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The Olympic betrayal of Russia

Alexander Mercouris

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In the first half of 2016, shortly before the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Professor Richard McLaren at the request of WADA published his preliminary report on sports doping in Russia.

No one – least of all the Russian authorities – disputed that there had been a significant problem with doping in Russia.  The Russian authorities moreover singled out the person who they said was the prime suspect – Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov – the head of RUSADA, Russia’s principal WADA affiliated anti-doping laboratory.

Rodchenkov had come under suspicion of involvement in doping before.  Though he had previously been cleared of involvement in doping, after the Winter Olympics in 2014 in Sochi in Russia he fell under suspicion again.  He fled abroad to the United States, where he is now the subject of a witness protection programme.

Though Rodchenkov’s deep involvement in the doping which had taken place in Russian sport was universally accepted, Professor McLaren nonetheless made him his star witness.

On Rodchenkov’s evidence and without first consulting with the Russian authorities McLaren declared that the doping amongst Russian athletes which had taken place during the Sochi Olympics was the result of a massive state sponsored conspiracy organised by the Russian government and carried out by Rodchenkov in collaboration with the FSB.  McLaren moreover said that this had been proved “beyond reasonable doubt”.

To that end, reversing the burden of proof, McLaren campaigned for all Russian athletes to be prevented from participating in the Rio Olympics irrespective of whether there was actual evidence against them of doping or not.

In the event, though several sports federations including crucially the International Association of Athletics Federations (“IAAF”) did prevent Russian athletes affiliated to them from participating in the Rio Olympics, the International Olympic Committee refused to impose a blanket ban.

The International Paralympic Committee on the strength of McLaren’s report however did so, preventing Russian paralympic athletes from participating in the Paralympic Games in Rio.

A few months later, after the Rio Olympics were over, Professor McLaren published the complete version of his report.

This broke no new ground and made the same allegations that his preliminary report had made before.

The International Olympic Committee on the eve of the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang has now gone a step further.

It has banned Russian athletes from competing in the Winter Olympics under their own flag, is preventing them from participating in the Opening Ceremony, and has prohibited the playing of the Russian national anthem if they win gold medals.

Instead selected Russian athletes may attend the Winter Olympics but only if invited by the International Olympic Committee to do so, and can only compete as ‘athletes from Russia’ under the Olympic flag.

In addition a number of Russian sports officials including the former Minister of Sport Vitaly Mutko are banned for life from any involvement in the Olympic Games, whilst the Russian Olympic Committee – one of the founder Committees of the Olympic Movement – has had its membership suspended.

What are the grounds for this extraordinary set of decisions?  I ask this question because from a legal and sports point of view I do not understand them.

As I have always understood it, the Olympic Movement seeks to be inclusive and non-discriminatory.  Whilst it is obviously right and proper to ban athletes from participating in the Olympic Games if they have been found guilty of drugs taking, surely if they have not been found guilty of drugs taking they should compete in the Games under their own flag on the same terms as everyone else?

If the Russian Olympic Committee is to be suspended surely that should be because its members have been found guilty of something?

If Russian government officials like Vitaly Mutko are to be banned from the Olympic Movement for life, then that too should be because they have been found to be guilty of something?

I ask these questions because the decision of the International Olympic Committee purports to be based on an independent investigation of the claims made by Professor McLaren in his two reports carried out by former Swiss President and Federal Council member Samuel Schmid.

Schmid’s report however not only fails to support the allegations of a gigantic government organised doping conspiracy in Russia, but it actually confirms that there is no evidence of such a conspiracy in Russia.  Moreover it also confirms that there is no evidence of any wrongdoing either by the Russian Olympic Committee or by a number of the people who have been banned.

Schmid’s report can be read here.

It turns out that the entirety of the evidence relied upon by Professor McLaren to support his claim of a gigantic government organised doping conspiracy in Russia is apart from Rodchenkov’s unsupported testimony a number of emails which passed between Rodchenkov and his co-conspirators and which were provided to Professor McLaren by Rodchenkov himself.

The problem is that the emails do not show the involvement of any senior government officials in the doping conspiracy.

Not a single email originates from a senior government official.  One official of the Sports Ministry – Vice-Minister Yury Nagornykh – was copied into some of the emails, though Schmid admits that he himself wrote none of them.

