Posts Tagged ‘Vladimir Putin’

Vladimir Putin’s billion-dollar secret palace

January 24, 2022

Over the weekend I watched two astonishing videos produced by Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s supporters.  Here is what I learned.

Vladimir Putin has a luxurious palace on the Black Sea on a 17,000-area tract of land, which allegedly cost $1.35 billion (in 2021 dollars) to build.

Construction was financed by money siphoned from Russian state-owned enterprises.  The land is owned by Russia’s Federal Security Service, but is leased to shell companies owned by Putin cronies.

The complex includes an amphitheater, , an underground hockey rink, an oyster farm, an arboretum that employs 40 gardeners, a Greek Orthodox Church that was dismantled and moved from Greece, two helipads

Inside the palace itself are in indoor swimming pool, a theater with a stage, backstage and dressing rooms, a hookah lounge, a casino, a slot machine room and what appears to be a pole-dancing stage.

The furniture comes from exclusive Italian manufacturers.  It includes a $19,700 chest of drawers, a $17,000 bed and $10,500 chairs—also $700 toilet brushes.

I hadn’t paid much attention to Alexei Navalny in the past, but now I see him as a hero, like Vaclav Havel or Julian Assange.  The top documentary was produced while he was in a hospital in Germany, recovering from a poisoning attempt.

He decided he would only release it after he returned to Russia, because it would be dishonorable to expose his reporting team to perils he himself did not share.  He did return.  He was promptly arrested and is still in prison.  That took a lot of guts.

Navalny, Maria Perchikh, Georgy Alburov and the other members of his team are not only brave dissidents.  They are outstanding investigative reporters.

They also have excellent presentation skills.  As a rule, long videos don’t hold my attention, but I couldn’t look away from the two I have embedded.

There had been reports and rumors about Putin’s palace going back to the early 2010s, but it took Navalny and his team to nail down the facts.

Their opportunity came in August, 2020, when the builders discovered that the whole structure was riddled with leaks and mold, and had to be completely remodeled.

Somebody sent Navalny architects’ drawings of the structure.  The drawings specified the furniture in each room.

Navalny’s team obtained catalogs from the furniture suppliers and manufacturers.  These enabled them to created computer-generated images of the various rooms.  This part starts at the 59-minute mark in the top video.

They could have got things completely wrong.  But workers sent pictures of the actual interiors and, according to Pevchikh and Alburov, they were surprisingly accurate.

Their update is in the second video.  Both videos are in Russian with English subtitles. The two reporters said that when they went wrong, it was in underestimating Putin’s lavishness and bad taste.

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Afterthoughts on Putin and Russia

January 15, 2022

The fundamental fallacy which is committed by almost everyone is this: “A and B hate each other, therefore one is good and the other is bad. [==Bertrand Russell, in 1956 letter]

Vladimir Putin

I oppose the war party in the United States, I don’t consider myself pro-Putin or pro-Russia.

Vladimir Putin is the authoritarian ruler of a corrupt oligarchy.  I never denied this.

I guess I am pro-Russia in that I sympathize with the long-suffering Russian people, but I’m not an admirer of their government.

Thomas Piketty, the French economist known for his studies of inequality, wrote that the degree of economic inequality in Russia is at least as great as it is in the USA.

He wrote that half of Russia’s financial assets are in tax havens abroad. The Pandora Papers revealed that a large chunk of those assets are held by a crony of Putin’s.

Alexei Navalny

A friend of mine with contacts in Russia told me of a businessman who has to make kickbacks to three entities—the tax collector, the FSB (Russian FBI) and local organized crime.

This friend also tells me that, except for Moscow and a few other big cities, Russia is a sea of misery and discontent.

Opponents of the regime have a way of dying mysteriously or being killed by unknown persons. I wrote five years ago that Putin is a killer, and I have no reason to take this back.  Admittedly, not all cases are clear-cut, but unmistakable victims include Anna Politovskaya, Alexander Litvenenko and Boris Nemtsov.

The big human rights issue currently in Russia is the poisoning and imprisonment of anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny.   He fell sick while on an airplane flight from Siberia to Moscow in 2020.  His supporters arranged for him to be flown to Germany, where he was placed in a medically-induced coma.  Medical authorities determined that he had been poisoned.  Later, Navalny said. he tricked Russian agents into admitting they placed toxins in his underpants.

