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What the Duma elections say about Russia

The elections to the Duma accurately reflect voting in the country. The elections confirm overwhelming support for Vladimir Putin and the government, and prove that Russia’s “liberal opposition” is no more than a fringe group.

Alexander Mercouris

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Though there are still a few votes to count, the results of the Duma elections are no longer expected to change, and are as follows:

United Russia, Russia’s governing party, has won 54.21% of the vote. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation came second with 13.53% of the vote, and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) of Vladimir Zhirinovsky came in third place with 13.28% of the vote.  The social democratic A Just Russian party gained 6.19% of the votes.

No other party overcame the 5% threshold for entry into the Duma in the half of the Duma elected by the proportional representation/party list system.

Voting for the minor parties was as follows: Communists of Russia is in the fifth place with 2.35% of the vote, followed by Yabloko (1.86%), the Russian Party of Pensioners for Justice (1.75%), Rodina (1.44%), the Party of Growth (1.18%), the Green party (0.74%), Parnas (the party Khodorkovsky is supporting) (0.70%), Russia’s Patriots (0.58%), Civic Platform (0.22%). The Civil Power party is in last place with 0.14% of vote.

Because half the Duma is elected by the first past the post winner-takes-all single member constituency system these results have given the ruling party United Russia a lopsided majority. 

According to the latest election returns the Central Election Commission says United Russia will have a total of 343 seats in the Duma (76.22% of the seats). In other words it will enjoy a ‘constitutional majority’ (which requires 300 seats), enabling it to amend the constitution without needing the support of the other parties.

The Communist Party of the Russian Federation looks to win 42 seats (9.34% of the total), Zhirinovsky’s LDPR – 39 mandates (8.67% of the total), and A Just Russia, 23 seats (5.11% of the total).

In addition, the nationalist Rodina party and Civic Platform – the liberal party of the billionaire businessman Mikhail Prokhorov – have each won one seat by each winning the vote in one single member constituency, whilst an independent – Vladislav Reznik – has also managed to win himself a seat in this way.

Contrary to some early reports neither Yabloko – Russia’s oldest and biggest liberal party – nor Parnas – the party led by former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and backed by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, with which such liberal opposition activists such as the blogger Alexey Navalny have on occasion been associated – won seats, and neither party will have any seats in the new Duma.

That means that those parties and political leaders who were at the forefront of the 2011 protests have completely failed to gain election to the Duma.

Russia’s liberal parties are a mixed bunch.  Prokhorov – the de facto leader of Civic Platform, the one liberal party to win a seat in the Duma – is not really an opponent of Putin’s, nor is he really an opponent of the government.  Rather he and his party should be seen as representing the uttermost liberal fringe of the governing political establishment, even if they do say critical things about the government from time to time.  The same thing could also be said of the Party of Growth, which is essentially the latest iteration of the former Union of Right Wing Forces, another pro-establishment liberal party.

Nonetheless if one brings together the votes of all of the liberal or quasi-liberal parties and treats them all as opposition parties, then their combined vote in this election is still just 4.1%. 

What that means is that even if all the liberal parties had come together into one party they would still have failed to pass the 5% threshold needed to gain entry to the Duma in the half of the Duma which is elected by the proportional representation/party list system.  It is not even clear that they would have won any more seats than the single seat Prokhorov’s Civic Platform won in the half of the Duma elected by the single member constituency system.

Despite their dismal showing the Western media and Western governments still persist in pretending that it is these liberal parties which are the opposition to the government. 

The standard refrain is that if these parties do badly in elections it is not because the government is popular or because they are unpopular.  It is because the elections are rigged and because the political system is supposedly so heavily tilted against them as to deny them the access to the media and the resources they need to campaign effectively.

The reality is the precise opposite.

