihilation.

On March 3, the Washington Post’s neocon editorialists emphasized the need for ousting Putin as they praised Nemtsov and other anti-Putin activists who have urged an escalation of Western pressure on Russia. The Post wrote: “They say he [Putin] can be stopped only by steps that decisively raise the cost of his military aggression and cripple the financial system that sustains his regime.”

The Post then added its own suggestion that Putin was behind Nemtsov’s murder and its own hope that Putin might be soon be removed, saying: “It’s not known who murdered Mr. Nemtsov, and it probably won’t be as long as Mr. Putin remains in power.”

Yet, what I find truly remarkable about the Ukraine crisis is that it was always relatively simple to resolve: Before the coup, Yanukovych agreed to reduced powers and early elections so he could be voted out of office. Then, either he or some new leadership could have crafted an economic arrangement that expanded ties to the EU while not severing them with Russia.

Even after the coup, the new regime could have negotiated a federalized system that granted more independence to the disenfranchised ethnic Russians of eastern Ukraine, rather than launch a brutal “anti-terrorist operation” against those resisting the new authorities. But Official Washington’s “group think” has been single-minded: only bellicose anti-Russian sentiments are permitted and no suggestions of accommodation are allowed.

Still, spending time this weekend with people like Helen Caldicott, an Australian physician who has committed much of her life to campaigning against nuclear weapons, reminded me that this devil-may-care attitude toward a showdown with Russia, which has gripped the U.S. political/media establishment, is not universal. Not everyone agrees with Official Washington’s nonchalance about playing a tough-guy game of nuclear chicken.

As part of the conference, Caldicott asked attendees to stay around for a late-afternoon showing of the 1959 movie, “On the Beach,” which tells the story of the last survivors from a nuclear war as they prepare to die when the radioactive cloud that has eliminated life everywhere else finally reaches Australia. A mystery in the movie is how the final war began, who started it and why – with the best guess being that some radar operator somewhere thought he saw something and someone reacted in haste.

Watching the movie reminded me that there was a time when Americans were serious about the existential threat from U.S.-Russian nuclear weapons, when there were films like “Dr. Strangelove,” “Fail Safe,” and “On the Beach.” Now, there’s a cavalier disinterest in those risks, a self-confidence that one can put his or her political or journalistic career first and just assume that some adult will step in before the worst happens.

Whether some adults show up to resolve the Ukraine crisis remains to be seen. It’s also unclear if U.S. pundits and pols can restrain themselves from more rushes to judgment, as in the case of Boris Nemtsov. But a first step might be for the New York Times and other “serious” news organizations to return to traditional standards of journalism and check out the facts before jumping to a conclusion.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). You also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

Boris Nemtsov Assassination: Confession of Former Russian Officer could Prompt “Mole-Hunt”

 

 

 

boris-nemtsovThe Moscow Basmanny Court, on Sunday, sanctioned the detention of three additional suspects in the case of the murder of Russian politician Boris Nemtsov. Meanwhile, Daur Dadayev , a former Chechen officer pleaded guilty for his involvement. The developments prompt the President of the Russian Federation’s Republic of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, to launch a probe into the republics security services and a probe to identify what may have motivated Dadayev, whom he knew as a loyal officer, to get involved in the crime.

The three additional suspects whose arrest was sanctioned by Moscow’s Basmanny Court are Khamzad Bakhayev, Tamerlan Eskerkhanov and Shagid Gubashev, reported the Russian Tass news agency.

Zaur-Dadayev_Moscow_Russia_Mikhail-Pochuyev_TASS-300x192Zaur Dadayev arraingned to the Court. Photo, courtesy of Mikhail Pochvev, Tass.

The Court stated that it reached the conclusion to support the investigators’ request after having reviewed the materials presented to the court. Gubachev was arrested on March 7 while Eskerkhanov and Bakhayev were arrested on March 8.