Early in 2021 Navalny flew back to Russia, where he was imprisoned on charges of parole violations.  He had been convicted of embezzlement, which his supporters say is a bogus charge.

 But now the Russian authorities have reportedly labeled him a terrorist and “extremist,” and are  going after his supporters.  Evidently the Navalny movement has them worried..

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Putin’s ultimatum and the U.S. response

January 14, 2022

Russian troops on maneuvers. Source: Reuters,

President Vladimir Putin has threatened “appropriate retaliatory military-technical measures” if the USA does offer written guarantees of no military activities in Eastern Europe, no NATO membership for any post-Soviet country and no new military bases on the territory of former Soviet states.

This is what President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker promised President Mikhail Gorbachev in return for allowing reunification of Germany and withdrawing Soviet troops from Eastern Europe.

Subsequent U.S. presidents said this was just an informal verbal agreement and not binding. Russia had to submit because it was weak. Since then Russia has become powerful and is in a position to demand that the former promise can be kept. And this time put it in writing!

For Russia, this is a matter of national security.  For the USA, it is not.  For us Americans, it is a question of avoiding humiliation, not a question of survival.

Russia does not now threaten the U.S. homeland. But this could change.

Russia has not ruled out putting troops and missiles into Cuba and Venezuela, nor deploying submarines with its new hypersonic nuclear weapons into North American coastal waters.  What awwma more likely is that Russian subs would be allowed to refuel in Cuba or Venezuela.

I do not predict these particular things would happen.  Probably what Putin does would be completely unexpected.

There is no reason to think Russia plans to invade and occupy Ukraine or any other country.  That would be foolish.

Putin has learned from Soviet and U.S. mistakes to avoid quagmire wars.  His military interventions, like the recent one in Kazakhstan, have been short and decisive.

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken does not claim Russia threatens the U.S. homeland.  He says Russia is a threat to the new “rules-based international order.”

This refers to the complex of alliances and free trade areas where U.S. hard and soft power guarantees access for global corporations and banks.

Russia, along with China and Iran, do threaten this U.S.-dominated international order.  But ordinary Americans have no stake in it.  This new international order does not benefit American working people. It does benefit the managers and stockholders of those countries.

Blinken says Ukraine and Georgia have the right as sovereign nations to ally themselves with NATO if they choose.  That is not the question.  The question is whether the USA has an obligation or need to bring these countries into an anti-Russian alliance.

I recall that we US Americans didn’t care about legal niceties when Nikita Khrushchev threatened our security by trying to put nuclear missiles into Cuba.

Besides, Ukraine is not a sovereign country in any meaningful sense.  Back in 2015 and 2016, then Vice President Joe Biden demanded that Ukraine fire the prosecutor who was investigating corruption in a company that employed his son, Hunter.  The prosecutor was fired and the investigation, after a short interval dropped.  In 2019, President Donald Trump asked the investigation be re-opened, and it was.

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Putin’s ultimatum and the threat of war

December 21, 2021

Destruction Is Still Mutually Assured by Freddie deBoer.

Russia Details Security Demands to U.S. and NATO by Bernhard for Moon of Alabama.

Only the Powerful Issue Ultimatums by Andrei Martyanov (a Russian view).

Russia’s Ultimatum to the West by the Saker (another Russian view)

A surprise Russian ultimatum: new draft treaties to roll back NATO by Gilbert Doctorow.  [Added 12/23/2021]

We’ve Seen the Ultimatum: What Is the ‘Or Else’? by Patrick Armstrong for Russia Observer.  [Added 12/23/2021]  A long list of things Russia could do short of nuclear escalation.

Can Russia cope with the coronavirus?

April 7, 2020

Russia’s growing coronavirus outbreak and its challenge to Putin by Alex Ward for Vox.

What we know about Trump’s ties to Russia

September 8, 2018

Here’s what is known so far about Donald Trump and his relationship to Russia.

He has had extensive business dealings with rich Russians, including organized crime figures.  He son spoke of how the Trump Organization benefited from Russian money.

President Trump

Like many right-wing Republicans, he admired Vladimir Putin as a decisive, authoritarian leader.

During the 2016 Presidential campaign, Trump expressed a desire to improve relations with Russia.  I personally think that was a good thing, not a bad thing.  There is no conflict of interest between the USA and Russia that justifies risk of nuclear war.

