In the history of war-fighting in Europe, what state has waged war when its state treasurer, state banker, and state auditor were opposed to the war; aimed to cut the army off from the money required for troops and weapons; and schemed between themselves to sign terms of capitulation with the state’s enemies?
Robots can be easily programmed to correct their mistakes; robot voters can be programmed to re-vote. But robots are missing the intelligence to cover up their tracks.
In the twenty-four hours since the Russian polls closed on Sunday at 8, the robot voters of Russia have exposed themselves to one of the most thorough analyses of their lack of intelligence ever produced by the mainstream Russian media, Russian election technologists and think tanks, and the Russian social media. Indeed, so swift and thorough have they been that protests of election-rigging from the Communist Party, the Navalny group and the State Department have proved superfluous. The silent majority of Russian voters had anticipated the outcome – they have already recorded their response.
(Something similar has happened at the University-Rosedale riding of Toronto. In Monday’s Canadian parliamentary election, voters delivered a similar message of silent rebuke to Chrystia Freeland, chief Russia hater and Ukrainian candidate for prime minister of Canada.)
In a plan Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin initiated two years ago called “Smart City 2030”, the Russian capital has attempted to catch up with China’s cities and to London in the mobilization of electronic and digital tools for following the city’s inhabitants, enforcing the laws, and catching criminals, tax cheats, speeders — and political protesters.
Most of these tools can be spotted fixed to lamp posts and other street furniture; some are on board drones flying in the air; some are underground at metro stations and on subway trains. Invisible is the surveillance of telephone calls and messages; social media; and internet communication.
On the hardware and software, the equivalent of about a billion US dollars has been spent every year for the past five years by the Moscow government’s Department of Information Technology. That doesn’t count parallel spending by the municipal and federal agencies in charge of physical and financial security and public health, and by commercial organisations engaged in transportation, marketing, telecommunications, and banking.
The introduction of the corona virus quarantine measures has accelerated the spending — and the sensitivity of most Muscovites to their privacy, and their suspicion of government officials’ motives. There have been many press reports in the city detailing the extent of the visual, audio, internet and other surveillance measures which have been installed or are planned. Opposition is growing – and if expressed in public gatherings, carefully recorded. So this month an application was filed by two Moscow political activists to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). They are asking for a ruling that the city’s facial recognition measures when used by police to monitor public meetings and demonstrations are an unlawful infringement of individual human rights under the European Convention.
“We’ve been sold out already,” headlined Tsargrad.tv. last week. “The electronic concentration camp is in action.”
Most Russians don’t agree. In the first national opinion poll carried out in mid-April, 75% of the population countrywide said they support the measures taken by their regional or city governments; 13% were opposed; 12% declined to answer. The residents of Moscow and St. Petersburg were almost as compliant and supportive – 73%. Also, more of them are opposed – 19%. In late May a second poll showed that among Muscovites, 57% approved; 39% disapproved.
There’s an invariable rule of politics the world over.
“It was worthwhile making sure of your potential friends,” the English novelist C.P. Snow put into the mouth of a rising cabinet minister in London a half-century ago. “As a rule you couldn’t win over your enemies, but you could lose your friends.”
In his career, President Vladimir Putin has accepted and followed only half that rule: he always keeps his friends — the Russian ones. Unfortunately, neither Putin nor his friends have understood the other half. That can be judged an improvement, nationally and historically speaking.
Lenin and Stalin understood they couldn’t win over their enemies; they also shared an ideology explaining why such conflict was unceasing, permanent. Since Lenin and Stalin had few friends and ended up treating them like enemies, the second half of the rule didn’t apply. Mikhail Gorbachev got both parts of the rule wrong. For different reasons so did Boris Yeltsin. Their mistakes have cost Russia and the Russians mightily, especially those who thought the ideology of permanent conflict wasn’t true.
The same mistake might have happened to Putin if not for Russian soldiers whose ideology and whose job it is to do nothing but fight enemies. So, nationally speaking, Russians are today as good or better at fighting enemies as ever they have been. Between the Russian military and Russia’s enemies, Putin and his friends have been taught there is no winning by negotiation or persuasion, only by force. It’s less certain Putin’s friends are convinced this is so, especially towards the US and the UK, where the friends have sent their money and their children.
But those Russians have failed to win over the Americans and British. They have nothing to show for the process except for the inflated bills they have paid; a handful of foreign friends they have betrayed; and the limitless contempt of their enemies for having made the effort in the first place. Since the civil war started in the Ukraine in 2014 and sanctions followed, their bank accounts are today unprotected from freeze and unexplained wealth orders.
This is by way of reflection on two attempts this past week of Russian state spokesmen to defend Russia against its enemies by persuasion, not by force. The two are Maria Zakharova, spokesman of the Russian Foreign Ministry, and Kirill Dmitriev, chairman of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), the state sovereign wealth fund. They failed with the enemies; this is to be expected and unremarkable. But what friends they thought they were addressing and how they lost them – that’s the breaking news.
It’s an old tsarist ploy. When government officials grow fearful of public protests, attacks on the authorities, and rioting, they increase the volume of alcohol for sale but decrease the number of places where drinkers can gather in public.
Vodka is the opium of the people: this has been the Russian adaptation of Karl Marx’s observation about religion; that was in 1843, long before Marx got acquainted with how things worked in Russia. The way things now work, starting in St Petersburg this month, the opium of the people is banned by a new law from being sold in establishments of less than 50 square metres in floor space; the legal space is even smaller in other regions. This control measure may suit police and priests. But the real benefit will be earned by the large retailers of take-away alcohol, and the large bar and restaurant chains.
“This law will have low influence on the amount of alcohol sales in St. Petersburg, because alcohol sold in bars is only 5% of the total sold,” observes Vadim Drobiz, director of the Centre for Federal and Regional Alcohol Markets (TsIFRRA). “But it will have a great influence on the culture of drinking. In Europe, the US and other Western countries, pubs and bars are usually places for meetings of friends, and the bar culture has a unique history. That’s why the [corona virus] pandemic is a big blow for them there. In Russia the number of pubs and bars is five times less than abroad. But instead of increasing the number of such places, St. Petersburg is now aiming to decrease it. That’s some kind of retrogression.”
