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Chaos and rage in the imperial city: Donald Trump and the US elite – it’s all about Russia!

The furious opposition President Trump has run into in the first month of his Presidency – and the turbulence in Washington it is causing – is the direct consequence of his wish to reverse US policy and seek detente with Russia.

Alexander Mercouris

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Donald Trump’s now famous claim during his recent marathon press conference that his administration is a working like a “well-oiled machine” has provoked much ridicule.

In reality, as with so much else Donald Trump says, there is more truth to this comment than Trump’s critics allow.

The Trump administration’s problems over the first 30 days of its existence have been due less to the President’s working habits and more to the deliberate sabotage of his administration by his opponents.

Thus we have had the extraordinary delay in the Senate confirming the President’s cabinet picks, the all-too-obvious failure by the Justice Department under Sally Yates to provide proper guidance or even to defend his ‘travel ban’ Executive Order, and the political assassination of General Flynn, the President’s National Security Adviser, for having a totally innocuous telephone conversation with the Russian ambassador.

All of this has been happening alongside relentless negative briefing against the President by our old friends the ‘anonymous officials’ of the US intelligence community (most of them seem in fact to belong to the CIA).

All this has in turn fed a media campaign against the President the like of which I have never seen – and which seems wholly disproportionate to anything he has so far done – which has in turn triggered a reciprocal campaign against the media by the President and his supporters.

The result is an atmosphere of rage, hysteria and panic, which is being blamed – wrongly in my opinion – on a supposedly dysfunctional White House.

Some of the sabotage is unquestionably the product of the anger and bafflement of the Democratic Party and its supporters that its anointed candidate – Hillary Clinton – lost the election to someone they mistakenly take for a clown.

However looming over everything is the collective horror of the US elite – not just the Democratic Party elite but also much of the Republican Party elite and of the foreign policy and defence establishment, the intelligence community and the news media – at the new President’s openly expressed desire for a rapprochement with Russia.

This is the thread which links together all the elements of the campaign against Donald Trump.  All the most serious allegations made against him concern Russia.  Moreover this has been true ever since he became a serious candidate for the Presidency roughly a year ago.

The story is in fact one of repeated attempts to bully and blackmail first Trump the candidate and now Trump the President into repudiating his policy of detente with Russia, and then bafflement and alarm – now bordering on panic – when he not only refuses to do so, but goes on to win even more support from his electoral base.

This bafflement is completely understandable.  Russia has been so comprehensively demonised by the US elite and the US media for so long that many of its members have undoubtedly come to believe what they say and write about it.   It is therefore scarcely believable to them, as well as being genuinely horrifying, that it turns out that there are tens of millions of Americans who do not think about Russia in the paranoid way that they do, and that it is even possible for someone to win the Presidency who takes the opposite view.

In the case of Donald Trump what must make it even more bewildering is that there is no discernible political benefit for him in his taking the line of wanting detente with Russia that he is taking.  On the contrary it has brought him nothing but trouble.

This by the way was in my opinion even true of the fall out from the DNC and Podesta leaks affair.

Since the election a myth has grown up that it was the allegedly Russian inspired leaks of the Clinton and Podesta emails that brought about Hillary Clinton’s defeat.  No polling evidence has ever been produced to prove this, almost certainly because none exists.  For the record my impression during the election was that the revelations from the DNC and Podesta leaks barely damaged Hillary Clinton at all.  That is not surprising since the media largely ignored their contents, focusing on the unproven claims of their Russian origin instead.

In my opinion whatever damage the leaks may have done to Hillary Clinton was far offset by the damage claims of a Russian connection did to Donald Trump, especially after the US intelligence community weighed in to support those claims a few weeks before the election.  Though again I have seen no polling evidence, my opinion for what it’s worth is that the DNC and Podesta leaks affair in the end on balance did less electoral damage to Hillary Clinton than it did to Donald Trump.

In the light of this, it is completely understandable that the entirety of the US political elite – not just the US intelligence community – is baffled that Trump persists in advocating a policy of detente with Russia which is bringing him nothing but trouble.  Moreover to add to the perplexity, it is clear that he is fully aware of the trouble it is causing him, since he himself pointed it out during his press conference

If we could get along with Russia, that’s a positive thing. We have a very talented man, Rex Tillerson, who’s going to be meeting with them shortly and I told him. I said “I know politically it’s probably not good for me.” The greatest thing I could do is shoot that ship that’s 30 miles off shore right out of the water.  Everyone in this country’s going to say “oh, it’s so great.” That’s not great. That’s not great. I would love to be able to get along with Russia. Now, you’ve had a lot of presidents that haven’t taken that tack. Look where we are now. Look where we are now. So, if I can — now, I love to negotiate things, I do it really well, and all that stuff.

(bold italics added)

What for the US elite must make the President’s advocacy of his policy of detente with Russia even more perplexing is that no-one can say where he got the idea for it from.