President Putin, in response to questions, publicly said in 2015 and 2016 that he would welcome Trump’s election because he wanted better relations with the United States.

Various Russian agencies tried to aid Trump’s campaign, almost certainly by using social media to campaign and probably by leaking embarrassing e-mails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign.  I’m not sure how significant this was.  It may have been more significant than I thought.

President Trump has weakened the Western alliance against Putin and Russia, not by making concessions to Russia but by breaking up the unity of the alliance.  Trump’s trade war threatens the economic interests of allies.  So does his demand that they participate in sanctions against Iran and other countries.   His insults and threats are damaging in themselves.

What I see no evidence of is the claim that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin made an explicit deal that Trump would ease up on economic warfare against Russia in return to Putin’s help in the election campaign.

I think Putin would have been a fool to make such an explicit deal, especially with someone as erratic and lacking in self-discipline as Trump.  A deal also would be unnecessary.  All that is necessary for him to advance his goals is for Trump to be Trump.

I also think that the various meetings and attempted meetings between Trump’s supporters and Russians in 2016 are an indication that no deal had been made.  If there had been a deal, what need for further meetings?  Trump and Putin would have made sure to keep their supporters apart.

The solution to U.S. problems regarding Russia are in the United States, not in Russia.  Congress should curb presidential power to change tariffs at will and to commit acts of war.  It should reconsider economic sanctions against Iran and other countries that do not threaten us.

Voting systems should be secured against electronic hacking by means of publicly counted paper ballots.  Social media should be protected against robo-memes.  Confidential computer files should be made secure even if it means making FBI and NSA surveillance more difficult.

Unfortunately there is no way to curb Trump’s erratic personal behavior between now and the 2020 election.

LINKS

Interview of Glenn Greenwald for the Huffington Post.  Russiagate skeptic’s new view of what’s proven and not proven at this point.

Manafort, Cohen and why Republicans won’t turn on Trump by Emily Stewart for Vox.

Are normal relations with Russia even possible?

July 19, 2018

I didn’t vote for Donald Trump in 2016, but I thought one of the good things about his campaign was his promise to try to improve relations with Russia.

Now I wonder whether this was even possible.

President Trump in the Helsinki summit showed himself incapable of engaging in normal diplomacy.

Even if he were, he is locked in to Cold War by Congress and by the Mueller investigation.

I have no liking for Vladimir Putin’s regime, but since Russia is the only country in the world with enough nuclear weapons to destroy the United States, I think the drift toward military confrontation with Russia is dangerous.

Trump in his rhetoric seems to agree.  But his administration has armed Ukraine, continued to deploy nuclear weapons around Russia’s borders, sought an increased military budget agreed to increased sanctions against Russia and kept troops in Syria, which is Russia’s ally.

Either Trump does not understand the implications of what his administration is doing or he Is not in control of his administration.

Probably both are true.

It’s also hard for Trump to justify peaceful co-existence with Russia or North Korea while he is stepping up military operations around the world and flirting with war with Iran and Venezuela.

Since he is ignorant and inexperienced in diplomacy, he would need the help of experts to negotiate successfully.  But he has staffed his administration with war hawks who oppose normalizing relations with Russia.  He fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the only one who could have helped him.

He is an example of the Dunning-Kruger effect.  He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.

Even if he were not the person he is, the ongoing Russiagate investigation stands in the way of peace.  So long as Trump and members of his administration remain under suspicion of plotting with Russian agents to rig the 2016 election, it is not politically feasible to treat Russia like a normal country.

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The danger of peace has been averted

July 17, 2018

Here are my takeaways of the mainstream press reporting on the Trump-Putin summit.  [Note: This is sarcasm.]

  • The overriding issue of our time is Russians trying to influence the 2016 elections by using illicit means to reveal true facts concerning Hillary Clinton.  This is nothing less than an attack on democracy itself.
  • The threat of nuclear war and a nuclear arms race is not even worth mentioning.
  • The default policy toward Russia is to threaten and punish Russians until they become more friendly.
  • The CIA and FBI are like an independent fourth branch of government.  Showing disrespect for them on foreign soil is unpatriotic.
  • Meeting with the President of the United States is such a great privilege that Vladimir Putin should not be allowed to do so without making major concessions.
  • Other nations should do as we Americans say, not as we do.

For some non-mainstream views, click on links below.