Schmid concludes that the fact Nagornykh was copied into some of the emails means that he “must have known” about Rodchenkov’s scheme.

Since however Schmid does not provide copies of the emails and hints that he may not have even read some of them, it is impossible to accept this claim with any confidence

In all these email exchanges produced, many names in the address bar (from, to and cc) have been blacked out by the IP in order to protect the confidentiality of these persons.  For this reason, Professor Richard McLaren was unable to share with the IOC DC the original messages.  As a consequence, the IOC DC is not able to confirm who was really aware of the information exchanged in the various emails.

(bold italics added)

It is quite clear from these words that none of the individuals who have now been penalised on the strength of the emails have been shown them either.

In other words they have been condemned on the strength of evidence they were not shown and which they were not therefore in a position to comment on or refute.

That is a shocking offence against due process, and I am astonished that it is happening and no-one is complaining about it.

One person who even McLaren now admits was not part of the email chain – and against whom no evidence of involvement in the doping scheme therefore exists – is Russia’s former Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko.

Here is what Schmid has to say about him

In one exchange of emails between Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov and Mr. Alexey Velikodniy regarding a footballer, Mr. Velikodniy mentioned that “the decision is with VL for consideration and approval”.  This single reference could not be considered as sufficient to demonstrate the personal involvement of the then Minister of Sport.

(bold italics added)

Even McLaren himself now admits (though very grudgingly) that there is no evidence against Mutko.  His whole case against Mutko it turns out is based entirely on a guess

Your question about Mr. Mutko was: did he know?  information is provided to the ministry and like any hierarchical organisation it flows upwards in the organisational structure.  So I would think that the information came to him through the ministry.  But it was the deputy minister (Nagornykh – AM) who was in charge of the process I described.  I don’t have any direct evidence as to whether he knew or didn’t know.  I have met with him, I have discussed the matter with him, he didn’t indicate that he knew.

(bold italics added)

Not only is McLaren’s case against Mutko based entirely on a guess, but it is a guess which is completely unwarranted.

Given that Rodchenkov and his associates were engaging in a criminal conspiracy would the information about it really flow effortlessly up the organisational structure of the ministry until it reached Mutko himself?  The only circumstance where that would happen would be if Mutko and the entire staff of the ministry were also part of the conspiracy.  That obviously is what McLaren believes, but of which he admits he has no evidence.

The fact that McLaren believes such a thing without having any evidence for it incidentally exposes the extent of his bias.  It also shows why his entire theory is not just unwarranted but almost certainly wrong.

Most of the rest of the Schmid report is concerned with the evidence of the existence of extensive and organised doping before and during the Sochi Olympics in Russia.  Since no one least of all the Russian authorities deny that this took place, it is not obvious why this information has been provided in such detail.

What however of the individual at the centre of this scandal – RUSADA’s doping mastermind and McLaren’s key witness Dr. Rodchenkov – what does Schmid have to say about him?

It turns out that Rodchenkov not only was instrumental in carrying out the doping but that he did at least some of it for money

One of the major actors identified was Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, director of the Moscow Laboratory; he was at the heart of the doping activities and of the positive drugs test cover-up; he had direct access within the Ministry of Sport to request funds for the laboratory equipment.  The Report showed that in his position he was not only accepting but also requesting money in order to execute the concealment of positive tests of Russian athletics athletes.  Furthermore, he admitted during an interview to have intentionally destroyed 1,417 samples at the end of 2014 in order to limit the extent of the WADA’s audit, of which he was previously informed by WADA.

(bold italics added)

In other words Rodchenkov was not just a cheat but was corrupt as well.

Elsewhere Schmid discusses how Rodchenkov insinuated himself into the international anti-doping system

Within the evolution of the system, the analysis of the evidence as well as the movie Icarus, shows that Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov played a key role.  Due to his scientific abilities he was able to set-up detection methods to improve the fight against doping, to publish scientific articles and participate to experts’ observatory programmes, winning so a great international credibility.  This enabled him on one hand, as an anti-doping expert, to gain access to the international expertise and strategy, in particular, during the Olympic Games London 2012, which helped him to contribute to the development of the specific system to be operational during the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014.

Yet this is the corrupt and scheming individual whose largely uncorroborated claims of a government organised state sponsored doping conspiracy McLaren accepts as true.

