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Russia’s Legacy Term: 2018 – 2024 and Beyond

What the “expert pundits” can not manage to predict about Russia.

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Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, it is said keeps surprising Western pundits – not with any unexpectedly rash surprise announcements, but with his consistent political and diplomatic positions. His is not a cleverly sneaky “disinformation” campaign aimed at undermining democratic “values”. Quite the opposite, he has been consistent, which in the geopolitical dimensions of our time is an exceedingly rare quality.

Since 2000, he has been openly and repeatedly stating that Russia’s sovereign national interests head his agenda. No evangelizing, no regime changes, no funny business. Much criticism has been levelled at Putin for supposedly championing his own brand of “autocratic democracy” and disallowing any competitive opposition within Russia.

That may be true to a degree; however, it is also worth asking whether the Russian national interest is being well served by this approach, especially in this place and at this time.

While it is considered to be in exceedingly bad taste and politically incorrect to say anything positive about Putin, I will have to put my neck on the block. All things considered, and in our imperfect world he does what he says and that resonates positively with most of Russias citizenry. No mean achievement, especially when contrasted and compared to so many countries with far longer “democratic” timelines that are experiencing continually contradictory internal hissy fits, the he-said, she-said crowd.

Consider that since the fall of the Soviet Union there have effectively been only two elected administrations so it might make common sense to demonstrate restraint over any free-for-all power grab by a smorgasbord of parties and interests. This for many is also preferable, at least until the body politic fully matures. Recall that the dominant oligarchic era and its influence was with great difficulty and only recently brought to heel.

Many commentators who try to package Russia’s reality in bytes that can be easily and immediately consumed through various media mostly make similar errors; they view the playing field in Russia through their own national optics, preconceptions and perspectives. Very few make the necessary sacrifice of time and involvement to immerse themselves in the actual “on the ground” 21st century Russian reality. Picturing the world from Des Moines is far different than seeing the world sitting in Omsk, this applies not only to geopolitical perceptions… doesn’t it?

Putin’s third period was eventful: Sanctions, demonization, accusations, polarization with the west, and maintaining the principles of steering an independent sovereign nation through constantly shifting currents and conflicting flows of internationalized political populism from the West.

Putin has now started on his fourth term, many inside the government call this his legacy term. He is not aligned with any political party, which in American political parlance I guess would brand him as an “independent”. He was obviously not elected by interests in the USA, Damascus, Beijing, Kiev, or Brussels, but by Russians with a mandate to continue serving the Russian national interest as best he can, maintaining engagement without submission, and getting down to succession planning.

Commentators and self-styled experts have written and spoken much about what that might mean, and much of that commentary is couched within an aura of sub-rosa plotting, mischief and hidden agendas. So much for expert commentary, the facts, statements and actions speak differently.

It only requires patience to objectively examine the track record of public statements made by the Russian administration on a number of subjects, from economics, Ukraine, Syria, missile strikes, nuclear treaties, Iran, Oil & Gas, NATO, Skripals, China, trade treaties, and the United Nations to get the impression that facts and simple truths no longer matter very much in the west. Diplomacy has been supplanted by unipolar target marketing, and all that it implies.

Some of the standout issues that Russia has been forced to battle include restrictions on their free trade opportunities, the unipolar erosion of diplomatic norms between nations and the increasing disregard of the UN. Underlying much of this is the increasingly urgent need to diversify away from restrictive US Dollar dominated banking and financial systems. In short, to become less reliant on self interested globalized geopolitical groups, and more self sufficient as an independent sovereign nation.

Since the recent March election, the new Russian administration is even now criticized for not doing enough to visibly and sharply reform itself. After all, “reform” is a positive word, isn’t it? It is a “must do” word and concept!

Reform therefore should be all the rage and implemented come what may, and damn the torpedoes! It might be useful to prioritize between “wanted and needed” when making assumptions about the lack or abundance of reforms in Russia.

The 4th term administration under Putin can be described as being an implementation command. Over the past eight years, many of the directions the economy has to develop, diversify into and make operational have to a greater or lesser degree been tested in select regions of the country. Some of these “reforms” needed reworking, some have had to be re-thought, and those that have shown practical and pragmatic benefit will be implemented. Sadly very little was been reported on this in the English language press these past eight years, perhaps it is too practical to be deemed newsworthy?

The Russian saying, “measure twenty times, cut once” applies. The impasse of an “Obamacare” would not go down well if it happened in Russia, nor would trashing established, negotiated treaties be considered right, ethical or proper, but that is just the local Russian take on such developments even though it apparently clashes with the current fashion in some western countries.

