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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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US Sanctions Foster Emergence of Multipolar World

US sanctions negatively affect the economies of the targeted countries, but they also push the nations hit by them to move closer to each other.

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Authored by Arkady Savitsky via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Russia, Iran, China, and now Turkey are in the same boat, as all have become the target of US sanctions. But none of those nations has bowed under the pressure. Russia had foreseen the developments in advance and took timely measures to protect itself. The Turkish national currency, the lira, is plummeting now that Washington has introduced sanctions as well as tariffs on steel and aluminum, in an attempt to compel Ankara to turn over a detained American pastor. Turkish President Erdogan said it was time for Turkey to seek “new friends,” and Turkey is planning to issue yuan-denominated bonds to diversify its foreign borrowing instruments. On Aug. 11, President Erdogan said Turkey was ready to begin using local currencies in its trade with Russia, China, Iran, Ukraine, and the EU nations of the eurozone.

The recent BRICS summit reaffirmed Ankara’s commitment to the Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA) that is geared toward de-dollarizing its member states’ economies, and the agreement to quickly launch a Local Currency Bond Fund gives that policy teeth. Turkey has also expressed its desire to join BRICS.

Ankara is gradually moving toward membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). It has been accepted as a dialog partner of that organization. Last year Turkey became a dialog partner with ASEAN. On Aug. 1, the first ASEAN-Turkey Trilateral Ministerial Meeting was held in Singapore, bringing together Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt ÇavuşoğluASEAN Secretary General Dato Lim Jock Hoi, and Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, who is serving as the 2018 ASEAN term chairman. The event took place under the auspices of the 51st ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting that attracted foreign ministers and top diplomats from 30 countries.

Ankara is mulling over a free-trade area (FTA) agreement with the Eurasian Union. This cooperation between Ankara and the EAEU has a promising future.

Meanwhile, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) has provided a $3.6-billion loan package for the Turkish energy and transportation sector. Turkey and China have recently announced an expansion of their military ties. As one can see, Turkey is inexorably pivoting from the West to the East.

Russia has a special role to play in this process. The US Congress has prohibited the sale of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey because of the risk associated with Ankara’s purchase of the S-400 air-defense system. In response, Turkey is contemplating a purchase of Russian warplanes. Ankara prefers Russian weapons over the ones offered by NATO states. As President Erdogan put it, “Before it is too late, Washington must give up the misguided notion that our relationship can be asymmetrical and come to terms with the fact that Turkey has alternatives.”

On Aug. 10, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Erdogan discussed the prospects for boosting economic cooperation. Both nations are parties to the ambitious Turkish Stream natural-gas pipeline project. Ideas for ways to join forces in response to the US offensive were also on the agenda during the visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Turkey, Aug. 13-14, although Syria was in the spotlight of the talks. One mustn’t forget that Russia was the first country to be visited by the Turkish president after the failed 2016 coup.

As a result of some tough times resulting from US sanctions, Iran is redoubling its efforts at building foreign relationships. Under US pressure, European companies are leaving Iran, with China gradually filling the void. Now that US and European airspace companies are moving their business ventures out of Iran, this presents a good opportunity for Russian aircraft, such as the MS-21 or IL-96-400M. The Russian automaker GAZ Group is ready to supply Iran with commercial vehicles and light trucks powered by 5th generation engines.

Tehran is an observer state in the SCO, and it is to become an essential hub for the Chinese Belt Road Initiative (BRI). On June 25, a freight train arrived in the Iranian city of Bandar-e Anzali, a port on the Caspian Sea, having passed through the China-Kazakhstan-Iran transportation corridor and entering the Anzali Free Zone that connects China to both the Kazakh port of Aktau and to Iran, thus creating a new trade link to the outside world. This gives a boost to the BRI. On Aug. 12, the five littoral states (the Caspian Five) signed the Caspian Sea Convention — the fruit of 22 years of difficult negotiations. This opens up new opportunities for Iran and other countries of the region as well as the BRI. The idea to form a new economic forum was floated at the Caspian Five summit.

China and Russia back the idea of Iran’s full-fledged SCO membership. In May Tehran signed an interim FTA agreement with the EAEU. Greater EAEU-BRI integration under the stewardship of the SCO is also on the horizon.

According to the Daily Express, Iran could band together with Russia and China in an anti-US alliance. Iran may also get an observer status in the CSTO. Iran-Turkey trade has recently revived, and that bilateral relationship includes burgeoning military cooperation.

Nothing can be viewed in just black and white, and every coin has two sides. The US sanctions do negatively affect the economies and finances of the targeted countries, but in the long run, they will also push the nations hit by them to move closer to each other, thus encouraging the emergence of the multipolar world the US is trying so hard to resist.

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It’s Official: ‘Britain’s Democracy Now At Risk’

It’s not just campaigners saying it any more: democracy is officially at risk, according to parliament’s own digital, culture, media and sport committee.

The Duran

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Via True Publica, authored by Jessica Garland – Electoral Reform Society:


Britain’s main campaign rules were drawn up in the late 1990s, before social media and online campaigning really existed. This has left the door wide open to disinformation, dodgy donations and foreign interference in elections.

There is a real need to close the loopholes when it comes to the online Wild West.

Yet in this year’s elections, it was legitimate voters who were asked to identify themselves, not those funnelling millions into political campaigns through trusts, or those spreading fake news.

The government trialled mandatory voter ID in five council areas in May. In these five pilot areas alone about 350 people were turned away from polling stations for not having their papers with them — and they didn’t return. In other words, they were denied their vote.

Yet last year, out of more than 45 million votes cast across the country, there were just 28 allegations of personation (pretending to be someone else at the polling station), the type of fraud voter ID is meant to tackle.

