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How the West continues to fatally misunderstand Vladimir Putin & Russia

The Duran

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Originally appeared at OffGuardian

By Tony Kevin, from a talk given to ANU Business students, June 7

Two and a half years ago, in Jan-Feb 2016, I visited Russia for a month. The result was this published book, a literary travel memoir,  Return to Moscow.  I returned  in January-February this year, 2018. I gave a public lecture in the Moscow Museum of Contemporary Russian History.

In the two years since I wrote my book, relations between Russia and the West have become worse. On the other hand, Russian relations with China, and with the whole vast Eurasian region bounded by China, Korea, Japan, the ASEAN countries, India and Pakistan, and westwards through Central Asia as far as Iran, Syria and Turkey, even with Israel, have correspondingly warmed and deepened.

For a country with a GNP allegedly similar in size to Australia’s, Russia is punching way above its economic weight in the world. I attribute this to the Russian people’s high intelligence, their national unity of purpose, and their efficient priority-setting in allocating their limited national wealth to what they see as most important. Little of Russia’s GNP goes to waste.

Their national security, despite the loss of 25% of their territory and 49% of their population when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991 – which Mr Putin has described as a geopolitical disaster – is now securely protected by Putin’s rebuilding of a credible second-strike nuclear weapons deterrent capability, that could respond to any actual or threatened surprise attack on Russia.

Also, the strategic and economic alliance with China is enormously strengthening both these great nations’ security and economic potential. They have each other’s back now.

China’s One Belt One Road initiative

China’s One Belt One Road vision is already transforming the whole Eurasian Heartland, including Russia. It is actually beginning to reshape the whole world economy, away from the historic Euro-Atlantic centred economy, to a diverse multipolar world economy.

Russia and China by virtue of their geography, size and resources, sit at the centre of this geopolitical transformation now just getting underway. The challenge for the Euro-Atlantic world, to which Australia belongs by history and alliance ties, is either to join in the building of this new world economic axis, or to stand aside and become increasingly marginalised from it.

It is going to be a very different multipolar world 10, 20, 30 years from now, with very different strategic power balances and world trading and investment patterns.

In some ways, we seem to be moving towards the world foreseen by British pre-WW1 strategic geographer Halford Mackinder in his classic 1904 book  The Geographical Pivot of History , postulating a world in contest between the Eurasian continental Heartland and the Anglo-American maritime world.

Russia’s economy is growing steadily and living standards are improving in all parts of the country, the largest country by land area in the world. Population, at around 150 million,   is at last beginning to grow again after the demographic disasters and collapse of national morale in the 1990s, the Yeltsin decade after the collapse of the Soviet system.

You will shortly see, as I did on my two recent visits, a country of high educational and cultural level, and high civility, ethical values and morale. This may surprise some of you.

You will also get a sense of the buoyant Football World Cup atmosphere. I don’t like to predict too much but I can predict this. Over the next few weeks, the spate of Western mainstream media articles hostile to the Russian hosting of the World Cup will rise to a crescendo. There will be stories alleging unsportsmanlike behaviour, unfinished stadiums and visitor facilities, tourist scams, and hostility of Russian people towards visiting football fans. None of this will be true. The Russian people will make their football visitors, players and spectators, very welcome. Any isolated acts of football hooliganism will be quickly brought under police control. The World Cup contest will be a happy experience for all.

Let me focus now on what has sadly become over the past few years my main area of expertise, the deteriorating political relationship between Russia and the Western alliance, built around NATO and the EU but also taking in Australia.

The prime movers of this hostility are the security and intelligence complexes in the US and the UK. Something similar, but not yet quite as bad, is happening now in China’s relations with the West. Again, the main cause is Western attitudes and behaviour towards China.

A key theme in my book is the contest between two Russian views of Russia’s place in the world, the Slavophile tendency versus the Westernising tendency. The giants of Russian literature, from Pushkin through Tolstoy and Turgenev and Dostoeyevsky and Anton Chekhov and Alexander Blok to Boris Pasternak, were at heart Slavophiles, believers in Russia’s unique destiny: that Russia is not just another European nation.

This continues to be Russia’s eternal existential debate – the question, who are we Russians? What is our specific role and responsibility in world history? I have tried in the central part of my book fairly to portray that debate, as it developed in Tsarist Russia and how it was transformed in the Soviet Communist period, and then again since the fall of Communism in 1991. I explore where the Yeltsin and Putin governments have sat in this debate.