“The United Russia party in St. Petersburg insists on the new restrictions in order to increase public order. But if people aren’t drinking in pubs, they will move to homes, yards, parks, so the situation with public order will become even worse. The police didn’t want to control the situation with pubs. Now they’ll have to control it in other places, and it will be more difficult.
Who will profit? “Large business,” responds Drobiz, “especially the retailers who focus on alcohol, and the big bars. St. Petersburg won’t lose much in tax income, because the consumers will shift to other sources of alcohol, but lots of small and medium businesses will be closed.”
Kirill Maistrov, who owns and runs the Docker Pub in St. Petersburg, says: “Everyone is trying to make money out of the pandemic before the controls are lifted. This is nothing more than a market-share grab by the big retailers.”
“The immediate priority is to prevent the quick spread of this disease”, President Vladimir Putin (lead image, top left) declared in his state speech on the corona virus last week.
This is the point on which there is no disagreement, not now at least. But how restrictive for the economy the anti-contagion measures should be, and at what cost compared to the cost of the virus impact on life and death, is a point of considerable debate, inside Russia as everywhere else. That is the point which Putin avoided. He is not alone among the heads of state or government in the rest of the world. What is the difference then between Putin and all of them?
Two weeks is not
a long time in Russian politics. But it’s just enough for Kremlin deputy staff
chief Sergei Kirienko to send the instruction to the Central Election
Commission head Ella Pamfilova (lead image) that any turnout, big or small, for
the national vote on constitutional amendments will be enough. The 50% turnout required for the validation
of the constitutional referendum in December 1993 has been abandoned.
Pamfilova announced in Moscow yesterday: “The individual who considers himself an active citizen, the one who believes that his opinion can and should influence certain decisions, takes part. Knowing our realities, the obligation to vote [Обязаловка] always gives the opposite result.” This is the strongest indication yet that the Kremlin is afraid that the national turnout for the vote, now confirmed for April 22, will be less than 50%.
Despite an order from
President Vladimir Putin to arrange a nationwide vote on his proposed
amendments to the Russian Constitution, the Central Election Commission and its
director Ella Pamfilova are unable to confirm the contents of the ballot paper,
the counting rule for voter approval or disapproval, the threshold of voter
turnout for the vote to be valid, or even the date of the vote itself.
“This is a true plebiscite”, Putin told a meeting of the Kremlin-appointed working group on the constitutional amendments last week. “Citizens of the Russian Federation should record their authorship of the law. It will be as the people say. If the people reaffirm during the vote that they support the law, it will enter in force and amendments will be made to the Constitution. If they do not confirm their support for the law, there will be no amendments to the Constitution.”
A press release, issued the next day by the Commission, claimed that “on February 14, 2020, President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin signed an order to prepare for the all-Russian vote on the approval of changes to the Constitution of the Russian Federation”. The text of the three-page order combines the obvious with the superfluous; it omits the important altogether.
Paragraph 1 says: “State
authorities, local self-government bodies, and other state bodies and
organizations should prepare for the all-Russian vote on approving amendments
to the Constitution”. Nowhere in the six
paragraphs which follow does the President make clear what an “all-Russian
vote” shall be or do. Para.2 says the CEC
should be in charge of “introduction, operation and development of automation
tools, legal training of voters, professional training of members of election
commissions and other organizers of elections, referendums, and publication of the
necessary printed materials”. Government officials at all levels “should assist
election commissions in preparing for the all-Russian vote, as well as in
providing logistical support for its preparation”, according to Para. 3. The
remaining paragraphs set out how state budget money should be transferred,
banked, and disbursed for the CEC’s expenses.
When officials were asked to clarify the rules of the “all-Russian vote” for valid turnout, voter approval or disapproval, and the law regulating this “all-Russian vote”, as distinct from a constitutional referendum, spokesmen for Pamfilova at the CEC and for Sergei Kirienko, the deputy chief of the president’s staff in charge of the vote, refused to say. “We will answer when we are ready,” a CEC official said. Her telephone is no longer being answered. The Commission is unready because Kirienko has been unable to finalize Kremlin agreement on the instructions. In the meantime, the Kremlin has also ordered the State Duma to delay its second-reading debate on the proposed constitutional amendment law for another month. In his February 14 order Putin omitted fixing the date of the national vote for April 22, which had been reported days earlier. That day, the Kremlin did not realize, is the 150th anniversary of Vladimir Lenin’s birth.
Mishustin, the prime minister appointed by President Vladimir Putin on the
evening of January 15, would be disqualified from holding office when the new eligibility
rule which Putin proposed earlier that day becomes law. This is because
Mishustin’s mother is reported to be of Armenian nationality, and under
Armenian law that automatically entitles Mishustin to “live permanently in a
“State service is to serve the people,” Putin announced in his Federal Assembly speech, launching a set of constitutional proposals now moving to enactment in the State Duma. “Those who enter this path must know that by doing this they inseparably connect their lives with Russia and the Russian people without any assumptions and allowances. I suggest formalising at the constitutional level the obligatory requirements for those who hold positions of critical significance for national security and sovereignty. More precisely, the heads of the constituent entities, members of the Federation Council, State Duma deputies, the prime minister and his/her deputies, federal ministers, heads of federal agencies and judges should have no foreign citizenship or residence permit or any other document that allows them to live permanently in a foreign state.”
To address widespread reporting of Mishustin’s Armenian connection in the Russian and Armenian press, Mishustin’s spokesman at the Prime Ministry was asked: “What response does the Prime Minister make to press reporting that his mother was of Armenian nationality? What is the maiden name of the Prime Minister’s mother?” The spokesman did not respond on the telephone, and asked for an email. Mishustin refuses to answer.
The first independent national opinion poll to measure Russian interpretations of President Vladimir Putin’s proposals for changing the Constitution has been reported by the Levada Centre in Moscow. The results show a sharp decline in Russian confidence that the Constitution protects their rights and freedoms. On the meaning of Putin’s proposals for the division of power between executive and legislature, the country is split down the middle. Half believe the proposals are a sincere reform; half believe they are a cynical power grab. This has not yet produced a measurable change, up or down, in the national approval rating for the President. That was reported last week by Levada at 68%. The polling was done in mid-December.
