Massenbach-Letter. NEWS 10.02.17

Massenbach-Letter. News *Russia And The US: Can Containment Be Stabilised?*

  • Stratfor: Investing in Syria’s Future.
  • STRATFOR:Who Will Fund Syria’s Reconstruction?
  • Now Britain:

– Igor Ivanov and Malcolm Rifkind participate in Russia-UK security workshop

– The Independent: The Brexit White Paper completely contradicts a key argument for Brexit

-The Independent: At last, White Paper sets out 12 key Brexit goals. Now for the 12 key unanswered questions.

The Government has laid out its plans for leaving the EU, but the much-anticipated document is unlikely to appease critics.

  • National Republican Congressional Committee Goes After Blue-Collar Districts in 2018

Massenbach*National Republican Congressional Committee Goes After Blue-Collar Districts in 2018

  • GOP campaign arm releases list of 36 initial targets –

The National Republican Congressional Committee’s initial list of offensive targets for 2018 includes 36 Democrat-held districts, many in blue-collar areas of the country.

If Democrats are targeting the well-educated suburbs (see New Jersey’s 11th District, for example), where Donald Trump either barely won or underperformed, Republicans are going after many rural districts where Hillary Clinton underperformed the congressional ticket.

Three Minnesota Democrats from rural parts of the state are on the GOP House committee’s target list. Democratic-Farmer-Labor Rep. Rick Nolan has been a top target for the past two cycles, and his 8th District race is consistently among the most expensive House race in the nation. Nolan won re-election by less than a point in his sprawling Iron Range district last fall, while Trump carried it by 16 points.

Next door in the 7th District, DFL Rep. Collin C. Peterson again finds himself on the GOP hit list after being targeted heavily in 2014 and then getting away without national Republican attention in 2016. But despite bragging before last year’s election about his underfunded challenger, who received no national assistance, Peterson only won re-election by 5 points in a district Trump carried by more than 30 points.

In the southern part of the state, DFL Rep. Tim Walz also had a surprisingly close re-election last November, despite not being a national GOP target. He won by less than a point in the 1st District, where Trump won by 15 points. This cycle, he’s on the NRCC list.

Republicans are targeting nine other Democrats in districts where Clinton lost. Those include Rep. Cheri Bustos in Illinois’ 17th District, Rep. Tom O’Halleran in Arizona’s 1st District, Rep. Dave Loebsack in Iowa’s 2nd District, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter in New Hampshire’s 1st District, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney in New York’s 18th District, Rep. Josh Gottheimer in New Jersey’s 5th District, Rep. Matt Cartwright in Pennsylvania’s 17th District, Rep. Jacky Rosen in Nevada’s 3rd District and Rep. Ron Kind in Wisconsin’s 3rd District.

Seats that Clinton narrowly won, like New Hampshire Rep. Ann McLane Kuster’s 2nd District, are also on the list. Others include Connecticut Rep. Joe Courtney’s 2nd District, Connecticut Rep. Elizabeth Esty’s 5th District, Florida Rep. Charlie Crist’s 13th District, Michigan Rep. Dan Kildee’s 5th District, Nevada Rep. Ruben Kihuen’s 4th District, Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio’s 4th District and Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader’s 5th District.

Republicans are also targeting some districts that Clinton carried more comfortably. In Florida’s 7th District, the NRCC is on the offensive against freshman Democrat Stephanie Murphy, who knocked off longtime GOP Rep. John L. Mica last fall in a redistricted seat.

California Rep. Ami Bera was one of the NRCC’s three main Democratic targets last cycle, and he’s once again on its list this cycle. Clinton won his district by 11 points, but expect Republicans to double down on the congressman’s father’s guilty plea for making illegal contributions to his son’s campaigns.

The NRCC will again contest New York’s 3rd District, which Democrat Tom Suozzi won last fall after Rep. Steve Israel’s retirement. Clinton won the Long Island district by 6 points. The NRCC is also targeting Rep. Raul Ruiz in California’s 36th District, a seat with a slight GOP advantage but one that Clinton won by 9 points.

In two Midwestern districts, Republicans are targeting Michigan Rep. Sander M. Levin and Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, whose districts Clinton carried by 8 and 7 points, respectively.