Schmid – somewhat grudgingly but nonetheless conclusively – admits that there is in fact no evidence of a government organised state sponsored doping conspiracy in Russia

….the independent and impartial evidence do not allow the IOC DC to establish with certitude either who initiated or who headed this scheme.

On many occasions, reference was made on the involvement at the Minister of Sport’s level, but no indication, independent or impartial evidence appeared to corroborate any involvement or knowledge at a higher level of the State.

Elsewhere Schmid admits that the doping scheme in Russia did not involve all Russian athletes – a sure indication by the way that it was not government organised or state sponsored – and that it was different from the doping scheme in the former German Democratic Republic, which of course was both government organised and state sponsored.

Given that this is so, why is former Sports Minister Mutko against whom no evidence of wrongdoing exists being banned from participating in the Olympic Games for the rest of his life?

Why is the Russian Olympic Committee being suspended, when no evidence of the involvement of any of its members in the doping scheme exists?

The IOC DC notes that neither the IC’s nor the IP’s Reports mentioned the participation of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) in the system.  No findings appeared during the IOC DC’s investigation to contradict these statements.

In order to justify the IOC’s actions against Mutko, the ROC and other Russian individuals and sports institutions against whom no evidence of wrongdoing exists, Schmid comes up with a complicated theory of their legal responsibility for the doping scheme even though there is no evidence that they knew about it.

All I would say about that is that I have never heard of a case where individuals against whom no evidence of wrongdoing exists and who must therefore be presumed to have acted at all times in good faith are punished because of a criminal conspiracy carried out by others of which there is no evidence they had any knowledge.

That truly is guilt by association, and it is wrong.

Right at the very start of the Russian Olympic Doping Scandal in an article for Sputnik dated 12th November 2015, I said that the right way forward was not to impose discriminatory and unlawful blanket bans on Russian athletes which ignored the presumption of innocence and which contradicted the humanitarian and inclusive principles of the Olympic Games, but to work with the Russians to ensure that anti-doping systems in Russia were made as strong as possible so that large scale doping of the sort organised by Dr. Rodchenkov could no longer take place

….it seems to me utterly wrong to ban athletes from competing simply because they are Russian.

That goes utterly against the humanitarian principles upon which the Olympics were founded. It is also contrary to the non-discriminatory principles in most national laws.

The Russian authorities are challenging some of the allegations — as it is their right to do — but look to be genuinely offering cooperation to help solve the problem.

For example they have offered to appoint a foreign specialist to head their laboratory. The right thing to do is not to impose a blanket ban but to work with the Russian authorities so that the problem can be solved.

That may involve bringing criminal charges and imposing individual bans on specific persons, barring them from involvement in international sports training and competition.

If that does not happen and a blanket ban on Russian athletes is imposed instead, then it seems to me that the world’s sporting bodies will not only have retreated from their ideals but will open themselves up to questions about what their real motives are.

‘Solving the problem’ in this way is exactly the approach the Russian authorities – who do not deny the existence of large scale doping problem in Russia – have taken.

The anti-doping systems now put in place in Russia are now universally acknowledged to be just about the best in the world.  Here is how Steve Scott, sports editor of the ITN news channel in Britain, describes them

A lot has changed at the Russia Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) in the past 18 months and, according to some close to this transformation, if you employ objective criteria, the Moscow laboratory is as good as it gets.

“The quality of testing and planning is very high.” a senior anti-doping source told me.

The Agency has doubled in size, has had its budget doubled too and is carrying out twice as many tests. It has also built up a team of 50 trained doping control officers, whereas before it had none. As for a much needed cultural shift, there has also been a significant changeover of staff; few remain who were immersed in the bad old ways of doing things.

Given that this is so and that there is now longer any possibility of Russian athletes engaging in a massive doping conspiracy in the coming Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, why is action being taken to prevent them competing on the same basis as everyone else?

It turns out that WADA is refusing to certify RUSADA – Russia’s radically reorganised anti-doping laboratory – for no other reason than that the Russian authorities are refusing to accept the McLaren report.

Why however should the Russian authorities accept the McLaren report when McLaren’s claims of a massive government organised state sponsored doping conspiracy in Russia have been shown to have no evidence behind them?

Is it anyway right and proper to coerce someone into confessing a crime for which no evidence exists?  Is that not the action of a blackmailer or of a police state?  Is that the sort of behaviour the International Olympic Committee – guardian of the Olympic Movement and upholder of its ideals – wants to associate itself with?