Sergei Frank (lead image, right) is being removed from control of Sovcomflot, the Russian state tanker company and one of the largest oil and gas transporters in the world. Frank is the only senior Russian state official to have been judged by the British courts to be dishonest and vindictive in litigation; to have perjured himself in courtroom testimony; and to have obstructed justice by a scheme of evidence fabrication against former Sovcomflot executives and partners.
Frank’s removal has yet to be confirmed officially; Sovcomflot is making no comments. The chief executive who has dominated the company for almost fifteen years appeared to be fully in charge at the July 24 board meeting. (more…)
To introduce himself to the international financial markets, ahead of his arrival in Osaka for the G20 summit meetings, President Vladimir Putin has given an interview to the Financial Times, a Japan-owned, England-based newspaper. The publication has headlined its report: “Vladimir Putin has trumpeted the growth of national populist movements in Europe and America, crowing that liberalism is spent as an ideological force.” Putin’s remarks, according to the newspaper, are fresh evidence of Russian interference in the elections of the US and Europe… As the de facto ruler of Russia for almost two decades, Mr Putin, 66, has been regularly accused of covertly supporting populist movements through financial aid and social media, notably in the 2016 US presidential election, the Brexit referendum and the recent European Parliament elections.”
The full transcript, published overnight by the Kremlin, is a more accurate reflection of Putin’s views. Read the excerpts which the FT hasn’t found fit to quote. (more…)
Following police raids last week on a reporter for the Murdoch press in Canberra and the Sydney office of the state Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), journalists in Australia have appealed for international solidarity on press freedom — a cause which they themselves have failed to defend when others were under the gun. Do they deserve it? (more…)
Mikhail Abyzov (lead image from 2014) was arrested yesterday on charges of embezzlement and fraud, and is in prison on remand. The case against Abyzov for theft of Rb4 billion ($62 million) from regional electricity companies is the most significant criminal case against a Russian figure so far this year. This is because Abyzov’s fate also threatens Anatoly Chubais, once the head of the state electricity utility, United Energy System (UES); and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev for whom Abyzov operated as a political financier and as Minister for Open Government.
“The President received the report [on the Abyzov case] in advance [of his arrest],”, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has announced.
Abyzov’s application for bail and the prosecutor’s motion for extension of his imprisonment will be considered in an arraignment hearing this morning in Moscow. The Bell, an offshore internet publication representing the US faction in Russian business, reports that Abyzov often travelledto Russia from one of his homes in the US and Italy, and “did not suspect” he was under investigation. The Bell is reportingtoday that several others who worked with Chubais in the privatization of UES have already fled the country. (more…)
“We have the right to expect,” Mikhail Gorbachev, then President of the Soviet Union, declared to James Baker, US Secretary of State, in Washington on February 10, 1990, “that you won’t just wait until the fruit falls into your basket”.
Baker relaxed. By “right” he knew Gorbachev was holding out a begging bowl. By “expect” Baker understood Gorbachev was crossing his fingers. By “just wait” Baker marvelled that Gorbachev appeared to be deaf to his advisors and the Soviet chief of staff, Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev. By “fruit” Gorbachev meant Russia and the Soviet Union. Of course, Baker and his colleagues and successors did more than wait, as Akhromeyev warned they would. The fruit did fall, Gorbachev first of all.
The lesson of Gorbachev’s political biography is that every Russian has the duty to expect the US Government will be doing much more than wait for Russia to fall into the American basket. Instead, to accelerate the fall and make it irreversible, the US Government wages permanent war against Russia. Failing to understand this was one of the reasons for Gorbachev’s retreat from the advance of American forces on all of Russia’s frontiers – the advance which President Vladimir Putin must defend against today.
What fresh lessons can an American historian’s study of Gorbachev add to the story which Gorbachev’s subordinates, one-time friends and former allies have already told in their own memoirs? Lessons which ordinary Russians have acknowledged for years? The lessons start with the Russian proverb President Ronald Reagan used to repeat at Gorbachev — Доверяй, но проверяй, trust but verify. This cannot be Russian policy towards the US because it’s never been American policy towards Russia. The correct expression should be: Никогда не доверяй, они мошенничают — never trust, they always cheat. (more…)
For the first time President Vladimir Putin’s annual address to the Federal Assembly has abandoned the distinction between American partners and American enemies. In this week’s speech, Putin said that in response to the threats of missile attack the US is introducing against Russia, Americans in their command centres, all of them, are now targeted directly. That’s US command-and-control centres in Europe, including Romania, Poland, Germany, Belgium, and the UK; and US command centres in the continental US. (more…)
In this week’s address to the Federal Assembly – Russia’s equivalent of the State of the Union speech to the US Congress, and the Queens’s Speech to the House of Lords – President Vladimir Putin has removed the representative of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill (Vladimir Gundyayev), from the seat and rank he has occupied for the past decade next to the Prime Minister.
The political downgrading of the Church is unprecedented. In its compilation of the official photographs of the Assembly on February 20, the Kremlin website displays no picture of Kirill at all, nor of any other representative of a religious organization. (more…)
In the programme for the special form of Russian governance which Vladislav Surkov (lead image, right*) calls Putinism for the next hundred years, there is no power-sharing with businessmen (oligarchs or merchants), social classes, intelligentsia, the Russian Orthodox Church, political parties, parliaments, the Constitution or the civil and criminal courts. Rule will be by the military, the security services, and the state corporations advising the supreme leader. He in turn will be trusted by Russian people to convey their wishes, settle disputes, balance rights from wrongs, and check the state from corruption. Mostly, he will be trusted to listen.