The NRCC is also going after a handful of Democrats in districts that Clinton won by double digits, some by as much as 22 points. Those include Rep. Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona’s 9th District, freshman Rep. Salud Carbajal in California’s 24th District, Rep. Scott Peters in California’s 52nd District, Rep. Ed Perlmutter in Colorado’s 7th District, Rep. William Keating in Massachusetts’ 9th District, Rep. John Delaney in Maryland’s 6th District, Rep. Derek Kilmer in Washington’s 6th District and Rep. Denny Heck in Washington’s 10th District.

In New Mexico, the NRCC is targeting the 1st District seat being vacated by Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham at the end of the term and the 3rd District seat held by Democratic Congressional Campaign Chairman Ben Ray Luján.


From our Russian News Desk.

Russia And The US: Can Containment Be Stabilised?


Even though Donald Trump has already taken office as the new president of the United States, the contours of his foreign policy, his priorities and relations with allies, have yet to take shape. In Europe, many believe that the change of the U.S. leadership will have serious consequences in the short and medium term. Although there is clearly a window of opportunity in terms of Russia-U.S. relations, the policies of the new president could aggravate issues that have been accumulating within the European security system.

These are hard times for the Euro-Atlantic system. An asymmetric bipolar system has essentially emerged in the region, with NATO being on one side and Russia on the other. Unlike the Cold War era, there is much more uncertainty in this system. In terms of forces and capabilities, the balance clearly tilts toward NATO. The system is also characterised by inefficient arms control mechanisms and the existence of mutual resentment and claims. This reproduces Richardson’s classical arms race model, in which the buildup of military capabilities is accompanied by low trust level. Even though there appears to be no ideological divide between these two centres of gravity, the ideological gap between them has significantly widened. There is also an imbalance in the competition of ideas. While Russia questions the viability of western models and the assumption that there is no possible alternative, EU countries and the U.S. explicitly and implicitly question the legitimacy of Russia’s political system in general. In this sense, the ideological rift has gone far beyond the confrontation between the west and the USSR.

President Trump and US Policy Challenges

However, what makes the situation different from the Cold War period is the vulnerability of the Euro-Atlantic system. The west was self-sufficient and impregnable to outside security threats during the Cold War, but this institutional framework is poorly equipped to handle the serious threats it is facing today. NATO and Russia excel in containing each other. However, in the face of the threat of radical Islamism, to take one example, they are struggling to coordinate their actions in the Middle East. The west could lose its balance in the future as Turkey takes on a bigger role and the EU strengthens its political standing. In addition, relations between the two powers have become less predictable, which makes the system even more vulnerable. v

The new U.S. president has already announced a whole set of priorities and measures that will, of course, affect European security and accelerate its transformation. What are these key decisions?

Primarily, the balance of power will change. Donald Trump seems determined to build up U.S. military capabilities both quantitatively and qualitatively. Odds are he will not oppose upgrading nuclear deterrence forces or developing the European missile defence shield. The new U.S. president is determined to assert American interests. And in doing so, he attaches great importance to military power.

Imperatives of Neomodernism for the Middle

Trump’s approach to cooperation with NATO allies will also affect the balance of power in Europe. His restrained attitude toward the alliance raised misgivings within NATO leadership and in some European countries. However, the new president is unlikely to bring about any serious structural changes within NATO. In his critical comments about NATO, Trump talked about the need for European allies to make a bigger financial contribution to common security. In this regard, Trump is acting as a pragmatic businessman, telling the U.S. allies that benefits from a common security system come at a cost. The U.S. will probably succeed in forcing its European partners to increase military spending, and there is economic capacity for doing so despite the challenges some EU countries are facing. This will tilt the strategic balance further toward the West and make the security system even less stable, especially if the Russia-NATO rivalry remains a cornerstone of this system.

The bottom line is that military power will become an increasingly important factor in Russia’s relations with the West, which does not promise any good for European security. It will make it more fragile and vulnerable. However, military power is not the only variable in this equation. A lot will depend on how Moscow’s interpretation of Washington’s power politics. One of the most obvious reactions could be to take a defensive stance and come up with an adequate response even if it does not fully match the steps taken by the U.S. and NATO to increase their military capabilities. This will definitely make the security system more vulnerable since an asymmetric arms race increases the risk of an open confrontation. Strategic stability could be further undermined by the offensive nuclear weapons development, efforts by the U.S. to deploy missile defence systems or pursue space warfare, the lack of cyber-warfare rules and other factors.