In reality the decision of the International Olympic Committee to ban certain Russians from involvement in the Olympic Movement, to suspend the Russian Olympic Committee, and to allow only specially invited Russian athletes to compete in the Winter Olympics and then only under the Olympic flag, has nothing to do either with sport or doping or the principles of legality.

It is entirely the product of politics, and the Russians are right to say it is.

Though this is the worst decision the International Olympic Committee has taken in its whole history, it is just possible that we may be approaching the end of this tawdry affair.

It seems that if the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang end without scandals then the Russian Olympic Committee will be readmitted to the Olympic Movement on the last day of the Games, allowing Russian athletes to celebrate the last day of the Games under their own flag.

Presumably that means that restrictions on the participation by Russian athletes in future Olympic Games will be lifted.

That presumably is why the Russian authorities are encouraging their athletes to participate in the PyeongChang Games under the Olympic flag, humiliating though they say they find it.

Whilst I understand this reasoning, I am not sure I share it.

An Olympic Movement capable of making such a grossly discriminatory and frankly unlawful decision is obviously no longer fit for purpose.

In light of this I think that the Russians and the many other national teams that must privately think this should now set about setting up their own alternative sports competitions, initially in parallel to those of the Olympic Movement but eventually as alternatives to them.

Since I doubt that this will be the last of these scandals that seems to me the only way forward.

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Trump Demands Tribute from NATO Vassals

The one thing that we should all understand, and which Trump perfectly and clearly understands, is that the members of NATO are a captive audience.

Strategic Culture Foundation

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Authored by Tim Kirby via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Regardless of whether one loves or hates President Trump at least we can say that his presidency has a unique flavor and is full of surprises. Bush and Obama were horribly dull by comparison. Trump as a non-politician from the world of big (real estate) business and media has a different take on many issues including NATO.

Many, especially in Russia were hoping that “The Donald’s” campaign criticism of NATO would move towards finally putting an end to this anti-Russian alliance, which, after the fall of Communism really has no purpose, as any real traditional military threats to Europe have faded into history. However, Trump as President of the United States has to engage in the “realpolitik” of 21st century America and try to survive and since Trump seems rather willing to lie to get what he wants, who can really say which promises from his campaign were a shoot and which were a work.

So as it stands now Trump’s recent decision to maintain and build US/NATO bases across the world “and make country X pay for it” could mean anything from him trying to keep his campaign promises in some sort of skewed way, to an utter abandonment of them and submission to the swamp. Perhaps it could simply be his business instincts taking over in the face of “wasteful spending”. Making allies have to pay to have US/NATO forces on their territory is a massive policy shift that one could only predict coming from the unpredictable 45th President.

The one thing that we should all understand, and which Trump perfectly and clearly understands, is that the members of NATO (and other “allies”) are a captive audience, especially Germany, Japan and South Korea, which “coincidentally” are the first set of countries that will have to pay the “cost + 50%” to keep bases and US soldiers on their soil. Japan’s constitution, written primarily by American occupation forces forbids them from having a real military which is convenient for Trump’s plan. South Korea, although a very advanced and wealthy nation has no choice but to hide behind the US might because if it were to disappear overnight, then Gangnam would be filled with pictures of the Kim family within a few weeks.

In the past with regard to these three countries NATO has had to keep up the illusion of wanting to “help” them and work as “partners” for common defense as if nuclear and economic titan America needs countries like them to protect itself. Trump whether consciously or not is changing the dynamic of US/NATO occupation of these territories to be much more honest. His attitude seems to be that the US has the possibility to earn a lot of money from a worldwide mafia-style protection scam. Vassals have no choice but to pay the lord so Trump wants to drop the illusions and make the military industrial complex profitable again and God bless him for it. This level of honesty in politics is refreshing and it reflects the Orange Man’s pro-business and “America will never be a socialist country” attitude. It is blunt and ideologically consistent with his worldview.

On the other hand, one could look at this development as a possible move not to turn NATO into a profitable protection scam but as a means to covertly destroy it. Lies and illusion in politics are very important, people who believe they are free will not rebel even if they have no freedom whatsoever. If people are sure their local leaders are responsible for their nation they will blame them for its failings rather than any foreign influence that may actually be pulling the real strings.