The three were charged under Articles 105 and 222 of the Russian Federation’s Criminal Code, involving the murder committed by a group of persons, in collusion, and for reasons of money, as well as with robbery, extortion and banditry and the illegal possession or transfer of weapons.

The Court justifies their detention on the grounds that the suspects could flee and possibly attempt to destroy evidence.

Bakhayev and Gubachev are nationals of the Russian Federation’s Republic of Ingushetia while Eskerkhanov is a native of the Republic of Chechnya. All three had a registered address in Moscow. The Court also sanctioned the detention of the Chechen nationals Zaur Dadayev and Anzor Cubachev who had been arraigned to the Court.

Ramzan-Kadyrov_Chenya_Russia_Photo-ITAR-TASS_Murad-Nukhaev-300x192Dadayev’s Confession prompts Response by Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov (left).

Judge Natalya Mushnikova was quoted by Tass as saying that “Zaur Dadayev’s involvement has been confirmed by his confession”. The Court would not provide details about Dadayev’s alleged or confessed role in the murder of RPR-Psarnas party Co-Chair Boris Nemtsov during the night from February 27 to 28.

Dadayev’s arrest and confession prompted the President of the Russian Federation’s Republic of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, to order an investigation into the Dadayev’s past. President Kadyrov stressed that he remembered Dadayev as a true Russian patriot. The Tass news agency quoted the Chechen Republic’s President as stating:

“I have known Zaur as a true patriot of Russia. … Zaur was one of the bravest men in the regiment. … He displayed particular courage in an operation against a large group of terrorists near Benoi. He was awarded the Order of Courage, and medals For Bravery and For Services to the Chechen Republic. I am certain that he was sincerely dedicated to Russia and prepared to give his life for the Motherland. The real reasons and motives behind Dadayev’s dismissal from the Russian Interior Ministry troops are unclear to me. … I have instructed Chechnya’s Security Council Secretary Vakhit Usmayev to conduct a thorough investigation of Zaur Dadayev’s resignation and to scrutinize his behavior and morale on the eve of leaving the service. … In any case, if Dadayev’s guilt is established in court, it will have to be admitted that by taking a human life he committed a grave crime. But I must say once again that he would have never taken a single step against Russia, for the sake of which he had risked his own life for many years. Beslan Shavanov, the man killed during an attempt to detain him, was a brave soldier, too. We hope that a thorough investigation will follow to show if Dadayev is really guilty, and if yes, what was the real reason behind his actions.”

Questions about Federal and Chechen Security Forces. The alleged and confessed involvement of a former Chechen officer is bound to raise concerns about federal security. The reasons for Dadayev’s dismissal are, as Ramzan Kadyrov noted, still unknown to him. Dadayev and his four co-defendants must be presumed innocent until they, eventually, have been found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

A probe into the reasons for the dismissal of Dadayev from the Interior Ministry forces and a probe into Chechen security forces could eventually shed light on severe threats to the national security of the Republic of Chechnya and the Russian Federation as a whole.

BandarWestern and Arab Support of Terrorists could justify a Mole-Hunt in the Russian Federation’s Security Services. Chechen and Ingushetian Islamist terrorist organizations are known for their close ties to foreign intelligence services. In 2013 the then Chief of Saudi Arabia’s Intelligence, Prince Bandar admitted that Saudi Arabia uses and controls Chechen and other Caucasian terrorists promising President Putin “a safe Winter Olympic Games in Sochi” in exchange for Russian willingness to have a Saudi-friendly regime installed in Syria.

The released minutes of the meeting between Putin and Bandar quote Bandar as saying:

“I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics in the city of Sochi on the Black Sea next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us, and they will not move in the direction of the Syrian territory without coordinating with us. These groups don´t scare us. We use them in the face of the Syrian regime but they will have no role or influence in Syria´s political future”.