The government’s response to the 2011 protests was to pull out all the stops to try to make these elections as clean and as transparent as possible, and the great majority of observers agree that it has succeeded.  These elections were probably the cleanest in Russia’s post Soviet history, and there is no serious doubt that their results more or less accurately reflect how Russians voted.  All the leaders of all the major parties have accepted the results as legitimate.

In order to achieve this result a whole raft of changes were made to the election rules following the 2011 protests.  Procedures for registering minor parties such as Parnas were greatly simplified, the voting process was made more public and more transparent, the threshold for entry to the Duma in the half of the Duma elected by the proportional representation/party list system was brought down from 7% to 5%, and single member constituencies were reintroduced to make it easier for liberal candidates to win seats, even if the actual consequence of this change has been to give United Russia an even bigger majority.

In an extraordinary gesture towards the liberals, back in March the government even replaced Vladimir Churov – the veteran but deeply controversial head of the Central Election Commission which supervises the elections – with Ella Pamfilova, a liberal politician who was once a minister in Boris Yeltsin’s first liberal government, and who was previously Russia’s Commissioner for Human Rights.

Not only has the simplification of the procedure to register parties made it possible for parties like Parnas to participate in the election, but as participants in the election they have been provided with access to state television to an extent that has not previously been the case in national elections that have taken place in recent years.

The issue of access to the media for Russia’s liberal opposition is anyway a false one.  Russia’s liberal opposition has always had far more access to the news media than it or its Western sponsors pretend.  The reality – obvious to anyone at all familiar with Russian politics – is not that the anti-government pro-Western liberals overwhelmingly concentrated in the Yabloko and Parnas parties get too little publicity.  It is that on the contrary, given their derisory level of support (1.86% for Yabloko and 0.7% for Parnas) they get far too much – both in Russia and in the West.

The result is that what is nothing more than an angry though very well resourced fringe group, supported in this election by just 2.56% of the voting electorate, gets taken far too seriously, and gets far more attention than on any objective assessment it truly merits.

This completely disproportionate level of attention comes with a cost.  Not only does it seriously distort Western understanding of Russia.  It comes at the expense of other far more worthy groups and individuals, who deserve attention far more.  Obvious examples are Russia’s real opposition parties: the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party, and the social democratic A Just Russia.  

However it also includes many others, such as those groups and individuals in Russia who are really interested in Green issues – as opposed to merely using Green issues to further an anti-government and pro-Western political agenda. 

Thus Jill Stein – the Green candidate in the US Presidential election – recently felt obliged to send a letter to Yevgeniya Chirikova and Nadezhda Kutepova after receiving complaints about her supposed closeness to Putin from them, apparently under the impression that in Russia they are important leaders of the Green movement and environmental activists.  Chirikova (who actually lives in Estonia) and Kutepova (who now also lives or has fled abroad) are in fact better described as Western funded anti-government opposition activists.  Real Russian Green activists – of whom there are many – by contrast get far less attention, and are practically unknown in the West.

Since Western supporters of Russia’s anti-government pro-Western liberal fringe cannot deny the overwhelming extent of United Russia’s victory – or the utter failure of the pro-Western liberal fringe groups they support – they have hit instead on the turnout, which at 47% is lower than in previous parliamentary elections, and which they say shows diminishing public support for the government (see for example here and here).

This is to stand reality on its head.  If turnout in this election had been 13% higher so as to bring turnout back to the level of 60% achieved in the 2011 election, and if United Russia was not given a single extra vote over and above those it actually achieved in the election, its vote share would still be 47% – still far more than that of any other party, and still a convincing victory by any measure.

In reality it beggars belief that if turnout had been higher none of the extra votes would have gone to United Russia.  On the contrary everything points to the probability that many of the voters who didn’t vote would, if they had voted, have supported it. 

As it happens, since liberal voters in Russia tend to be more motivated than other voters (a factor that proved important in the 2013 Moscow mayoral election), the probability is that they actually benefited from the lower turnout rather than suffered from it.

