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Putin’s Team is United: Talk of a Purge is Wrong

As the Russian government weathers a period of unpopularity caused by the recession, there is talk that Putin is about to purge his cabinet, but this is almost certainly wrong.

Alexander Mercouris

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An article has recently appeared in The Huffington Post which discusses rumours of an imminent purge of liberals from Russia’s government.

According to this view Russia’s President Putin is coming under increasing pressure from hardliners within Russia’s political elite to carry out a thorough purge of Atlanticists and liberals within the government.

The hardliners are also supposedly demanding a thorough overhaul of economic policy.  They want Putin to jettison the current liberal oriented free-market policy in favour of an economic mobilisation of the country to withstand the challenge of the West.  The details are sketchy but undoubtedly what is being talked about involves the reintroduction of capital controls and of forms of central planning that go far beyond what Russia has now.

The first point to make about this article in The Huffington Post is that it essentially repeats something that was said a month ago in an article by The Saker published by the Unz Review and on his own website.  The similarity is in fact so great that I find it impossible to put it down to mere coincidence.  There are clearly rumours circulating and both The Saker and the historian Stephen Cohen (the main source for The Huffington Post article) are picking up on them. 

What however are the prospects of a purge of liberals happening in Russia?

The short answer I am sure is none. 

The Saker and the Huffington Post are both right to say that the Russian government headed by Dmitry Medvedev is coming under fierce criticism in Russia, with strongly expressed demands by many people for a radical change of direction. 

They are also both right to say that Putin is not the target of this criticism and that his popularity is unaffected.  Those who criticise the government are not challenging Putin.  Rather they want him – as they think – to be himself by sacking the liberals in his government.

It is also the case that in discussion programmes on Russian television criticisms of the government are being increasingly and fiercely made and that some of these criticisms are being taken up by officials like Bastrykhin, the tough-minded head of Russia’s elite crime-busting agency, the Investigative Committee.

None of this however in my opinion points to a purge being in the works.  It is a fallacy that the media in Russia is tightly controlled and that no unauthorised criticism of the government is allowed on it.  On the contrary the media in Russia – including the television media – is full of debate and criticism, not just of the government but of virtually everything in Russia. 

Russia nowadays has an active and diverse public opinion which is no longer afraid to express itself, and it is a mistake to make assumptions about what is happening inside the Kremlin from the things it says.

I have to say that I get no impression that Putin is thinking of sacking the government or any of the senior officials who are currently being criticised.  On the contrary he repeatedly goes out of his way to signal his support for them.  He did so for example at some length during his recent television marathon.  Moreover his meetings with his officials as reported by his website give every impression of being supportive and cordial.

As for the conduct of the officials themselves, I get no impression from the behaviour of people like Medvedev, Ulyukaev, Siluanov or Nabiullina that they feel themselves to be under pressure or that they consider themselves to be at serious risk of losing their jobs.

There is no reason to think Putin disagrees with the current direction of economic policy.  That can be summarised as an overriding emphasis on inflation reduction (with the aim being to bring inflation down to 4% next year), strict budget discipline and work to improve the business climate, all done in order to foster an increase in the economy’s investment rate. 

All this goes along with a willingness to embrace planning in industrial policy, for example in the aircraft building industry.

I would add that I have seen and heard nothing that suggests the officials and ministers who are being criticised are disloyal to Putin or oppose his foreign or defence policies.  Not one of them has so much as hinted at disagreement with policy towards Crimea, Ukraine or Syria. 

The supposed tension within the government over the size of the military budget looks to me to be overstated and may be a myth. As I have said before claims Kudrin resigned from the Finance Ministry over this issue are wrong.  Claims of disagreement over the size of the military budget are anyway based on the theory Russia is experiencing a budget crisis.  That is simply wrong, just as claims Russia was facing a credit crunch were.

The one major area of disagreement between Putin and his ministers has in the past been over pension policy. 