It pains me to have to analyse, as the third section of my book on the West’s information warfare against Russia does, the negative and hostile role that the Western world, including Australia, now plays towards Russia. This third section offers my perspective as a former Australian diplomat who served in Soviet Russia 50 years ago, on how and why Russia-West relations have become so dysfunctional and dangerous in recent years.

How did such a hostile language and imagery mind-set form in the West since around 2008, of an inbuilt disdain for Russia? We are now living in a permanent default condition of Western information warfare against Russia.

In this escalating information war against Russia over the past ten years, words and images have been weaponised by the West, with the aim of discrediting, demoralising, and destabilising the Russian nation. This was at its height in the 1990s . Most of us did not realise this was happening, but Russia was at its lowest ebb. Women stopped having babies, there was widespread alcoholism among men, Russian people were emigrating,

England, always master of the dark arts of propaganda and disinformation, has played and continues to play a key role in this hidden war: London is egging on its senior partner Washington to ever more audacious lies and false claims against Russia. Only Trump offers some sort of resistance to this rampant Russophobia in Washington and London.

Under Putin, whose presidency began in 2001, Russia has been skilfully fighting back in its own defence, using adept official diplomacy, Internet channels and social media, while still trying to maintain basic norms of respect for facts and elementary good international manners.

Britain and the US have mostly abandoned those norms in recent years. Their diplomacy towards Russia now consists mostly of slanders, false-flag operations, threats and ultimatums. As Putin has put Russia back in its feet, these two key Western nations have become correspondingly more hostile to him and to Russia.

Since  2016, much has happened to set in stone the breakdown of working trust between Russia and the West. I thought things were bad then, but they are much worse now.

EU leaders have mostly, though sometimes reluctantly, followed Anglo-American Russophobic policy leads.

Only at military-to-military level, as in the Syrian War deconfliction arrangements, does some form of essential trust-based communication survive between the two militaries. The strategic balance is still very fragile.

How President Putin tries to speak to the West.

Putin has gone up twice on television in 2017 and 2018 against the smart and sexy American TV presenter Megyn Kelly. Don’t waste your time watching truncated American news versions. Watch the full-length Russian-filmed YouTube videos, to see how he deals with Megyn’s ‘gotcha’ questions politely, calmly and logically, but with occasional flashes of humour. Megyn tries desperately to stay on message, to stay hostile and confrontational, but Putin charmingly wins these amiable battles of wits. And we, the viewers, can learn a lot about his country’s priorities and concerns, if we choose to watch these entertaining interviews on YouTube.

A different kind of attraction – a bromance, actually – develops between Putin and Oliver Stone in the making of Stone’s 2017 ‘Putin Interviews’ documentary series. Stone does not try to play ‘gotcha’ with Putin. Over several conversations, the two men build a friendly relationship of mutual liking and respect. Putin opens up, and Stone learns why one should not joke with a Russian about Kubrick’s film Dr Strangelove. For Russians, the certainty of mutual assured destruction under second strike nuclear deterrence is no joking matter at all. It is the real world they inhabit. It is the world they have learned to live in, under years of constant American military pressure around their borders since around 2002, after the tough disciplined Putin in 2001 replaced the alcoholic US- compliant Yeltsin.

Putin was determined to restore Russian pride, military and economic strength, and self-respect. He has never wavered from this goal through three American Presidents George W Bush, Obama and Trump.

Russians do not see their restored nuclear deterrent under Putin as some kind of video entertainment game: it is what they see as ultimately defending their sovereignty as a nation: their preparedness to start the Doomsday Clock ticking, if pressed by the West beyond their endurance limits. They have recently shown this during the ongoing war in Syria.

The message Stone tries to bring back to the West: that Russians are a deeply serious and truthful people, a brave people, and that Putin is the strong and able leader they are fortunate to have.

Stone returns to America, and goes on the popular liberal Stephen Colbert show to publicize his TV series and book. To watch this on YouTube is dispiriting. Stone tries to explain seriously to Colbert what he has learned from his hours conversing with Putin, on what interests the US and Russia might find they have in common, on how their relations might be improved to mutual benefit. He is met with disbelief and facetious sarcasm. The studio audience soon get into the spirit of Colbert’s game: they start to laugh mockingly with Colbert at everything Stone says. Later, mainstream American viewers express amazement and contempt for Stone’s ‘soft’ and ‘gullible’ approach to the ‘wily’ Putin.