The lower turnout in this election in fact has a perfectly simple explanation, which has nothing to do with disenchantment with the government or with the political system or with concern about election fraud

In previous election cycles the parliamentary elections were timed to precede by a few months the far more important Presidential elections of which they were seen as a dress-rehearsal.  One of the changes made following the 2011 protests was to break this link, so that the next Presidential election is not now due until 2018. 

This has inevitably diminished interest in the parliamentary elections, and is sufficient by itself to explain the lower turnout.

The fundamental lesson of this election, made previously for The Duran by myself and by my colleague Adam Garrie, is that Russia is politically an extremely stable country.  The government commands very high levels of support, and the political system has legitimacy.  Individuals and groups who reject the government and deny the political system’s legitimacy are few and marginal.

Western commentators’ refusal to acknowledge this fact, and their persistence in treating the post-election 2011 protests as indicators of widespread popular hostility to the government, is an exercise in denial. 

The 2011 protests were triggered by anger on the part of liberal voters in Moscow at their failure to gain representation in a Duma elected that year exclusively on the proportional representation/party list system – something which would also have been true if the Duma had been elected exclusively through such a system in Sunday’s election.  This followed an election campaign in which liberal voters – excited by Navalny’s branding of United Russia as “the party of crooks and thieves” – persuaded themselves that they would win far more votes in the elections than on any objective assessment they had a right to expect.  The protests did not signify wider public hostility to the government – a fact shown by the fact that they were both comparatively small and were confined entirely to Moscow.

What this means is that continued attempts by the US and other Western governments to engineer “democracy promotion”, “colour revolution” or “regime change” in Russia are doomed to failure.  They will continue to fail even if a future Hillary Clinton administration steps up with them. 

On the facts the only thing such attempts can achieve is anger the Russians, and make sure that relations between the US and Russia will go on getting worse.    

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US-China trade war heats up as surplus hits record $34 Billion (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 136.

Alex Christoforou

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According to a report by the AFP, China’s trade surplus with the United States ballooned to a record $34.1 billion in September, despite a raft of US tariffs, official data showed Friday, adding fuel to the fire of a worsening trade war.

Relations between the world’s two largest economies have soured sharply this year, with US President Donald Trump vowing on Thursday to inflict economic pain on China if it does not blink.
The two countries imposed new tariffs on a massive amount of each other’s goods mid-September, with the US targeting $200 billion in Chinese imports and Beijing firing back at $60 billion worth of US goods.

“China-US trade friction has caused trouble and pounded our foreign trade development,” customs spokesman Li Kuiwen told reporters Friday.

But China’s trade surplus with the US grew 10 percent in September from a record $31 billion in August, according to China’s customs administration. It was a 22 percent jump from the same month last year.

China’s exports to the US rose to $46.7 billion while imports slumped to $12.6 billion.

China’s overall trade — what it buys and sells with all countries including the US — logged a $31.7 billion surplus, as exports rose faster than imports.

Exports jumped 14.5 percent for September on-year, beating forecasts from analysts polled by Bloomberg News, while imports rose 14.3 percent on-year.

While the data showed China’s trade remained strong for the month, analysts forecast the trade war will start to hurt in coming months.

China’s export jump for the month suggests exporters were shipping goods early to beat the latest tariffs, said ANZ’s China economist Betty Wang, citing the bounce in electrical machinery exports, much of which faced the looming duties.

“We will watch for downside risks to China’s exports” in the fourth quarter, Wang said.

Analysts say a sharp depreciation of the yuan has also helped China weather the tariffs by making its exports cheaper.

“The big picture is the Chinese exports have so far held up well in the face of escalating trade tensions and cooling global growth, most likely thanks to the competitiveness boost provided by a weaker renminbi (yuan),” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, China economist at Capital Economics.

“With global growth likely to cool further in the coming quarters and US tariffs set to become more punishing, the recent resilience of exports is unlikely to be sustained,” he said.