There is little doubt the government wants to see the pension age raised.  Putin has until recently resisted that idea.  However some months ago he finally signalled that he had come round to it.  It is unlikely to happen before the Presidential election of 2018.

For the rest, Putin has consistently ruled out capital controls, price controls or proposals to raise income tax thresholds, and he undoubtedly supported the decision taken in 2014 to float the rouble.

Putin’s views on the vexed issue of privatisation also seem to be very similar to those of his ministers. 

He is broadly sympathetic to the idea and has shown no wish to reverse the privatisations of the 1990s.  However – to the exasperation of many in the Western investment community – he is no privatisation fanatic and clearly feels the government has a continued role to play in the direct management of key enterprises crucial to the economy.   

Though he welcomes foreign investment in Russia he is clearly determined to keep key sectors such as energy, banking, national infrastructure and key enterprises important to the defence sector under Russian control.   

He has specifically ruled out allowing Western banks from opening branches in Russia.  Whilst Western banks are welcome to work in Russia – and many of them do – their operations have to be regulated by the Russian Central Bank in just the same way as those of Russian banks are.

Similarly, though Putin supports foreign investment in Russia’s energy sector, Gazprom and Rosneft – both state-controlled – remain the dominant players with Gazprom still having a monopoly on gas exports.

There is nothing to suggest that anyone in the government disagrees with any of this.  As I have said previously, Kudrin as Finance Minister supported the project to create national champions in key branches of the economy. 

Today when privatisation is again being discussed it is being proposed – as it was in 2009 – for purely functional reasons – to fill gaps in the budget – not out of some ideological quest to privatise everything.  The government intends to keep blocking shares in all the enterprises involved, whilst Central Bank Chair Nabiullina opposes privatising Sberbank, the country’s biggest bank.

The overwhelming impression is of a united team essentially agreed on the main parameters of economic policy. 

All of them believe in an open economy where prices are decided by the market through supply and demand.  All of them believe in strict monetary and fiscal discipline.  All of them agree that some elements of industrial planning and state control should be retained and are essential at this stage of Russia’s development.

If the team is united why then the talk of a purge?

The short answer is that Russia over the last two years has been in recession.  It is entirely natural during a recession that the country’s government should come under criticism.  It happens in every country.

Though the criticism is loud and strong that does not make it politically dangerous.  There are none of the usual symptoms – mass demonstrations, sit-ins, walkouts, strikes – that point to widespread disaffection. 

The reason for that is not because the Russian people have been zombified by mass propaganda – as the Western media likes to claim – but because of the form the recession has taken. 

Strict financial discipline has paid dividends with a recession that has been relatively shallow with no significant layoffs, bankruptcies, plant closures or mortgage foreclosures. Though incomes took a heavy knock last year because of the inflation spike, employment has remained steady creating confidence that the recession is only temporary.  Importantly the two most socially sensitive sectors – food and housing – continue to boom.

There are also political factors.  The main political effect of the sanctions on Russia is that they lead to Russians blaming the recession not on Putin and the government but on the West.  That in part explains Putin’s extraordinary popularity, though his exceptional political skill, the popularity of many of his policies, and the sense of authority and sheer competence he conveys, would surely have kept him popular anyway.

The fact of Putin’s popularity makes it even less likely he is going to purge his government of people who give every impression of being loyal to him, especially when all the indications are he agrees with them.  His popularity means he is under no pressure to do so. 

With all the indications pointing to the recession being close to its end, it makes no sense for him to carry out such a purge anyway.

This whole issue of the purge is interesting because of what it says about the nature of political debate in Russia. 

It shows that when the government in Russia becomes unpopular the criticism of it that gains traction with the Russian public is that which comes from the patriotic “left” of Russia’s political spectrum rather than from its pro-Western liberal “right”.   On that spectrum Putin and his government are significantly more to the “right” than most Russians would like them to be.  The Western assumption that Putin’s “regime” is preventing Russians from pursuing their natural pro-Western liberal course could not be more wrong.