To those whom Surkov, a Kremlin adviser since 1999, removes from power, in order to make Russia combat-ready against the US and the NATO alliance, this is a revolutionary manifesto. (more…)
The Routledge Handbook of Russian Foreign Policy is a 450-page compendium by academics who earn modest livings in think-tanks at places in North America or Europe like Louisville, Hamburg, San Francisco, Rhode Island, Edinburgh, West Virginia, South Carolina, Southern California, Newcastle, Uppsala, Tartu, and Helsinki. In the book Russian academics in Russia are outnumbered by the westerners by 26 to 8; all are on small state-paid livings led by Andrei Sushenkov, programme director at the Valdai Discussion Club. That 14-year old think-tank is financed by the Kremlin information chief Alexander Gromov and the president’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
The handbook proprietor, once a well-known 19th century London publisher, is now the US conglomerate Informa. It operates on the principle of Gresham’s Law – the more information you produce for sale, the less likelihood you will be outsold by the truth. The Valdai Discussion Club and other think-tank creations in Moscow have been described by President Vladimir Putin as a “propaganda machine” to compete with their Anglo-American counterparts. To a Kremlin sponsored journalist, their output is “political marijuana smoke.”
The handbook writers must be approaching retirement because they dedicate their work “to the younger generation of scholars of Russian foreign policy”. The book begins: “The importance of studying Russian foreign policy (RFP) today is as great as ever.” By page 450 this is neither more obvious, nor less. (more…)
The State Duma voted on Tuesday to approve the nomination of Alexei Kudrin as Chairman of the Accounting Chamber, the state auditor and budget watchdog. The vote was 264 in favour; 86 opposed. No presidential nominee for the post has been elected over so much parliamentary opposition.
Forty-three deputies voted against Kudrin, all members of the Communist Party. Forty-three cast abstentions, including the 40 members of Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s party. Despite Kremlin efforts to whip the 339-member United Russia block to vote in Kudrin’s favour, one in five refused to go along, and stayed out of the chamber at the roll-call*.
Although Kudrin had President Vladimir Putin’s nomination and the endorsement of United Russia, the government’s party in the Duma, Kudrin gave a speech to the deputies ahead of the balloting in which he repudiated the pro-American, anti-military policies he has been advocating for years. Kudrin’s reversal reveals the degree to which the balance of power in Russian politics has changed decisively against the party of capitulation, and in favour of the Stavka, the combined forces of the Defence Ministry, General Staff, the intelligence services, and the military-industrial complex. (more…)
The longer the delay in the official announcement of who is to be the new Russian Defence Minister, the plainer it is that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev wants to oust Sergei Shoigu from the job because he is a rival presidential succession candidate; and because President Vladimir Putin is afraid of the Stavka, the combined forces of the Defence Ministry, General Staff, the intelligence services, and the military-industrial complex, if by dismissing Shoigu Putin is seen to be capitulating to the enemy on each of Russia’s war fronts. (more…)
Since the Middle Ages, so for almost a thousand years, the hat which symbolized European learning was the mortar board. It originally meant the wearer had graduated with a university degree. It also symbolized that he had more degrees and more learning still to earn. It was a symbol of the superiority of the wearer’s education compared to the unlettered — and of his mediocrity among the learned.
When the Chairman of the Russian Constitutional Court, 75-year old Valery Zorkin, presided at Tuesday’s investiture of President Vladimir Putin for his fourth term, Zorkin was wearing a mortar board — a hat not known before in Russian court tradition. The other court judges in the audience also wore them.
The Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff, were in their ceremonial uniforms, but hatless. The Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, wore a double-breasted suit with double vents. Unprecedented for him, but hatless. The only other hatted official at the ceremony was Patriarch Kirill. Without mortar boards, if they think they have more to learn about governing Russia, they are keeping it to themselves. (more…)
President Vladimir Putin is considering whether to appoint a vice president for negotiating an end to sanctions with the US and the European Union (EU), and an about-turn in Russia’s foreign and defence policy.
In the scheme proposed by former finance minister Alexei Kudrin (lead image, centre), the job would hold more power than the prime minister, allowing Dmitry Medvedev to remain in his place, but subordinate him to the new man. Kudrin’s idea is that he would become this de facto vice president; the dominant policymaker of the government after Putin; and his likely successor.
Vice president is the term being used among Kremlin officials and advisors. Not since the constitutional crisis of 1993, when Vice President Alexander Rutskoi led the Russian parliament in rebellion against President Boris Yelstin, has the position of vice president existed in Russia, with the power to succeed or replace the incumbent president. It is an arrangement for which Kudrin claims to have the backing of the US and the EU. Kudrin would also draw on the support of the Russian oligarchs, inside and outside the country.
The Kudrin scheme is being opposed as capitulation by the leadership of Russia’s defence, military and security forces. The Defence Minister, Sergei Shoigu, the chief of the General Staff, General Valery Gerasimov, the deputy prime minister in charge of the military-industrial complex, Dmitry Rogozin, and other senior officials have been trying to persuade Putin to appoint a new prime minister to fight the military, economic and information war which they believe the US intends to wage against Russia until the Kremlin accepts the West’s terms. For the story of their Stavka, read this.
These officials are fiercely opposed to Kudrin, and to his attempt to make an alliance with Medvedev to claim the legal succession to Putin, should Putin agree to relinquish the powers and policies against which the NATO powers have planned regime change.
Igor Sechin, the chief executive of Rosneft and a presidential succession contender himself, is not in the running for the so-called vice presidency. Sources close to him say he is opposed to the ambitions of Kudrin and Medvedev but he is biding his time. As deputy chief of the Kremlin staff when Putin was president between 2000 and 2008, Sechin was the de facto vice president for domestic policy, and dwarfed Medvedev. (more…)
There are many Russian reasons why no Russian, man or woman, has trusted Oleg Deripaska (lead picture, on the wall), control shareholder and chief executive of the state aluminium monopoly Rusal (Russian Aluminium), for more than a few months at a time. The reasons have varied from business to business, contract to contract, individual to individual. But now that the US Treasury has put Deripaska and Rusal out of business, one week before the Russian General Staff demonstrated that it can put the air forces of the US out of the attack business, the plan for the future of Rusal is simple.
There are six points under discussion in the Kremlin. President Vladimir Putin must decide and announce his running orders; appoint a Russian military officer with at least one tour under fire in Syria to implement the orders; and retire Deripaska from command of anything of state importance.
December approaches, opening the last stretch of the presidential election campaign that concludes in sixteen weeks’ time, on March 18.
What to watch for as President Vladimir Putin holds his December meetings with the oligarchs who rule Russia’s future, and the voters who will be the victims of it? As the Russian Orthodox Church has warned, beware the ruler who is pragmatic, and the 16th century Italian, Niccolo Machiavelli – Satan’s finger, according to holy sermons — who teaches rulers not simply to lower moral standards, but to abolish them entirely.