LINKS

U.S. Media Is Losing Its Mind Over Trump-Putin Press Conference by Joe Lauria for Consortium News.

The Helsinki Debacle and U.S.-Russian Relations by Daniel Larison for The American Conservative.

A walk on the wild side as Trump meets Putin at the Finland station by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

When Did Russia Become an Adversary? by Gary Leupp for Counterpunch.  Answer: Since 2014.

Putin, Trump and a hypothetical question

July 15, 2018

Suppose Donald Trump, as many Americans urge, demands that the Russian government cease all interference in American politics.

Suppose Vladimir Putin says he’ll agree, provided that the American government ceases all “regime change” activities against Russia and other countries.

What should President Trump’s response be?

LINKS

Russia Indictment  2.0: What to Make of Mueller’s Hacking Indictment on Lawfare.

The Mueller Indictment by Ian Welsh.

Trump, Russia and the NATO alliance

July 13, 2018

President Donald Trump wants to (1) force European allies to commit to more than double their military spending to meet the Russian threat and (2) engage in peace negotiations with Vladimir Putin without consulting European allies.

On the one hand, Russia is a menace that the NATO allies must unite against.  On the other hand, Russia is a normal country with which normal negotiations are possible.  And, by the way, U.S. dealings with Russia are no business of our European allies.  So which is it?

Donald Trump

President Trump presents himself as a master negotiator, but he weakened his negotiating position by advertising and widening the divisions in the Western alliance.   I can’t tell what his objectives are, or even if he has specific objectives.

My best guess is that the Putin-Trump talks, like the Trump-Kim Jong-un talks, will end in vague generalities that each side will interpret differently.  Trump’s erratic behavior frightened the South Korean government into talking with North Korea on its own.  Maybe his current behavior will be to frighten the European nations into making their own agreement with Russia.

That’s not to say that a summit meeting with President Putin is a bad idea.  It is just that Trump by his actions has shown that he can’t conduct normal diplomacy.

So what should U.S. policy toward Russia be?  The most important fact about Russia is that it is the only nation with enough nuclear weapons and missiles to destroy the United States.  To be sure, this would involve the destruction of Russia itself.

So American leaders should avoid backing Russia leaders into a position where they might think they have nothing to lose, or in which a nuclear war could be triggered accidentally.

The missile defense systems put in place by the U.S. in Poland and Romania, and the deployment of nuclear missiles to the borders of Russia, gave the Russian leaders reason to think that the U.S. was planning a nuclear first strike.  Their response has been to develop a new generation of nuclear weapons with which they could strike the United States.

The aim of negotiations should be to reduce the nuclear threat on both sides.  I don’t think President Trump understands this issue, and he has surrounded himself with war hawks such as John Bolton who see no point in negotiation.  This is dangerous for both sides.  We need new negotiations to wind down the nuclear threat.

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Truth, guesswork and Russiagate

April 7, 2018

The United States government claims we are under attack from Russia.  That is the justification for military buildup in Syria and along Russia’s borders, for waging economic war against Russia and sanctions against Russian individuals, and for a diplomatic campaign against Russia.

Before we blunder into a nuclear war, which would mean the end of the United States, the Russian Federation and much of the rest of humanity, we need to look at the basis for these claims.  Specifically, we need to assess the evidence for three claims: –

Ideally, I would advocate reserving judgement until the results of the Mueller investigation are in.  But official Washington, including the press corps and the top leaders of the Democratic Party, are acting as if the results are already in.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote that newspaper articles should be classified as truths, probabilities, possibilities and falsehoods.

Here is how I see the balance of truths, probabilities, possibilities and falsehoods:

∞∞∞

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin stated several times in 2016 that he would be pleased if Donald Trump was elected, because Trump advocated better relations with Russia.

Why would he not?  Russia in 2016 was hard-pressed by U.S.-led economic sanctions and a U.S. military buildup.   Hillary Clinton was and is an extreme war hawk.

Putin is a ruthless operator with few scruples.   There is credible circumstantial evidence that Russian intelligence sources engineered a false flag terror attack in order to rally public sentiment against the rebel province of Chechnya.  There is strong evidence that Russian intelligence services murdered the dissident and human rights advocate Alexander Litvinenko.

So it is possible that the Russian government penetrated the Democratic National Committee computer files and published e-mails that embarrassed Hillary Clinton, or that individual Russian hackers did so with the knowledge and encouragement of the Russian government.

