UKRAINIAN FORCES DESTROY RUSSIAN CONVOY

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Ukraine says destroys Russian armour as NATO slams ‘incursion’

Kiev (AFP) – Ukraine said on Friday it had destroyed part of a Russian military convoy that crossed onto its territory in an incursion that has sent cross-border tensions soaring.

The two countries have also been wrangling for days over a Russian convoy that Moscow says is carrying aid for besieged rebel-held cities but which Kiev suspects could be a “Trojan horse” to provide military help to the insurgents.

Fears that the border clash could spill into all-out war between Kiev and Moscow sent major share markets tumbling across Europe and the United States.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told British Prime Minister David Cameron that government artillery had destroyed a “considerable part” of a small military convoy that entered the country, the presidency said in a statement.

The European Union demanded that Russia put an “immediate stop” to hostilities on the border, while Britain summoned Moscow’s ambassador to Ukraine to “clarify” the situation.

“If there are any Russian military personnel or vehicles in Ukraine they need to be withdrawn immediately or the consequences will be very serious,” Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said.

Moscow has rejected the charges it sent military hardware across the border, its latest denial of Western accusations it is funnelling weapons to the pro-Kremlin separatists who launched an insurgency against Kiev in April.

View galleryA pro-Russian 122-mm self-propelled howitzer moves …
A pro-Russian 122-mm self-propelled howitzer moves along a street in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine on Aug …
But NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen backed reports of the “Russian incursion”.

“It just confirms the fact that we see a continued flow of weapons and fighters from Russia into the eastern Ukraine,” he said.

“It is a clear demonstration of continued Russian involvement in the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine.”

- ‘Attempts to derail aid’ -

Russia’s foreign ministry ominously accused Ukraine of “attempts to derail the supply of humanitarian aid” as doubts swirled over what will happen next to almost 300 Russian trucks parked up some 30 kilometres (20 miles) from Ukraine’s border.

Moscow accused Kiev of stepping up military operations with the “obvious goal” of blocking the agreed route.

It had appeared earlier that the two countries might reach a deal to allow the convoy into Ukraine to help people in the east who are without water, food or power.

View galleryA Russian military haulage truck transporting a self-propelled …
A Russian military haulage truck transporting a self-propelled howitzer 2S19 – MSTA-S seen along a r …
But the ICRC said they were still ironing out details over the shipment.

“People are struggling to cope with limited access to basic services such as water and electricity, so speed is of the essence,” said Laurent Corbaz, ICRC head of operations for Europe and Central Asia.

Ukraine fears the convoy could be used as a pretext to invade, as a pro-Moscow rebellion shows signs of unravelling after four months of fighting that has left more than 2,000 people dead including children and sent around 285,000 fleeing their homes.

Moscow has insisted the white-tarpaulin trucks are hauling aid and officials tried to prove that by showing off the contents of 10 lorries baby formula, rations and bottled water to journalists.

“We’ve shown you everything. You see that we have nothing to hide — these trucks are carrying nothing but humanitarian aid,” said Sergei Karavaytsev, from Russia’s emergency situations ministry.

- ‘Deeply concerned’ -

British newspapers reported Thursday that their correspondents had seen a column of some 20 armoured personal carriers and military trucks crossing into Ukraine

Danish Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard said the EU — which with the United States has imposed a raft of sanctions against Russia — was “deeply concerned by Russian behaviour over the last months but also the last hours.”

“We think that the Russian authorities should be aware that both in the EU and the US we have a very strong commitment to respond to any new aggression from Russia,” he said.

Meanwhile Ukraine said it was forging on with an offensive that has sent rebel forces reeling, retaking three small town overnight.

Top rebel military chief Igor Strelkov and another key commander announced Thursday they were quitting after Ukraine’s military said it had completely surrounded Lugansk, cutting all links to the border with Russia.

An AFP journalist in the main rebel-held city of Donetsk in the industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine heard sporadic shelling from a suburb and saw rebels driving howitzer cannons into the city centre.

The death toll continues to climb, with mortar fire in Donetsk killing 11 civilians over the past 24 hours, local authorities said. Five soldiers were also killed in fighting over the same period.

As the Russian aid sat at the border Ukrainian officials say their own aid convoys to the east — some 75 lorries with 800 tonnes of aid — had also started to arrive at a government-held town some 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of Lugansk.

Western media inspect Russia’s Ukraine aid trucks and find… aid

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A Russian convoy to deliver humanitarian aid has reached the Ukrainian border. Some western journalists were given the opportunity to monitor its progress, as well as being allowed to see what they were carrying.

The Ukrainian government had been adamant that this was little more than a ‘Trojan Horse’ being used to transport Russian military hardware to anti-government troops in the east of the country. Trucks ‘inspection’ showed they were carrying quiet a different load.