The Washington Post sums it up thus: ‘Oliver Stone defended Vladimir Putin to Stephen Colbert. The audience laughed at him.’

This is the arrogant voice of American liberal Democratic opinion. This powerful segment of America – the liberal globalisers who support what they are most familiar with, an American-led rules-based world order – have by now almost entirely succumbed to obsessive Russophobic prejudice.

Books that convey truth about Russia.

Almost every book published in the West about Russia and Putin is misleading, but the authors cannot see this. They come from within self-indoctrinated intellectual communities that – whether physically living in the West, or even in Western journalistic and diplomatic enclaves within Russia, it makes no difference really – have internalised group mindsets of hostile Western perceptions of Russia to the point where they cannot see outside this framework. Anti-Russian assertions of belief, repeated and exchanged often enough, become the alternative reality. As Goebbels understood.

Look at these examples of titles of a few well-regarded recent books about Russia:

  • The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin,  Steven Lee Myers, 2016
  • Winter is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must be Stopped, by Garry Kasparov, 2016
  • Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin, by Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy, 2015
  • Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? by Karen Dawisha, 2015
  • Putin’s Wars: The Rise of Russia’s New Imperialism, by Marcel H Van Herpen, 2015
  • The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin, by Masha Gessen, 2013

Since at least 2008, perhaps earlier, the majority of Western commentators and writers on Russia have come to live in such a distorted mental world of their own imagining. They prefer to re-circulate their own Russian nightmare images – their own language of Russian politics – than to reckon with the reality of what is now a generally decent and serious, well-governed and well-mannered country. To these writers, Putin is simply a greedy criminal whose brutal kleptocratic regime threatens the peaceful world order.

For example: One of the leading Western journalists of this new Cold War, Luke Harding of the UK Guardian , cannot see how silly he sounds when he solemnly intones, after having been caught out in yet another evidence-free Russophobic claim:

Ah, but you must look at the whole context. You see, this is what they always do.

Most Western commentators writing about Russia today fall into this same ideological strait-jacket. They are the new Stalinists. Even when they think they are being objective and fair-minded about Russia, their superior and condescending stereotypes of Russia dull their brains and compromise their integrity.

John Le Carré understood the Cold War very well, the moral ambiguities and yet the humanity that persisted in citizens on both sides, even through the worst years. He never demonised Russia or Russians. To me one of his wisest books is The Russia House, written in 1989, the last years of Gorbachev’s rule.

Fred Schepisi’s film version made in 1990, starring Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer, is one of my favourite films.

Le Carre’s engaging anti-hero Barley Blair, and his Russian lover Katya who is played with heartrending warmth and sincerity by Michelle Pfeiffer, refuse to play the Cold War games demanded of them by the governments of their day.  We can still today, 28 years later, learn much from reading or watching The Russia House, a charming fable in which love and human decency triumph over Cold War hatred and ruthlessness.

Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago is the indispensable novel of 20th century Russia, which truthfully represents Russia’s complex and tragic past hundred years, from Tsarism to Soviet Communism and prophesying contemporary Russia. . I visited Pasternak’s home at Peredelkino two years ago. I hope that my chapter on Pasternak, I think the best chapter in my book, captures him fairly.

He came from a cultured and comfortably-off intelligentsia family in Moscow. He made the fateful choice to stay in Russia with his brothers, when his parents and sisters emigrated after the Civil War ended. He never saw them again. His life was tragic and heroic. He confronted and triumphed over both the cruel Stalinist state, and the Anglo-American intelligence agencies which tried to use his great work as a tool to undermine the Soviet system.

Pasternak was intensely patriotic for Russia, his motherland. He never lost his faith that Russia after all its sufferings would grow into a decent humanist country and become an inspiration to the world. I think he would be unreservedly proud of Russia today.

These days one frequently comes across passionate and illogical Russophobia in Australia’s elite government, academic and mainstream media circles, the people who basically set the parameters of Australian policy towards Russia. I have recently been characterised unfavourably by a person from within this group as one of a number of ‘contrarians, Putinists and instant experts’ in Australia. I have also been described as ‘in love with Russia’. I actually take both these remarks as compliments.

What never seems to go away nowadays in our Anglo-American national security elite world is the presumption that Western conduct is generally proper, and Russian conduct is generally improper. I see evidence of such confirmation bias now again on display, acutely, in Western government and mainstream media handling of the Skripal Affair, and of the alleged Assad Government series of three chemical weapons attacks on rebel-held areas in Syria since 2012. People filter out the sources and information elements they want to believe, and ignore the rest as presumed ‘fake news’.

