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  • Herman Gref in "The Financial Times": a grave warning that merits our full attention


    by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.


    In this holiday vacation period between Christmas and New Year’s, a time when we tend to put the cares of daily life aside, the Financial Times has published an interview with Herman Gref, chairman of Russia’s largest bank, Sberbank, that contains a clear warning of dire developments in the New Year should the United States push its economic sanctions to the limit, as may well occur given other very troubling items in the news with respect to Ukraine. See 

    It bears mention that Herman Gref is a highly intelligent, capable and widely respected Russian statesman and business leader. He is a key exponent of Liberal economics and democratization of state governance within Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. Gref is by nature reserved, not at all an alarmist.

    The detonator of dire developments to which he alluded is the threat by some politicians on Capitol Hill to extend the economic sanctions against Russia to a cut-off of access to SWIFT, which is a vital component of the global infrastructure for interbank settlements.  This threat has been in the air ever since the initial imposition of sanctions on Russia in 2014 following its annexation of the Crimea and intervention in the Ukrainian insurgency of Donbas.

    Said Gref, termination of access to SWIFT would elicit Russian strong countermeasures against the United States. Whereas till now only Europe has paid a price for the sanctions and the United States got off scot free, in any new Russian response the United States will feel the pain. The result would be a confrontation that would “make the Cold War look like child’s play.”

    This warning comes in the wake of very troubling signs that the Ukrainian conflict, which is the cause or pretext for U.S.-led sanctions against Russia, is spinning out of control.  Russian television reportage in recent weeks speaks of a major intensification of shelling by Ukrainian forces directed against civilians in Donetsk and Lugansk provinces, reaching a level not seen for more than a year. Russia is in the meantime withdrawing its officers-observers from the Donbas, and this is remarked with alarm by Poland and other countries participating in the OSCE force. They believe Russian withdrawal jeopardizes the security of their personnel on the ground in the region. It also may be a prelude to larger Russian intervention in the conflict.  And also in the meantime, the United States and Canada have authorized the shipment of lethal weapons to Ukraine, which crosses the “red lines” that Russia spelled out clearly.

    The new and provocative military support by the United States for the regime in Kiev may well be part of a greater plan by the Deep State in Washington to completely neutralize the foreign policy initiatives of Donald Trump in favor of accommodation with Moscow.  If there is an escalation of fighting in the southeast of Ukraine and Russia steps up its assistance to the insurgents, the arguments will be in place to implement the most drastic economic measures against Russia and expel it from the global financial system, leading to the scenario cited by Gref.

    For those who are not familiar with the details of world banking, SWIFT is a private company based in Brussels, Belgium. Any order to deny Russia access to its infrastructure would have to come from the federal Belgian government, which is otherwise very busy these days planning the visit to Moscow at the end of January by Prime Minister Charles Michel.

    In a speech last week to the 130 plus ambassadors from Belgium posted around the world, Prime Minister Michel called for a new and broader dialogue with Russia even as we have differences over Ukraine and other issues and even as sanctions remain in place.  His mission to Moscow will surely have on the agenda the ongoing construction of an LNG terminal at the Flemish port of Zeebrugge implementing agreements between the Russian gas exporter Novatek and the Belgian gas distributor Fluxys.  This enormous project would position Belgium as a major hub for distribution of Liquefied Natural Gas coming from the newly operational Russian field in Yamal, north of Siberia, a hub having pan-European importance. It would also position Belgium as a major competitor to Poland, which not long ago opened its own LNG terminal to receive American shale gas, also with aspirations to achieve pan-European scale.

    Any US-led intensification of sanctions against Russia, and in particular any cut-off of Russia’s access to SWIFT will necessarily kill the Belgian gas project and cause grave harm to the local economy in Flanders. In this connection, it has to be stated that the power behind the coalition government of Mr. Michel is precisely the Flemish nationalist NV-A party.  All of this means that here in Belgium a constitutional crisis would likely follow.

    For all of these reasons, 2018 will be a year for vigilance and attention to detail in a world that is very troubled and moving towards disorder.