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The convoy is long – with 270 trucks in all. They are trying to bring much needed supplies to the city of Lugansk, which has been without electricity, gas and water for weeks, following constant shelling from Ukrainian government forces.

The “tan men” are the volonteers who have been helping to deliver the supplies in the convoy. They have had a long journey, travelling from outside Moscow, all the way to the Ukrainian border.

The journalists say that there are members of the Red Cross on site, but they are not talking to journalists at the moment. According to the Guardian’s Shaun Walker, the convoy has stopped about 25 kilometers from the Ukrainian border and the volunteers are currently setting up camp. There are some comforts available for the workers, with showers having been provided.

There are two military helicopters escorting the convoy, which also contained some military hardware at the rear, while the western journalists said there was almost no security to hinder them doing there work and they were allowed free reign to look at anything they wanted.

Ecuador: We don’t need permission to trade with Russia

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Ecuador doesn’t need anybody’s permission to export agricultural products to Russia, which now has a big gap that needs to be filled after it banned supplies from a number of western countries, said President Rafael Correa.

“I want to immediately say that we don’t need to get anybody’s permission to sell products to friendly countries: as far as we know Latin America isn’t a part of the European Union,” as RIA cites Correa’s Tuesday comments to the Andes press agency.

His comments come a day after the Financial Times said the EU was going to persuade Latin American countries not to replace its agricultural exports to Russia.

READ MORE: EU to urge Latin America not to export food to Russia

“Let’s wait for the official complaint from [from the EU] and we’ll give a response to that,” Correa said.

At present, bananas, cut flowers, coffee, and tea are the key goods exported by Ecuador to Russia. Data from the country’s embassy in Moscow says that revenue from sale of bananas and roses are the second biggest outside of oil. In the first five months of 2014 Ecuador exported 580,000 tons of bananas and 9,300 tons of roses.

NATO BAITING RUSSIA INTO WAR

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West continues attempt to manipulate the public

by TONY CARTALUCCI | INFOWARS.COM | AUGUST 12, 2014

Russia is consistently portrayed in the Western media as the “aggressor” amid the ongoing Ukrainian conflict, however, it is clear through overt moves by NATO’s proxy regime in Kiev, that attempts are being made to intentionally provoke, not defend against Moscow’s ire.

The New York Times, in a recent article admits that the military campaign Kiev is carrying out against its own citizens in eastern Ukraine is overt brutality carried out by literal flag-waving Nazis, with the all but stated goal of provoking a Russian invasion.
Brutal Provocations
The New York Times in an article titled, “Ukraine Strategy Bets on Restraint by Russia,” states:

Buoyed by successes against the separatists over the past two months — and noting that the Russians have threatened an invasion in the region before without following through — Ukrainian commanders have pressed ahead with an offensive to drive the rebels from their stronghold in Donetsk in the east.
The army continued to fire artillery into the city nightly, and paramilitary groups raided outlying villages despite warnings from President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia that he could intervene at any time to protect Ukrainians who favor closer ties with his country. And the Ukrainians have flaunted their victories.

Shelling populated centers and raiding villages far from its tenuous base of support, does not appear to be Kiev “defending itself,” nor in line with the “international norms” frequently cited by Washington, London, and Brussels when justifying “humanitarian interventions” elsewhere throughout the world.

The NYT also notes that Russia “threatened” to intervene amid Kiev’s brutality, but never did – calling into question the notion that Russia is being “aggressive.”The NYT continues, with what appears to be language designed to provoke Russia into crossing its border with Ukraine to intervene:

But Western leaders and analysts remain unconvinced Mr. Putin will be willing to be taunted endlessly or to permit extensive deaths of pro-Russian civilians. The United Nations said recently that at least 1,543 civilians and combatants on both sides have died since mid-April.
And in this statement, the NYT admits that indeed the Banderite Nazis NATO is aiding, funding, and soon to be training and arming , are carrying out a campaign of brutality causing “extensive deaths of pro-Russian civilians.”Nazis and Western Complicity The NYT also explicitly admits that Nazis line the ranks of the “militias” fighting for NATO’s regime in Kiev, and carrying out this campaign of provocation:

Officials in Kiev say the militias and the army coordinate their actions, but the militias, which count about 7,000 fighters, are angry and, at times, uncontrollable. One known as Azov, which took over the village of Marinka, flies a neo-Nazi symbol resembling a Swastika as its flag.
While the NYT attempts to cast as an ambiguous light as possible upon the connections Azov has with Nazism, the Azov Battalion does not simply fly a “neo-Nazi symbol resembling a Swastika as its flag.” The symbol is in fact the Wolfsangel used by Adolf Hitler’s various SS military divisions during World War II and is as good as saluting Hitler himself to affirm allegiance to his toxic ideology and to celebrate the Nazis’ numerous, notorious atrocities.