On the economic front, the new administration includes several proven players including Elvira Nabiullina, central bank governor, who was responsible for the important economic moves between 2012 and 2018, including the switch to a free-floating ruble, the reduction of inflationary pressures, and the banking system clean up.

Finance minister Anton Siluanov, Kudrin’s former deputy in the ministry. His efforts to shift government borrowing to the domestic market helped Russia demonstrate its resilience under adverse sanctioned circumstances.

Alexei Kudrin now heads Russia’s Audit Chamber, which should appeal to international investors. He is the author of much of the program president Vladimir Putin has adopted for his next six years in office.

With the ever reliable Medvedev as PM, and re-designated insiders administering other branches of government several diversified directions in the economic and administrative fabric of Russia should be apparent in short order. This administrative team whatever it may lack in multi-party diversity, is certainly strongly united as a command structure and fully capable to bringing the planned new programs into being.

Trial programs have been tested in several regions of the country based on creating a unified digital platform for government. This platform will be operating at a nationwide level by 2020. It may cut the number of bureaucrats by as much as 25-30%. Other regional test programs should become national allowing Russia to reduce its commodity export dependence, relying instead on innovative businesses, deeper processing of agricultural, mineral, energy commodities locally and the export of services from financial to IT.

Putin recently said, just after this election, “We need breakthroughs in every area. I am deeply convinced that such a spurt can only be effected by a free society that accepts everything that’s new and advanced,  rejects injustice, backwardness, ignorant traditionalism and a deadening bureaucracy — everything that holds people back from opening up fully.” That sounds classically early 20th century American to me, and looks to be in the sovereign national interest of the country, regardless of which brand of democracy is marketed or advertised. He went on to call for Russia to reduce its poverty level by half before 2024, raise the average life expectancy from 72.5 to 78 years and become one of the world’s five biggest economies.

So here we are, May of 2018. It is worth having a look at the new financial outlooks for the Russian Federation in view of the above, and what “expert pundits” did not manage to predict:

Russia should achieve a 2018 budget surplus of RUB440.6bn ($7.1bn), instead of the previously expected deficit of RUB1.27 trillion ($20.5bn), the government confirmed on May 10. This surplus is roughly 0.45% of GDP instead of the expected deficit of 1.3% of GDP, according to this years amended draft federal budget for 2018. The Finance Ministry also lowered its projected inflation levels, to 2.8% from the previously expected 4%. Inflation has been creeping up this year but remains on the level of 2.2%-2.3% – a record low for the Russian Federation. The recent tumble of the ruble against the dollar caused by the imposition of new US sanctions this past April may spark more inflation, but efforts are underway to mitigate such effects. The Finance Ministry also revised upward Russian budget revenues for 2018, from RUB15.157 trillion to RUB17.032 trillion.

It seems more than strange that this is being promoted in the west as somehow contrary to and subverting established western values. On the contrary, it looks like Russia’s values are exactly in the right place and steadily evolving to be better.

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Rod Rosenstein resigns from his post before President Trump can fire him

Rosenstein’s comments about secretly recording the President backfire, and resignation may throw the Mueller Russiagate probe into question.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The Washington Times broke the story that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein resigned from his post. He submitted his resignation to Chief of Staff John Kelly.  At present the breaking story says the following:

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is out at the Department of Justice.

Axios reported that Mr. Rosenstein verbally resigned to White House Chief Of Staff John Kelly, but CNN said that he is expecting to be fired.

Sarah Isgur Flores, a Department of Justice spokeswoman, declined to comment on the reports.

Mr. Rosenstein’s departure immediately throws Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russian collusion probe into chaos.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation, leaving Mr. Rosenstein in charge.

President Trump mulled firing the No. 2 at the Department of Justice over the weekend.

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This report came after Fox News reported that the Deputy AG was summoned to the White House. Fox reported a little more detail:

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is heading to the White House expecting to be fired, sources tell Fox News, in the wake of a report that he suggested wearing a wire against President Trump and invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from office last year.

This is a developing story, however one major factor that comes under consideration is the fate of Robert Mueller and his Russiagate investigation, which was authorized by Rosenstein. CNBC had this to say in their piece:

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is resigning Monday, according to Axios, which cited a source familiar with the matter.

NBC News’ Pete Williams, however, reported that Rosenstein would not resign of his own accord, and that he will only depart if the White House fired him. He will refuse to resign if asked to do so, Williams added.