The reasons I have doubts this happened are (1) the FBI has never conducted its own examination of the DNC computers and (2) the FBI has never interviewed Julian Assange about his claim that he received the information from a whistleblower.   Why would they not do this?  Were they afraid of what they might find out?

Maybe the DNC was hacked by more than one person or group, acting independently of each other.

In any case, the result of the DNC e-mail hacks was to disseminate truthful information, which is not an act of war.

It also is possible that Russians used social media to try to influence the election.  But I don’t see how the 13 Russians who were accused of distributing social media ads under fake names could have had any impact.  If they were Russian intelligence agents, they were decoys to divert attention from a secret real campaign that so far as not been discovered.

If Vladimir Putin did try to engineer Donald Trump’s election, he must feel buyer’s remorse.  President Trump has approved weapons shipments to Ukraine, which goes beyond what President Obama ever did.  He wants to keep U.S. troops in Syria indefinitely to undermine Russia’s ally, Syria.  He is continuing the nuclear arms race against Russia.

Like President Obama, Trump talks about improving relations with Russia.   But like Obama, he so far has done nothing to make this happen.  Putin, with all his ruthlessness, is a defender of the status quo.  It is the U.S. government that seeks regime change in targeted countries, and that seeks military dominance in every important region of the world.

∞∞∞

Donald Trump, like other authoritarian nationalists, has long expressed an affinity for the authoritarian nationalist Vladimir Putin.   He also made a lot of money in business dealings with Russian oligarchs and organized crime figures in the New York real estate market.

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Russiagate and the lost hope for peace

February 19, 2018

Prior to the 2016 election, Vladimir Putin said he would welcome the election of Donald Trump because Trump advocated better relations with Russia.

But, as Robert W. Merry of The American Conservative pointed out, any faint hope of that happening was snuffed out by the exposure of Russian attempts to influence the election by means of fake posts on social media.   The Russians shot themselves in the foot.

Most of us Americans have no perspective on this because we don’t know, or choose to ignore, the extent of our own government’s meddling in foreign countries.

U.S. meddling not only includes propaganda, open and covert, but taking sides in civil wars and outright invasions of foreign countries whose leaders oppose U.S. policy.

I don’t argue the U.S. government should tolerate violations of American election law by foreigners in order to atone for American sins abroad.  I do say this should not be used as an excuse for risking war or suppressing dissent.

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Tyranny, Trump and Timothy Snyder

June 26, 2017

Timothy Snyder, a historian of the Hitler-Stalin era, has written an eloquent and heartfelt little book—On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Centurywarning that democracy could perish in the United States of today just as it did in Europe in the 1930s.

Just as no couple making love for the last time ever realize it is the last time, he wrote, so no person voting in a free election for the last time realizes it is the last time.

On Tyranny contains 20 timeless principles for defenders of democracy.    The principles are illustrated by ominous stories of how the mass of people failed to resist Nazi and Communist tyranny and inspirational stories of how a few did.

Then come claims that Vladimir Putin is like Hitler and Stalin and that Donald Trump is like all three, and a call to be ready to resist.

Snyder has done well to remind Americans of the fundamental principles of democracy and the need to defend them.

But the need for the reminder didn’t originate with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.  As Glenn Greenwald, Conor Friedersdorf and others have warned, these dangers have existed since enactment of the USA Patriot Act in 2001, and before.

During the Bush and Obama administrations, the government has claimed the power to engage in acts of war, order assassinations, spy on citizens, and bypass due process of law and also to imprison anyone who reveals what is going on.  Until this changes, every President is a potential tyrant, not just Donald Trump.

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Democrats easing off on Russia hacking charge

March 19, 2017

Democratic war hawks are backing off their charges that Donald Trump’s victory was due to Vladimir Putin’s manipulations.

For war hawks, these charges may have served their purpose in making Trump back off from plans to make peace with Russia, and in casting suspicion on anybody who advocates peace with Russia.

For Democrats, the Russia conspiracy theory provided a basis for attacking Trump personally without having to propose constructive alternatives to his policies.   But if investigations produce no evidence of any Trump-Putin collusion, these attacks will backfire.

Update 3/21/2017:  Evidently I spoke too soon.   Trump opponents seem determined to keep the investigation of Trump-Russia contacts going as long as possible, even though every article I’ve read contains a paragraph somewhere that says there is no evidence of collusion between Trump campaign officials and Russian intelligence.