The BBC would elaborate on the nature of militias like “Azov,” who are undoubtedly the recipients of US, British, and other NATO member states’ aid, cash, and political support, in its article, “Ukraine conflict: ‘White power’ warrior from Sweden.” In it, it profiles a member of Azov Battalion, Mikael Skillt, and states:

“I have at least three purposes in the Azov Battalion: I am a commander of a small reconnaissance unit, I am also a sniper, and sometimes I work as a special coordinator for clearing houses and going into civilian areas.”
As to his political views, Mr Skillt prefers to call himself a nationalist, but in fact his views are typical of a neo-Nazi.
Dismissed by the West as “Russian propaganda,” it is clear that even the most “Western” media outlets cannot report on the Ukrainian conflict without coming across literal Nazis fighting for Kiev and operating in “civilian areas” in eastern Ukraine. The BBC would admit the Azov Battalion is far from a fringe group and was raised by the Ukrainian Interior Ministry itself. When NATO members announce “aid” to the regime in Kiev, they are also, by default, announcing aid to literal Neo-Nazi militant groups raised by Kiev’s Interior Ministry, like the Azov Battalion.

Using Humanitarian Concerns to Provoke War

It was in 2011 that the US, UK, NATO, and its regional partners carried out a coordinated propaganda campaign including the fabrication of atrocities to justify the military invasion of Libya and Syria. It would later turn out that the “civilians” the Libyan and Syrian governments were fighting were in fact heavily armed terrorists hailing from Al Qaeda. The deceit in Libya unraveled but not before NATO began military operations in support of these terrorists.

In Syria, the deception was exposed and attempts by the West to intervene directly have thus far failed.Conversely, in Ukraine, the West is backing literal Nazis who are admittedly mass murdering civilians in eastern Ukraine, in an attempt to intentionally provoke Russia into war.On one hand, humanitarian catastrophes are fabricated by the West to justify its own military interventions, while on the other, real humanitarian catastrophes are created to provoke military action from the West’s enemies.

While the NYT notes that Russia has thus far not taken the bait, “experts” it interviewed for its story claim such patience is not likely to last. In reality, Moscow has weighed its strengths, weaknesses, and the strategic lay of not only Ukraine, but the region and the world, and has made the decision that will, in the long-term based on reason, produce the best outcome for Russia, the Russian people, and its compatriots beyond its borders.

While the West continues its attempts to manipulate the public and the political circles intersecting amid the Ukrainian crisis, Moscow has already proven it will not take the bait unless it is sure it can swallow the fisherman as well.

Tony Cartalucci, Bangkok-based geopolitical researcher and writer, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

Sanctions bite-back: Bickering, EU infighting over Russia retaliation

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There is growing dissent in the EU over policies that led to a de fact trade war with Russia. Meanwhile the countries not toeing the line are reaping the benefits, irritating those who jumped on the sanctions bandwagon.

China to start direct sales of fruit and vegetables to Russia

Poland asks US to buy apples banned by Russia

Greek members of the European Parliament demanded Sunday that the EU cancel sanctions against Russia. MEPs Kostantinos Papadakis and Sotiris Zarianopoulos said in a letter to some senior EU officials that Russia’s ban on food import from the EU, which was Moscow’s response to anti-Russian sanctions, was ruinous to Greek agriculture.

“Thousands of small- and middle-sized Greek farms producing fruit and vegetables and selling them primarily to the Russian market have been hit hard now as their unsold products are now rotting at warehouses,” the letter said.

The MEPs are representing the Communist Party of Greece and blame the EU leaders and their own government for supporting what they called “an imperialist intervention by the US, the EU and NATO” in Ukraine at the expense of good relations with Russia.

Greece is one of the EU members hit hardest by the Russian import ban, partially due to its economy still being in turmoil. Greek farmers stand to lose an estimated 200 million euro in direct damages due to Russia’s move, with more long-term consequences expected even if year-long ban is not renewed on expiry. The producers may find it very hard to win back the market share they had before the ban as non-affected countries would certainly weight in.

Head of Austrian Freedom Party (FPOe) Heinz-Christian Strache (Reuters/Heinz-Peter Bader)Head of Austrian Freedom Party (FPOe) Heinz-Christian Strache (Reuters/Heinz-Peter Bader)

Similar sentiments came Sunday from Heinz-Christian Strache, Chairman of the right-wing Freedom Party of Austria, which has 20 percent of seats in the lower chamber of the national parliament and showed similarly strong results in this year’s European parliamentary election.