McCain_ISIS_FSA_voltairenet.org_Tarpley_USA_Syria_Iraq-300x164Image: U.S. Senator John McCain meeting illegally in a rebel safe house with the heads of the “Free Syrian Army” in Idlib, Syria in April, 2013. In the left foreground, top al Qaeda terrorist leader Ibrahim al-Badri (aka Al-Baghdadi of ISIS, aka Caliph Ibrahim of the recently founded Islamic Empire) with whom the Senator is talking. Behind Badri is visible Brigadier General Salim Idris (with glasses), the former military chief of the FSA, who has since fled to the Gulf states after the collapse of any semblance of the FSA. (Courtesy VoltaireNet.org)

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, for his part, has previously accused U.S. intelligence officials, including David Petraeus, for involvement in “flipping” detainees at Camp Bucca and at black CIA sites, including Caliph Ibrahim of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS / ISIL) Al-Baghdadi, a.k.a. Al-Badri or Caliph Ibrahim.

In Helsinki, the capital of Finland the Kavkaz Center is maintaining a “pro-Caucasus Emirate” website. The Center provided PR support to the now deceased terrorist leaderDoku Umarov and his terrorist network.

Umarov would threaten to disrupt the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games before he was killed in an explosion.

U.S. Civil Society organizations as well as CIA and JSOCfronts like USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) are known for their support of “Caucasian Rebels or Freedom Fighters”.

A shortlist of the civil society organizations which have been implicated in supporting Russian terrorist organizations includes the Jamestown Foundation, the United States-Chechen Republic Alliance Inc., the American Committee for Peace in the Caucasus (ACPC)Freedom House, the Open Society Foundation, among many others.

Zbigniew_Brzezinski_gru2010-260x300The former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniev Brzezinski is generally known as one of the main enablers and sponsors of the “Chechen Representation in the United States” led by Alisher Usmanov. Brzezinsky, for his part, is strongly supported by Rockefeller Foundation money.

Brzezinski is according to several analysts pathologically obsessed with dividing Russia into at least six separate States” to reign in Moscow under the umbrella of a U.S. hegemony.

It is noteworthy that Boris Nemtsov and the RPR-Psarnas party had close ties to the National Endowment of Democracy (NED).

In 2012, Russian President Vladimir Putin would state that“he knows as a mater of fact” that especially foreign-backed organizations, over the last ten years, have used the strategy to sacrifice one of their own to create a martyr”. (see video)

 

 

 

The alleged involvement of Chechen and Ingushetian nationals in the murder of Boris Nemtsov and the confession of the former Interior Ministry officer Dadayev is not unlikely to prompt in-depth “mole-hunt” operations in the federal and national Russian, Chechen, Ingushetian and other security forces as well as mole-hunts in foreign-backed NGO’s.

Russian Opposition: Putin Did NOT Assassinate Opposition Leader

picMoscow

The “father-of-four” was shot four times by assailants previously reported as having been in a white car as he walked across a bridge over the Moskva River

U.S. media is quick to blame Putin for the assassination of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.

But Itina Khakamada –  a top ally of Nemtsov in the opposition – said the killing was clearly not in Putin’s interest. It’s aimed at rocking the situation.”

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev agrees.

Even the U.S. government’s Voice of America states – in an article entitled Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?” – that Putin loses much more than he gains by the assassination:

With the murder of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, gunned down on a Moscow street, the fiercest critic of President Vladimir Putin has been removed from the political stage. But it remains to be seen whether, in death as in life, Nemtsov will remain a threat to Putin’s rule. 

Already, city authorities have approved a mass march for up to 50,000 people in central Moscow on Sunday. The march, expected to be far larger than the scheduled protest rally it replaces, will provide a powerful platform for Kremlin critics who suspect a government hand in Nemtsov’s death. 

Even officials in Putin’s government seem to sense the danger that the former first deputy prime minister’s martyrdom might pose, hinting darkly that Friday night’s drive-by shooting may have been an deliberate “provocation” ahead of the planned weekend rally.