That said, this is not the only possibility. Moscow could ignore efforts by the West to build up its military capabilities, while the vulnerability of the Euro-Atlantic region to external threats could become a major factor. In this case, even if Russia and the U.S. do not become allies, at least they will no longer view each other as primary rivals. Two key factors are required for this to happen.

2017 Foreign Policy Outlook

First, the ideological gap between Russia and the U.S. has been narrowing since Trump’s victory. Of course, there is no question of the two countries becoming closer in terms of ideology. However, Trump does not deny Russia’s legitimate interests, and in some cases, these interests coincide with what the U.S. wants. So far, Trump has been portraying Russia as an equal interlocutor, if not a possible partner, saying that there was a need to make deals with Russia to be able to focus on other issues. For Trump, Russia is a “normal” player, no worse or better than other countries. This is what sets the new president apart from Democrats and their Russophobic approaches, as well as the Republicans who view Russia as an absolute evil and deny its right to pursue its legitimate interests. With Barack Obama putting Russia, ISIS and Ebola in the same category, achieving any kind of progress in Russia-U.S. relations became impossible. In this sense, Trump has adopted a radically different approach towards Russia compared to his predecessor.

Second, Russia, despite all its challenges and issues, has enough assets to engage in a dialogue with the U.S. In the current situation, ignoring Russia’s stance could be quite costly. Of course, Moscow can hardly expect Trump to make any concessions since he will probably turn out to be a tough negotiator. However, Russia has things it can put on the table, which means that compromise is quite possible. Moscow has become one of the key actors in resolving the Syrian issue. Russia can also initiate a dialogue on cybersecurity issues, arms control, the situation in Afghanistan, etc. Russia has shown that it can get on well enough even with sanctions imposed. The Kremlin is not facing any emergencies that could force it to make serious concessions, which means that Moscow can engage in calm discussion and negotiate key issues.

All in all, there are several possible scenarios. In the first scenario, the existing security system of containment would remain in place with all its flaws, while making relations between the two parties more predictable. The second scenario would involve a destabilised system of containment. In this case, Moscow will respond to the U.S. and NATO efforts to build up military capabilities, leading to a spiral of fear and an arms race. The third scenario would be to scale back containment policies by gradually or partially overcoming the existing differences. The fourth scenario would be to achieve a qualitatively new partnership in light of common threats. In the fifth scenario, on the contrary, relations would deteriorate, resulting in a new crisis. In the current environment, the best option at the initial stage is to stabilise the containment regime with scaling it back over time.

First published in theValdaiDiscussion Club.


Stratfor: Investing in Syria’s Future.


  • The crippled state of Syria’s economy risks weakening the remaining loyalist support for the government in Damascus.
  • The international involvement in the country’s civil war will leave Damascus with few partners that it can trust to help with its reconstruction efforts.
  • Iran’s investments in Syria will not yield immediate financial gains but will afford Tehran greater influence in the country.


Six years of conflict in Syria have left its economy in tatters. Since 2010, the country’s gross domestic product has shrunk by more than half. The war has devastated Syria’s population, killing more than 440,000 people and driving some 6 million more out of the country, a loss that will cripple the country long after the fighting inevitably stops. An estimated 60 percent of Syria’s population — what’s left of it — is unemployed, and it’s hard to say how many more Syrians are underemployed.

Though the government entered the new year at an advantage over its opposition, having just retaken the city of Aleppo, its financial decline has undermined its ability to exert control over the country. When the time finally comes to begin picking up the pieces, the government in Damascus will not be able to embark on the daunting task of reconstruction alone. Several countries have already begun extending their support to help rebuild the battered nation, some more strategically than others.