“In just a few days after the [Russian] sanctions came into force they hurt out agriculture. The EU is thinking on how to mitigate it. Instead of putting Russia on its knees, they drag our farmers to ruin with their senseless sanctions policy,” Strache said ac sited by Austria Presse Agentur.

He also lashed out at Kiev for considering a ban on the transit of Russian gas into Europe to hurt Russia, calling such statements “an affront to their own allies” and “a mockery of the EU,” which will have to save Ukraine from bankruptcy.

He called on the Austrian government to clearly state their policy on the situation.

Who is hit hardest by Russia’s trade ban?

Gregor Gysi, a German parliament member from the Left Party, criticized on Sunday the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel for supporting the sanctions policy, which he called “childish.”

“[US President Barack] Obama talks about economic sanctions all the time, but the response hits us, not the US,” the politician said in an interview with ARD television.

“If we isolate Russia, we will have no influence,” he added. “We must learn to talk to each other again.”

Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves (AFP Photo/Ragio Pajula)Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves (AFP Photo/Ragio Pajula)

The irritation with the damage caused by the sanctions confrontation in Europe comes amid anger towards those who chose not to confront Russia and so were not hit back. Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves lashed out at Switzerland for taking a neutral stance in the conflict, which allows its bankers and traders to profit in the Russian market.

“Switzerland must live with the criticism that it has only dispensed with its own sanctions to gain an advantage for its banking sector,” the Estonian leader said in an interview with Sonntags Zeitung newspaper published on Sunday.

Switzerland, not being an EU member, is not obliged to enforce all anti-Russian sanctions imposed by the union. It took measures last week to ensure that it does not serve as a route to bypass EU’s sanctions, but declined to impose its own.

Bern cited a need to remain neutral, especially since it is now chairing the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe, a key mediator in the Ukrainian crisis.

“The concept of neutrality is for me as empty today as ever before,” said Ilves.

The US and its allies have been imposing increasingly tough sanctions against Russia as punishment for its stance in the Ukrainian crisis. They accuse Russia of supporting the armed militia in eastern Ukraine, which is fighting against the Kiev-loyal troops. Moscow accuses the Western countries of hypocrisy, saying they are turning a blind eye to any crimes committed by the Ukrainian regime, which they helped to take over power in the first place.

COLD WAR II: RUSSIAN NUCLEAR BOMBERS CONDUCT 16 INCURSIONS OF U.S. AIR DEFENSE ZONES

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Defense officials say Putin is testing U.S. command and control systems

by STEVE WATSON | INFOWARS.COM | AUGUST 7, 2014

Russian strategic nuclear bombers have flown into northwestern U.S. air defense identification zones at least sixteen times over the past ten days, according to Pentagon officials.

The incursions by Tu-95 Russian Bear H bombers are unprecedented, Defense experts say, leading some to believe that Russia is testing U.S. air defenses.

As reported by Bill Gertz of The Washington Free Beacon, The flights, which have also included a Russian intelligence-gathering jet flying near Alaska, were detected by the U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), and have prompted the scrambling of U.S. jet fighters in several cases.

“Over the past week, NORAD has visually identified Russian aircraft operating in and around the U.S. air defense identification zones,” said Maj. Beth Smith, spokeswoman for NORAD.

Maj. Smith notes that while the incursions, close to the Aleutian Islands, represent “a spike in activity”, they are nothing to worry about, and are part of training missions and exercises.

Other Defense officials, however, are not so sure. Without naming his sources, Gertz notes that the officials believe the bombers may be intentionally seeking to trigger U.S. air defenses, as Soviet fighters did during the Cold War in preparation for a nuclear conflict.

“These are not just training missions,” one official said, adding the the Russians appear to be “trying to test our air defense reactions, or our command and control systems.”

Amid a large strategic build up of nuclear forces, Russia has, in recent weeks, flown bombers closer to the U.S. than ever before since the fall of the Soviet Empire. On June 9th, U.S. F-15s and F-22s intercepted Russian bombers just 50 miles off the California coastline.

Meanwhile, NATO is again warning that Russia has amassed troops on its border and may soon invade Ukraine. It is claimed that Russia has 20,000 troops on the border and has added 8,000 this week. Ukrainian officials, who have been known to exaggerate the Russian threat, say the number is close to 45,000 troops with 100 fighter jets, helicopters and bombers, further heightening tensions in the region.

NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu has warned Russia will use “the pretext of a humanitarian or peace-keeping mission as an excuse to send troops into Eastern Ukraine.”

Contrary to the assertion of President Obama, U.S. sanctions on Russia appear to be having little effect other than to provoke saber rattling retaliations and a Russian ban on food imports from the US and Europe, as well as a threatened commercial flight ban.