Anyone who regularly reads US writing on international affairs questions knows that there is a current of thought in the US which has become increasingly worried by the hegemonic policy the neoliberal/neocon dominated foreign policy establishment has foisted on the US, and which is becoming worried at the damage this policy is doing to the US’s economic and social fabric.  Many of those who think in this way are also becoming concerned that the drift of the policy is increasing the risk of it all ending in a shooting war with Russia.

It has always seemed to me that the people who hold these views are a marginal and even despised group within the US elite.  There is no evidence Trump is close to any of them, or even knows about them, and he does not seem to have taken his ideas from them.  Importantly, he has not asked any one of them to serve in his administration.

A better explanation for Trump’s unorthodox views on Russia is that – as has become increasingly clear since he became President – he is very close to the US uniformed military, and to the US oil industry, and that he has taken some of his ideas from them.

It is surely not a coincidence that Trump has gone against precedent by picking a soldier – General Mattis – for his Defence Secretary, and an oilman – Rex Tillerson – for his Secretary of State, and that despite the forced resignation of General Flynn and the refusal of Admiral Hayward to join his administration, it appears that he still wants a military officer to serve as his National Security Adviser.

Collectively the uniformed US military undoubtedly has a far better understanding of the immense dangers of a military confrontation with Russia than do the civilian neoliberal/neocon ideologues who up to now have been running US foreign policy.   Many within the US military – including the families of US servicemen – must also be tired of having to fight the endless and fruitless wars the neoliberal/neocon foreign policy establishment has been forcing on them.  The US military has its share of pathological anti-Russian neocons, such as the former NATO chief General Breedlove, but on balance it is probably better informed and more realistic about Russia than many in the civilian elite and in the media are.

As for the US oil industry, the notoriously unsentimental people who run the US oil industry probably see Russia less as a threat and more as a marvellous business opportunity.  After all Russia is not only the world’s biggest energy producer, but is the country which (if one includes its shales) has the world’s biggest energy reserves.

If President Trump is not completely isolated in seeking detente with Russia, and if he has taken some of his ideas from people in the military and in the oil industry, the fact remains that his policy of seeking detente with Russia still appears to be very much his own, and that it remains heresy for most of the US elite.

For what it’s worth my guess is that Donald Trump thinks and acts the way he does about Russia not because he has borrowed ideas from the military or the oil industry but because he is not a politician.  As a practical businessman rather than a politician it is obvious to him that it is in the US interest to get on with Russia – that after all is what he says all the time – and since he is not a politician schooled in the politician’s way of discretion he sees no reason not to say it.  I would not be surprised if the benefits of the policy seem to him so obvious that he is as baffled by the fanatical opposition to it of his critics as they are by his advocacy of it.

It is not however surprising if the professional politicians who make up the US elite and the conspiratorially minded ideologues who populate the US intelligence community, the foreign policy think-tanks and the media, find it impossible to believe this, and have convinced themselves that the President is sticking to a policy which is damaging him so much politically and which appears to them so outrageous not because he genuinely believes in it and is unafraid to say so, but because he has some dark and ulterior reason for it.

This is what explains the rage and chaos in Washington, the sabotage of the President’s administration, and the talk of a dysfunctional White House.

The hysteria, the deliberate sabotage of the President’s policies, the frantic multiple investigations to find out what the “true” reason for the President’s policy towards Russia is; these are all the products of the President’s policy of wanting detente with Russia, and the US elite’s horror at the prospect, and its inability to believe that he means it sincerely.

This is why we have all the dark hints of the President and his associates having business links with Russia, of the President being blackmailed by Russia, of claims of secret contacts between the President’s campaign team and Russia, and of the President living in a world of ‘alternative facts’, which he has supposedly learnt from Russia, and which supposedly helped him win the election.

The multiple investigations launched into the President’s connections to Russia will come to nothing.  Were there anything to find it would surely have been found by now.  The fact that after a year of bitter electoral campaigning and of multiple investigations by the FBI, CIA, NSA, British intelligence, the US tax authorities, legions of private investigators, and the news media, nothing has been found – other than one obviously fake dossier – is a sure sign that nothing exists to be found.

That will not of course satisfy the President’s neoliberal/neocon critics.  As the investigations repeatedly draw a blank, they will demand more and more investigations to find what doesn’t exist but what they are convinced is there.  The risk they run is that over time the public will become bored with a never ending saga which is going nowhere, and they will lose its attention, but in the meantime their increasingly shrill demands for more and more investigations will add to the hysterical atmosphere.

In the meantime one senses that the US intelligence community – or to be more precise the CIA, which is the agency which is driving the campaign against the President – is becoming increasingly frustrated by the President’s refusal to be blackmailed into changing his policy, and by his repeated success in seeing off their challenges.  This is leading some  of them into more and more extreme actions, with the campaign to oust General Flynn tipping over into outright illegality.

Meanwhile the senior members of the President’s administration – Pence, Mattis, Haley and the rest – all of them, unlike the President, either professional politicians or experienced public servants – seem to be as baffled by the President’s policy as everyone else is, and seem uncertain what to do.