Even if everyone in Germany, Japan and South Korea in their subconscious knows they are basically occupied by US forces it is much harder to take action, than if the “lord” directly demands yearly tribute. The fact that up to this point US maintains its bases on its own dime sure adds to the illusion of help and friendship. This illusion is strong enough for local politicians to just let the status quo slide on further and further into the future. Nothing is burning at their feet to make them act… having to pay cost + 50% could light that fire.

Forcing the locals to pay for these bases changes the dynamic in the subconscious and may force people’s brains to contemplate why after multiple-generations the former Axis nations still have to be occupied. Once occupation becomes expensive and uncomfortable, this drops the illusion of friendship and cooperation making said occupation much harder to maintain.

South Korea knows it needs the US to keep out the North but when being forced to pay for it this may push them towards developing the ability to actually defend themselves. Trump’s intellectual “honesty” in regards to NATO could very well plant the necessary intellectual seeds to not just change public opinion but make public action against US/NATO bases in foreign countries. Japan has had many protests over the years against US bases surging into the tens of thousands. This new open vassal status for the proud Japanese could be the straw to break the camel’s back.

Predicting the future is impossible. But it is clear that, changing the fundamental dynamic by which the US maintains foreign bases in a way that will make locals financially motivated to have them removed, shall significantly affect the operations of US forces outside the borders of the 50 States and make maintaining a global presence even more difficult, but perhaps this is exactly what the Orange Man wants or is just too blind to see.

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High-ranking Ukrainian official reports on US interference in Ukraine

It is not usually the case that an American media outlet tells the truth about Ukraine, but it appears to have happened here.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The Hill committed what may well have been a random act of journalism when it reported that Ukrainian Prosecutor General, Yuriy Lutsenko, told Hill.tv’s reporter John Solomon that the American ambassador to that country, Marie Yovanovitch, gave him a “do not prosecute” list at their first meeting.

Normally, all things Russia are covered by the American press as “bad”, and all things Ukraine are covered by the same as “good.” Yet this report reveals quite a bit about the nature of the deeply embedded US interests that are involved in Ukraine, and which also attempt to control and manipulate policy in the former Soviet republic.

The Hill’s piece continues (with our added emphases):

“Unfortunately, from the first meeting with the U.S. ambassador in Kiev, [Yovanovitch] gave me a list of people whom we should not prosecute,” Lutsenko, who took his post in 2016, told Hill.TV last week.

“My response of that is it is inadmissible. Nobody in this country, neither our president nor our parliament nor our ambassador, will stop me from prosecuting whether there is a crime,” he continued.

Indeed, the Prosecutor General appears to be a man of some principles. When this report was brought to the attention of the US State Department, the response was predictable:

The State Department called Lutsenko’s claim of receiving a do not prosecute list, “an outright fabrication.” 

“We have seen reports of the allegations,” a department spokesperson told Hill.TV. “The United States is not currently providing any assistance to the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO), but did previously attempt to support fundamental justice sector reform, including in the PGO, in the aftermath of the 2014 Revolution of Dignity. When the political will for genuine reform by successive Prosecutors General proved lacking, we exercised our fiduciary responsibility to the American taxpayer and redirected assistance to more productive projects.”

This is an amazing statement in itself. “Our fiduciary responsibility to the American taxpayer”? Are Americans even aware that their country is spending their tax dollars in an effort to manipulate a foreign government in what can probably well be called a low-grade proxy war with the Russian Federation? Again, this appears to be a slip, as most American media do a fair job of maintaining the narrative that Ukraine is completely independent and that its actions regarding the United States and Russia are taken in complete freedom.

Hill.TV has reached out to the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine for comment.

Lutsenko also said that he has not received funds amounting to nearly $4 million that the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine was supposed to allocate to his office, saying that “the situation was actually rather strange” and pointing to the fact that the funds were designated, but “never received.”

“At that time we had a case for the embezzlement of the U.S. government technical assistance worth 4 million U.S. dollars, and in that regard, we had this dialogue,” he said. “At that time, [Yovanovitch] thought that our interviews of Ukrainian citizens, of Ukrainian civil servants, who were frequent visitors of the U.S. Embassy put a shadow on that anti-corruption policy.”