However those who look for or want a fundamental change in the Russian government’s present makeup or direction are likely to be disappointed.

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Is this man the puppet master of Ukraine’s new president or an overhyped bogeyman?

Smiling to himself, Kolomoisky would be within his rights to think that he has never had it so good.

RT

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Via RT…


It doesn’t actually matter if Ukrainian-Israeli billionaire Igor Kolomoisky is the real power behind Volodymyr Zelensky – the president elect has to get rid of the oligarch if he is to make a break with the country’s corrupt past.

The plots, deceits and conflicts of interest in Ukrainian politics are so transparent and hyperbolic, that to say that novice politician Zelensky was a protégé of his long-time employer was not something that required months of local investigative journalism – it was just out there.

Zelensky’s comedy troupe has been on Kolomoisky’s top-rated channel for the past eight years, and his media asset spent every possible resource promoting the contender against incumbent Petro Poroshenko, a personal enemy of the tycoon, who hasn’t even risked entering Ukraine in the past months.

Similarly, the millions and the nous needed to run a presidential campaign in a country of nearly 50 million people had to come from somewhere, and Kolomoisky’s lieutenants were said to be in all key posts. The two issued half-hearted denials that one was a frontman for the other, insisting that they were business partners with a cordial working relationship, but voters had to take their word for it.

Now that the supposed scheme has paid off with Zelensky’s spectacular victory in Sunday’s run-off, Ukrainian voters are asking: what does Kolomoisky want now, and will he be allowed to run the show?

‘One-of-a-kind chancer’

Born in 1963, in a family of two Jewish engineers, Kolomoisky is the type of businessman that was once the staple of the post-Soviet public sphere, but represents a dying breed.

That is, he is not an entrepreneur in the established Western sense at all – he did not go from a Soviet bloc apartment to Lake Geneva villas by inventing a new product, or even setting up an efficient business structure in an existing field.

Rather he is an opportunist who got wealthy by skilfully reading trends as the Soviet economy opened up – selling Western-made computers in the late 1980s – and later when independent Ukraine transitioned to a market economy and Kolomoisky managed to get his hands on a large amount of privatisation vouchers that put many of the juiciest local metals and energy concerns into his hands, which he then modernised.

What he possesses is a chutzpah and unscrupulousness that is rare even among his peers. Vladimir Putin once called him a “one-of-a-kind chancer” who managed to “swindle [Chelsea owner] Roman Abramovich himself.” In the perma-chaos of Ukrainian law and politics, where all moves are always on the table, his tactical acumen has got him ahead.

Kolomoisky’s lifeblood is connections and power rather than any pure profit on the balance sheet, though no one actually knows how that would read, as the Privat Group he part-owns is reported to own over 100 businesses in dozens of Ukrainian spheres through a complex network of offshore companies and obscure intermediaries (“There is no Privat Group, it is a media confection,” the oligarch himself says, straight-faced.)

Unsurprisingly, he has been dabbling in politics for decades, particularly following the first Orange Revolution in 2004. Though the vehicles for his support have not been noted for a particular ideological consistency – in reportedly backing Viktor Yushchenko, then Yulia Tymoshenko, he was merely putting his millions on what he thought would be a winning horse.

Grasp exceeds reach

But at some point in the post-Maidan euphoria, Kolomoisky’s narcissism got the better of him, and he accepted a post as the governor of his home region of Dnepropetrovsk, in 2014.

The qualities that might have made him a tolerable rogue on TV, began to grate in a more official role. From his penchant for using the political arena to settle his business disputes, to creating his own paramilitary force by sponsoring anti-Russian battalions out of his own pocket, to his somewhat charmless habit of grilling and threatening to put in prison those less powerful than him in fits of pique (“You wait for me out here like a wife for a cheating husband,” begins a viral expletive-strewn rant against an overwhelmed Radio Free Europe reporter).