Donald Trump’s policy of seeking detente with Russia is for real.  His press conference following the resignation of General Flynn puts that beyond doubt.  Moreover the fact he is meeting so much resistance is a sure sign that this time – unlike in the time of Obama’s ‘reset’ – the change he wants in relations with Russia is for real.  Given how difficult it is to shift gears in the runaway train that is what US foreign policy has become, the fact there are explosions in the engine room such as the resignation of General Flynn is no more that what in the circumstances one would expect, and is proof that the President is indeed trying to shift them.  Whether he succeeds – or survives – in his attempt to do so is another matter.

In the meantime the hysteria and the chaos in Washington will continue until either the President prevails or backs down or is removed from office.

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Russia’s Economy Little Harmed by West’s Sanctions

Putin has been succeeding despite what the US aristocracy (and its allied aristocracies in Europe and Arabia) have been throwing to weaken Russia.

Eric Zuesse

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Originally posted at strategic-culture.org:


Despite Barack Obama’s economic sanctions against Russia, and the plunge in oil prices that King Saud agreed to with Obama’s Secretary of State John Kerry on 11 September 2014, the economic damages that the US and Saudis have aimed against a particular oil-and-gas giant, Russia, have hit mostly elsewhere — at least till now.

This has been happening while simultaneously Obama’s violent February 2014 coup overthrowing Ukraine’s democratically elected pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych (and the head of the ‘private CIA’ firm Stratfor calls it “the most blatant coup in history”) has caused Ukraine’s economy to plunge even further than Russia’s, and corruption in Ukraine to soar even higher than it was before America’s overthrow of that country’s final freely elected nationwide government, so that Ukraine’s economy has actually been harmed far more than Russia’s was by Obama’s coup in Ukraine and Obama’s subsequent economic sanctions against Russia (sanctions that are based on clear and demonstrable Obama lies but that continue and even get worse under Trump).

Bloomberg News headlined on February 4th of 2016, “These Are the World’s Most Miserable Economies” and reported the “misery index” rankings of 63 national economies as projected in 2016 and 60 as actual in 2015 — a standard ranking-system that calculates “misery” as being the sum of the unemployment-rate and the inflation-rate. They also compared the 2016 projected rankings to the 2015 actual rankings.

Top rank, #1 both years — the most miserable economy in the world during 2015 and 2016 — was Venezuela, because of that country’s 95% dependence upon oil-export earnings (which crashed when oil-prices plunged). The US-Saudi agreement to flood the global oil market destroyed Venezuela’s economy.

#2 most-miserable in 2015 was Ukraine, at 57.8. But Ukraine started bouncing back so that as projected in 2016 it ranked #5, at 26.3. Russia in 2015 was #7 most-miserable in 2015, at 21.1, but bounced back so that as projected in 2016 it became #14 at 14.5.

Bloomberg hadn’t reported misery-index rankings for 2014 showing economic performances during 2013, but economist Steve H. Hanke of Johns Hopkins University did, in his “Measuring Misery Around the World, May 2014,” in the May 2014 GlobeAsia, ranking 90 countries; and, during 2013 (Yanukovych’s final year as Ukraine’s President before his being forced out by Obama’s coup), Ukraine’s rank was #23 and its misery-index was 24.4. Russia’s was #36 and its misery index was 19.9. So: those can be considered to be the baseline-figures, from which any subsequent economic progress or decline (after Obama’s 2014 Ukrainian coup) may reasonably be calculated. Hanke’s figures during the following year, 2014, were reported by him at Huffington Post, “The World Misery Index: 108 Countries”, and by UAE’s Khaleej Times, “List of Most Miserable Countries” (the latter falsely attributing that ranking to Cato Institute, which had merely republished Hanke’s article). In 2014, Ukraine’s misery-index, as calculated by Hanke, was #4, at 51.8. That year had 8 countries above 40 in Hanke’s ranking. Russia was #42 at 21.42. So: Russia’s rank had improved, but, because of the globally bad economy, Russia’s absolute number was slightly worse (higher) than it had been before Obama’s coup in Ukraine and subsequent sanctions against Russia. By contrast, Ukraine’s rank had suddenly gotten far worse, #4 at 51.80 in 2014, after having been #23 at 24.4 in 2013.

The figures in Bloomberg for Russia were: during 2015, #7 with a misery-index of 21.1; and projected during 2016, #14 with a misery-index of 14.5; so, Bloomberg too showed a 2015-2016 improvement for Russia, and not only for Ukraine (where in the 2016 projection it ranked #5, at 26.3, a sharp improvement after the horrendous 2015 actual numbers).

“Hanke’s Annual Misery Index — 2017” in Forbes, showed 98 countries, and Venezuela was still #1, the worst; Ukraine was now #9 at 36.9; and Russia was #36 at 18.1.