Not for the Church can the presidential election be a Machiavellian choice between greater and lesser evils, between means justifying ends, between material prosperity and spiritual poverty. “The devil is not a fairy tale,” a recent Church homily argued, “he is a brilliant strategist and psychologist, and he is supremely real. The arguments of Machiavelli [are] his most successful deception to date… Machiavelli was the inventor of hypocrisy, since he was the inventor of propaganda. He was the first philosopher who wanted to change the world by propaganda.”
Propaganda cannot be the method, the Russian Church preaches; nor hypocrisy the presidential election outcome. However, between propaganda and hypocrisy, that’s what half the Russian electorate thinks is the choice. According to the Levada Centre poll released this week, 42% of voters say the election outcome will make no difference to their lives; 45% believe it might; 13% are uncertain and so distrustful of the pollster they won’t say anything.
So how close, or how far from Machiavelli’s model ruler, is Putin the frontrunner, and what does the president himself think of Machiavelli? (more…)
In a ruling of Russia’s Constitutional Court, issued on July 18, fifteen out of sixteen judges ruled that a state of lawlessness now prevails in the country, in which the constitutional rights of citizens to have courts adjudicate government decisions, with evidence and reasoning, have been abolished.
The court ruling came in the dismissal of an appeal by 20 members of the St. Petersburg legislative assembly and citizen organizations against the transfer of St. Isaac’s Cathedral from state property to the Russian Orthodox Church. Led by the court chairman Judge Valery Zorkin, the court has ruled “the complaint does not meet the acceptance criteria applicable to such appeals to the Constitutional Court”. There was no elaboration of the criteria or legal reasoning.
Just one judge dissented. In a lengthy opinion, Judge Yury Danilov called the actions of the Church, the city government, and district courts in St. Petersburg unconstitutional and unlawful because they failed to produce and review evidence of how the cathedral transfer had been decided. Danilov also attacked Zorkin and the other judges for violating the court’s own statutory rules because he said they had considered no evidence; evaluated no legal arguments; and given no reasons for their decision. The lower courts had acted prejudicially, Danilov wrote. The majority of the Constitutional Court had acted “prematurely”.
The ruling by Russia’s highest court cannot be appealed. It follows by six months the disclosure by President Vladimir Putin that he operates a special telephone line to Zorkin in which the court’s opinions are discussed in advance. According to Putin: “As Mr Zorkin can tell you… I call him maybe not every day but fairly often to ask what he thinks about some regulation that is going to be adopted by legislators or the Government.”
This week, a Kremlin spokesman was asked to say if the president had spoken to Zorkin about the St. Isaac’s Cathedral case. The spokesman replied he has “no information about that.”
Zorkin met Putin on December 16, and then again on March 14. Zorkin’s spokesman at the court, Marina Mavrina, refuses to say if the two of them have discussed the St. Isaacs case. (more…)
Mystery moves in a godly way, wonders to perform. Even on state television, in Russia’s secular democracy.
President Vladimir Putin (lead image, right) was taken by surprise, he said yesterday, by the first question ever asked during his annual Direct Line national broadcast about the affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church and Patriarch Kirill (left). Ivan Bratsev, identifying himself as a worker at the state-owned Baltic Shipyard in St. Petersburg, asked Putin about the future of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the 180-year old city landmark.
There is no mystery about that because the transfer, demanded by the patriarch, of the cathedral from state control to the Russian Orthodox Church has been bitterly protested in the city for months, and reported widely in the national media. The wonder was performed by Putin in his answer. (more…)
How to rule a country which is a target of war by the mad figurehead of a military junta in another country?
This is not a historical question about Joseph Stalin’s options in August 1939, before he and Adolph Hitler decided on the time-buying ruse known as the German–Soviet Non-aggression Pact. Nor is this a current question about Bashar al-Assad and Syria, nor about Kim Jong-un and North Korea.
It’s the question President Vladimir Putin is obliged to ask about Russia’s options facing a US regime in which, as the Kremlin now acknowledges, a military junta has installed itself behind President Donald Trump. “We have seen this all before”, Putin declared yesterday. (more…)
Paying bribes to your enemies to switch sides and become your friends is as old as monkeys and men (and women). As gang and warfighting strategies have evolved, corruption with money was always to be preferred to force with arms because corruption is much cheaper, and the results more predictable, at least in the short run.
A new book on corruption in the former Soviet states of Central Asia provides a handy reckoner of the colossal sums of money which have been exchanged to sustain the ruling regimes, or to change them. Alexander Cooley’s and John Heathershaw’s “Dictators Without Borders, Power and Money in Central Asia”, just published by Yale University Press, is also an encyclopedia of palaces owned in the UK, France and the US by the rulers of the Central Asian states and their hangers-on; the names and fates of the principal opposition leaders in exile from those states; a dossier of renditions, arrests, and assassinations carried out by the Uzbek and Tajik security services abroad; and case studies of the billion-dollar larcenies of the Kazakh and Kyrgyz bankers, Mukhtar Ablyazov and Maxim Bakiyev; of the Uzbek heiress Gulnara Karimova; and of the Tajikistan Aluminium Company (Talco) controlled by the Tajik President Emomali Rahmon.
The new book is also a valuable balancer on the side of independent research and antidote for the propaganda to be found from US and UK Government-funded think-tanks such as the Carnegie Endowment, Brookings Institution, Freedom House, and Chatham House. (more…)
The Russian economic recovery went sharply into reverse in February, according to the latest report from Rosstat, the federal state statistics service. But voter approval for President Vladimir Putin remains super-stable at a level unknown in Europe or the rest the world.
So if you are bent on fighting Russia, as the generals now in charge of US policy in Washington say and do, what opportunity is there for toppling Putin before the presidential election due in March 2018? One veteran of high-level Russian policy in Europe predicts: “The trouble for Putin will come when the World Cup starts in June of next year. But that’s after he is elected in March. Noone realizes, not yet, how much trouble the football competition will cause, with thousands of visa-free foreign agitators in the country calling themselves fans, and half a billion people watching on TV.” (more…)
The Polish government in Warsaw, facing re-election in less than a year, wants all the credit from Washington for their joint operation to sabotage the Nord Stream gas pipelines on the Baltic seabed.