It is sad that a whole people and culture can be misrepresented in such ways. This must be countered, and I am doing my best to help counter it.

The Russian and Western narratives on both these events, the Skripal Affair and the Syria War, sharply conflict. In the end, one must make a choice – one cannot split the difference, or sit on the fence – and I have made my choice. To my mind, the Russian government’s positions on the Skripal Affair and the alleged series of three Syrian Government CW attacks on rebel-occupied areas in recent years fit best with the available public evidence. The Western governments’ positions on these events are false propaganda constructs, and I am no longer prepared to take them on trust.

On every issue in contention, Western governments and mainstream media simply refuse to consider – or even to report – evidence presented by Russia. Instead, they turn their backs, or they resort to angry anti-Russian rhetoric.

The Skripal affair

The Skripals Affair, the attack on Sergey and his daughter Yulia , allegedly with lethal quick-acting Novichok (A234) poison of Soviet Russian origin, in Salisbury on 4 March, initially seemed to offer to UK Prime Minister Theresa May a politically convenient Russophobe narrative. Its falsity has been progressively exposed by the accumulation of public facts ever since. It seems now that the Skripals were victims of an anti-Russian false-flag poisoning and narrative, designed to lay a Western public opinion foundation for the false-flag alleged CW attack in Syria in Douma a month later, which led to a US and allied aerial attack on Syria.

Whoever designed the bizarre Skripal operation went so far as to tamper with the Skripal biological samples that the UK government sent some weeks later to the UN Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, for testing in OPCW’s own trusted Swiss laboratories. Theresa May had demanded a simple yes-or-no answer from OPCW: did the samples contain a Novichuk –type poison?

But the OPCW laboratory in Spiez actually did comprehensive professional sample testing and found inconvenient truths. The Skripal samples were found to contain traces of a strong temporary debilitating but non-lethal toxin called BZ, long in use by NATO, which produced the exact same symptoms as the lethal A234 Novichuk, but with recovery under good medical care expected after around 4 days. Which is what happened to Yulia.

The Spiez lab also found in the samples that OPCW was given by the UK government large freshly added concentrations of the lethal agent A234, in the Novichuk family, as well as decomposed residues of lethal A234 which had been added much earlier , soon after the samples were obtined from the Skripals. It would seem therefore that the OPCW safe chain of custody protocols had twice been seriously violated during the weeks the samples were in British government sole custody.

We only know about these sensational findings because Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov obtained them from a Spiez Lab or OPCW source, and deliberately leaked them publicly in Moscow on 14 April.

Britain, though caught red-handed, tried to deny the story, and still continues brazenly to reject or ignore it, supported by all its Western allies including Australia. At the OPCW Executive Council meeting on 18 April, every Western ambassador lined up to denounce Russia, in abusive language, for allegedly bringing the trusted OPCW inspection system into disrepute. The Council decided to suppress its own laboratory reports. The Secretariat offered an improbable cover story as to why BZ toxin had been found in samples. No explanation was offered at all for the presence of freshly added A234, in concentrations that would have certainly killed the Skripals outright if they had been exposed to it on 4 March.

A few days ago, a fully recovered Yulia Skripal appeared on Reuters television reading a prepared statement in Russian. She has said she looks forward to returning to her home country.

She clearly had not ingested Novichuk, A234. D-notices have been imposed on British media by the British Goverment, and Western mainstream media have fallen strangely silent on the Skripal story as it collapses under its own factual contradictions. I believe that more will come out on the Skripal story, because in the end truth does come out. I hope that both the Skripals, father and daughter, will sooner or later be able to return unharmed to their country, now that proof of Yulia’s life and her desire to return home has been publicly established.

Conclusion

So where do relations now stand between Russia and the West? Certainly worse that when my book was published, just 16 months ago. Putin and Lavrov and the charismatic Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova patiently state again and again their understanding of the truth of these matters, and the need for civil and business-like regular Russia-West dialogue based on mutual respect for national sovereignty, and simply on mutual good manners. Western governments’ manners towards Russia were much better during the Cold War than now.

Trump is unpredictable and irresolute. He seems most of the time to wish to be friends with Putin and Russia, but he seems powerless to defy the obsessively Russophobe lobby which effectively controls Washington. There is renewed talk now of a possible Putin-Trump summit meeting, but powerful elements of the Anglo-American strategic bureaucracy and mainstream media seem determined to derail it.

