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Why this man with 2% support and a criminal conviction is the West’s preferred opposition to Putin

Alexey Navalny would stand no chance were he allowed to run in Russia’s presidential election – but he’s still got Washington’s support

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(off-Guardian) – Even though Vladimir Putin’s ascendancy in the polls has been verified by Western pollsters, and even though a few more level-headed Western outlets feel obliged to admit he would likely win a free and fair election with ease, the majority of the mainstream media have taken the launch of the presidential campaign as a cue to almost entirely bury even these basic facts, and instead to focus on claims that the ‘only real opposition‘ in Russia has been banned from challenging Putin due to flagrant political censorship.

By ‘only real’ opposition they mean Alexei Anatolievich Navalny, lawyer, ‘activist’, occcasional chum of neo-nazis with an awkward tendency to compare racial minorities to cockroaches, and founder of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, who is, ironically, currently serving a suspended sentence for fraud and embezzlement, and is, thereby, banned under the Russian Federation’s constitution from running for elected office.

In case it has passed you by, the western media love this guy. For them he is a mash up of Jesus and John Lennon spiced with a whiff of bad boy. They eat him up. And when high enough on his amazingness they celebrate him in rich prose:

For the UK Independent Navalny is “Putin’s biggest rival”. For the BBC he is “Russia’s vociferous opposition leader”. For Time he is Putin’s “Nemesis”. For Masha –facts only slow me down – Gessen in the New Yorker it is nothing short of miraculous that he is still alive, such a threat he poses to Putin. To the Guardian, abandoning all pretence and going straight for the “most heedless eulogy” award, he is a “firebrand bidding for Russia’s soul.”

Are they fazed by his aforementioned comparison of Moslems to cockroaches? Or the equally regrettable time he called Georgians “rodents”? Or is this another example of the way in which racism is now acceptable in liberal circles, providing it’s done by someone endorsed and sanctified as “ours”?

But let’s just put the far-right racism question to one side for now and deal with some hard facts. Whether you like him or loathe him, Navalny is not Putin’s ‘nemesis’, and probably isn’t a ‘firebrand bidding for Russia’s soul’ either (though since I’m not sure what that is I suppose we can’t rule it out completely). And he absolutely is not and never was the ‘only real opposition’.

Navalny – like that other (posthumous) hero Boris Nemtsov – is a peripheral figure in Russian domestic politics. Before he was ruled inadmissible for election “Putin’s biggest rival” was polling between 1-4% in opinion polls, which puts him on about the same level as the UK Green Party, which polled 1.6% in the last general election and has one seat in parliament, or UKIP, which polled 2.1% and has no seats at all.

For comparison, in the current line-up of candidates, the Communist Party polled 17% in the previous presidential election and the same in 2008. It’s current candidate, Pavel Nikolayevich Grudinin is running in early polls at between 5-7%. Not a huge percentage, but roughly twice Navalny’s level of support.

Yet the western media has not – so far as I know – celebrated Grudinin with any cool photo feature pieces yet. In fact I am pretty sure they behave as if this man and his party do not even exist.

In addition there are a further fifteen other ‘declared candidates’ currently running. These include a Green candidate, an alternative Communist candidate running as the ‘Communists of Russia’, a ‘Liberal-Democrat’ (Zhirinovsky) and a Monarchist. None of these have been banned or accused of crimes to facilitate shutting them down. All of them or quite a few of them – are pretty much as entitled as Navalny to be described as “Putin’s nemesis”, but again they are barely acknowledged to exist in the Western media.

Imagine an article which pretended Jeremy Corbyn, the SNP et al did not exist and described Caroline Lucas as ‘the only real opposition’ to the Tories. Or that libertarian Gary Johnson – who polled 3% in the last election – was the best hope against Trump.

That is how skewed the western representation of this election really is.

But why is this the favoured approach? Well, maybe it’s not as stupid as it first seems.

As the polls now stand anyone who runs against Putin will look to be easily, if not humiliatingly, defeated. The lowest estimate puts VVP at 54% and the highest at around 73% – way ahead of any rival. It’s obvious any candidate the West supports will just prove to be an embarrassment for them on election day as they nosedive into oblivion.

Navalny is different. Navalny – due to his handy conviction for fraud – will be spared the inevitable shame that his tiny share of the vote predicts. So, when all the other hopefuls are defeated, he can remain with credibility intact. A political martyr. A living testimony to the fact the Russian elections are a fraud. The 2% popular support can be airbrushed away (as can his association with nazis, his unfortunate cockroach comparisons and his general litany of bizarre behaviour). He can become a sheep-dipped western hero whom Putin censored through fear. Post-election he will be, in the West at least, the perfect rallying point for a cause, which will have many bland and virtue-signalling faces, but which will at core be about discrediting the Russian presidency as fundamentally corrupt and unrepresentative, and trying, once again, to plant the seeds of color revolution.