It also wants to intimidate the German chancellor in Berlin, and deter both American and German officials from plotting a takeover by the Polish opposition party, Civic Platform, next year.
Blaming the Russians for the attack is their cover story. Attacking anyone who doesn’t believe it, including Poles and Germans, Warsaw officials and their supporting media claim they are dupes or agents of Russian disinformation.
Their rivals, Civic Platform (PO) politicians trailing the PiS in the polls by seven percentage points, want Polish voters to think that no credit for the Nord Stream attack should be earned by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party. They also want to divert the Russian counter-attack from Warsaw to Washington.
“Thank you USA” was the first Polish political declaration tweeted hours after the blasts by Radoslaw Sikorski (lead image, left), the PO’s former defence and foreign minister, now a European Parliament deputy. In support and justification, his old friend and PO ministerial colleague, Roman Giertych, warned Sikorski’s critics: “Would you nutters prefer that the Russians find us guilty?”
The military operation on Monday night which fired munitions to blow holes in the Nord Stream I and Nord Stream II pipelines on the Baltic Sea floor, near Bornholm Island, was executed by the Polish Navy and special forces.
It was aided by the Danish and Swedish military; planned and coordinated with US intelligence and technical support; and approved by the Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.
The operation is a repeat of the Bornholm Bash operation of April 2021, which attempted to sabotage Russian vessels laying the gas pipes, but ended in ignominious retreat by the Polish forces. That was a direct attack on Russia. This time the attack is targeting the Germans, especially the business and union lobby and the East German voters, with a scheme to blame Moscow for the troubles they already have — and their troubles to come with winter.
Morawiecki is bluffing. “It is a very strange coincidence,” he has announced, “that on the same day that the Baltic Gas Pipeline opens, someone is most likely committing an act of sabotage. This shows what means the Russians can resort to in order to destabilize Europe. They are to blame for the very high gas prices”. The truth bubbling up from the seabed at Bornholm is the opposite of what Morawiecki says.
But the political value to Morawiecki, already running for the Polish election in eleven months’ time, is his government’s claim to have solved all of Poland’s needs for gas and electricity through the winter — when he knows that won’t come true.
Inaugurating the 21-year old Baltic Pipe project from the Norwegian and Danish gas networks, Morawiecki announced: “This gas pipeline is the end of the era of dependence on Russian gas. It is also a gas pipeline of security, sovereignty and freedom not only for Polish, but in the future, also for others…[Opposition Civic Platform leader Donald] Tusk’s government preferred Russian gas. They wanted to conclude a deal with the Russians even by 2045…thanks to the Baltic Pipe, extraction from Polish deposits, LNG supply from the USA and Qatar, as well as interconnection with its neighbours, Poland is now secured in terms of gas supplies.”
Civic Platform’s former defence and foreign minister Radek Sikorski also celebrated the Bornholm Blow-up. “As we say in Polish, a small thing, but so much joy”. “Thank you USA,” Sikorski added, diverting the credit for the operation, away from domestic rival Morawiecki to President Joseph Biden; he had publicly threatened to sabotage the line in February. Biden’s ambassador in Warsaw is also backing Sikorski’s Civic Platform party to replace Morawiecki next year.
The attack not only escalates the Polish election campaign. It also continues the Morawiecki government’s plan to attack Germany, first by reviving the reparations claim for the invasion and occupation of 1939-45; and second, by targeting alleged German complicity, corruption, and appeasement in the Russian scheme to rule Europe at Poland’s expense. .
“The appeasement policy towards Putin”, announced PISM, the official government think tank in Warsaw in June, “is part of an American attempt to free itself from its obligations of maintaining peace in Europe. The bargain is that Americans will allow Putin to finish building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in exchange for Putin’s commitment not use it to blackmail Eastern Europe. Sounds convincing? Sounds like something you heard before? It’s not without reason that Winston Churchill commented on the American decision-making process: ‘Americans can always be trusted to do the right thing, once all other possibilities have been exhausted.’ However, by pursuing such a policy now, the Biden administration takes even more responsibility for the security of Europe, including Ukraine, which is the stake for subsequent American mistakes.”
“Where does this place Poland? Almost 18 years ago the Federal Republic of Germany, our European ally, decided to prioritize its own business interests with Putin’s Russia over solidarity and cooperation with allies in Central Europe. It was a wrong decision to make and all Polish governments – regardless of political differences – communicated this clearly and forcefully to Berlin. But since Putin succeeded in corrupting the German elite and already decided to pay the price of infamy, ignoring the Polish objections was the only strategy Germany was left with.”
The explosions at Bornholm are the new Polish strike for war in Europe against Chancellor Olaf Scholz. So far the Chancellery in Berlin is silent, tellingly.
The only Russian leader in a thousand years who was a genuine gardener and who allowed himself to be recorded with a shovel in his hand was Joseph Stalin (lead image, mid-1930s). Compared to Stalin, the honouring of the new British king Charles III as a gardener pales into imitativeness and pretension.
Stalin cultivated lemon trees and flowering mimosas at his Gagra dacha by the Black Sea in Abkhazia. Growing mimosas (acacias) is tricky. No plantsman serving the monarchs in London or at Versailles has made a go of it in four hundred years. Even in the most favourable climates, mimosas – there are almost six hundred varieties of them — are short-lived. They can revive after bushfires; they can go into sudden death for no apparent reason. Russians know nothing of this – they love them for their blossom and scent, and give bouquets of them to celebrate the arrival of spring.
Stalin didn’t attempt the near-impossible, to grow lemons and other fruit in the Moscow climate. That was the sort of thing which the Kremlin noblemen did to impress the tsar and compete in conspicuous affluence with each other. At Kuskovo, now in the eastern district of Moscow, Count Pyotr Sheremetyev built a heated orangerie between 1761 and 1762, where he protected his lemons, pomegranates, peaches, olives, and almonds, baskets of which he would present in mid-winter to the Empress Catherine the Great and many others. The spade work was done by serfs. Sheremetyev beat the French king Louis XIV to the punch – his first orangerie at Versailles wasn’t built until 1763.