This is also the dominant message we hear in Australia from the ABC, Fairfax, The Australian, and The Guardian. The Anglo-American elite world seems to need an existential Russian enemy.

In conclusion, I urge you to read critically and widely, and to monitor reputable Russian official websites in their English versions – in particular, rt.com, the Russian global news and commentary equivalent of the BBC World Service; and the Russian Foreign Ministry website mid.ru; and the Russian Embassy websites in Washington, London and Canberra – and also trustworthy independent Western social media writers like the UK’s Craig Murray, Australia’s own Caitlin Johnstone, Vanessa Beeley on Syria, or even my own Facebook and Twitter pages, if you want to make up your own mind on what is really happening in this strange new world of Russia-West relations.

When our mainstream media will almost always distort, or simply not report at all, credible new disclosures of facts as just more pro-Russian propaganda or ‘fake news’, we must read more sources. We must question the anti-Russian stereotypes that are being served up to us. Repetition of lies does not make lies into truth.

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Akit

Brilliant article.

regolo gellini
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regolo gellini

Considering the damage done by Yeltsin and the “Chicago Boys, the task for Mr Putin was without doubt the most difficult possible . And yet he had the guts, the stamina and the courage to wrest his country from a dangerous involution that could have destroyed it from within . All my respect and admiration for this man ! Citizens of the world, find the relevant facts as suggested in the article, fake news have already done enormous damage and caused illegal wars that we all know were imposed by the american deep state that thrive on people’s blood .… Read more »

Isabella Jones
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Isabella Jones

“Russia is not just another European nation.” I would like to know on what base, exactly, you say Russia is a European nation. It was this desire to be “European” by Gorbachev and others at that time, which drove Gorby to make the crazy decisions he did. And look at where it got Russia? Europe is an idea, a concept, a dream. It’s not a geographical place, which is why it’s borders keep changing. If Russia does try to be “European” she is finished. I spent 8 months in the Far East of Russia, and can assure the writer that… Read more »

Rick Oliver
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Rick Oliver

Thank you very much Mr Tony Kevin. A brilliant piece of work . Please understand that there certainly is a building groundswell of support for Mr Vladimir Putin and his wonderful Caucus and Military , from the world over , including little ol` me in New Zealand ! I am currently in a ” Vladimir Putin Fan Club ” headed by a beautiful lady via Facebook . For a small population in NZ and Australia , he has a very large following , growing daily I might add. Further more , I am surprised by the support coming from the… Read more »

John Vu
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John Vu

Strong man = Few talented new leaders if any

AM Hants
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AM Hants

Interesting article, over on Stalkerzone:

Did Putin give Ukraine an ultimatum and why is the US afraid most of all?

http://www.stalkerzone.org/why-did-putin-give-ukraine-an-ultimatum-and-why-is-the-us-afraid-most-of-all/

Kent Betts
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Kent Betts

The article fails to explain how or what the West misunderstands. Putin looted $45 billion from the budget for the Sochi games. Russia’s great claim to moral praise is that they didn’t poison people in England, or put radioactive poison in a former FSB agent’s tea, or put dioxin into the scrambled eggs of a candidate for the presidency of Ukraine. Perhaps the obvious dictatorship of Russian politics will prove fatal, just not for the West.

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Russia calls on US to put a leash on Petro Poroshenko

The West’s pass for Mr. Poroshenko may blow up in NATO’s and the US’s face if the Ukrainian President tries to start a war with Russia.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Russia called on Washington not to ignore the Poroshenko directives creating an active military buildup along the Ukrainian-Donbass frontier, this buildup consisting of Ukrainian forces and right-wing ultranationalists, lest it “trigger the implementation of a bloody scenario”, according to a Dec 11 report from TASS.

The [Russian] Embassy [to the US] urges the US State Department to recognize the presence of US instructors in the zone of combat actions, who are involved in a command and staff and field training of Ukraine’s assault airborne brigades. “We expect that the US will bring to reason its proteges. Their aggressive plans are not only doomed to failure but also run counter to the statements of the administration on its commitment to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine by political and diplomatic means,” the statement said.