There is a temptation here for a comparison with a Donald Trump given a developing country to play with, but for all of the shenanigans, his ideological views have always been relatively straightforward. Despite his Russia-loathing patriotism, not even his fans know what Kolomoisky stands for.

The oligarch fell out with fellow billionaire Poroshenko in early 2015, following a battle over the control of a large oil transport company between the state and the governor. The following year, his Privat Bank, which at one point handled one in four financial transactions in the country was nationalized, though the government said that Kolomoisky had turned it into a mere shell by giving $5 billion of its savings to Privat Group companies.

Other significant assets were seized, the government took to London to launch a case against his international companies, and though never banished, Kolomoisky himself decided it would be safer if he spent as long as necessary jetting between his adopted homes in Switzerland and Tel Aviv, with the occasional trip to London for the foreseeable future.

But the adventurer falls – and rises again. The London case has been dropped due to lack of jurisdiction, and only last week a ruling came shockingly overturning the three-year-old nationalization of Privat Bank.

Smiling to himself, Kolomoisky would be within his rights to think that he has never had it so good.

Own man

Zelensky must disabuse him of that notion.

It doesn’t matter that they are friends. Or what handshake agreements they made beforehand. Or that he travelled to Geneva and Tel-Aviv 13 times in the past two years. Or what kompromat Kolomoisky may or may not have on him. It doesn’t matter that his head of security is the man who, for years, guarded the oligarch, and that he may quite genuinely fear for his own safety (it’s not like nothing bad has ever happened to Ukrainian presidents).

Volodymyr Zelensky is now the leader of a large country, with the backing of 13.5 million voters. It is to them that he promised a break with past bribery, graft and cronyism. Even by tolerating one man – and one who makes Poroshenko look wholesome – next to him, he discredits all of that. He will have the support of the people if he pits himself against the puppet master – no one would have elected Kolomoisky in his stead.

Whether the oligarch is told to stay away, whether Ukraine enables the financial fraud investigation into him that has been opened by the FBI, or if he is just treated to the letter of the law, all will be good enough. This is the first and main test, and millions who were prepared to accept the legal fiction of the independent candidate two months ago, will now want to see reality to match. Zelensky’s TV president protagonist in Servant of the People – also broadcast by Kolomoisky’s channel, obviously, would never have compromised like that.

What hinges on this is not just the fate of Zelensky’s presidency, but the chance for Ukraine to restore battered faith in its democracy shaken by a succession of compromised failures at the helm.

Igor Ogorodnev

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Roger Waters – The People’s Champion for Freedom

In February 2019, Waters showed his support for the Venezuelan Maduro government and continues to be totally against US regime change plans there.

Richard Galustian

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Submitted by Richard Galustian 

Roger Waters is one of Britain’s most successful and talented musicians and composers but more importantly is an outstanding champion for freedom in the world, beyond compare to any other artist turned political activist.

By way of background, he co-founded the rock band Pink Floyd in 1965.

A landmark turning point of his political activism occurred in 1990, when Waters staged probably the largest rock concert in history, ‘The Wall – Live in Berlin’, with an attendance of nearly half a million people.

In more recent years Waters famously narrated the 2016 documentary ‘The Occupation of the American Mind: Israel’s Public Relations War in the United States’ about the insidious influence of Zionist Israel to shape American public opinion.

Waters has been an outspoken critic of America’s Neocons and particularly Donald Trump and his policies.

In 2017, Waters condemned Trump’s plan to build a wall separating the United States and Mexico, saying that his band’s iconic famous song, ‘The Wall’ is as he put it “very relevant now with Mr. Trump and all of this talk of building walls and creating as much enmity as possible between races and religions.”

In February 2019, Waters showed his support for the Venezuelan Maduro government and continues to be totally against US regime change plans there, or any place else for that matter.