Navalny has already proclaimed his contempt for democracy and a willingness to support the overthrow of elected governments, which of course makes him exactly the kind of “anti-corruption” liberal we like to work with. Back in 2011 he had this to say in the Russian magazine New Times:

they can elect anyone they like in March of 2012, but by April it will all be over…I think power will change hands by undemocratic ways

Asked if he means the Tunisian or Libyan method he says:

Let’s say a Tunisian scenario

He then adds for clarification:

The current Russian authorities are thieves and crooks. We must fight them, pressure them, resist them… This resistance can take different forms – from dialogue to crowds hauling officials out of their offices and hanging them

Oh yes, this is someone MI6 and the State Department can do business with alright. Putin in an orange jumpsuit in the Hague or being slaughtered Gaddafi-style on a live TV feed has probably been a major fantasy in Western corridors of power for at least the last five years.

That Navalny is being groomed for his role is undeniable. Hence the strange concurrence of his racist and far-rightist proclamations with the kind of soft-spoken and ill-defined calls for ‘reform’ that go over well with Western media and poorly-informed liberals. In our media it’s his “anti-corruption”, not his racism, that is the story. Because “anti-corruption” is about as non-commitally ok as you can get. It’s about as meaningful as calling yourself “anti-nastiness.” So vague, so generic everyone will be in favour of it in theory, and in practice it can mean whatever you want it to mean.

We can be sure of course, as per Navalny’s own words, that part of the practice will involve fostering the seeds of Snow Revolution #2. Because Russia’s elections – just like Chile and Venezuela and Grenada and Ukraine and Iran and Guatemala and Syria et al – were “corrupt” and therefore don’t count.

Ironically, as Bryan MacDonald astutely points out, it would have been better for Putin, and distinctly worse for Navalny, if he had not been banned from running. Navalny’s conviction has done nothing to bolster Putin’s power base (at 50-80% it doesn’t need bolstering), and has played right into the hands of those who want to discredit the Russian electoral process. His elimination effectively means:

[he] will become a spoiler for the next six years, and represent an excuse for foreign criticism of the Russian electoral system. Which, like it or not, at a time where sanctions are being used as a weapon, gives external actors an excuse to punish Russia. We already have the dubious “Magnitsky list,” so is it really worth risking a “Navalny list” making things even worse?

So, why has Navalny been handed the keys to martyrdom by a state machine that had nothing to lose by letting him ride his 2% support all the way to the polls? Was it a political miscalculation? Is he an innocent (if racist and pro-violence) man being given a helping hand by a clumsily inept attempt at silencing him? Or is he guilty as charged and reaping the fortuitous benefit of a legal system that is simply doing its job? Or is there some other factor involved?

We think this election period is a good time to revisit these and related questions. Is Russia a “kleptocracy”? Does Putin murder journalists? Is he personally corrupt? Does he – as claimed even by Sibel Edmonds – have “billions’ stashed away in Cyprus or elsewhere? Good questions to which good fact-based answers are sometimes in short supply.

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Russia’s Lukoil Halts Oil Swaps In Venezuela After U.S. Sanctions

Under the new wide-ranging U.S. sanctions, Venezuela will not be able to import U.S. naphtha which it has typically used to dilute its heavy crude grades.

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Via Oilprice.com


Litasco, the international trading arm of Russia’s second-biggest oil producer Lukoil, stopped its oil swaps deals with Venezuela immediately after the U.S. imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry and state oil firm PDVSA, Lukoil’s chief executive Vagit Alekperov said at an investment forum in Russia.

Russia, which stands by Nicolas Maduro in the ongoing Venezuelan political crisis, has vowed to defend its interests in Venezuela—including oil interests—within the international law using “all mechanisms available to us.”

Because of Moscow’s support for Maduro, the international community and market analysts are closely watching the relationship of Russian oil companies with Venezuela.

“Litasco does not work with Venezuela. Before the restrictions were imposed, Litasco had operations to deliver oil products and to sell oil. There were swap operations. Today there are none, since the sanctions were imposed,” Lukoil’s Alekperov said at the Russian Investment Forum in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Another Russian oil producer, Gazprom Neft, however, does not see major risks for its oil business in Venezuela, the company’s chief executive officer Alexander Dyukov said at the same event.

Gazprom Neft has not supplied and does not supply oil products to Venezuela needed to dilute the thick heavy Venezuelan oil, Dyukov said, noting that the Latin American country hadn’t approached Gazprom Neft for possible supply of oil products for diluents.

Under the new wide-ranging U.S. sanctions, Venezuela will not be able to import U.S. naphtha which it has typically used to dilute its heavy crude grades. Analysts expect that a shortage of diluents could accelerate beginning this month the already steadily declining Venezuelan oil production and exports.

