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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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Understanding the Holodomor and why Russia says nothing

A descendant of Holodomor victims takes the rest of us to school as to whether or not Russia needs to shoulder the blame.

Seraphim Hanisch

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One of the charges that nationalist Ukrainians often lodge against their Russian neighbors is that the Russian government has never acknowledged or formally apologized to Ukraine for the “Holodomor” that took place in Ukraine in 1932-1933. This was a man-made famine that killed an estimated seven to 10 million Ukrainians , though higher estimates claim 12.5 million and lower ones now claim 3.3 million.

No matter what the total was, it amounts to a lot of people that starved to death. The charge that modern-day Russia ought to apologize for this event is usually met with silence, which further enrages those Ukrainians that believe that this issue must be resolved by the Russian acknowledgement of responsibility for it. Indeed, the prime charge of these Ukrainians is that the Russians committed a genocide against the Ukrainian people. This is a claim Russia denies.

To the outside observer who does not know this history of Russia and Ukraine’s relationship, and who does not know or understand the characteristics of the Soviet Union, this charge seems as simple and laid out as that of the Native Americans or the blacks demanding some sort of recompense or restitution for the damages inflicted on these societies through conquest and / or slavery. But we discovered someone who had family connections involved in the Holodomor, and who offers her own perspective, which is instructive in why perhaps the Russian Federation does not say anything about this situation.

Scene in Kharkiv with dead from the famine 1932-33 lying along the street.

The speaker is Anna Vinogradova, a Russian Israeli-American, who answered the question through Quora of “Why doesn’t Russia recognize the Holodomor as a genocide?” She openly admits that she speaks only for herself, but her answer is still instructive. We offer it here, with some corrections for the sake of smooth and understandable English:

I can’t speak for Russia and what it does and doesn’t recognize. I can speak for myself.

I am a great-granddaughter of a “Kulak” (кулак), or well-to-do peasant, who lived close to the Russia/Ukraine border.

The word “кулак” means “fist” in Russian, and it wasn’t a good thing for a person to be called by this label. A кулак was an exploiter of peasants and a class enemy of the new state of workers and poor peasants. In other words, while under Communism, to be called a кулак was to bring a death sentence upon yourself.

At some point, every rural class enemy, every peasant who wasn’t a member of a collective farm was eliminated one way or another.

Because Ukraine has very fertile land and the Ukrainian style of agriculture often favors individual farms as opposed to villages, there is no question that many, many Ukrainian peasants were considered class enemies like my great grandfather, and eliminated in class warfare.

I have no doubt that class warfare included starvation, among other things.

The catch? My great grandfather was an ethnic Russian living in Russia. What nationality were the communists who persecuted and eventually shot him? They were of every nationality there was (in the Soviet Union), and they were led by a Ukrainian, who was taking orders from a Georgian.

Now, tell me, why I, a descendant of an unjustly killed Russian peasant, need to apologize to the descendants of the Ukrainians who killed him on the orders of a Georgian?

What about the Russian, Kazakh golodomor (Russian rendering of the same famine)? What about the butchers, who came from all ethnicities? Can someone explain why it’s only okay to talk about Ukrainian victims and Russian persecutors? Why do we need to rewrite history decades later to convert that brutal class war into an ethnic war that it wasn’t?

Ethnic warfare did not start in Russia until after WWII, when some ethnicities were accused of collaboration with the Nazis and brutal group punishments were implemented. It was all based on class up to that time.

The communists of those years were fanatically internationalist. “Working people of all countries, unite!” was their slogan and they were fanatical about it.

As for the crimes of Communism, Russia has been healing this wound for decades, and Russia’s government has made its anticommunist position very clear.

This testimony is most instructive. First, it points out information that the charge of the Holodomor as “genocide!” neatly leaves out. In identifying the internationalist aspects of the Soviet Union, Ukraine further was not a country identified as somehow worthy of genocidal actions. Such a thought makes no sense, especially given the great importance of Ukraine as the “breadbasket” of the Soviet Union, which it was.

