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Cross-posted from Consortium News
President Barack Obama talks with Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice in the Oval Office on March 19, 2014.
(image by (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza))
"Putin will not talk to Obama under pressure," American journalist Josh Rogin was told late last week by a close associate of Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. If Russia's President will no longer call or accept calls from the President Obama, this strikes me as the most important casualty so far from U.S.-provoked "regime change" in Ukraine. Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin apparently had conversations on Ukraine almost every week in March; their last talk took place on April 14.
U.S. "pressure" -- including token economic and travel sanctions against some Russian companies and friends of Putin -- is likely to continue. But it is not likely to become more extensive if key European countries "man up" and tell Washington what was obvious from the start; namely, that Russia holds very high cards in this area and that the Europeans will not damage their own flagging economies by approving stronger economic sanctions that would inflict real "punishment" on Russia.
As for Russia's leaders, the U.S. emphasis on economic sanctions bespeaks a punitive, belligerent attitude not conducive to real cooperation of the kind that is desperately needed on a crisis like Ukraine and that has proved so useful in averting escalations in other international hot-spots, such as Syria and Iran.
It was rapport and trust between Presidents Obama and Putin, together with the adroit diplomatic efforts of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, that produced the agreement announced on Sept. 9, 2013, under which Syria agreed to surrender its chemical weapons for destruction. Two days later, the New York Times published an op-ed by Vladimir Putin pegged to the tumultuous events of the previous two weeks regarding Syria.
Putin began by saying that Syria was what "prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies." Putin argued against a U.S. attack on Syria, a position which was still being advocated passionately by Secretary of State John Kerry and many neocons.
Regarding the sarin attack of Aug. 21, 2013, Putin wrote:
"No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons. ...
"I welcome the president's [Obama's] interest in continuing the dialogue with Russia on Syria. We must work together to keep this hope alive, as we agreed to at the Group of 8 meeting in Lough Erne in Northern Ireland in June, and steer the discussion back toward negotiations.
"If we can avoid force against Syria, this will improve the atmosphere in international affairs and strengthen mutual trust. It will be our shared success and open the door to cooperation on other critical issues."
Putin closed his Sept. 11, 2013, op-ed saying, "My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust."
Syria: the Crucible
The real story here is that the trust between Obama and Putin headed off what would have been a devastating U.S. military intervention in Syria and succeeded in getting Syria's chemical weapons destroyed. (The process is scheduled to be completed by early summer.)
Just days before Putin's op-ed, President Obama -- at the last minute -- cancelled the war urged on him primarily by Kerry, the still-influential neoconservatives, and the "tough" White House women and men, all lusting for a U.S. attack on Syria -- and almost all (with the notable exception of Kerry) bereft of any sense of what war is like.
The evidence suggests that Obama, a reluctant warrior on Syria, belatedly learned that he had been misled about what U.S. military and intelligence officials actually knew -- and did not know -- regarding who was responsible for the chemical attacks of Aug. 21 near Damascus.
It seemed his Secretary of State was lying on Aug. 30 when he thundered during a State Department speech that "we know" the Syrian government was responsible. The fact that Kerry made that claim 35 times that afternoon did not make it true.
Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), a group that I co-founded consisting of former intelligence analysts and other ex-government officials, learned from insiders and former colleagues that Kerry was being untruthful. On Sept. 6, we warned President Obama in a Memorandum titled "Is Syria a Trap?"
It is also a safe bet that Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Obama the truth; i.e., that "we" did not know, at that point, who was responsible for the sarin attack and that British intelligence had examined a sample of the sarin used, and it did not match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army's arsenal.