Despite the loss of 350 votes, the pilots were branded a success by the government. Yet the 28 allegations of fraud (and just one conviction) are considered such a dire threat that the government is willing to risk disenfranchising many more legitimate voters to try to address it. The numbers simply don’t add up.

Indeed, the fact-checking website FullFact noted that in the Gosport pilot, 0.4 per cent of voters did not vote because of ID issues. That’s a greater percentage than the winning margin in at least 14 constituencies in the last election. Putting up barriers to democratic engagement can have a big impact. In fact, it can swing an election.

In the run-up to the pilots, the Electoral Reform Society and other campaigners warned that the policy risked disenfranchising the most marginalised groups in society.

The Windrush scandal highlights exactly the sort of problems that introducing stricter forms of identity could cause: millions of people lack the required documentation. It’s one of the reasons why organisations such as the Runnymede Trust are concerned about these plans.

The Electoral Commission has now published a report on the ID trials, which concludes that “there is not yet enough evidence to fully address concerns” on this front.

The small number of pilots, and a lack of diversity, meant that sample sizes were too small to conclude anything about how the scheme would affect various demographic groups. Nor can the pilots tell us about the likely impact of voter ID in a general election, where the strain on polling staff would be far greater and a much broader cross-section of electors turns out to vote.

The Electoral Reform Society, alongside 22 organisations, campaigners and academics, has now called on the constitution minister to halt moves to impose this policy. The signatories span a huge cross-section of society, including representatives of groups that could be disproportionately impacted by voter ID, from Age UK to Liberty and from the British Youth Council to the Salvation Army and the LGBT Foundation.

Voters know what our democratic priorities should be: ensuring that elections are free from the influence of big donors. Having a secure electoral register. Providing balanced media coverage. Transparency online.

We may be little wiser as a result of the government’s voter ID trials. Yet we do know where the real dangers lie in our politics.

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Corrupt Robert Mueller’s despicable Paul Manafort trial nears end (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 79.

Alex Christoforou

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Paul Manafort’s legal team rested its case on Tuesday without calling a single witness. This sets the stage for closing arguments before the judge hands the case to jurors for a verdict.

Manafort’s defense opted to call no witnesses, choosing instead to rely on the team’s cross-examination of government witnesses including a very devious Rick Gates, Manafort’s longtime deputy, and several accountants, bookkeepers and bankers who had financial dealings with Manafort.

Closing arguments are expected on Wednesday. Jurors may begin deliberating shortly after receiving their final instructions from judge Ellis.

Manafort case has nothing to do with Mueller’s ‘Trump-Russia collusion witch-hunt’ as the former DC lobbyist is accused of defrauding banks to secure loans and hiding overseas bank accounts and income from U.S. tax authorities.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III denied a defense motion to acquit Manafort on the charges because prosecutors hadn’t proved their case.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the circus trial of Trump’s former Campaign Manager Paul Manafort, and how crooked cop Robert Mueller is using all his power to lean on Manafort, so as to conjure up something illegal against US President Donald Trump.

Remember to Please Subscribe to The Duran’s YouTube Channel.

Via Zerohedge

Prosecutors allege he dodged taxes on millions of dollars made from his work for a Ukrainian political party, then lied to obtain bank loans when cash stopped flowing from the project.

The courtroom was sealed for around two hours Tuesday morning for an unknown reason, reopening around 11:30 a.m. with Manafort arriving around 10 minutes later.

The decision to rest their case without calling any witnesses follows a denial by Judge T.S. Ellis III to acquit Manafort after his lawyers tried to argue that the special counsel had failed to prove its case at the federal trial.

The court session began at approximately 11:45 a.m.:

“Good afternoon,” began defense attorney Richard Westling, who corrected himself and said, “Good morning.”

“I’m as surprised as you are,” Judge Ellis responded.

Ellis then heard brief argument from both sides on the defense’s motion for acquittal, focusing primarily on four counts related to Federal Savings Bank.

Federal Savings Bank was aware of the status of Paul Manafort’s finances,” Westling argued. “They came to the loans with an intent of doing business with Mr. Manafort.”

Prosecutor Uzo Asonye fired back, saying that that even if bank chairman Steve Calk overlooked Manafort’s financial woes, it would still be a crime to submit fraudulent documents to obtain the loans.

“Steve Calk is not the bank,” Asonye argued, adding that while Caulk may have “had a different motive” — a job with the Trump administration — “I’m not really sure there’s evidence he knew the documents were false.”

Ellis sided with prosecutors.

The defense makes a significant argument about materiality, but in the end, I think materiality is an issue for the jury,” he said, adding. “That is true for all the other counts… those are all jury issues.”

Once that exchange was over, Manafort’s team was afforded the opportunity to present their case, to which lead attorney Kevin Downing replied “The defense rests.

Ellis then began to question Manafort to ensure he was aware of the ramifications of that decision, to which the former Trump aide confirmed that he did not wish to take the witness stand.

Manafort, in a dark suit and white shirt, stood at the lectern from which his attorneys have questioned witnesses, staring up at the judge. Ellis told Manafort he had a right to testify, though if he chose not to, the judge would tell jurors to draw no inference from that. – WaPo

Ellis asked Manafort four questions – his amplified voice booming through the courtroom:

Had Manafort discussed the decision with his attorney?

“I have, your honor,” Manafort responded, his voice clear.

Was he satisfied with their advice?

“I am, your honor,” Manafort replied.

Had he decided whether he would testify?

“I have decided,” Manafort said.

“Do you wish to testify?” Ellis finally asked.

“No, sir,” Manafort responded.

And with that, Manafort returned to his seat.

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