I suppose Democrats, war hawks and especially Democratic war hawks think they have nothing to lose by keeping the pressure on, even if nothing significant is uncovered in the end.

FBI director James Comey reported that the FBI has been investigating possible Trump-Russia connections since last July.   It will be interesting to know what, if anything, the investigation discovers.  The mere fact that an investigation is going on has no more significance that the fact of that Hillary Clinton’s handling of her e-mails was being investigated.

LINKS

Key Democratic Officials Now Warning Not to Expect Evidence of Trump / Russia Connection by Glenn Greenwald for The Intercept.

The Democrats’ Anti-Russia Campaign Falls Apart by Moon of Alabama.

The Missing Logic of Russia-gate by Robert Parry for Consortium News [Added 3/21/2017]

The GOP is going to try to rush the Russian investigation | Democrats shouldn’t let them by Alex Shephard for The New Republic.  The politics of the investigation.  [Added 3/21/2017]

Recommended Reading: Giant Russia Theory Edition by Nina Illingworth for Nina Illingworth Dot Com.   [Added 3/31/2017]  A definitive collection of links on reasons to be skeptical of claims that Russia “hacked” the 2016 election.

An open letter to Presidents Trump and Putin

March 3, 2017

The following is an open letter to Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, signed by David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and others.  The Bertrand Russell Society, of which I am a member, endorses it.

nuclearbomb510672745_b79a1a057a_oThis may be the most dangerous time in human history.

In a dramatic recent decision, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has moved its iconic Doomsday Clock ahead from three minutes to only two-and-a-half minutes to midnight.

Humankind faces two existential challenges of global and potentially apocalyptic scope: nuclear weapons and climate change.

Our focus here is on nuclear dangers, but we strongly encourage you, Presidents Trump and Putin, to undertake in a spirit of urgency all necessary steps to avert further global warming.

As the leaders of the United States and Russia, the two countries with the largest nuclear arsenals, you have the grave responsibility of assuring that nuclear weapons are not used — or their use overtly threatened — during your period of leadership.

The most certain and reliable way to fulfill this responsibility is to negotiate with each other, and the other governments of nuclear-armed states, for their total elimination.

The U.S. and Russia are both obligated under Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to engage in such negotiations in good faith for an end to the nuclear arms race and for complete nuclear disarmament.  Your success in this endeavor would make you heroes of the Nuclear Age.

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A propaganda war is not really a war

March 1, 2017

newyorker-1488286188

The New Yorker ran a long article about Russian propaganda and how the Russian government sees propaganda as a weapon of war.

The article, though one-sided, contains interesting information.  My problem with it is that the writers treat propaganda—including truthful propaganda—as the equivalent of war.

The U.S. government during the past 15 years has waged war by means of aerial bombardment, targeted assassinations, economic sanctions, arming terrorists and warlords and actual invasions of  foreign countries that do not threaten us.  Russia has done some of the same things, although on a smaller scale.

There is a strong possibility of a military confrontation between Russia and the United States that could risk a nuclear war.

Russian attempts to influence American and European public opinion seem fairly benign in contrast.

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Is it fair to call Vladimir Putin a killer?

February 7, 2017

In a word, yes.

Vladimir Putin is clearly implicated in killings of Russian citizens.

It is true that Barack Obama also initiated a policy of killing individuals he deemed a threat to the United States, and a couple of those were American citizens.   It is true that the U.S. supports dictatorships that use death squads.  But changing the subject to the U.S.  doesn’t change the facts about Putin.

2014-03-07-PUTINIs the fact that Vladimir Putin is a killer a reason not to have diplomatic relations with Russia?  It certainly is a reason not to be naive in dealing with Putin.  It is a reason not to regard him as a friend.

But President Franklin Roosevelt formed an alliance with Joseph Stalin, one of the greatest mass killers of the 20th century, in order to defeat Nazi Germany.  President Richard Nixon flew to China to open U.S. relations with Mao Zedong, another mass killer, in order to checkmate Soviet Russia.

If working with Putin can eliminate the danger of nuclear war over Ukraine or defeat the Islamic State, that would be a good thing, not a bad thing.