Stalin also had a dacha at Kuskovo But he cultivated his lemons and mimosas seventeen hundred kilometres to the south where they reminded him of home in Georgia. Doing his own spade work wasn’t Stalin showing off, as Charles III does in his gardens, like Louis XIV before him. Stalin’s spade work was what he had done in his youth. It also illustrated his message – “I’m showing you how to work”, he would tell visitors surprised to see him with the shovel. As to his mimosas, Stalin’s Abkhazian confidante, Akaki Mgeladze, claimed in his memoirs that Stalin intended them as another lesson. “How Muscovites love mimosas, they stand in queues for them” he reportedly told him. “Think how to grow more to make the Muscovites happy!”
In the new war with the US and its allies in Europe, Stalin’s lessons of the shovel and the mimosas are being re-learned in conditions which Stalin never knew – how to fight the war for survival and at the same time keep everyone happy with flowers on the dining table.
Agatha Christie’s whodunit entitled And Then There Were None – the concluding words of the children’s counting rhyme — is reputed to be the world’s best-selling mystery story.
There’s no mystery now about the war of Europe and North America against Russia; it is the continuation of Germany’s war of 1939-45 and the war aims of the General Staff in Washington since 1943. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (left) and President Vladimir Putin (right) both said it plainly enough this week.
There is also no mystery in the decision-making in Moscow of the President and the Defense Minister, the General Staff, and the others; it is the continuation of the Stavka of 1941-45.
Just because there is no mystery about this, it doesn’t follow that it should be reported publicly, debated in the State Duma, speculated and advertised by bloggers, podcasters, and twitterers. In war what should not be said cannot be said. When the war ends, then there will be none.
Alas and alack for the Berlin Blockade of 1948-49 (Berliner Luftbrücke): those were the days when the Germans waved their salutes against the unification of Germany demilitarised and denazified; and cheered instead for their alliance with the US and British armies to fight another seventy years of war in order to achieve what they and Adolf Hitler hadn’t managed, but which they now hope to achieve under Olaf Scholtz — the defeat of the Russian Army and the destruction of Russia.
How little the Germans have changed.
But alas and alack — the Blockade now is the one they and the NATO armies aim to enforce against Russia. “We are drawing up a new National Security Strategy,” according to Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock. “We are taking even the most severe scenarios seriously.” By severe Baerbock means nuclear. The new German generation — she has also declared “now these grandparents, mothers, fathers and their children sit at the kitchen table and discuss rearmament.”
So, for Russia to survive the continuation of this war, the Germans and their army must be fought and defeated again. That’s the toast of Russian people as they salute the intrepid flyers who are beating the Moscow Blockade.
Last week the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) board of governors voted to go to war with Russia by a vote of 26 member countries against 9.
China, Vietnam, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Senegal and South Africa voted against war with Russia.
The IAEA Secretary-General Rafael Grossi (lead image, left) has refused to tell the press whether a simple majority of votes (18) or a super-majority of two-thirds (23) was required by the agency charter for the vote; he also wouldn’t say which countries voted for or against. The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres then covered up for what had happened by telling the press: “I believe that [IAEA’s] independence that exists and must be preserved is essential. The IAEA cannot be the instrument of parties against other parties.” The IAEA vote for war made a liar of Guterres.
In the IAEA’s 65-year history, Resolution Number 58, the war vote of September 15, 2022, is the first time the agency has taken one side in a war between member countries when nuclear reactors have either been attacked or threatened with attack. It is also the first time the IAEA has attacked one of its member states, Russia, when its military were attempting to protect and secure a nuclear reactor from attack by another member state, the Ukraine, and its war allies, the US, NATO and the European Union states. The vote followed the first-ever IAEA inspection of a nuclear reactor while it was under active artillery fire and troop assault.
There is a first time for everything but this is the end of the IAEA. On to the scrap heap of good intentions and international treaties, the IAEA is following the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and the UN Secretary-General himself. Listen to this discussion of the past history when the IAEA responded quite differently following the Iranian and Israeli air-bombing attacks on the Iraqi nuclear reactor known as Osirak, and later, the attacks on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons sites.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) decided this week to take the side of Ukraine in the current war; blame Russia for the shelling of the Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP); and issue a demand for Russia to surrender the plant to the Kiev regime “to regain full control over all nuclear facilities within Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders, including the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant.”
This is the most dramatic shift by the United Nations (UN) nuclear power regulator in the 65-year history of the organisation based in Vienna.
The terms of the IAEA Resolution Number 58, which were proposed early this week by the Polish and Canadian governors on the agency board, were known in advance by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres when he spoke by telephone with President Vladimir Putin in the late afternoon of September 14, before the vote was taken. Guterres did not reveal what he already knew would be the IAEA action the next day.
Never mind that King Solomon said proverbially three thousand years ago, “a merry heart doeth good like a medicine.”
With seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, Solomon realized he was the inventor of the situation comedy. If not for the sitcom as his medicine, the bodily and psychological stress Old Solly had to endure in the bedroom would have killed him long before he made it to his death bed at eighty years of age, after ruling his kingdom for forty of them.
After the British sitcom died in the 1990s, the subsequent stress has not only killed very large numbers of ordinary people. It has culminated today in a system of rule according to which a comic king in Buckingham Palace must now manage the first prime minister in Westminster history to be her own joke.
Even the Norwegians, the unfunniest people in Europe, have acknowledged that the only way to attract the British as tourists, was to pay John Cleese of Monty Python and Fawlty Towers to make them laugh at Norway itself. This has been a bigger success for the locals than for the visitors, boosting the fjord boatman’s life expectancy several years ahead of the British tourist’s.
In fact, Norwegian scientists studying a sample of 54,000 of their countrymen have proved that spending the state budget on public health and social welfare will only work effectively if the population is laughing all the way to the grave. “The cognitive component of the sense of humour is positively associated with survival from mortality related to CVD [cardio-vascular disease] and infections in women and with infection-related mortality in men” – Norwegian doctors reported in 2016. Never mind the Viking English: the Norwegian point is the same as Solomon’s that “a sense of humour is a health-protecting cognitive coping resource” – especially if you’ve got cancer.