“Actually, we got the letter from the U.S. Embassy, from the ambassador, that the money that we are speaking about [was] under full control of the U.S. Embassy, and that the U.S. Embassy did not require our legal assessment of these facts,” he said. “The situation was actually rather strange because the funds we are talking about were designated for the prosecutor general’s office also and we told [them] we have never seen those, and the U.S. Embassy replied there was no problem.”

“The portion of the funds, namely 4.4 million U.S. dollars were designated and were foreseen for the recipient Prosecutor General’s office. But we have never received it,” he said.

Yovanovitch previously served as the U.S. ambassador to Armenia under former presidents Obama and George W. Bush, as well as ambassador to Kyrgyzstan under Bush. She also served as ambassador to Ukraine under Obama.

Former Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), who was at the time House Rules Committee chairman, voiced concerns about Yovanovitch in a letter to the State Department last year in which he said he had proof the ambassador had spoken of her “disdain” for the Trump administration.

This last sentence may be a way to try to narrow the scope of American interference in Ukraine down to the shenanigans of just a single person with a personal agenda. However, many who have followed the story of Ukraine and its surge in anti-Russian rhetoric, neo-Naziism, ultra-nationalism, and the most recent events surrounding the creation of a pseudo-Orthodox “church” full of Ukrainian nationalists and atheists as a vehicle to import “Western values” into a still extremely traditional and Christian land, know that there are fingerprints of the United States “deep state” embeds all over this situation.

It is somewhat surprising that so much that reveals the problem showed up in just one report. It will be interesting to see if this gets any follow-up in the US press.

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President Putin’s anti-fake news law is brilliant, but the West makes more

Western media slams President Putin and his fake news law, accusing him of censorship, but an actual look at the law reveals some wisdom.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The TASS Russian News Agency reported on March 18th that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed off on a new law intended to block distorted or untrue information being reported as news. Promptly after he did so, Western news organizations began their attempt to “spin” this event as some sort of proof of “state censorship” in the oppressive sense of the old Soviet Union. In other words, a law designed to prevent fake news was used to create more fake news.

One of the lead publications is a news site that is itself ostensibly a “fake news” site. The Moscow Times tries to portray itself as a Russian publication that is conducted from within Russian borders. However, this site and paper is really a Western publication, run by a Dutch foundation located in the Netherlands. As such, the paper and the website associated have a distinctly pro-West slant in their reporting. Even Wikipedia noted this with this comment from their entry about the publication:

In the aftermath of the Ukrainian crisis, The Moscow Times was criticized by a number of journalists including Izvestia columnist Israel Shamir, who in December 2014 called it a “militant anti-Putin paper, a digest of the Western press with extreme bias in covering events in Russia”.[3] In October 2014 The Moscow Times made the decision to suspend online comments after an increase in offensive comments. The paper said it disabled comments for two reasons—it was an inconvenience for its readers as well as being a legal liability, because under Russian law websites are liable for all content, including user-generated content like comments.[14]

This bias is still notably present in what is left of the publication, which is now an online-only news source. This is some of what The Moscow Times had to say about the new fake news legislation:

The bills amending existing information laws overwhelmingly passed both chambers of Russian parliament in less than two months. Observers and some lawmakers have criticized the legislation for its vague language and potential to stifle free speech.

The legislation will establish punishments for spreading information that “exhibits blatant disrespect for the society, government, official government symbols, constitution or governmental bodies of Russia.”

Insulting state symbols and the authorities, including Putin, will carry a fine of up to 300,000 rubles and 15 days in jail for repeat offenses.

As is the case with other Russian laws, the fines are calculated based on whether the offender is a citizen, an official or a legal entity.

More than 100 journalists and public figures, including human rights activist Zoya Svetova and popular writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya, signed a petition opposing the laws, which they labeled “direct censorship.”

This piece does give a bit of explanation from Dmitry Peskov, showing that European countries also have strict laws governing fake news distribution. However, the Times made the point of pointing out the idea of “insulting governmental bodies of Russia… including Putin” to bolster their claim that this law amounts to real censorship of the press. It developed its point of view based on a very short article from Reuters which says even less about the legislation and how it works.

However, TASS goes into rather exhaustive detail about this law, and it also gives rather precise wording on the reason for the law’s passage, as well as how it is to be enforced. This law is brilliant, for it hits the would-be slanderer right where it counts – in the pocketbook.