Thus: whereas Russia was economically sunningly stable at #36 from start to finish throughout the entire five-year period 2013-2017, starting with a misery-index of 19.9 in 2013 and ending with 18.1 in 2017, Ukraine went from a misery-index of 24.4 in 2013 to 36.9 in 2017 — and worsening its rank from #23 to #9. During that five-year period Ukraine’s figure peaked in the year of Obama’s coup at 57.8. So, at least Ukraine’s misery seems to be heading back downward in the coup’s aftermath, though it’s still considerably worse than before the coup. But, meanwhile, Russia went from 19.9 to 18.1 — and had no year that was as bad as Ukraine’s best year was during that period of time. And, yet: that coup and the economic sanctions and the US-Saudi oil-agreement were targeted against Russia — not against Ukraine.

If the US were trying to punish the people of Ukraine, then the US coup in Ukraine would have been a raving success; but actually Obama didn’t care at all about Ukrainians. He cared about the owners of America’s weapons-making firms and of America’s extractive firms. Trump likewise.

During that same period (also using Hanke’s numbers) the United States went from #71 at 11.0 in 2013, to #69 at 8.2 in 2017. US was stable.

Saudi Arabia started with #40 18.9 during 2013, to #30 at 20.2 in 2017. That’s improvement, because the Kingdom outperformed the global economy.

During the interim, and even in the years leading up to 2014, Russia had been (and still is) refocusing its economy away from Russia’s natural resources and toward a broad sector of high technology: military R&D and production.

On 15 December 2014, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute headlined, “Sales by Largest Arms Companies Fell Again in 2013, but Russian Firms’ Sales Continued Rising,” and reported, “Sales by companies headquartered in the United States and Canada have continued to moderately decrease, while sales by Russian-based companies increased by 20 per cent in 2013.”

The following year, SIPRI bannered, on 14 December 2015, “Global Arms Industry: West Still Dominant Despite Decline,” and reported that, “Despite difficult national economic conditions, the Russian arms industry’s sales continued to rise in 2014. … ‘Russian companies are riding the wave of increasing national military spending and exports. There are now 11 Russian companies in the Top 100 and their combined revenue growth over 2013–14 was 48.4 per cent,’ says SIPRI Senior Researcher Siemon Wezeman. In contrast, arms sales of Ukrainian companies have substantially declined. … US companies’ arms sales decreased by 4.1 per cent between 2013 and 2014, which is similar to the rate of decline seen in 2012–13. … Western European companies’ arms sales decreased by 7.4 per cent in 2014.”

This is a redirection of the Russian economy that Vladimir Putin was preparing even prior to Obama’s war against Russia. Perhaps it was because of the entire thrust of the US aristocracy’s post-Soviet determination to conquer Russia whenever the time would be right for NATO to strike and grab it. Obama’s public ambivalence about Russia never persuaded Putin that the US would finally put the Cold War behind it and end its NATO alliance as Russia had ended its Warsaw Pact back in 1991. Instead, Obama continued to endorse expanding NATO, right up to Russia’s borders (now even into Ukraine) — an extremely hostile act.

By building the world’s most cost-effective designers and producers of weaponry, Russia wouldn’t only be responding to America’s ongoing hostility — or at least responding to the determination of America’s aristocracy to take over Russia, which is the world’s largest trove of natural resources — but would also expand Russia’s export-earnings and international influence by selling to other countries weaponry that’s less-burdened with the costs of sheer corruption than are the armaments that are being produced in what is perhaps the world’s most corrupt military-industrial complex: America’s. Whereas Putin has tolerated corruption in other areas of Russia’s economic production (figuring that those areas are less crucial for Russia’s future), he has rigorously excluded it in the R&D and production and sales of weaponry. Ever since he first came into office in 2000, he has transformed post-Soviet Russia from being an unlimitedly corrupt satellite of the United States under Boris Yeltsin, to becoming truly an independent nation; and this infuriates America’s aristocrats (who gushed over Yeltsin).

The Russian government-monopoly marketing company for Russia’s weapons-manufacturers, Rosoboronexport, presents itself to nations around the world by saying: “Today, armaments and military equipment bearing the Made in Russia label protect independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of dozens of countries. Owing to their efficiency and reliability, Russian defense products enjoy strong demand on the global market and maintain our nation’s leading positions among the world’s arms exporters. For the past several years, Russia has consistently ranked second behind the United States as regards arms exports.” That’s second-and-rising, as opposed to America’s first-and-falling.

The American aristocracy’s ever-growing war against Russia posed and poses to Putin two simultaneous challenges: both to reorient away from Russia’s natural resources, which the global aristocracy wants to grab, and also to reorient toward the area of hi-tech in which the Soviets had built a basis from which Russia could become truly cost-effective in international commerce, so as to, simultaneously, increase Russia’s defensive capability against an expanding NATO, while also replacing some of Russia’s dependence upon the natural resources that the West’s aristocrats want to steal.

In other words: Putin designed a plan to meet two challenges simultaneously — military and economic. His primary aim is to protect Russia from being grabbed by the American and Saudi aristocrats, via America’s NATO and the Sauds’ Gulf Cooperation Council and other alliances (which are trying to take over Russia’s ally Syria — Syria being a crucial location for pipelining Arab royals’ oil-and-gas into Europe, the world’s largest energy-market).