Venezuela’s crude oil production plunged by another 59,000 bpd from December 2018 to stand at just 1.106 million bpd in January 2019, OPEC’s secondary sources figures showed in the cartel’s closely watched Monthly Oil Market Report (MOMR) this week.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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Germany Pulls Rank on Macron and American Energy Blackmail

Why France’s Macron, at the last minute, attempted to undermine the project by placing stiffer regulations is a curious question.

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Authored by Finian Cunningham via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


It was billed politely as a Franco-German “compromise” when the EU balked at adopting a Gas Directive which would have undermined the Nord Stream 2 project with Russia.

Nevertheless, diplomatic rhetoric aside, Berlin’s blocking last week of a bid by French President Emmanuel Macron to impose tougher regulations on the Nord Stream 2 gas project was without doubt a firm rebuff to Paris.

Macron wanted to give the EU administration in Brussels greater control over the new pipeline running from Russia to Germany. But in the end the so-called “compromise” was a rejection of Macron’s proposal, reaffirming Germany in the lead role of implementing the Nord Stream 2 route, along with Russia.

The $11-billion, 1,200 kilometer pipeline is due to become operational at the end of this year. Stretching from Russian mainland under the Baltic Sea, it will double the natural gas supply from Russia to Germany. The Berlin government and German industry view the project as a vital boost to the country’s ever-robust economy. Gas supplies will also be distributed from Germany to other European states. Consumers stand to gain from lower prices for heating homes and businesses.

Thus Macron’s belated bizarre meddling was rebuffed by Berlin. A rebuff was given too to the stepped-up pressure from Washington for the Nord Stream 2 project to be cancelled. Last week, US ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell and two other American envoys wrote an op-ed for Deutsche Welle in which they accused Russia of trying to use “energy blackmail” over Europe’s geopolitics.

Why France’s Macron, at the last minute, attempted to undermine the project by placing stiffer regulations is a curious question. Those extra regulations if they had been imposed would have potentially made the Russian gas supply more expensive. As it turns out, the project will now go-ahead without onerous restrictions.

In short, Macron and the spoiling tactics of Washington, along with EU states hostile to Russia, Poland and the Baltic countries, have been put in their place by Germany and its assertion of national interests of securing economical and abundant gas supply from Russia. Other EU member states that backed Berlin over Nord Stream 2 were Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Greece and the Netherlands.

Washington’s claims that Nord Stream 2 would give Russia leverage of Europe’s security have been echoed by Poland and the Baltic states. Poland, and non-EU Ukraine, stand to lose out billions of dollars-worth of transit fees. Such a move, however, is the prerogative of Germany and Russia to find a more economical mode of supply. Besides, what right has Ukraine to make demands on a bilateral matter that is none of its business? Kiev’s previous bad faith over not paying gas bills to Russia disbars it from reasonable opinion.

Another factor is the inherent Russophobia of Polish and Baltic politicians who view everything concerning Russia through a prism of paranoia.

For the Americans, it is obviously a blatant case of seeking to sell their own much more expensive natural gas to Europe’s giant energy market – in place of Russia’s product. Based on objective market figures, Russia is the most competitive supplier to Europe. The Americans are therefore trying to snatch a strategic business through foul means of propaganda and political pressure. Ironically, the US German ambassador Richard Grenell and the other American envoys wrote in their recent oped: “Europe must retain control of its energy security.”

Last month, Grenell threatened German and European firms involved in the construction of Nord Stream 2 that they could face punitive American sanctions in the future. Evidently, it is the US side that is using “blackmail” to coerce others into submission, not Russia.

Back to Macron. What was he up to in his belated spoiling tactics over Nord Stream 2 and in particular the attempted problems being leveled for Germany if the extra regulations had been imposed?

It seems implausible that Macron was suddenly finding a concern for Poland and the Baltic states in their paranoia over alleged Russian invasion.

Was Macron trying to garner favors from the Trump administration? His initial obsequious rapport with Trump has since faded from the early days of Macron’s presidency in 2017. By doing Washington’s bidding to undermine the Nord Stream 2 project was Macron trying to ingratiate himself again?

The contradictions regarding Macron are replete. He is supposed to be a champion of “ecological causes”. A major factor in Germany’s desire for the Nord Stream 2 project is that the increased gas supply will reduce the European powerhouse’s dependence on dirty fuels of coal, oil and nuclear power. By throwing up regulatory barriers, Macron is making it harder for Germany and Europe to move to cleaner sources of energy that the Russian natural gas represents.

Also, if Macron had succeeded in imposing tougher regulations on the Nord Stream 2 project it would have inevitably increased the costs to consumers for gas bills. This is at a time when his government is being assailed by nationwide Yellow Vest protests over soaring living costs, in particular fuel-price hikes.