Russia bans agricultural products from EU, USA, Australia, Norway, Canada

Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev has signed a decree on the full ban for imports of beef, pork, poultry meat, fish, cheese, milk, vegetables and fruit from Australia, Canada, the EU, the US and Norway.

The ban will last a year, starting August 7.

READ MORE: Putin bans agricultural imports from sanctioning countries for 1 year

The Prime Minister also said Russia has stopped transit flights by Ukrainian airlines to such destinations as Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey, adding that the country was considering a ban of transit flights for European and US Airlines to the Asia-Pacific region.

Western sanctions were a “dead-end track”, but Russia has been forced to respond to the measures taken by the western countries, Medvedev added.

Alcohol imports from both the EU and the US will not be restricted.

“We are actually speaking of an embargo on imports of whole categories of products from countries which have introduced sanctions against Russian organizations and individuals,” Medvedev said.

Dmitry Medvedev instructed the Federal Customs Service (FCS) to see that the banned imports could not cross the Russian border.

The Russian PM has also warned against possible attempts to use the situation to drive up prices.

“I would like to warn that attempts to gain from price speculation in this situation will be roughly stopped,” Medvedev said.

The Russian PM added that Moscow still had a lot of trading partners abroad, which it had not placed on the retaliatory sanctions list.

Russia’s agricultural watchdog Rosselkhoznadzor has announced plans to increase imports from Chile, which could include vegetables, fruit, fish, shellfish, meat and milk.

“Imports of fish, which last year amounted to 53,000 tons, may grow two or three times. Shellfish imports might increase from 3,000 tons to 15,000-20,000 tons,” the watchdog said in a statement.

Medvedev said he sincerely hoped”our partners’ economic pragmatism will prevail over bad political decisions, and they will think before trying to frighten Russia and impose restrictions on it. And mutual trade and economic partnership will be restored in the volumes which existed before. We would have liked that to happen.”

In 2013, Russia imported $6.7 billion of meat and meat products in total. The largest suppliers came from now-banned countries like Denmark (6.6% of total Russian meat products), Germany (6.4%), USA (5.3%), and Canada (3.8%).

Reuters / Ilya NaymushinReuters / Ilya Naymushin

Unique opportunity
Medvedev believes the year-long embargo Russia is imposing will boost domestic agriculture. He acknowledged that Russian farmers would have to come a long way, but said it was a unique opportunity to develop facilities to substitute for imports.

“We are only lagging behind in production of certain varieties of meat and milk. We have to catch up and our farmers are ready to do so, especially if we help them.”

Triggered by the ban, Russia’s domestic production of agricultural products could grow by about $10.8 billion in the next 18 months, Russian Agriculture Minister Nikolay Fyodorov, told ITAR–TASS.

The Governor of the Krasnodar Region, Aleksandr Tkachev has been quick to react to the news by saying farmers in the region will use the chance to replace imported goods with their own produce.

“I have spoken to the heads of agricultural enterprises, concerning the presidential decree on the ban of imports of Western agricultural goods,” Tkachev said, as cited by ITAR-TASS. “The mood is on the whole optimistic. Krasnodar farmers have received a strong stimulus to use all of their potential.”

Krasnodar is already a big agricultural player in Russia. The region is the third biggest producer of meat and eggs in the country and the fourth biggest producer of milk.

The Astrakhan Region in Russia’s south also said it was ready to increase agricultural production by 20–25 percent next year.

“There’s a real possibility that all the low quality goods, which have been imported, will not appear on the Russian market again. The country’s agriculture is now being given a historic chance for a breakthrough, to increase production, the variety of goods, and to improve processing technology,” the Governor of the Astrakhan Region Aleksandr Zhilkin, told ITAR-TASS.

Banning certain imports from the West will provide “historic opportunities” for Russia’s more distant territories in the Ural Mountains and in the Far East.

“Russia is the richest country in the world and has unique marine resources that unfortunately go abroad. However, the demand for these products on the international market are very high,” Irina Yarovaya, a Duma member from Kamchatka, said.

The new rule will help Russia develop its agriculture sector and make it easier for Russian farmers to market their products, Igor Rudensky, head of the Duma Committee on Economic Policy, Innovation and Entrepreneurship said.

FLIGHT 17 SHOOT-DOWN SCENARIO SHIFTS: WHITE HOUSE VS. INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY?

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Some U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded that the rebels and Russia were likely not at fault

by ROBERT PARRY | CONSORTIUMNEWS.COM | AUGUST 6, 2014

Contrary to the Obama administration’s public claims blaming eastern Ukrainian rebels and Russia for the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, some U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded that the rebels and Russia were likely not at fault and that it appears Ukrainian government forces were to blame, according to a source briefed on these findings.