According to Bloomberg US President Donald Trump’s new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement isn’t that different from the North American Free Trade Agreement that it replaced. But hidden in the bowels of the new trade deal is a clause, Article 32.10, that could have a far-reaching impact. The new agreement requires member states to get approval from the other members if they initiate trade negotiations with a so-called non-market economy. In practice, “non-market” almost certainly means China. If, for example, Canada begins trade talks with China, it has to show the full text of the proposed agreement to the U.S. and Mexico — and if either the U.S. or Mexico doesn’t like what it sees, it can unilaterally kick Canada out of the USMCA.

Although it seems unlikely that the clause would be invoked, it will almost certainly exert a chilling effect on Canada and Mexico’s trade relations with China. Forced to choose between a gargantuan economy across the Pacific and another one next door, both of the U.S.’s neighbors are almost certain to pick the latter.

This is just another part of Trump’s general trade waragainst China. It’s a good sign that Trump realizes that unilateral U.S. efforts alone won’t be enough to force China to make concessions on issues like currency valuation, intellectual-property protection and industrial subsidies. China’s export markets are much too diverse:

If Trump cuts the U.S. off from trade with China, the likeliest outcome is that China simply steps up its exports to other markets. That would bind the rest of the world more closely to China and weaken the global influence of the U.S. China’s economy would take a small but temporary hit, while the U.S. would see its position as the economic center of the world slip into memory.

Instead, to take on China, Trump needs a gang. And that gang has to be much bigger than just North America. But most countries in Europe and East Asia probably can’t be bullied into choosing between the U.S. and China. — their ties to the U.S. are not as strong as those of Mexico and Canada. Countries such as South Korea, Germany, India and Japan will need carrots as well as sticks if they’re going to join a U.S.-led united trade front against China.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the escalating trade war between the United States and China, and the record trade surplus that positions China with a bit more leverage than Trump anticipated.

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Via Zerohedge Trump Threatens China With More Tariffs, Does Not Seek Economic “Depression”

US equity futures dipped in the red after President Trump threatened to impose a third round of tariffs on China and warned that Chinese meddling in U.S. politics was a “bigger problem” than Russian involvement in the 2016 election.

During the same interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes”, in which Trump threatened to impose sanctions against Saudi Arabia if the Saudis are found to have killed WaPo reported Khashoggi, and which sent Saudi stock plunging, Trump said he “might,” impose a new round of tariffs on China, adding that while he has “great chemistry” with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and noting that Xi “wants to negotiate”, he doesn’t “know that that’s necessarily going to continue.” Asked if American products have become more expensive due to tariffs on China, Trump said that “so far, that hasn’t turned out to be the case.”

“They can retaliate, but they can’t, they don’t have enough ammunition to retaliate,” Trump says, “We do $100 billion with them. They do $531 billion with us.”

Trump was also asked if he wants to push China’s economy into a depression to which the US president said “no” before comparing the country’s stock-market losses since the tariffs first launched to those in 1929, the start of the Great Depression in the U.S.

“I want them to negotiate a fair deal with us. I want them to open their markets like our markets are open,” Trump said in the interview that aired Sunday. So far, the U.S. has imposed three rounds of tariffs on Chinese imports totaling $250 billion, prompting China to retaliate against U.S. products. The president previously has threatened to hit virtually all Chinese imports with duties.

Asked about his relationship with Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin’s alleged efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, Trump quickly turned back to China. “They meddled,” he said of Russia, “but I think China meddled too.”

“I think China meddled also. And I think, frankly, China … is a bigger problem,” Trump said, as interviewer Lesley Stahl interrupted him for “diverting” from a discussion of Russia.

Shortly before an audacious speech by Mike Pence last weekend, in which the US vice president effectively declared a new cold war on Beijing (see “Russell Napier: Mike Pence Announces Cold War II”), Trump made similar accusations during a speech at the United Nations last month, which his aides substantiated by pointing to long-term Chinese influence campaigns and an advertising section in the Des Moines Register warning farmers about the potential effects of Trump’s tariffs.