Here below is a must see recent Roger Waters interview, via satellite from New York, where he speaks brilliantly, succinctly and honestly, unlike no other celebrity, about FREEDOM and the related issues of the day.

The only other artist turned activist, but purely for human rights reasons, as she is apolitical, is the incredible Carla Ortiz.

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ISIS Says Behind Sri Lanka Bombings; Was ‘Retaliation’ For New Zealand Mosque Massacre

ISIS’s claim couldn’t be confirmed and the group has been  known to make “opportunistic” claims in the past, according to WaPo. 

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Via Zerohedge…


Shortly after the death toll from Sunday’s Easter bombings in Sri Lanka climbed above the 300 mark, ISIS validated the Sri Lankan government’s suspicions that a domestic jihadi organization had help from an international terror network while planning the bombings were validated when ISIS took credit for the attacks.

The claim was made via a report from ISIS’s Amaq news agency. Though the group has lost almost all of the territory that was once part of its transnational caliphate, ISIS now boasts cells across the Muslim world, including in North Africa and elsewhere. Before ISIS took credit for the attack, a Sri Lankan official revealed that Sunday’s attacks were intended as retaliation for the killing of 50 Muslims during last month’s mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand.

However, the Sri Lankan government didn’t offer any evidence for that claim, or the claim that Sunday’s attacks were planned by two Islamic groups (though that now appears to have been substantiated by ISIS’s claim of responsibility). The group is believed to have worked with the National Tawheed Jamaath, according to the NYT.

“The preliminary investigations have revealed that what happened in Sri Lanka was in retaliation for the attack against Muslims in Christchurch,” State Minister of Defense Ruwan Wijewardene told the Parliament.

Meanwhile, the number of suspects arrested in connection with the attacks had increased to 40 from 24 as of Tuesday. The government had declared a national emergency that allowed it sweeping powers to interrogate and detain suspects.

On Monday, the FBI pledged to send agents to Sri Lanka and provide laboratory support for the investigation.

As the death toll in Sri Lanka climbs, the attack is cementing its position as the deadliest terror attack in the region.

  • 321 (as of now): Sri Lanka bombings, 2019
  • 257 Mumbai attacks, 1993
  • 189 Mumbai train blasts, 2006 166 Mumbai attacks, 2008
  • 151 APS/Peshawar school attack, 2014
  • 149 Mastung/Balochistan election rally attack, 2018

Meanwhile, funeral services for some of the bombing victims began on Tuesday.

Even before ISIS took credit for the attack, analysts told the Washington Post that its unprecedented violence suggested that a well-financed international organization was likely involved.

The bombings on Sunday, however, came with little precedent. Sri Lanka may have endured a ghastly civil war and suicide bombings in the past – some credit the Tamil Tigers with pioneering the tactic – but nothing of this scale. Analysts were stunned by the apparent level of coordination behind the strikes, which occurred around the same time on both sides of the country, and suggested the attacks carried the hallmarks of a more international plot.

“Sri Lanka has never seen this sort of attack – coordinated, multiple, high-casualty – ever before, even with the Tamil Tigers during the course of a brutal civil war,” Alan Keenan, a Sri Lanka expert at the International Crisis Group, told the Financial Times. “I’m not really convinced this is a Sri Lankan thing. I think the dynamics are global, not driven by some indigenous debate. It seems to me to be a different kind of ballgame.”

Hinting at possible ISIS involvement, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a Monday press conference that “radical Islamic terror” remained a threat even after ISIS’s defeats in Syria.

Of course, ISIS’s claim couldn’t be confirmed and the group has been  known to make “opportunistic” claims in the past, according to WaPo. The extremist group said the attacks were targeting Christians and “coalition countries” and were carried out by fighters from its organization.

Speculation that the government had advanced warning of the attacks, but failed to act amid a power struggle between the country’s president and prime minister, unnerved citizens and contributed to a brewing backlash. Following the bombings, schools and mass had been canceled until at least Monday, with masses called off “until further notice.”

 

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