In addition, the hit to Russia’s economic growth-rate from the dual-onslaught of Obama’s sanctions and the plunging oil prices hasn’t been too bad. The World Bank’s April 2015 “Russia Economic Report” predicted: “Growth prospects for 2015-2016 are negative. It is likely that when the full effects of the two shocks become evident in 2015, they will push the Russian economy into recession. The World Bank baseline scenario sees a contraction of 3.8 percent in 2015 and a modest decline of 0.3 percent in 2016. The growth spectrum presented has two alternative scenarios that largely reflect differences in how oil prices are expected to affect the main macro variables.”

The current (as of 15 February 2016) “Russia GDP Annual Growth Rate” at Trading Economics says: “The Russian economy shrank 3.8 percent year-on-year in the fourth quarter of 2015, following a 4.1 percent contraction in the previous period, according to preliminary estimates from the Economic Development Minister Alexey Ulyukayev. It is the worst performance since 2009 [George W. Bush’s global economic crash], as Western sanctions and lower oil prices hurt external trade and public revenues.” The current percentage as of today, 17 September 2018, is 1.9%, after having plunged down from 2.2% in late 2017, to 0.9% in late 2017; so, it is rebounding.

The World Bank’s April 2015 “Russia Economic Report” went on to describe “The Government Anti-Crisis Plan”:

On January 27, 2014, the government adopted an anti-crisis plan with the goal to ensure sustainable economic development and social stability in an unfavorable global economic and political environment.

It announced that in 2015–2016 it will take steps to advance structural changes in the Russian economy, provide support to systemic entities and the labor market, lower inflation, and help vulnerable households adjust to price increases. To achieve the objectives of positive growth and sustainable medium-term macroeconomic development the following measures are planned:

• Provide support for import substitution and non-mineral exports;

• Support small and medium enterprises by lowering financing and administrative costs;

• Create opportunities for raising financial resources at reasonable cost in key economic sectors;

• Compensate vulnerable households (e.g., pensioners) for the costs of inflation;

• Cushion the impact on the labor market (e.g. provide training and increase public works);

• Optimize budget expenditures; and

• Enhance banking sector stability and create a mechanism for reorganizing systemic companies.

So: Russia’s anti-crisis plan was drawn up and announced on 27 January 2014, already before Yanukovych was overthrown, even before Obama’s agent Victoria Nuland on 4 February 2014 instructed the US Ambassador in Ukraine whom to have appointed to run the government when the coup would be completed (“Yats,” who did get appointed). Perhaps, in drawing up this plan, Putin was responding to scenes from Ukraine like this. He could see that what was happening in Ukraine was an operation financed by the US CIA. He could recognize what Obama had in mind for Russia.

The “Russia Economic Report, May 2018: Modest Growth Ahead” says:

Global growth continued its 2017 momentum in early 2018. Global growth reached a stronger than- expected 3 percent in 2017 — a notable recovery from a post-crisis low of 2.4 percent in 2016. It is currently expected to peak at 3.1 percent in 2018. Recoveries in investment, manufacturing, and trade continue as commodity-exporting developing economies benefit from firming commodity prices (Figure 1a). The improvement reflects a broad-based recovery in advanced economies, robust growth in commodity-importing Emerging Markets and Developing Economies (EMDEs), and an ongoing rebound in commodity exporters. Growth in China – and important trading partner for Russia – is expected to continue its gradual slowdown in 2018 following a stronger than-expected 6.9 percent in 2017.

Putin’s economic plan has softened the economic blow upon the masses, even while it has re-oriented the economy toward what would be the future growth-areas.

The country that Putin in 2000 had taken over and inherited from the drunkard Yeltsin (so beloved by Western aristocrats because he permitted them to skim off so much from it) was a wreck even worse than it had been when the Soviet Union ended. Putin immediately set to work to turn it around, in a way that could meet those two demands.

Apparently, Putin has been succeeding — now even despite what the US aristocracy (and its allied aristocracies in Europe and Arabia) have been throwing to weaken Russia. And the Russian people know it.

PS: The present reporter is an American, and used to be a Democrat, not inclined to condemn Democratic politicians, but Obama’s grab for Russia was not merely exceedingly dangerous for the entire world, it is profoundly unjust, it is also based on his (and most Republicans’) neoconservative lies, and so I don’t support it, and I no longer support Obama or his and the Clintons’ Democratic Party, at all. But this certainly doesn’t mean that I support the Republican Party, which is typically even worse on this (and other matters) than Democratic politicians are. On almost all issues, I support Bernie Sanders, but I am not a part of anyone’s political campaign, in any way

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Viktor Orban strikes back at EU. Visits Moscow to do business with Putin (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 117.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss Viktor Orban’s recent trip to Moscow following a contentious EU Parliament session where the Hungarian PM was punished by MEPs with an Article 7 sanctioning of Hungary, for daring to take on the George Soros globalist paymaster.