Meanwhile, in a rare U.S. television appearance, China’s ambassador to the U.S. said Beijing has no choice but to respond to what he described as a trade war started by the U.S.

“We never wanted a trade war, but if somebody started a trade war against us, we have to respond and defend our own interests,” said China’s Ambassador Cui Tiankai.

Cui also dismissed as “groundless” the abovementioned suggestion by Vice President Mike Pence that China has orchestrated an effort to meddle in U.S. domestic affairs. Pence escalated the rhetoric in a speech Oct. 4, saying Beijing has created a “a whole-of-government approach” to sway American public opinion, including spies, tariffs, coercive measures and a propaganda campaign.

Pence’s comments were some of the most critical about China by a high-ranking U.S. official in recent memory. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo got a lecture when he visited Beijing days later, about U.S. actions that were termed “completely out of line.” The tough words followed months of increases tit-for-tat tariffs imposed by Washington and Beijing that have ballooned to cover hundreds of billions of dollars in bilateral trade.

During a recent interview with National Public Radio, Cui said the U.S. has “not sufficiently” dealt in good faith with the Chinese on trade matters, saying “the U.S. position keeps changing all the time so we don’t know exactly what the U.S. would want as priorities.”

Meanwhile, White House economic director Larry Kudlow said on “Fox News Sunday” that President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will “probably meet” at the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires in late November. “There’s plans and discussions and agendas” being discussed, he said. So far, talks with China on trade have been “unsatisfactory,” Kudlow said. “We’ve made our asks” on allegations of intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers, he added. “We have to have reciprocity.”

Addressing the upcoming meeting, Cui said he was present at two previous meetings of Xi and Trump, and that top-level communication “played a key role, an irreplaceable role, in guiding the relationship forward.” Despite current tensions the two have a “good working relationship,” he said.

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BREAKING: Explosion in Crimea, Russia kills many, injuring dozens, terrorism suspected

According to preliminary information, the incident was caused by a gas explosion at a college facility in Kerch, Crimea.

The Duran

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“We are clarifying the information at the moment. Preliminary figures are 50 injured and 10 dead. Eight ambulance crews are working at the site and air medical services are involved,” the press-service for the Crimean Ministry of Health stated.

Medics announced that at least 50 people were injured in the explosion in Kerch and 25 have already been taken to local hospital with moderate wounds, according to Sputnik.

Local news outlets reported that earlier in the day, students at the college heard a blast and windows of the building were shattered.

Putin Orders that Assistance Be Provided to Victims of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The president has instructed the Ministry of Health and the rescue services to take emergency measures to assist victims of this explosion, if necessary, to ensure the urgent transportation of seriously wounded patients to leading medical institutions of Russia, whether in Moscow or other cities,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitriy Peskov said.

The president also expressed his condolences to all those affected by the tragic incident.

Manhunt Underway in Kerch as FSB Specialists Investigate Site of Explosion – National Anti-Terrorist Committee

The site of the blast that rocked a city college in Kerch is being examined by FSB bomb disposal experts and law enforcement agencies are searching for clues that might lead to the arrest of the perpetrators, the National Anti Terrorism Committee said in a statement.

“Acting on orders from the head of the NAC’s local headquarters, FSB, Interior Ministry, Russian Guards and Emergency Ministry units have arrived at the site. The territory around the college has been cordoned off and the people inside the building evacuated… Mine-disposal experts are working at the site and law enforcement specialists are investigating,” the statement said.

Terrorist Act Considered as Possible Cause of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The tragic news that comes from Kerch. Explosion. The president was informed … The data on those killed and the number of injured is constantly updated,” Peskov told reporters.

“[The version of a terrorist attack] is being considered,” he said.