    © Gilbert Doctorow, 2017

          * * * *

     Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book, Does the United States Have a Future? was published on 12 October 2017. Both paperback and e-book versions are available for purchase on and all affiliated Amazon websites worldwide. See the recent professional review    For a video of the book presentation made at the National Press Club, Washington, D.C. on 7 December 2017 see


  • Joe Biden in "Foreign Affairs" magazine: master of lies and deception


                                by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.


    It is a rare event that Foreign Affairs magazine turns over 14 pages of its “prime real estate” to a politician for a fiercely partisan programmatic statement. But that is precisely what has happened in the January-February 2018 print edition with publication of Joe Biden’s co-authored article entitled “How to Stand Up to the Kremlin. Defending Democracy Against its Enemies.”

    As we know, Biden held back and did not challenge Hillary in the 2016 primaries for personal reasons relating to the recent death of his son. But as we also know, the chair of the Democratic National Committee was nonetheless considering tapping Biden to take over the party’s nomination in case Clinton crashed and burned amidst investigations into her email scandals and other alleged wrongdoing.

    Biden was Mr. Clean. Now he is considered by some as the frontrunner among senior Democratic leaders for the 2020 presidential race. Almost the only mark against him is his advanced age. Thus, it should come as no surprise that he claimed and received the FA real estate.

    What he has done with it is in a way instructive. By this awful confection of lies and inventions, Joe Biden provides a valuable reminder of the disaster we narrowly averted by not electing Hillary Clinton on November 8, 2016.

    In this essay, Biden has taken the whole Clinton fantasy of “we wuz robbed” to explain away her electoral loss and her scapegoating the Russians, has made it his own and is using it as a platform to gain support and visibility among the Democratic party faithful. 

    While repeating several times in this article the soothing words that we must remain in dialogue with the Russians whatever our differences to avoid misunderstandings that could lead to war, he paints the Kremlin as a cesspool of corruption, organized crime, kleptocracy, authoritarianism. The country and its president are plain evil, intent on damaging Western democracies and raising international tensions by aggressive behavior so as to keep their own populace down and thereby consolidate their fragile hold on power.

    I will not attempt to rebut Biden’s cocksure but deeply ignorant statements about how Russia is despicable and, as the title tells us, an “enemy.” Every sentence is an unsupported allegation that is used by Biden as a building brick in an edifice that is self-reinforcing but has no reality outside his say-so. 

    During his eight years as Barack Obama’s Vice President and handler, Biden traveled widely as emissary of the imperial presidency. He was particularly active on the borderlands of Russia. When he was not advising one or another local president or prime minister to step down so as to make way for Washington’s latest favored son, he was encouraging illusions of American hard power support for anti-Russian actions including accession to NATO. In this way he personally contributed greatly to the confrontation we now have with Moscow. But about this past we read nothing in his essay. One might imagine reading Biden that the evil and aggressive Putin regime arrived in power fully-grown.

    Biden likes to talk about his own education, about the university education and professional choices of his children.  He enjoys speaking on campus and likes to claim that he has a special affinity for college students and they for him.  This is the context in which I heard him this past May, when he was the choice of the graduating class of Harvard to be their Speaker, whereas Mark Zuckerberg, who spoke the next day, had been the choice of the university administration.  And yet, there is in Biden’s article sound reason to believe that he despises the principles of free intellectual enquiry that constitute the foundation of education.

    A lengthy section of his article in FA deals with alleged Russian subversion of American democracy through use of disinformation, through illicit campaign financing and lobbying, through corrupt practices financed by money laundering, through abuse of the social networks, through cyber crime.  Where there is subversion, there are dupes and agents.  This is the set-up for McCarthyism that the Democratic Party is presently instrumentalizing for its partisan purposes while, by that very act, attacking the democracy and freedom of speech it says it is defending.

    © Gilbert Doctorow, 2017

          * * * *

     Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book, Does the United States Have a Future? was published on 12 October 2017. Both paperback and e-book versions are available for purchase on and all affiliated Amazon websites worldwide. See the recent professional review    For a video of the book presentation made at the National Press Club, Washington, D.C. on 7 December 2017 see

  • U.S. National Security Strategy, 2017: Response to Questions and Criticisms from Readers

    The NSS is a major milestone, and a standard against which all of Washington's actions now can be measured

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