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Authored by John Laughland via The Ron Paul Institute for Peace & Prosperity:


The “salon des refusés” of political dissidents in the EU is getting bigger by the day. Less than a week after his government was condemned in a vote in the European parliament, Orban is in Moscow for talks about energy with Putin. His visit to Russia is the political equivalent of giving the EU the finger following last week’s humiliation.

Orban is not alone. In his battle with the EU over immigration and the rule of law, he is supported by Poland and the Czech Republic. Poland, which is also facing an Article 7 procedure against it by the European Commission, has vowed to protect Hungary, just as Hungary has vowed to protect Poland. So there is no way that the voting rights of either country can be removed, since the ultimate vote to do so requires unanimity. Orban also recently received the support of Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis and of the Italian Minister of the Interior, Matteo Salvini.

These politicians have voiced support for Orban’s stance against immigration. But they also support his pragmatic approach to Russia. Salvini is a well-known critic of the Russia sanctions, and Italy has said they should end. Parts of the Austrian government agree, the Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl having recently had Putin as a personal guest of honor at her wedding, while the Vice-Chancellor, Heinz-Christian Strache, is well known for his pro-Russian and pro-Putin views. On the other hand, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has reassured critics that Austria is rooted in the EU and shares its stance towards Russia.

The striking thing about Orban, and about his Central European allies (who incidentally include the Czech President Milos Zeman), is that they are from countries which, as Orban puts it, suffered greatly “under Russia” in the past. He is referring to the countries’ membership of the Warsaw Pact, and their subjection to communist rule, after World War II. In Hungary’s case, the suffering was especially violent because of the suppression of the 1956 revolution in Budapest by Soviet troops. Yet it is precisely these countries who today advocate a pragmatic relationship with Russia, while countries such as Britain, and even Germany, treat Russia as if it were still a communist dictatorship with the Cold War in full swing.

The irony is all the greater because Orban personally played a key role – but one which is often forgotten by historians – in bringing about the end of Soviet rule in Central Europe. His speech in Heroes’ Square in Budapest on June 16, 1989 on the occasion of the re-burial of the leader of the 1956 uprising, Imre Nagy, was the first time anyone in the Warsaw Pact had publicly called for the withdrawal of Soviet troops. The very making of this speech showed that the old taboos – and, with them, the power of the communist dictatorship – had collapsed. This was two months before the Hungarian government opened its border with Austria, allowing tens of thousands of East Germans to cross into West Germany, and five months before the Berlin wall came down. Orban’s contribution to the chain reaction which led to these later events was therefore decisive.

There is only one explanation for this apparent paradox that some former anti-communist Central European leaders are now pro-Russian. Unlike their Western colleagues, who were never directly affected by communist rule, the states of the former Warsaw Pact understand not only that Russia is no longer the old USSR, having abandoned communism, but also that national identity, and pride in national identity, were the key to undoing communist rule in Central Europe and then in Russia itself. Orban’s 1989 speech was a patriotic appeal to Hungarians: it traced their battle for national freedom back to 1848. Freedom and national pride went hand in hand.

As in Poland, where not only national identity but also religion played a key role in the downfall of communism, Hungarians (and Czechs and many others) now see with dismay that same national identity which freed them from communism under attack from the new commissars in Brussels. This is because the approach in Western Europe is directly the opposite. Pride in one’s nation is considered backward and dangerous, largely because national pride was irredeemably damaged during the war.

The fact is that all the early member states of the EU were defeated in the war, whether by the Germans or by the Allies. During the process of defeat, national pride was ruined, either through the barbarism of Nazism and fascism or through various forms of nationalist collaboration with it. All these stain the national record. Only in Britain was national pride the key to victory; for everyone else it was the key to defeat. (The only partial exception to this rule is France, which retained some sense of national pride after the war. But, in later decades, the memory of the Gaullist resistance was effaced by a stronger memory of the national shame of Vichy.)

Because of this, Western European states have adopted the EU ideology, according to which European history before the creation of the EU was nothing but wars between nation-states. Indeed, national rivalry was the key to these wars. In order for there to be peace, it is argued, Europe’s nation-states must be dissolved in a supranational entity. Germany has accomplished the task of making a clean slate of its national history in a more complete manner than any other European state but the other countries share parts, sometimes large parts, of this same German historiographical and political model.

To be sure, the states of Central Europe have skeletons in their own cupboards concerning the war. Hungary was an ally of Nazi Germany throughout it. But the more recent memory of national victory over communism has rekindled national pride, whereas the Western European states have not enjoyed any comparable victory and so they instead put all their faith in the post-national and post-modern European project. Moreover, whereas Communism was largely rejected as an ideology by the people living under it – including in Soviet Russia – the ideology of liberalism has penetrated very deeply into the Western European consciousness, to the extent even of extinguishing national sentiment. Liberalism has been more successful in this regard than communism was, even though orthodox Marxism also called for an end to the nation-state.