An Inauspicious Start

When the country descended into civil war in 2011, it was already facing economic troubles. Drought conditions hurt the country’s agricultural sector, all the more so as rural Syrians moved in droves to urban areas. Syria’s economy, moreover, had only just emerged from a period of economic liberalization that President Bashar al Assad kicked off when he took office in 2000. Although reforms in the banking industry had encouraged economic growth, their progress was reversed within a year of the war’s start when foreign governments slapped sanctions on Syria’s central bank and financial sector. The country’s economic output had shrunk by more than 40 percent by 2013. As its cash flow dwindled, Damascus was forced to progressively cut food, fuel, water and electricity subsidies. By 2015, Syria’s reserves had reportedly fallen to just $1 billion, enough money to cover roughly a month’s worth of imports.

The past year was even worse for Syria’s economy. The cost of natural gas and water rose in 2016, particularly in the capital, though other cost-of-living indicators such as rent and taxes stayed more or less constant. The cost of food, meanwhile, rose by 99 percent compared with the previous year. On top of that, shelling and airstrikes have destroyed infrastructure across the country, causing shortages of water and electricity. This bodes ill for al Assad: The country’s precipitous economic decline could start to undermine trust in the government, even among its most loyal supporters. And since the government has lost the ability to provide basic services to its people, Syrians have taken matters into their own hands to furnish necessities. In rebel-held territories such as Idlib, competing factions have taken over supplying food, water and electricity to the local populace. As a result, Damascus‘ authority over the country has weakened, even in the territories it still technically controls.

Hollow Victories

In late 2016, the Syrian government claimed its greatest triumph in the civil war so far when it pried the city of Aleppo from rebel control. But it was a hollow victory, like so many of Damascus‘ successes in reclaiming territory. The war has devastated vast portions of Aleppo, once Syria’s most populous city, as well as an economic capital. The damage to the city is estimated between $100 billion and $200 billion, and the province surrounding it is still an active war zone with multiple fronts. Even now, the Syrian government is working to repair water and electricity infrastructure that its forces had a hand in destroying, a process that will take months if not years to complete. In the meantime, industry in Aleppo will stay at a standstill.

Furthermore, the government’s gains against the rebels have done little to ameliorate the country’s food shortages. The Islamic State is still present in eastern Syria, formerly the country’s breadbasket. In addition, the government can no longer rely on the abundant agricultural production in the country’s northeastern corner because Syrian Kurds have taken control of the region, which they hope to establish as a semi-autonomous zone. Even though the Kurdish territory is still nominally under the central government’s control, Damascus is steadily losing its influence there.

The country is on the verge of a wheat crisis, too. The government could apparently afford only one-third of the wheat it had planned to purchase for the month of January. In fact, Damascus‘ cash crunch kept it from finalizing a deal for a much-needed wheat shipment of 1 million metric tons from Russia at a 20 percent discount. Moscow’s markdown wasn’t terribly generous, considering that Russia is still trying to offload the fruits of last year’s record wheat harvest (on a saturated market, no less). Still, the offer is a sign of Russia’s interest in helping the Syrian government get back on its feet — one that Damascus lacked the funds to take advantage of.

Iran: An Ally for Richer or for Poorer

But Russia is not the only foreign power trying to lend a helping hand to Syria. For richer or for poorer, Damascus has a devoted ally in Iran. The two countries recently signed deals over phosphates, telecommunications, oil and natural gas, and agriculture that were all designed to kick-start Syria’s stagnant economy — and secure potential kickbacks for Iranian companies down the road. Tehran has also extended an estimated $6 billion to $10 billion in credit over the course of the conflict, enabling Damascus to continue paying government salaries, funding its war effort and keeping essential services running.

Iran’s financial assistance is an investment, not an act of charity. Tehran views the money it is funneling into Syria as a long-term insurance policy for its continued influence with Damascus, regardless of who is in charge. These economic ties will ensure that Iran has even greater leverage over Syria than it does over Iraq. Unlike Damascus, which many countries have isolated over the course of the civil war, Baghdad entered its reconstruction phase after Operation Iraqi Freedom with several coalition partners, including the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union. The al Assad government lacks support even among most of the powerful countries in the Middle East, leaving it few foreign partners with which to rebuild and giving Iran considerable sway.

Of course, Iran also stands to benefit economically from its deals. Tehran intends to offer the services of its state-owned companies for Syria’s reconstruction. When the time comes, Iran will be Syria’s preferred partner for efforts to restore the country, notwithstanding the deeper economic ties Damascus had forged with other nations such as Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia prior to the conflict. The contracts Iranian companies win in Syria will help their country stay on top as the leading iron producer and second-biggest steel producer in the Middle East. Funding Syria’s reconstruction will be tricky, however, because Syria will not have the cash reserves to pay for the work.