Secondly, it shows a very western-style of “divide to conquer” with a conveniently incendiary single-word propaganda tool that is no doubt able to excite any Ukrainian who may be neutral to slightly disaffected about Russia, and then after that, all Ukrainians are now victims of the mighty evil overlords in Moscow.

How convenient is this when the evil overlords in Kyiv don’t want their citizens to know what they are doing?

We saw this on Saturday – taken to a very high peak when President Petro Poroshenko announced the new leading “Hierarch” of the “Ukrainian National Church” and said not one single word about Christ, but only:

“This day will go down in history as the day of the creation of an autocephalous Orthodox church in Ukraine… This is the day of the creation of the church as an independent structure… What is this church? It is a church without Putin. It is a church without Kirill, without prayer for the Russian authorities and the Russian army.”

But as long as Russia is made the “problem”, millions of scandalized Ukrainians will not care what this new Church actually does or teaches, which means it is likely to teach just about anything.

Russia had its own Holodomor. The history of the event shows that this was a result of several factors – imposed socialist economics on a deeply individualized form of agrarian capitalism (bad for morale and worse for food production), really inane centralized planning of cropland use, and a governmental structure that really did not exist to serve the governed, but to impose an ideology on people who really were not all that interested in it.

Personal blame might well lay with Stalin, a Georgian, but the biggest source of the famine lay in the structures imposed under communism as a way of economic strategy. This is not Russia’s fault. It is the economic model that failed.

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Mueller Finally Releases Heavily Redacted Key Flynn Memo On Eve Of Sentencing

Alex Christoforou

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Via Zerohedge


Having initially snubbed Judge Emmet Sullivan’s order to release the original 302 report from the Michael Flynn interrogation in January 2017, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has finally produced the heavily redacted document, just hours before sentencing is due to be handed down.

The memo  – in full below – details then-national security adviser Michael Flynn’s interview with FBI agents Peter Strzok and Joe Pientka, and shows Flynn was repeatedly asked about his contacts with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and in each instance, Flynn denied (or did not recall) any such conversations.

The agents had transcripts of Flynn’s phone calls to Russian Ambassador Kislyak, thus showing Flynn to be lying.

Flynn pleaded guilty guilty last December to lying to the FBI agents about those conversations with Kislyak.

The redactions in the document seem oddly placed but otherwise, there is nothing remarkable about the content…

Aside from perhaps Flynn’s incredulity at the media attention…

Flynn is set to be sentenced in that federal court on Tuesday.

Of course, as Christina Laila notes, the real crime is that Flynn was unmasked during his phone calls to Kislyak and his calls were illegally leaked by a senior Obama official to the Washington Post.

*  *  *

Full document below…

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Don’t Laugh : It’s Giving Putin What He Wants

The fact of the matter is that humorous lampooning of western establishment Russia narratives writes itself.

Caitlin Johnstone

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Authored by Caitlin Johnstone:


The BBC has published an article titled “How Putin’s Russia turned humour into a weapon” about the Kremlin’s latest addition to its horrifying deadly hybrid warfare arsenal: comedy.

The article is authored by Olga Robinson, whom the BBC, unhindered by any trace of self-awareness, has titled “Senior Journalist (Disinformation)”. Robinson demonstrates the qualifications and acumen which earned her that title by warning the BBC’s audience that the Kremlin has been using humor to dismiss and ridicule accusations that have been leveled against it by western governments, a “form of trolling” that she reports is designed to “deliberately lower the level of discussion”.

“Russia’s move towards using humour to influence its campaigns is a relatively recent phenomenon,” Robinson explains, without speculating as to why Russians might have suddenly begun laughing at their western accusers. She gives no consideration to the possibility that the tightly knit alliance of western nations who suddenly began hysterically shrieking about Russia two years ago have simply gotten much more ridiculous and easier to make fun of during that time.

Couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the emergence of a demented media environment wherein everything around the world from French protests to American culture wars to British discontent with the European Union gets blamed on Russia without any facts or evidence. Wherein BBC reporters now correct guests and caution them against voicing skepticism of anti-Russia narratives because the UK is in “an information war” with that nation. Wherein the same cable news Russiagate pundit can claim that both Rex Tillerson’s hiring and his later firing were the result of a Russian conspiracy to benefit the Kremlin. Wherein mainstream outlets can circulate blatantly false information about Julian Assange and unnamed “Russians” and then blame the falseness of that reporting on Russian disinformation. Wherein Pokemon Go, cutesy Facebook memes and $4,700 in Google ads are sincerely cited as methods by which Hillary Clinton’s $1.2 billion presidential campaign was outdone. Wherein conspiracy theories that Putin has infiltrated the highest levels of the US government have been blaring on mainstream headline news for two years with absolutely nothing to show for it to this day.

Nope, the only possibility is that the Kremlin suddenly figured out that humor is a thing.

The fact of the matter is that humorous lampooning of western establishment Russia narratives writes itself. The hypocrisy is so cartoonish, the emotions are so breathlessly over-the-top, the stories so riddled with plot holes and the agendas underlying them so glaringly obvious that they translate very easily into laughs. I myself recently authored a satire piece that a lot of people loved and which got picked up by numerous alternative media outlets, and all I did was write down all the various escalations this administration has made against Russia as though they were commands being given to Trump by Putin. It was extremely easy to write, and it was pretty damn funny if I do say so myself. And it didn’t take any Kremlin rubles or dezinformatsiya from St Petersburg to figure out how to write it.

“Ben Nimmo, an Atlantic Council researcher on Russian disinformation, told the BBC that attempts to create funny memes were part of the strategy as ‘disinformation for the information age’,” the article warns. Nimmo, ironically, is himself intimately involved with the British domestic disinformation firm Integrity Initiative, whose shady government-sponsored psyops against the Labour Party have sparked a national scandal that is likely far from reaching peak intensity.

“Most comedy programmes on Russian state television these days are anodyne affairs which either do not touch on political topics, or direct humour at the Kremlin’s perceived enemies abroad,” Robinson writes, which I found funny since I’d just recently read an excellent essay by Michael Tracey titled “Why has late night swapped laughs for lusting after Mueller?”

“If the late night ‘comedy’ of the Trump era has something resembling a ‘message,’ it’s that large segments of the nation’s liberal TV viewership are nervously tracking every Russia development with a passion that cannot be conducive to mental health – or for that matter, political efficacy,” Tracey writes, documenting numerous examples of the ways late night comedy now has audiences cheering for a US intelligence insider and Bush appointee instead of challenging power-serving media orthodoxies as programs like The Daily Show once did.

If you wanted the opposite of “anodyne affairs”, it would be comedians ridiculing the way all the establishment talking heads are manipulating their audiences into supporting the US intelligence community and FBI insiders. It would be excoriating the media environment in which unfathomably powerful world-dominating government agencies are subject to less scrutiny and criticism than a man trapped in an embassy who published inconvenient facts about those agencies. It certainly wouldn’t be the cast of Saturday Night Live singing “All I Want for Christmas Is You” to a framed portrait if Robert Mueller wearing a Santa hat. It doesn’t get much more anodyne than that.

Russia makes fun of western establishment narratives about it because those narratives are so incredibly easy to make fun of that they are essentially asking for it, and the nerdy way empire loyalists are suddenly crying victim about it is itself more comedy. When Guardian writer Carole Cadwalladr began insinuating that RT covering standard newsworthy people like Julian Assange and Nigel Farage was a conspiracy to “boost” those people for the advancement of Russian agendas instead of a news outlet doing the thing that news reporting is, RT rightly made fun of her for it. Cadwalladr reacted to RT’s mockery with a claim that she was a victim of “attacks”, instead of the recipient of perfectly justified ridicule for circulating an intensely moronic conspiracy theory.

Ah well. People are nuts and we’re hurtling toward a direct confrontation with a nuclear superpower. Sometimes there’s nothing else to do but laugh. As Wavy Gravy said, “Keep your sense of humor, my friend; if you don’t have a sense of humor it just isn’t funny anymore.”

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