This East-West fracture is a major ideological dividing line inside the European Union. The vote in the European Parliament last week, in which over two thirds of MEPs ganged up on a member state in the name of their biased interpretation of “the rule of law,” was a historic moment which brought into the open the depth of this radically different approach to politics and history. Opposite attitudes to Russia are also part of this division. As Marx said, history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce, as we saw in Strasbourg last week: the European Union, like the Soviet Union, will in due course discover that national identity is stronger even than its political ideology.

Laughland is a Member of the RPI Board of Advisors.

Reprinted with permission from RT.

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The Magnitsky affair: the confession of a hustled hack

A Cypriot journalist’s confession of how he too fell for the wrong account of the Magnitsky Affair

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Before getting down to brass tacks, let me say that I loathe penning articles like this; loathe writing about myself or in the first person, because a reporter should report the news, not be the news. Yet I grudgingly make this exception because, ironically, it happens to be newsworthy. To cut to the chase, it concerns Anglo-American financier Bill Browder and the Sergei Magnitsky affair. I, like others in the news business I’d venture to guess, feel led astray by Browder.

This is no excuse. I didn’t do my due diligence, and take full responsibility for erroneous information printed under my name. For that, I apologize to readers. I refer to two articles of mine published in a Cypriot publication, dated December 25, 2015 and January 6, 2016.

Browder’s basic story, as he has told it time and again, goes like this: in June 2007, Russian police officers raided the Moscow offices of Browder’s firm Hermitage, confiscating company seals, certificates of incorporation, and computers.

Browder says the owners and directors of Hermitage-owned companies were subsequently changed, using these seized documents. Corrupt courts were used to create fake debts for these companies, which allowed for the taxes they had previously paid to the Russian Treasury to be refunded to what were now re-registered companies. The funds stolen from the Russian state were then laundered through banks and shell companies.

The scheme is said to have been planned earlier in Cyprus by Russian law enforcement and tax officials in cahoots with criminal elements. All this was supposedly discovered by Magnitsky, whom Browder had tasked with investigating what happened. When Magnitsky reported the fraud, some of the nefarious characters involved had him arrested and jailed. He refused to retract, and died while in pre-trial detention.

In my first article, I wrote: “Magnitsky, a 37-year-old Russian accountant, died in jail in 2009 after he exposed huge tax embezzlement…”

False. Contrary to the above story that has been rehashed countless times, Magnitsky did not expose any tax fraud, did not blow the whistle.

The interrogation reports show that Magnitsky had in fact been summoned by Russian authorities as a witness to an already ongoing investigation into Hermitage. Nor he did he accuse Russian investigators Karpov and/or Kuznetsov of committing the $230 million treasury fraud, as Browder claims.

Magnitsky did not disclose the theft. He first mentioned it in testimony in October 2008. But it had already been reported in the New York Times on July 24, 2008.

In reality, the whistleblower was a certain Rimma Starova. She worked for one of the implicated shell companies and, having read in the papers that authorities were investigating, went to police to give testimony in April 2008 – six months before Magnitsky spoke of the scam for the first time (see here and here).

Why, then, did I report that about Magnitsky? Because at the time my sole source for the story was Team Browder, who had reached out to the Cyprus Mail and with whom I communicated via email. I was provided with ‘information’, flow charts and so on. All looking very professional and compelling.

At the time of the first article, I knew next to nothing about the Magnitsky/Browder affair. I had to go through media reports to get the gist, and then get up to speed with Browder’s latest claims that a Cypriot law firm, which counted the Hermitage Fund among its clients, had just been ‘raided’ by Cypriot police.

The article had to be written and delivered on the same day. In retrospect I should have asked for more time – a lot more time – and Devil take the deadlines.

For the second article, I conversed briefly on the phone with the soft-spoken Browder himself, who handed down the gospel on the Magnitsky affair. Under the time constraints, and trusting that my sources could at least be relied upon for basic information which they presented as facts, I went along with it.

I was played. But let’s be clear: I let myself down too.

In the ensuing weeks and months, I didn’t follow up on the story as my gut told me something was wrong: villains and malign actors operating in a Wild West Russia, and at the centre of it all, a heroic Magnitsky who paid with his life – the kind of script that Hollywood execs would kill for.

Subsequently I mentally filed away the Browder story, while being aware it was in the news.

But the real red pill was a documentary by Russian filmmaker Andrei Nekrasov, which came to my attention a few weeks ago.

Titled ‘The Magnitsky Act – Behind The Scenes’, it does a magisterial job of depicting how the director initially took Browder’s story on faith, only to end up questioning everything.

The docudrama dissects, disassembles and dismantles Browder’s narrative, as Nekrasov – by no means a Putin apologist – delves deeper down into the rabbit hole.

The director had set out to make a poignant film about Magnitsky’s tragedy, but became increasingly troubled as the facts he uncovered didn’t stack up with Browder’s account, he claims.