Lining Up Behind Iran

By sinking hundreds of billions of dollars into Syria from the start of the civil war, Iran has demonstrated the value it places in the country as a strategic ally and a conduit to its prized militant proxy, Hezbollah. Tehran’s focus on investment deals also indicates that it believes the war will end soon. Until then, Iran will invest in Syria as needed to stabilize the country and protect its interests. And as its own economy slowly improves thanks to steady oil prices and eased economic sanctions, it may redouble its support.

At the same time, other countries are lining up to cash in on Syria’s eventual reconstruction. Egypt signed a deal to increase its investment there, and Lebanon hopes to become a transit hub for funds and construction materials en route to Syria. But Iran has made sure that it will be at the top of Damascus‘ list of partners when the Syrian government starts putting its country back together.


Policy= res publica


Kostas Koufogiorgos, 24.01.17

****************************************************************************************************************** Politics: From Vision to Action

Barandat* "Who Will Fund Syria’s Reconstruction? is republished with permission of Stratfor."

Who Will Fund Syria's Reconstruction?

"<a href="">Who Will Fund Syria’s Reconstruction?</a> is republished with permission of Stratfor."


Middle East

Naher Osten

Dezember 2016 Was führte zum Arabischen Frühling, der 2011 im Nahen Osten die herrschenden Machtverhältnisse erschütterte? Und wie fällt die Bilanz fünf Jahre später aus? … Der Arabische Frühling, das Aufbegehren gegen langjährige, autoritäre und repressive Machtstrukturen, hat im Nahen Osten seit 2011 heftige Konflikte ausgelöst. Leidtragende sind vor allem die Menschen in der Region, die Kämpfe um eine neue Machtverteilung haben aber auch internationale Auswirkungen. Ein Blick auf Ursachen und Hintergründe hilft zum Verständnis der aktuellen Krisensituation …


*Massenbach’s Recommendation*

Arab Fractures: Citizens, States, and Social Contracts

A new Carnegie report takes stock of the institutional fractures facing the Arab world across three separate landscapes–citizens, states, and geopolitics. The economic models and social contracts upon which the Arab regional order was constructed are coming undone, and the resulting crisis of governance underpins many of the grave security, ideological, and political challenges facing the Middle East.

The report is coauthored by Carnegie Middle East Program scholars and Arab thought leaders. (for more see att.)


The Independent: The Brexit White Paper completely contradicts a key argument for Brexit

Claim that leaving the EU would enable Parliament to reassert its sovereignty appears to be challenged in the policy document

Parliament has “remained sovereign throughout our membership to the EU” despite people “not always feeling like that”, the Brexit White Paper says.

The statement contradicts a key message from the campaign to leave the European Union, which argued ending the UK’s membership to the EU would "bring back sovereignty" to Parliament and end Brussels‘ control over national laws.

But in a section titled “taking control of our own laws”, the White Paper states: “The sovereignty of Parliament is a fundamental principle of the UK constitution. Whilst Parliament has remained sovereign throughout our membership of the EU, it has not always felt like that.”

A key tenet of the campaign ahead of the Brexit referendum last June was the debate about loss of control and the idea the UK was increasingly governed by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels.

In an article published by the Sun on 22 June written by "Brexit campaigners" Lord Green, Daniel Hannan and Patrick Minford, they said "leaving the EU on June 23 will save our sovereignty".

The Independent: At last, White Paper sets out 12 key Brexit goals. Now for the 12 key unanswered questions

The Government has laid out its plans for leaving the EU, but the much-anticipated document is unlikely to appease critics.

(For more see att.)


Igor Ivanov and Malcolm Rifkind participate in Russia-UK security workshop

23 january 2017 On January, 19-20, London hosted Russia-UK expert workshop dedicated to security issues between the two countries. The event was organized within the framework of RIAC-RUSI (Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies) joint project …

The workshop was attended by over 20 experts, former government officials and diplomats with expertise in nuclear and conventional weapons, European security architecture, non-distribution of weapons of mass destruction and unconventional security threats …

Igor Ivanov opening speech, 19, January 2017 … Unfortunately, these days we do not have too many mechanisms for a bilateral expert dialogue between Moscow and London. Most of attempts to launch such a dialogue for this or that reason have not been successful. This deficit of bilateral communications on the expert level makes the RIAC-RUSI initiative even more significant.