This judgment – at odds with what President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have expressed publicly – is based largely on the absence of U.S. government evidence that Russia supplied the rebels with a Buk anti-aircraft missile system that would be needed to hit a civilian jetliner flying at 33,000 feet, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Despite U.S. spy satellites positioned over eastern Ukraine, U.S. intelligence agencies have released no images of a Buk system being transferred by Russians to rebel control, shipped into Ukraine, deployed into firing position and then being taken back to Russia. Though the Obama administration has released other images of Ukraine taken by U.S. spy satellites, the absence of any photos of a rebel-controlled Buk missile battery has been the dog not barking in the strident case that Official Washington has made in blaming the rebels and Russia for the July 17 shoot-down that killed 298 people.

Given the size of these missile batteries – containing four 16-foot-long missiles – the absence of this evidence prompted caution among U.S. intelligence analysts even as senior U.S. officials and the U.S. mainstream media rushed to judgment blaming the rebels and Russians.

In making that case, Kerry and other senior officials relied on claims made by the Ukrainian government along with items posted on “social media.” These snippets of “evidence” included ambiguous remarks attributed to rebels who may have initially thought the shoot-down was another of their successful attacks on lower-flying Ukrainian military aircraft but who later insisted that they had not fired on the Malaysian plane and lacked the longer-range Buk missiles needed to reach above 30,000 feet.

If the U.S. intelligence analysts are correct – that the rebels and Russia are likely not responsible – the chief remaining suspect would be the Ukrainian government, which does possess Buk anti-aircraft missiles and reportedly had two fighter jets in the vicinity of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 at the time of the shoot-down.

Some independent analyses of the initial evidence from the crash site suggest the jetliner may have been destroyed by an air-to-air attack, not by an anti-aircraft missile fired from the ground. Yet, the working hypothesis of the U.S. intelligence analysts is that a Ukrainian military Buk battery and the jetfighters may have been operating in collusion as they hunted what they thought was a Russian airliner, possibly even the plane carrying President Vladimir Putin on a return trip from South America, the source said.

The source added that the U.S. intelligence analysis does not implicate top Ukrainian officials, such as President Petro Poroshenko or Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, suggesting that the attack may have been the work of more extremist factions, possibly even one of the Ukrainian oligarchs who have taken an aggressive approach toward prosecuting the war against the ethnic Russian rebels in the east.

Obviously, a successful shoot-down of a Russian plane, especially one carrying Putin, could have been a major coup for the Kiev regime, which ousted Russian ally, President Viktor Yanukovych, last February touching off the civil war. Some prominent Ukrainian politicians, such as ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, have expressed the desire to kill Putin.

“It’s about time we grab our guns and kill, go kill those damn Russians together with their leader,” Tymoshenko said in an intercepted phone call in March, according to a leak published in the Russian press and implicitly confirmed by Tymoshenko.

The Shoot-Down Mystery

The Malaysia Airlines plane, flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was not expected to be over the eastern part of Ukraine on the afternoon of July 17, but was rerouted to avoid bad weather. The plane was nearing Russian airspace when it was shot down.

Some early speculation had been that the Ukrainian military might have mistaken the plane for a Russian spy plane and attacked it in a scenario similar to the Soviet shoot-down of Korean Airlines Flight 007 in 1983 after misidentifying it as a U.S. spy plane.

In the two-plus weeks since the Ukrainian air disaster, there have been notable gaps between the more measured approach taken by U.S. intelligence analysts and the U.S. politicians and media personalities who quickly rushed to the judgment blaming the rebels and Russia.

Only three days after the crash, Secretary of State Kerry did the rounds of the Sunday talk shows making what he deemed an “extraordinary circumstantial” case supposedly proving that the rebels carried out the shoot-down with missiles provided by Russia. He acknowledged that the U.S. government was “not drawing the final conclusion here, but there is a lot that points at the need for Russia to be responsible.”

By then, I was already being told that the U.S. intelligence community lacked any satellite imagery supporting Kerry’s allegations and that the only Buk missile system in that part of Ukraine appeared to be under the control of the Ukrainian military. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “What Did US Spy Satellites See in Ukraine?”]

On the Tuesday after Kerry’s Sunday declarations, mainstream journalists, including for the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post, were given a senior-level briefing about the U.S. intelligence information that supposedly pointed the finger of blame at the rebels and Russia. But, again, much of the “evidence” was derived from postings on “social media.”

The Los Angeles Times article on the briefing took note of the uncertainties: “U.S. intelligence agencies have so far been unable to determine the nationalities or identities of the crew that launched the missile. U.S. officials said it was possible the SA-11 [the Buk anti-aircraft missile] was launched by a defector from the Ukrainian military who was trained to use similar missile systems.”