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The unclassified report on Russian hacking

January 7, 2017

The unclassified CIA-FBI-NSA report asserts that they have “high confidence” that Russian intelligence agencies hacked the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign in order to elect Donald Trump.

office_of_the_director_of_national_intelligence_seal_usaPossible motives are retaliation for the Panama Papers leaks, the reports on Russian doping of Olympic athletes, and activities of the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy in Russia.

But the report presents no actual evidence that this happened.   All it says is that Vladimir Putin hoped Donald Trump would defeat Hillary Clinton, which is plainly true, and that this is the sort of thing that Putin would do, which might well be true.  Most of the report is devoted to analysis of anti-Clinton reporting by RT News, a Russian-funded TV news broadcaster.

It’s possible that the conclusion is true, but the report does not consider alternative explanations, such as leaks by a disgruntled DNC employee.   It does not describe the scope of the investigation—for example, whether the FBI had access to the DNC e-mails, or relied on the word of the DNC contractor, or whether it used NSA signal intelligence.

Maybe the classified version of the report does answer the unanswered questions.   I look forward with great interest to the congressional investigation.

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Russia as the jihadists’ “far enemy”

January 5, 2017

isis-610417-putin

When Al Qaeda jihadist terrorists attacked the U.S. World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, it was part Osama bin Laden regarded the USA as the “far enemy” who propped up all the “near enemies” in the Arab world.

But for many of the jihadists fighting in Syria and Iraq, the “far enemy” is Vladimir Putin’s Russia, not the USA.   A large number are Chechens, a Muslim nationality living mostly within the Russian Federalion, or Uzbeks, Tajiks, Kazakhs or others living under regimes in Central Asia that are propped up by Russia.

One of Putin’s first actions when he came to power was to ruthlessly crush the independence movement in Chechnia.   The justification was a series of terrorist attacks that were very likely a false flag attack by the Russian FSB.

Since then many Chechen fighters have been driven out of Russia, and are now fighting the Russian-backed Assad government of Syria, along with Uzbeks and other nationalities from the former Soviet republics.

Some analysts think that the export of jihadists is a conscious Russian strategy.  The best outcome, from the Russian point of view, is that they die fighting in Syria.   But even if they survive, they have made themselves known to Russian intelligence services.

Saudi Arabia does the same thing with its jihadist rebels—suppresses them at home and encourages them to go wage war in other countries.

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Russia accused of war by using weaponized truth

October 18, 2016

wireap_8cf7592f8cbc452287d88d28e2e8d9ec_16x9_1600

Russian intelligence services are accused of waging cyber-warfare by releasing embarrassing Hillary Clinton e-mails through Wikileaks.

There is no direct evidence of where Wikileaks got the Clinton e-mails, but the Russians have the capability and the motive to hack her system.

Would this be an act of war?  I for one would welcome war by means of weaponized truth.

If revealing accurate information about your geopolitical enemy is a form of warfare, I think escalation of this kind of warfare would be a good thing and not a bad thing.

I think the NSA and the CIA should retaliate by arranging the release of damaging secret information about Vladimir Putin—maybe through Wikileaks as a form of poetic justice.

In fact, there are those who think they already have done so, through the Panama Papers leak

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All we talk about is Trump! Trump! Trump!

October 10, 2016

A great many important issues face us Americans as a new Presidential term begins—nuclear weapons, trade agreements, fracking, climate change, economic stagnation, the likelihood of financial crash.

Presidential Candidate Donald Trump Campaign Rally in Vandalia, OhioBut among my circle of acquaintances, hardly anybody wants to talk about these things.  All anybody wants to talk about is Donald Trump, and the outrageous things he says.   It can be highly enjoyable to have such an obvious target.

I think that it is an objective fact that Trump is temperamentally, intellectually and morally unfit to be President of the United States.   I think this is becoming more manifest as the campaign goes on.  I base this more on his record as a business owner and public figure than what he says on a day-to-day basis, but what his statements show a lack of knowledge and a lack of discipline.

The problem is that the real problems of the country go unaddressed, and the most that can be hoped for in this election is a preservation of a bad status quo.

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Russia is losing an economic war

September 26, 2016

The Russian Federation is in economic crisis.

The economy is shrinking.  Although unemployment is low, poverty is increasing,  Inflation is at double-digit rates.   The exchange rate for the ruble is falling.  Russia’s trade deficit is widening.  The Russian government is cutting spending on public services.

While Russia has serious internal economic problems, the immediate cause of the crisis is the economic war being waged by its foes.