Let me express my deep gratitude to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as well as to the British Embassy in Moscow – without their generous support this meeting would hardly take place

When you start reflecting about the Russian-British relations, you are not likely to find many compelling reasons to be optimistic. I think that all the differences of opinions notwithstanding, we can all agree with at least two basic conclusions. First, we have to accept that our relations today — above all, political relations between Moscow and London, — are close to the zero point. Both sides have a lot of complaints and grievances to address to each other. This situation should not surprise us. Problems and grievances can emerge even among partners and allies — suffice to mention Brexit.

However, when there is not dialogue and problems are not addressed and properly dealt with, they tend to accumulate and to poison the relationship in general.

This is exactly what we have seen in the Russian-British relations recently. Second, the current state of the Russian-British relations does not meet long-term interests of both sides. Moreover, it seriously limits their respective abilities to respond to very real security threats and challenges that both our countries have to confront on the day-to-day basis. This poor state of bilateral relations prevents Russia and UK from fully implementing their responsibilities as permanent members of the UN Security Council in providing for maintaining international peace and security. This is truly unfortunate since the need for a more active UN Security Council role in dealing with numerous crises around the globe is evident to everybody.

We all remember well enough the narratives of the two sides, mutual reproaches and even direct accusations. I do not think that I should spend your time retelling them now.

It is highly unlikely that we could convince each other to change views of the other side on the fundamentals …

Through analyzing our success stories, we can try to identify the means that we can use today to get our relationship out of the current crisis … state visit of President Putin to the United Kingdom in July of 2003 … I would like to remind you that at a press conference during the visit President Putin referred to the United Kingdom as “one of the priority partners” for Russia; he expressed his confidence that the visit would serve further progress in the bilateral relationship. In its turn, the British side designated the relations with Russia as ‘splendid’ and stressed that the visit opened new opportunities for the British — Russian cooperation … we were all committed to turning the page of the Cold war as soon as possible and to writing new history together … Unfortunately, at some stage, this process got stalled and later it was replaced by mutual accusations and an information war … Getting back on track will be slow and complicated …

The most evident thing, as I can see it, would be to stop the information confrontation … We also need to put together a high level Task Force, which will include not only state bureaucrats, but parliamentarians, public opinion leaders, business persons and civil society representatives in order to launch a multifaceted discussion on the future of our relations … to investigate whether the two sides are ready for a practical cooperation … I am sure that the list of such areas will be quite impressive … areas of common interests, where the synergy of combined efforts by the two countries can bring along positive results. It seems that, above all, we should discuss regional and global security, as well as economic cooperation

We can put the ‘difficult questions’ on a back-burner or delegate them to appropriate expert groups for further considerations. In any case, such questions should not become a deal-breaker; they should not block or slow down our cooperation in the fields where this cooperation meets long-term interest of both sides … for centuries

Britain and Russia had been difficult partners to each other.

However, in the most critical moments of the European and world history we always managed to get to the same side of the barricade confronting common challenges and common enemies … we should not forget that the security dimension is closely related to many other dimensions of this complex relationship.

One cannot imagine Russian-British relations without a diverse economic cooperation, without a vibrant cultural interconnection, without multiple joint projects in education and research, without a thick network of civil society exchanges. Quite often, activities in these dimensions do much more than just complimenting the political dialogue.

They outpace the political dialogue and create a certain ‘margin of safety’ in the overall relationship, absorbing – at least partially – unavoidable shocks at the political level. It goes without saying that these dimensions of the Russian-British relations have to be properly analyzed and evaluated …



see our letter on:

*Herausgegeben von Udo von Massenbach, Bärbel Freudenberg-Pilster, Joerg Barandat*



02-03-17 The Independent_At last, White Paper sets out 12 key Brexit goals. Now for the 12 key unansw.pdf

02-06-17 Russia And The US_Can Containment Be Stabilised.docx

02-07-17 Carnegie_Arab_World_Horizons_Final.pdf