That reference to a possible “defector” may have been an attempt to reconcile the U.S. government’s narrative with the still-unreleased satellite imagery of the missile battery controlled by soldiers appearing to wear Ukrainian uniforms. But I’m now told that U.S. intelligence analysts have largely dismissed the “defector” possibility and are concentrating on the scenario of a willful Ukrainian shoot-down of the plane, albeit possibly not knowing its actual identity.

A Hardened Conventional Wisdom

Nevertheless, even as the mystery of who shot down Flight 17 deepened, the U.S. conventional wisdom blaming Putin and the rebels hardened. The New York Times has reported Russia’s culpability in the airline disaster as flat-fact.

On July 29, Obama prefaced his announcement of tougher sanctions against Russia by implicitly blaming Putin for the tragedy, too. Reading a prepared statement, Obama said: “In the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, and countries around the world, families are still in shock over the sudden and tragic loss of nearly 300 loved ones senselessly killed when their civilian airliner was shot down over territory controlled by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine. …

“Since the shoot-down, however, Russia and its proxies in Ukraine have failed to cooperate with the investigation and to take the opportunity to pursue a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Ukraine. These Russian-backed separatists have continued to interfere in the crash investigation and to tamper with the evidence. They have continued to shoot down Ukrainian aircraftin the region. And because of their actions, scores of Ukrainian civilians continue to die needlessly every day.” [Emphasis added.]

Though one could argue that Obama was rhetorically tip-toeing around a direct accusation that the rebels and Russia were responsible for the Malaysia Airlines shoot-down, his intent clearly was to leave that impression. In other words, Obama was pandering to the conventional wisdom about Russian guilt and was misleading the American people about what the latest U.S. intelligence may suggest.

It’s also grotesquely deceptive to blame the Russians and the rebels for the indiscriminate shelling by government forces that have claimed hundreds of lives in eastern Ukraine. The rebels have been resisting what they regard as an illegitimate coup regime that, with the aid of neo-Nazi militias from western Ukraine, overthrew elected President Yanukovych in February and then moved to marginalize and suppress the ethnic Russian population in the east.

By presenting the conflict in a one-sided way, Obama not only misled Americans about the origins of the Ukraine crisis but, in effect, gave the Kiev regime a green light to slaughter more ethnic Russians. By pointing the finger of blame at Moscow for all the troubles of Ukraine, Obama has created more geopolitical space for Kiev to expand its brutal onslaught that now has included reported use of poorly targeted ballistic missiles against population centers.

Obama’s covering for the Kiev regime is even more outrageous if the U.S. intelligence analysts are right to suspect that Ukrainian forces were behind the Flight 17 shoot-down.

And as for who’s been responsible for destroying evidence of the Flight 17 shoot-down, an assault by the Ukrainian military on the area where the plane crashed not only delayed access by international investigators but appears to have touched off a fire that consumed plane debris that could have helped identify the reasons for the disaster.

On Saturday, the last paragraph of a New York Times story by Andrew E. Kramer reported that “the fighting ignited a fire in a wheat field that burned over fuselage fragments, including one that was potentially relevant to the crash investigation because it had what appeared to be shrapnel holes.” The shrapnel holes have been cited by independent analysts as possible evidence of an attack by Ukrainian jetfighters.

Accepting Reality

Yet, given how far the U.S. political/media establishment has gone in its Flight 17 judgment pinning the blame on the rebels and Russia even before an official investigation was started, it’s not clear how those power-brokers would respond if the emerging analysis fingering Ukrainian forces turns out to be correct.

The embarrassment to high-level U.S. officials and prominent mainstream U.S. news outlets would be so extreme that it is hard to believe that the reality would ever be acknowledged. Indeed, there surely will be intense pressure on airline investigators and intelligence analysts to endorse the Putin-is-to-blame narrative.

And, if the investigators and analysts won’t go that far, they might at least avoid a direct contradiction of the conventional wisdom by suggesting that the Flight 17 mystery remains unsolved, something for historians to unravel.

Such has been the pattern in other cases of major mainstream mistakes. For instance, last year, some of the same players, including Secretary Kerry and the New York Times, jumped to conclusions blaming the Syrian government for an Aug. 21 sarin gas attack that killed hundreds of people in a Damascus suburb.

On Aug. 30, Kerry gave a bellicose speech filled with “we knows” but providing no verifiable evidence. A punitive U.S. bombing campaign against the Syrian government was averted at the last minute when President Obama decided to first seek congressional approval and then accepted President Putin’s assistance in working out a deal in which the Syrian government surrendered all its chemical weapons while still denying a role in the Aug. 21 incident.