This warning came after Eduard Basurin, the deputy defense minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic noted that the Ukrainian army was massing troops and materiel for a possible large-scale offensive at the Mariupol section of the contact line in Donbass. According to Basurin, this action is expected to take place on 14 December. TASS offered more details:

According to the DPR’s reconnaissance data, Ukrainian troops plan to seize the DPR’s Novoazovsky and Temanovsky districts and take control over the border section with Russia. The main attack force of over 12,000 servicemen has been deployed along the contact line near the settlements of Novotroitskoye, Shirokino, and Rovnopol. Moreover, more than 50 tanks, 40 multiple missile launcher systems, 180 artillery systems and mortars have been reportedly pulled to the area, Basurin added. Besides, 12 BM-30 Smerch heavy multiple rocket launchers have been sent near Volodarsky.

The DPR has warned about possible provocations plotted by Ukrainian troops several times. Thus, in early December, the DPR’s defense ministry cited reconnaissance data indicating that the Ukrainian military was planning to stage an offensive and deliver an airstrike. At a Contact Group meeting on December 5, DPR’s Foreign Minister Natalia Nikonorova raised the issue of Kiev’s possible use of chemical weapons in the conflict area.

This is a continuation of the reported buildup The Duran reported in this article linked here, and it is a continuation of the full-scale drama that started with the Kerch Strait incident, which itself appears to have been staged by Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko. Following that incident, the president was able to get about half of Ukraine placed under a 30-day period of martial law, citing “imminent Russian aggression.”

President Poroshenko is arguably a dangerous man. He appears to be desperate to maintain a hold on power, though his approval numbers and support is abysmally low in Ukraine. While he presents himself as a hero, agitating for armed conflict with Russia and simultaneously interfering in the affairs of the Holy Eastern Orthodox Church, he is actually one of the most dangerous leaders the world has to contend with, precisely because he is unfit to lead.

Such men and women are dangerous because their desperation makes them short-sighted, only concerned about their power and standing.

An irony about this matter is that President Poroshenko appears to be exactly what the EuroMaidan was “supposed” to free Ukraine of; that is, a stooge puppet leader that marches to orders from a foreign power and does nothing for the improvement of the nation and its citizens.

The ouster of Viktor Yanukovich was seen as the sure ticket to “freedom from Russia” for Ukraine, and it may well have been that Mr. Yanukovich was an incompetent leader. However, his removal resulted in a tryannical regíme coming into power, that resulting in the secession of two Ukrainian regions into independent republics and a third secession of strategically super-important Crimea, who voted in a referendum to rejoin Russia.

While this activity was used by the West to try to bolster its own narrative that Russia remains the evil henchman in Europe, the reality of life in Ukraine doesn’t match this allegation at all. A nation that demonstrates such behavior shows that there are many problems, and the nature of these secessions points at a great deal of fear from Russian-speaking Ukrainian people about the government that is supposed to be their own.

President Poroshenko presents a face to the world that the West is apparently willing to support, but the in-country approval of this man as leader speaks volumes. The West’s blind support of him “against Russia” may be one of the most tragic errors yet in Western foreign policy.

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Second Canadian Citizen Disappears In China

According to the he Globe and Mail, the man was identified as Michael Spavor, a Canadian whose company Peaktu Cultural Exchange brings tourists and hockey players into North Korea.

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Via Zerohedge…


For a trade war that was supposed to be between the US and China, Canada has found itself increasingly in the middle of the crossfire. And so after the arrest of a former Canadian diplomat in Beijing in retaliation for the detention of the Huawei CFO in Vancouver, Canada said a second person has been questioned by Chinese authorities, further heightening tensions between the two countries.

The second person reached out to the Canadian government after being questioned by Chinese officials, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said, at which point Canada lost contact with him. His whereabouts are currently unknown and Global Affairs Canada said they are in contact with his family.

“We haven’t been able to make contact with him since he let us know about this,” Freeland told reporters Wednesday in Ottawa. “We are working very hard to ascertain his whereabouts and we have also raised this case with Chinese authorities.”

According to the he Globe and Mail, the man was identified as Michael Spavor, a Canadian whose company Peaktu Cultural Exchange brings tourists and hockey players into North Korea. He gained fame for helping arrange a visit to Pyongyang by former NBA player Dennis Rodman, and he met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on that trip, the newspaper reported. Attempts to reach Spavor on his contact number either in China, or North Korean went straight to voicemail.

Spavor’s personal Facebook page contains several images of him with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un including one of him with both Jong-un and former Dennis Rodman at an undisclosed location.

Michael P. Spavor, right, pictured here with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, second from right, and Dennis Rodman.

Another image shows the two sharing a drink on a boat.