The ‘aha’ moment arrives when Nekrasov appears to show solid proof that Magnitsky blew no whistle.

Not only that, but in his depositions – the first one dating to 2006, well before Hermitage’s offices were raided – Magnitsky did not accuse any police officers of being part of the ‘theft’ of Browder’s companies and the subsequent alleged $230m tax rebate fraud.

The point can’t be stressed enough, as this very claim is the lynchpin of Browder’s account. In his bestseller Red Notice, Browder alleges that Magnitsky was arrested because he exposed two corrupt police officers, and that he was jailed and tortured because he wouldn’t retract.

We are meant to take Browder’s word for it.

It gets worse for Nekrasov, as he goes on to discover that Magnitsky was no lawyer. He did not have a lawyer’s license. Rather, he was an accountant/auditor who worked for Moscow law firm Firestone Duncan.

Yet every chance he gets, Browder still refers to Magnitsky as ‘a lawyer’ or ‘my lawyer’.

The clincher comes late in the film, with footage from Browder’s April 15, 2015 deposition in a US federal court, in the Prevezon case. The case, brought by the US Justice Department at Browder’s instigation, targeted a Russian national who Browder said had received $1.9m of the $230m tax fraud.

In the deposition, Browder is asked if Magnitsky had a law degree in Russia. “I’m not aware that he did,” he replies.

The full deposition, some six hours long, is (still) available on Youtube. As penance for past transgressions, I watched it in its entirety. While refraining from using adjectives to describe it, I shall simply cite some examples and let readers decide on Browder’s credibility.

Browder seems to suffer an almost total memory blackout as a lawyer begins firing questions at him. He cannot recall, or does not know, where he or his team got the information concerning the alleged illicit transfer of funds from Hermitage-owned companies.

This is despite the fact that the now-famous Powerpoint presentations – hosted on so many ‘anti-corruption’ websites and recited by ‘human rights’ NGOs – were prepared by Browder’s own team.

Nor does he recall where, or how, he and his team obtained information on the amounts of the ‘stolen’ funds funnelled into companies. When it’s pointed out that in any case this information would be privileged – banking secrecy and so forth – Browder appears to be at a loss.

According to Team Browder, in 2007 the ‘Klyuev gang’ together with Russian interior ministry officials travelled to Cyprus, ostensibly to set up the tax rebate scam using shell companies.

But in his deposition, the Anglo-American businessman cannot remember, or does not know, how his team obtained the travel information of the conspirators.

He can’t explain how they acquired the flight records and dates, doesn’t have any documentation at hand, and isn’t aware if any such documentation exists.

Browder claims his ‘Justice for Magnitsky’ campaign, which among other things has led to US sanctions on Russian persons, is all about vindicating the young man. Were that true, one would have expected Browder to go out of his way to aid Magnitsky in his hour of need.

The deposition does not bear that out.

Lawyer: “Did anyone coordinate on your behalf with Firestone Duncan about the defence of Mr Magnitsky?”

Browder: “I don’t know. I don’t remember.”

Going back to Nekrasov’s film, a standout segment is where the filmmaker looks at a briefing document prepared by Team Browder concerning the June 2007 raid by Russian police officers. In it, Browder claims the cops beat up Victor Poryugin, a lawyer with the firm.

The lawyer was then “hospitalized for two weeks,” according to Browder’s presentation, which includes a photo of the beaten-up lawyer. Except, it turns out the man pictured is not Poryugin at all. Rather, the photo is actually of Jim Zwerg, an American human rights activist beaten up during a street protest in 1961 (see here and here).

Nekrasov sits down with German politician Marieluise Beck. She was a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Pace), which compiled a report that made Magnitsky a cause celebre.

You can see Beck’s jaw drop when Nekrasov informs her that Magnitsky did not report the fraud, that he was in fact under investigation.

It transpires that Pace, as well as human rights activists, were getting their information from one source – Browder. Later, the Council of Europe’s Andreas Gross admits on camera that their entire investigation into the Magnitsky affair was based on Browder’s info and that they relied on translations of Russian documents provided by Browder’s team because, as Gross puts it, “I don’t speak Russian myself.”

That hit home – I, too, had been fed information from a single source, not bothering to verify it. I, too, initially went with the assumption that because Russia is said to be a land of endemic corruption, then Browder’s story sounded plausible if not entirely credible.

For me, the takeaway is this gem from Nekrasov’s narration: “I was regularly overcome by deep unease. Was I defending a system that killed Magnitsky, even if I’d found no proof that he’d been murdered?”

Bull’s-eye. Nekrasov has arrived at a crossroads, the moment where one’s mettle is tested: do I pursue the facts wherever they may lead, even if they take me out of my comfort zone? What is more important: the truth, or the narrative? Nekrasov chose the former. As do I.

Like with everything else, specific allegations must be assessed independently of one’s general opinion of the Russian state. They are two distinct issues. Say Browder never existed; does that make Russia a paradise?

I suspect Team Browder may scrub me from their mailing list; one can live with that.

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