We include most of this text here, with emphases added:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law on blocking untrue and distorting information (fake news). The document was posted on the government’s legal information web portal.

The document supplements the list of information, the access to which may be restricted on the demand by Russia’s Prosecutor General or his deputies. In particular, it imposes a ban on “untrue publicly significant information disseminated in the media and in the Internet under the guise of true reports, which creates a threat to the life and (or) the health of citizens, property, a threat of the mass violation of public order and (or) public security, or the threat of impeding or halting the functioning of vital infrastructural facilities, transport or social infrastructure, credit institutions, energy, industrial or communications facilities.”

Pursuant to the document, in case of finding such materials in Internet resources registered in accordance with the Russian law on the mass media as an online media resource, Russia’s Prosecutor General or his deputies will request the media watchdog Roskomnadzor to restrict access to the corresponding websites.

Based on this request, Roskomnadzor will immediately notify the editorial board of the online media resource, which is in violation of the legislation, about the need to remove untrue information and the media resource will be required to delete such materials immediately. If the editorial board fails to take the necessary measures, Roskomnadzor will send communications operators “a demand to take measures to restrict access to the online resource.”

In case of deleting such untrue information, the website owner will notify Roskomnadzor thereof, following which the media watchdog will “hold a check into the authenticity of this notice” and immediately inform the communications operator about the resumption of the access to the information resource.
The conditions for the law are very specific, as are the penalties for breaking it. TASS continued:

Liability for breaching the law

Simultaneously, the Federation Council approved the associated law with amendments to Russia’s Code of Administrative Offences, which stipulates liability in the form of penalties of up to 1.5 million rubles (around $23,000) for the spread of untrue and distorting information.

The Code’s new article, “The Abuse of the Freedom of Mass Information,” stipulates liability for disseminating “deliberately untrue publicly significant information” in the media or in the Internet. The penalty will range from 30,000 rubles ($450) to 100,000 rubles ($1,520) for citizens, from 60,000 rubles ($915) to 200,000 rubles ($3,040) for officials and from 200,000 rubles to 500,000 rubles ($7,620) for corporate entities with the possible confiscation of the subject of the administrative offence.

Another element of offence imposes tighter liability for the cases when the publication of false publicly significant information has resulted in the deaths of people, has caused damage to the health or property, prompted the mass violation of public order and security or has caused disruption to the functioning of transport or social infrastructure facilities, communications, energy and industrial facilities and banks. In such instances, the fines will range from 300,000 rubles to 400,000 rubles ($6,090) for citizens, from 600,000 rubles to 900,000 rubles ($13,720) for officials, and from 1 million rubles to 1.5 million rubles for corporate entities.

While this legislation can be spun (and is) in the West as anti-free speech, one may also consider the damage that has taken place in the American government through a relentless attack of fake news from most US news outlets against President Trump. One of the most notable effects of this barrage has been to further degrade and destroy the US’ relationship with the Russian Federation, because even the Helsinki Summit was attacked so badly that the two leaders have not been able to get a second summit together.

While it is certainly a valued right of the American press to be unfettered by Congress, and while it is also certainly vital to criticize improper practices by government officials, the American news agencies have gone far past that, to deliberately dishonest attacks, based in innuendo and everything possible that was formerly only the province of gossip tabloid publications. The effort has been to defame the President, not to give proper or due criticism to his policies, nor credit. It can be properly stated that the American press has abused its freedom of late.

This level of abuse drew a very unusual comment from the US president, who wondered on Twitter about the possibility of creating a state-run media center in the US to counter fake news:

Politically correct for US audiences? No. But an astute point?

Definitely.

Freedom in anything also presumes that those with that freedom respect it, and further, that they respect and apply the principle that slandering people and institutions for one’s own personal, business or political gain is wrong. Implied in the US Constitution’s protection of the press is the notion that the press itself, as the rest of the country, is accountable to a much Higher Authority than the State. But when that Authority is rejected, as so much present evidence suggests, then freedom becomes the freedom to misbehave and to agitate. It appears largely within this context that the Russian law exists, based on the text given.

Further, by hitting dishonest media outlets in their pocketbook, rather than prison sentences, the law appears to be very smart in its message: “Do not lie. If you do, you will suffer where it counts most.”

Considering that news media’s purpose is to make money, this may actually be a very smart piece of legislation.

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