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10 percent of American F-22 fighter jets damaged by Hurricane Michael

Part of the reason the F-22’s were left in the path of the storm is that they were broken and too expensive to fix or fly.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Note to the wise: When a hurricane comes, move your planes out of the way. Especially your really expensive F-22 fighter planes. After all, those babies are $339 mil apiece. Got the message?

Apparently the US Air Force didn’t get this message. Or, did they find themselves unable to follow the message?

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The Washington Times reported Tuesday that between 17 and 20 of these top-of-the-line fighter jets were damaged, some beyond the point of repair, when Hurricane Michael slammed ashore on Mexico Beach, Florida, not far from the Tyndall Air Force Base in the same state. The Times reports that more than a dozen of the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets were damaged after being left in the path of the extremely fierce storm:

President Trump’s tour Monday of devastation wrought by Hurricane Michael took him close to Florida’s Tyndall Air Force Base, where more than a dozen F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets were damaged after being left in the path of the powerful storm.

The pricey fighter jets — some possibly damaged beyond repair — were caught in the widespread destruction that took at least 18 lives, flattened homes, downed trees and buckled roads from Florida to Virginia.

The decision to leave roughly $7.5 billion in aircraft in the path of a hurricane raised eyebrows, including among defense analysts who say the Pentagon’s entire high-tech strategy continues to make its fighter jets vulnerable to weather and other mishaps when they are grounded for repairs.

“This becomes sort of a self-defeating cycle where we have $400 million aircraft that can’t fly precisely because they are $400 million aircraft,” said Dan Grazier, a defense fellow at Project on Government Oversight. “If we were buying simpler aircraft then it would be a whole lot easier for the base commander to get these aircraft up and in working order, at least more of them.”

This is quite a statement. The F-22 is held to be the tip of the American air defense sword. A superb airplane (when it works), it can do things no other plane in the world can do. It boasts a radar profile the size of a marble, making it virtually undetectable by enemy radars. It is highly maneuverable with thrust-vectoring built into its engines.

However, to see a report like this is simply stunning. After all, one would expect that the best military equipment ought to be the most reliable as well. 

It appears that Hurricane Michael figuratively and physically blew the lid off any efforts to conceal a problem with these planes, and indeed with the hyper-technological basis for the US air fighting forcesThe Times continues:

Reports on the number of aircraft damaged ranged from 17 to 22 or about 10 percent of the Air Force’s F-22 fleet of 187.

The Air Force stopped buying F-22s, considered the world’s most advanced fighter jets, in 2012. The aircraft is being replaced by the F-35, another high-tech but slightly less-expensive aircraft.

Later in the tour, at an emergency command center in Georgia, Mr. Trump said the damage to the F-22s couldn’t be avoided because the aircraft were grounded and the storm moved quickly.

“We’re going to have a full report. There was some damage, not nearly as bad as we first heard,” he said when asked about the F-22s, which cost about $339 million each.

“I’m always concerned about cost. I don’t like it,” Mr. Trump said.

Still, the president remains a fan of the high-tech fighter jet.

“The F-22 is one of my all-time favorites. It is the most beautiful fighter jet in the world. One of the best,” he said.

The Air Force managed to fly 33 of the F-22s to safety, but maintenance and repair issues kept 22 of the notoriously finicky aircraft on the ground when the powerful storm hit the base.

About 49 percent of the F-22s are out of action at any given time, according to an Air Force report this year.

This is a stunning statistic. This means that of the 187 planes in existence, 90 of them are not working. At their cost, that means that over thirty billion dollars worth of military equipment is sitting around, broken, just in airplanes alone.

As a point of comparison, the entire Russian military budget for 2017 was $61 billion, with that budget producing hypersonic missiles, superb fighter aircraft and tanks. Russian fighter planes are known for being able to take harsh landing and take-off conditions that would cripple the most modern American flying machines.

It would seem that Hurricane Michael exposed a serious problem with the state of readiness of American armed forces. Thankfully that problem did not arise in combat, but it is no less serious.

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