A possible factor in Macron’s sabotage bid in Germany’s Nord Stream 2 plans was his chagrin over Berlin’s rejection of his much-vaunted reform agenda for the Eurozone bloc within the EU. Despite Macron’s very public amity with Chancellor Angela Merkel, Berlin has continually knocked back the French leader’s ambitions for reform.

It’s hard to discern what are the real objectives of Macron’s reforms. But they seem to constitute a “banker’s charter”. Many eminent German economists have lambasted his plans, which they say will give more taxpayer-funded bailouts to insolvent banks. They say Macron is trying to move the EU further away from the social-market economy than the bloc already has moved.

What Macron, an ex-Rothschild banker, appears to be striving for is a replication of his pro-rich, anti-worker policies that he is imposing on France, and for these policies to be extended across the Eurozone. Berlin is not buying it, realizing such policies will further erode the social fabric. This could be the main reason why Macron tried to use the Nord Stream 2 project as leverage over Berlin.

In the end, Macron and Washington – albeit working for different objectives – were defeated in their attempts to sabotage the emerging energy trade between Germany, Europe and Russia. Nord Stream 2, as with Russia’s Turk Stream to the south of Europe, seems inevitable by sheer force of natural partnership.

On this note, the Hungarian government’s comments this week were apt. Budapest accused some European leaders and the US of “huge hypocrisy” in decrying association with Russia over energy trade. Macron has previously attended an economics forum in St Petersburg, and yet lately has sought to “blackmail” and disrupt Germany over its trade plans with Russia.

As for the Americans, their arrant hypocrisy is beyond words. As well as trying to dictate to Europe about “market principles” and “energy security”, it was reported this week that Washington is similarly demanding Iraq to end its import of natural gas from neighboring Iran.

Iraq is crippled by electricity and power shortages because of the criminal war that the US waged on that country from 2003-2011 which destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure. Iraq critically needs Iranian gas supplies to keep the lights and fans running. Yet, here we have the US now dictating to Iraq to end its lifeline import of Iranian fuel in order to comply with the Trump administration’s sanctions against Tehran. Iraq is furious at the latest bullying interference by Washington in its sovereign affairs.

The hypocrisy of Washington and elitist politicians like Emmanuel Macron has become too much to stomach. Maybe Germany and others are finally realizing who the charlatans are.

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Russia Readies Own Web To Survive Global Internet Shutdown

Russia is simultaneously building a mass censorship system similar to that seen in China.

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Via Zerohedge


Russian authorities and major telecom operators are preparing to disconnect the country from the world wide web as part of an exercise to prepare for future cyber attacks, Russian news agency RosBiznesKonsalting (RBK) reported last week.

The purpose of the exercise is to develop a threat analysis and provide feedback to a proposed law introduced in the Russian Parliament last December.

The draft law, called the Digital Economy National Program, requires Russian internet service providers (ISP) to guarantee the independence of the Russian Internet (Runet) in the event of a foreign attack to sever the country’s internet from the world wide web.

Telecom operators (MegaFon, VimpelCom (Beeline brand), MTS, Rostelecom and others) will have to introduce the “technical means” to re-route all Russian internet traffic to exchange points approved by the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor), Russia’s federal executive body responsible for censorship in media and telecommunications.

Roskomnazor will observe all internet traffic and make sure data between Russian users stays within the country’s borders, and is not re-routed abroad.

The exercise is expected to occur before April 1, as Russian authorities have not given exact dates.

The measures described in the law include Russia constructing its internet system, known as Domain Name System (DNS), so it can operate independently from the rest of the world.

Across the world, 12 companies oversee the root servers for DNS and none are located in Russia. However, there are copies of Russia’s core internet address book inside the country suggesting its internet could keep operating if the US cut it off.

Ultimately, the Russian government will require all domestic traffic to pass through government-controlled routing points. These hubs will filter traffic so that data sent between Russians internet users work seamlessly, but any data to foreign computers would be rejected.

Besides protecting its internet, Russia is simultaneously building a mass censorship system similar to that seen in China.

“What Russia wants to do is to bring those router points that handle data entering or exiting the country within its borders and under its control- so that it can then pull up the drawbridge, as it were, to external traffic if it’s under threat – or if it decides to censor what outside information people can access.

China’s firewall is probably the world’s best known censorship tool and it has become a sophisticated operation. It also polices its router points, using filters and blocks on keywords and certain websites and redirecting web traffic so that computers cannot connect to sites the state does not wish Chinese citizens to see,” said BBC.

The Russian government started preparations for creating its internet several years ago. Russian officials expect 95% of all internet traffic locally by next year.

As for Russia unplugging its internet from the rest of the world for an upcoming training exercise, well, this could potentially anger Washington because it is one less sanction that can keep Moscow contained.

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