  • The United States and European Union boycott many Russian individuals and institutions, including cutting off credit to Russian banks and cutting off sales of equipment to Russian oil companies.
  • Saudi Arabia has stepped up production of oil, driving down oil prices worldwide and hurting Russia’s oil exports.
  • The United States has begun a new arms race with Russia, forcing the Russian government to either divert resources from the civilian economy or admit inferiority.

03-bust-boom-bustIn waging economic war against Russia, the United States and its allies hurt themselves as a price of hurting Russia more.

  • Europe and Russia are natural trading partners, with Europeans buying Russian gas and oil and Russia buying Europe’s, especially Germany’s industrial products.   Cutting off this trade hurts both.
  • Saudi Arabia is using up a large but limited resource at a fast rate without getting the best price for it.
  • The United States, too, is diverting resources from our civilian economy and domestic needs.

In many ways, this is a replay of the economic war waged against the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

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If the USA and Russia could change places

September 26, 2016

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My experience and knowledge of foreign countries is limited, but I try to understand foreign leaders by putting myself in their place, and imagining what I would do if I were them.

Peter Hitchens, a Briton who was a foreign correspondent in Moscow for many years, invites us to imagine how we would feel if we were Russians, a nation that, unlike the USA, has been invaded not once, but many times, and lost millions, not thousands, of lives to invaders within living memory.

Safety, for Russians, is something to be achieved by neutralizing a danger that is presumed to exist at all times.  From this follows a particular attitude to life and government.

If the U.S. had China on the 49th Parallel and Germany on the Rio Grande, and a long land border with the Islamic world where the Pacific Ocean now is, it might be a very different place.  There might even be a good excuse for the Patriot Act and the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI.

If Russia’s neighbors were Canada and Mexico, rather than Germany, China, Turkey, and Poland, and if its other flanks were guarded by thousands of miles of open ocean, it might have free institutions and long traditions of free speech and the rule of law. It might also be a lot richer.

As it is, Russia is a strong state with a country, rather than a country with a strong state.  If it were otherwise, it would have gone the way of the Lithuanian Empire or, come to that, the Golden Horde.

Source: Peter Hitchens | First Things

That is not to say that life in Vladimir Putin’s Russia is good, or that Putin is a benign ruler.  But he is no worse than many of the despots with whom the United States is allied, and life in the Russian Federation is infinitely preferable to live in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republicans.

Far from being a new Hitler, Hitchens wrote, his goal is to keep territories formerly controlled by the USSR from joining anti-Russian alliances.  Whatever you think of this, it is not a threat to the United States or any other Western nation.

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War hawk Clinton vs. pro-Putin Trump

July 27, 2016

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Donald Trump admires Vladimir Putin and wants better a partnership with Russia.

Hillary Clinton has compared Putin with Hitler, and is willing to risk war with Russia.

This is a big difference, and an important campaign issue.

With Hillary Clinton, you have the likelihood of more war and useless bloodshed, and the real possibility of a nuclear that will leave much of North American and northern Eurasia in smouldering, radioactive ruins.

With Donald Trump, you have the likelihood of a President of the United States, whose judgment is erratic to begin with, and who is under the influence of a wily and ruthless foreign ruler.

I don’t agree with either, but, of the two, I think Clinton represents the greater danger.  Russian influence could be checkmated and rooted out.  A nuclear war would be the end of everything.

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Hillary Clinton and the danger of nuclear war

July 14, 2016

The worst thing that an American President could do is to provoke a nuclear war with Russia.

I think that, based on her record and rhetoric, Hillary Clinton would put the USA at greater risk of nuclear war than her predecessors.

As adviser to her husband in the 1990s and as Secretary of State, she was a voice for war.  Her campaign web site is about her credentials as a war hawk.  It is no coincidence that so war hawks of the George W. Bush support her for President.

Victoria Nuland

Victoria Nuland

Her protege, Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, promotes economic warfare and covert warfare against Russia, while promoting regime change in Ukraine and attempting to draw Ukraine and Georgia into an anti-Russian alliance.  This is as dangerous as Khrushchev’s placing missiles in Cuba in 1962.

Pro-Russian news sources predict war if Hillary Clinton is elected.  I think Russian fears are significant because they could be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If you think somebody is poised to attack you, you’re going to be ready to strike at them before they do.

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