Only later did much of Kerry’s case fall apart as new evidence pointed to an alternative explanation, that extremist Syrian rebels released the sarin as a provocation to push Obama across his “red line” and into committing the U.S. military to the Syrian civil war on the side of the rebels. But neither U.S. officialdom nor the mainstream U.S. press has acknowledged the dangerous “group think” that almost got the United States into another unnecessary war in the Middle East. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Collapsing Syria-Sarin Case.”]

It may seem cynical to suggest that the powers-that-be in Official Washington are so caught up in their own propaganda that they would prefer the actual killers of innocent people – whether in Syria or Ukraine – to go unpunished, rather than to admit their own mistakes. But that is often how the powerful react. Nothing is more important than their reputations.

Switzerland will not blindly follow EU sanctions against Russia – economy minister

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For Switzerland to copy and paste EU sanctions against Moscow is unwise, and would jeopardize the country’s role as a mediator, said Swiss Economy Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann.

The Swiss government has no plans to follow in the EU’s footsteps and impose sanctions against Russia, Schneider-Ammann said in an interview with the Swiss newspaper Schweiz am Sonntag.

Schneider-Ammann said that choosing a side would undermine the country’s neutrality in the matter.

“This role [as mediator] will be weakened, if we duplicate EU sanctions,” Schneider-Ammann said, adding that Switzerland holds the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which is vitally important for peace talks between Russia and Ukraine.

Another main concern for Switzerland, home to many Russian nationals, is any economic blowback from sanctions.

The economy minister warned that shutting out Russia could “result in a domino effect” which will “have a negative impact on our economy.”

Unlike its European neighbors who are dependent on Russia for natural gas, Switzerland is financially tied to Russia. Switzerland is home to an estimated $15.2 billion in Russian assets as of 2012, and oil exchanges in Geneva account for 75 percent of Russian crude exports, Reuters reports. Many Russians live in the country.

In March, after Crimea reunited with Russia and the US unveiled its first round of sanctions, Switzerland said it would take measures if needed.

Switzerland has however frozen assets of ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich and other former Kiev government officials.

The minister plans to visit Moscow in October to discuss Swiss-Russian bilateral economic cooperation. Schneider-Ammann is a member of Switzerland’s Free Democratic Party, and was first elected to the Swiss National Council in 1999.

The US and the EU have recently imposed sectorial sanctions on Russia. Washington aimed its restrictions at Russia’s financial and energy sectors, while the EU has also targeted the military sector.

The EU’s sectorial sanctions are its most serious step against Russia to date. European leaders have been increasing pressure on the Russian government for several months by imposing visa bans and asset freezes on a number of individuals that the EU considers responsible for Moscow’s policy toward Ukraine.

However, many European countries have been reluctant to target entire sectors of the Russian economy, understanding that it could hurt the EU since Russia is among Europe’s biggest trading partners.

Putin asks government to develop countermeasures to Western sanctions

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has urged his government to come up with countermeasures to Western sanctions imposed against Russia over the Ukrainian conflict.

Medvedev: Russia to consider retaliation to EU sanctions

Putin stressed that Moscow’s response should be “cautious.”

“Obviously we need to do it cautiously in order to support domestic manufacturers, but not hurt consumers,” he said on Tuesday.

The president expects the government to present a response to the sanctions as soon as possible.

Putin said that the political tools of pressure being used against the Russian economy are unacceptable, stressing that they go against international rules and norms.

Putin’s comments come on the same day Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said that Moscow will consider possible responses to EU sanctions against Russian airlines.

On Tuesday, Vedomosti daily reported Russia was considering limiting, or even completely blocking European flights to Asia that cross Siberia, in response to EU sanctions that caused Aeroflot subsidiary, Dobrolet, to suspend flights on Monday.

Last week, the EU imposed a fresh round of sanctions targeting financial, energy and defense sectors of the Russian economy. The sectorial sanctions targeted five major Russian banks, including the country’s biggest, Sberbank. These financial entities will be banned from raising capital on the EU’s capital markets.

The EU sanctions followed a fresh round of US sanctions targeting financial and energy sectors.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, the Swiss government extended sanctions to include 26 people in Russia and Ukraine, as well as 18 organizations, so the country isn’t used as a channel to avoid EU and US sanctions.

Japan also joined Western nations in expanding sanctions list against Moscow. The list, made public by the Japanese Foreign Ministry on Tuesday, includes former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, a number of top figures in the self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, as well as people believed to be “directly responsible for the annexation of Crimea.”

Nevertheless, despite mounting international pressure on Russia, a reputed Putin ‘inner circle’ figure – businessman Gennady Timchenko – has said recently that the big Russian businesses hurt by Western sanctions will not even think about putting pressure on President Putin, because the interests of the state are at stake in the conflict.