The unexplained disappearance takes place after China’s spy agency detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig in Beijing on Monday, who was on leave from the foreign service. The arrest came nine days after Canada arrested Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou at the request of U.S. DOJ. While Canada has asked to see the former envoy after it was informed by fax of his arrest, Canada is unaware of Kovrig current whereabouts or the charges he faces.

“Michael did not engage in illegal activities nor did he do anything that endangered Chinese national security,” Rob Malley, chief executive officer of the ICG, said in a written statement. “He was doing what all Crisis Group analysts do: undertaking objective and impartial research.”

One possibility is that Kovrig may have been caught up in recent rule changes in China that affect non-governmental organizations, according to Bloomberg. The ICG wasn’t authorized to do work in China, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang said during a regular press briefing in Beijing Wednesday.

“We welcome foreign travelers. But if they engage in activities that clearly violate Chinese laws and regulations, then it is totally another story,” he said, adding he had no information on Kovrig specifically.

As Bloomberg further notes, foreign non-governmental organizations are now required to register with the Chinese authorities under a 2017 law that subjects them to stringent reporting requirements. Under the law, organizations without a representative office in China must have a government sponsor and a local cooperative partner before conducting activities. ICG said this is the first time they’ve heard such an accusation from the Chinese authorities in a decade of working with the country. The company closed its Beijing operations in December 2016 because of the new Chinese law, according to a statement. Kovrig was working out of the Hong Kong office.

Meanwhile, realizing that it is increasingly bearing the brunt of China’s retaliatory anger, Trudeau’s government distanced itself from Meng’s case, saying it can’t interfere with the courts, but is closely involved in advocating on Kovrig’s behalf.

So far Canada has declined to speculate on whether there was a connection between the Kovrig and Meng cases, with neither Freeland nor Canadian Trade Minister Jim Carr saying Wednesday that there is any indication the cases are related. Then again, it is rather obvious they are. Indeed, Guy Saint-Jacques, who served as ambassador to China from 2012 to 2016 and worked with Kovrig, says the link is clear. “There’s no coincidence with China.”

“In this case, they couldn’t grab a Canadian diplomat because this would have created a major diplomatic incident,” he said. “Going after him I think was their way to send a message to the Canadian government and to put pressure.”

Even though Meng was granted bail late Tuesday, that did not placate China, whose foreign ministry spokesman said that “The Canadian side should correct its mistakes and release Ms. Meng Wanzhou immediately.”

The tension, according to Bloomberg,  may force Canadian companies to reconsider travel to China, and executives traveling to the Asian country will need to exercise extra caution, said Andy Chan, managing partner at Miller Thomson LLP in Vaughan, Ontario.

“Canadian business needs to look at and balance the reasons for the travel’’ between the business case and the “current political environment,’’ Chan said by email. Chinese officials subject business travelers to extra screening and in some case reject them from entering, he said.

Earlier in the day, SCMP reported that Chinese high-tech researchers were told “not to travel to the US unless it’s essential.”

And so, with Meng unlikely to be released from Canada any time soon, expect even more “Chinese (non) coincidences”, until eventually China does detain someone that the US does care about.

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Multipolar World Order in the Making: Qatar Dumps OPEC

Russia and Qatar’s global strategy also brings together and includes partners like Turkey.

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Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The decision by Qatar to abandon OPEC threatens to redefine the global energy market, especially in light of Saudi Arabia’s growing difficulties and the growing influence of the Russian Federation in the OPEC+ mechanism.

In a surprising statement, Qatari energy minister Saad al-Kaabi warned OPEC on Monday December 3 that his country had sent all the necessary documentation to start the country’s withdrawal from the oil organization in January 2019. Al-Kaabi stressed that the decision had nothing to do with recent conflicts with Riyadh but was rather a strategic choice by Doha to focus on the production of LNG, which Qatar, together with the Russian Federation, is one of the largest global exporters of. Despite an annual oil extraction rate of only 1.8% of the total of OPEC countries (about 600,000 barrels a day), Qatar is one of the founding members of the organization and has always had a strong political influence on the governance of the organization. In a global context where international relations are entering a multipolar phase, things like cooperation and development become fundamental; so it should not surprise that Doha has decide to abandon OPEC. OPEC is one of the few unipolar organizations that no longer has a meaningful purpose in 2018, given the new realities governing international relations and the importance of the Russian Federation in the oil market.