The Russians understand this better than the Norwegians or the British. Laughter is an antidote to the war propaganda coming from abroad, as Lexus and Vovan have been demonstrating. The Russian sitcom is also surviving in its classic form to match the best of the British sitcoms, all now dead – Fawlty Towers (d. 1975), Black Adder (d. 1989), You Rang M’Lord? (d. 1988), Jeeves and Wooster (d. 1990), Oh Dr Beeching! (d.1995), and Thin BlueLine (d. 1996).
The Russian situation comedies, alive and well on TV screens and internet streaming devices across the country, are also increasingly profitable business for their production and broadcast companies – not despite the war but because of it. This has transformed the Russian media industry’s calculation of profitability by removing US and European-made films and television series, as well as advertising revenues from Nestlé, PepsiCo, Mars, and Bayer. In their place powerful Russian video-on-demand (VOD) streaming platform companies like Yandex (KinoPoisk), MTS (Kion), Mail.ru (VK), and Ivi (Leonid Boguslavsky, ProfMedia, Baring Vostok) are now intensifying the competition for audience with traditional television channels and film studios for domestic audiences. The revenue base of the VOD platforms is less vulnerable to advertisers, more dependent on telecommunications subscriptions.
Russian script writers, cameramen, actors, designers, and directors are now in shorter supply than ever before, and earning more money. “It’s the Russian New Wave,” claims Olga Filipuk, head of media content for Yandex, the powerful leader of the new film production platforms; its controlling shareholder and chief executive were sanctioned last year.
By Olga Samofalova, translated and introduced by John Helmer, Moscow @bears_with
It was the American humourist Mark Twain who didn’t die in 1897 when it was reported that he had. Twain had thirteen more lively years to go.
The death of the Russian aerospace and aviation industry in the present war is proving to be an even greater exaggeration – and the life to come will be much longer. From the Russian point of view, the death which the sanctions have inflicted is that of the US, European and British offensive against the Soviet-era industry which President Boris Yeltsin (lead image, left) and his advisers encouraged from 1991.
Since 2014, when the sanctions war began, the question of what Moscow would do when the supply of original aircraft components was first threatened, then prohibited, has been answered. The answer began at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 1947 when the first Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) or Parts Manufacturing Approval (PMA) was issued by Washington officials for aircraft parts or components meeting the airworthiness standards but manufactured by sources which were not the original suppliers.
China has been quicker to implement this practice; Chinese state and commercial enterprises have been producing PMA components for Boeing and Airbus aircraft in the Chinese airline fleets for many years. The Russian Transport Ministry has followed suit; in its certification process and airworthiness regulations it has used the abbreviation RMA, Cyrillic for PMA. This process has been accelerating as the sanctions war has escalated.
So has the Russian process of replacing foreign imports entirely.
The weakest link in the British government’s four-year long story of Russian Novichok assassination operations in the UK – prelude to the current war – is an English medical expert by the name of Guy Rutty (lead image, standing).
A government-appointed pathologist advising the Home Office, police, and county coroners, Rutty is the head of the East Midlands Forensic Pathology Unit in Leicester, he is the author of a post-mortem report, dated November 29, 2018, claiming that the only fatality in the history of the Novichok nerve agent (lead image, document), Dawn Sturgess, had died of Novichok poisoning on July 8, 2018. Rutty’s finding was added four months after initial post-mortem results and a coroner’s cremation certificate stopped short of confirming that Novichok had been the cause of her death.
Rutty’s Novichok finding was a state secret for more than two years. It was revealed publicly by the second government coroner to investigate Sturgess’s death, Dame Heather Hallett, at a public hearing in London on March 30, 2021. In written evidence it was reported that “on 17th July 2018, Professor Guy Rutty MBE, a Home Office Registered Forensic Pathologist conducted an independent post-mortem examination. He was accompanied by Dr Phillip Lumb, also an independent Home Office Registered Forensic Pathologist. Professor Rutty’s Post-Mortem Report of 29th November 2018 records the cause of death as Ia Post cardiac arrest hypoxic brain injury and intracerebral haemorrhage; Ib Novichok toxicity.”
Hallett, Rutty, Lumb, and others engaged by the government to work on the Novichok case have refused to answer questions about the post-mortem investigations which followed immediately after Sturgess’s death was reported at Salisbury District Hospital; and a cause of death report signed by the Wiltshire Country coroner David Ridley, when Sturgess’s body was released to her family for funeral and cremation on July 30, 2018.
After another three years, Ridley was replaced as coroner in the case by Hallett in March 2021. Hallett was replaced by Lord Anthony Hughes (lead image, sitting) in March 2022.
The cause-of-death documents remain state secrets. “As you have no formal role in the inquest proceedings,” Hallett’s and Rutty’s spokesman Martin Smith said on May 17, 2021, “it would not be appropriate to provide you with the information that you have requested.”
Since then official leaks have revealed that Rutty had been despatched by the Home Office in London to take charge of the Sturgess post-mortem, and Lumb ordered not to undertake an autopsy or draw conclusions on the cause of Sturgess’s death until Rutty arrived. Why? The sources are not saying whether the two forensic professors differed in their interpretation of the evidence; and if so, whether the published excerpt of Rutty’s report of Novichok poisoning is the full story.
New developments in the official investigation of Sturgess’s death, now directed by Hughes, have removed the state secrecy cover for Rutty, Lumb, and other medical specialists who attended the post-mortem on July 17, 2018. The appointment by Hughes of a London lawyer, Adam Chapman, to represent Sergei and Yulia Skripal, opens these post-mortem documents to the Skripals, along with the cremation certificate, and related hospital, ambulance and laboratory records. Chapman’s role is “appropriate” – Smith’s term – for the Skripals to cross-examine Rutty and Lumb and add independent expert evidence.
Hughes’s appointment of another lawyer, Emilie Pottle (lead image, top left), to act on behalf of the three Russian military officers accused of the Novichok attack exposes this evidence to testing at the same forensic standard. According to Hughes, it is Pottle’s “responsibility for ensuring that the inquiry takes all reasonable steps to test the evidence connecting those Russian nationals to Ms Sturgess’s death.” Pottle’s responsibility is to cross-examine Rutty and Lumb.