Besides that, Saudi Arabia requires the organization to maintain a high level of oil production due to pressure coming from Washington to achieve a very low cost per barrel of oil. The US energy strategy targets Iranian and Russian revenue from oil exports, but it also aims to give the US a speedy economic boost. Trump often talks about the price of oil falling as his personal victory. The US imports about 10 million barrels of oil a day, which is why Trump wrongly believes that a decrease in the cost per barrel could favor a boost to the US economy. The economic reality shows a strong correlation between the price of oil and the financial growth of a country, with low prices of crude oil often synonymous of a slowing down in the economy.

It must be remembered that to keep oil prices low, OPEC countries are required to maintain a high rate of production, doubling the damage to themselves. Firstly, they take less income than expected and, secondly, they deplete their oil reserves to favor the strategy imposed by Saudi Arabia on OPEC to please the White House. It is clearly a strategy that for a country like Qatar (and perhaps Venezuela and Iran in the near future) makes little sense, given the diplomatic and commercial rupture with Riyadh stemming from tensions between the Gulf countries.

In contrast, the OPEC+ organization, which also includes other countries like the Russian Federation, Mexico and Kazakhstan, seems to now to determine oil and its cost per barrel. At the moment, OPEC and Russia have agreed to cut production by 1.2 million barrels per day, contradicting Trump’s desire for high oil output.

With this last choice Qatar sends a clear signal to the region and to traditional allies, moving to the side of OPEC+ and bringing its interests closer in line with those of the Russian Federation and its all-encompassing oil and gas strategy, two sectors in which Qatar and Russia dominate market share.

In addition, Russia and Qatar’s global strategy also brings together and includes partners like Turkey (a future energy hub connecting east and west as well as north and south) and Venezuela. In this sense, the meeting between Maduro and Erdogan seems to be a prelude to further reorganization of OPEC and its members.

The declining leadership role of Saudi Arabia in the oil and financial market goes hand in hand with the increase of power that countries like Qatar and Russia in the energy sectors are enjoying. The realignment of energy and finance signals the evident decline of the Israel-US-Saudi Arabia partnership. Not a day goes by without corruption scandals in Israel, accusations against the Saudis over Khashoggi or Yemen, and Trump’s unsuccessful strategies in the commercial, financial or energy arenas. The path this doomed

trio is taking will only procure less influence and power, isolating them more and more from their opponents and even historical allies.

Moscow, Beijing and New Delhi, the Eurasian powerhouses, seem to have every intention, as seen at the trilateral summit in Buenos Aires, of developing the ideal multipolar frameworks to avoid continued US dominance of the oil market through shale revenues or submissive allies as Saudi Arabia, even though the latest spike in production is a clear signal from Riyadh to the USA. In this sense, Qatar’s decision to abandon OPEC and start a complex and historical discussion with Moscow on LNG in the format of an enlarged OPEC marks the definitive decline of Saudi Arabia as a global energy power, to be replaced by Moscow and Doha as the main players in the energy market.

Qatar’s decision is, officially speaking, unconnected to the feud triggered by Saudi Arabia against the small emirate. However, it is evident that a host of factors has led to this historic decision. The unsuccessful military campaign in Yemen has weakened Saudi Arabia on all fronts, especially militarily and economically. The self-inflicted fall in the price of oil is rapidly consuming Saudi currency reserves, now at a new low of less than 500 billion dollars. Events related to Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) have de-legitimized the role of Riyadh in the world as a reliable diplomatic interlocutor. The internal and external repression by the Kingdom has provoked NGOs and governments like Canada’s to issue public rebukes that have done little to help MBS’s precarious position.

In Syria, the victory of Damascus and her allies has consolidated the role of Moscow in the region, increased Iranian influence, and brought Turkey and Qatar to the multipolar side, with Tehran and Moscow now the main players in the Middle East. In terms of military dominance, there has been a clear regional shift from Washington to Moscow; and from an energy perspective, Doha and Moscow are turning out to be the winners, with Riyadh once again on the losing side.

As long as the Saudi royal family continues to please Donald Trump, who is prone to catering to Israeli interests in the region, the situation of the Kingdom will only get worse. The latest agreement on oil production between Moscow and Riyad signals that someone in the Saudi royal family has probably figured this out.

Countries like Turkey, India, China, Russia and Iran understand the advantages of belonging to a multipolar world, thereby providing a collective geopolitical ballast that is mutually beneficial. The energy alignment between Qatar and the Russian Federation seems to support this general direction, a sort of G2 of LNG gas that will only strengthen the position of Moscow on the global chessboard, while guaranteeing a formidable military umbrella for Doha in case of a further worsening of relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

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