Rosenstein was at the White House when Williams reported this on the air. However, President Donald Trump is in New York for the United Nations General Assembly.

Bloomberg later reported that the White House accepted Rosenstein’s resignation, citing a person familiar with the matter.

Rosenstein’s expected resignation will immediately raise questions about the fate of the ongoing investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is probing Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump.

Rosenstein’s job security was called into question after The New York Times reported last week that the No. 2 DOJ official had discussed invoking the 25th amendment to remove Trump, and had also talked about surreptitiously recording the president.

Rosenstein oversees the special counsel investigation, and has appointed Mueller to run the Russia probe last year, after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the case.

The special counsel’s office declined to comment on the report.

The White House did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on Axios’ report. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to CNBC’s inquiry.

Trump has repeatedly blasted Mueller’s inquiry, which also is focused on possible collusion with Russia by members of the Trump campaign.

He has called the investigation a “witch hunt,” and has repeatedly vented frustration about Sessions’ recusal, which directly led to Mueller’s appointment by Rosenstein.

Rosenstein’s expected departure comes on the heels of a guilty plea by Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort to conspiracy charges related to his consulting work in Ukraine, which predates his role on the campaign.

As part of the investigation, Mueller’s team has been locked in an ongoing back-and-forth with Trump’s legal team over an in-person interview with the president.

Trump’s lawyers, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, have signaled that Trump is unwilling to sit for an interview, calling it a “perjury trap” and setting up a potential challenge for Mueller to subpoena the president.

This story is developing. Please check back for updates.

 

 

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Roman Catholic priest removed from parish for burning LGBT flag

Priest’s removal ordered by his bishop, alleging the priest was mentally ill.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Fox News reported that a Roman Catholic priest was removed from his post in a Chicago neighborhood by his cardinal (bishop) and sent away for “pastoral support” for burning an LGBT “rainbow flag”, after reciting a prayer of exorcism.

The original newspiece, by Mitchell Armentrout of The Chicago Sun-Timeshas this to say:

The priest who ignited controversy last week by burning an LGBTQ-friendly flag on church grounds against the orders of Cardinal Blase Cupich has been removed from his Avondale parish.

Cupich sent two of his top deputies to Resurrection Catholic Church on Friday to notify the Rev. Paul Kalchik that he was being removed as pastor, according to two sources close to the priest.

In a letter to parishioners and staff released Saturday evening by the Archdiocese of Chicago, Cupich wrote that he has “become increasingly concerned about a number of issues at Resurrection Parish.

“It has become clear to me that Fr. Kalchik must take time away from the parish to receive pastoral support so his needs can be assessed,” Cupich wrote.

Kalchik could not immediately be reached for comment.

According to the sources, Kalchik and his elderly parents have received death threats since he defied Cupich on Sept. 14 by burning the banner, which featured a cross superimposed over a rainbow. There also have been threats of vandalism to the church, the sources said.

Kalchik told the Sun-Times during an interview in his office on Tuesday that at least one person had forced their way into the church at 3043 N. Francisco Ave. last weekend, leaving a door open but not causing any damage.

The 56-year-old priest first announced in a Sept. 2 church bulletin that he planned to burn the flag, after he found it in storage where it apparently sat for more than a decade.

Cupich, who has shared Pope Francis’ more welcoming attitude toward gays in the church, told Kalchik not to burn the flag, but the priest said he did it anyway “in a quiet way” during a closed ceremony with seven parishioners, featuring a prayer of exorcism over the torched banner.

The flag-burning drew the ire of LGBTQ-equality activists, including Ald. Deb Mell (33rd), who led a small demonstration across the street from the church on Wednesday, calling on Pope Francis and Cupich “to send this hateful bigot packing.”

Kalchik — who has said he was sexually abused by a neighbor as a child, and again by a priest when he began working for the church at 19 — previously said the sex-abuse crisis plaguing the church is “definitely a gay thing.”

“What have we done wrong other than destroy a piece of propaganda that was used to put out a message other than what the church is about?” Kalchik said Tuesday.

Cupich wrote that he removed Kalchik “out of concern for Fr. Kalchik’s welfare and that of the people of Resurrection Parish.

“I have a responsibility to be supportive of our priests when they have difficulties, but I also have a duty to ensure that those who serve our faithful are fully able to minister to them in the way the Church expects,” Cupich wrote.

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This brings up some interesting questions:

  • While no one is supposed to hate sinners, Christianity strongly calls its supporters to hate sin. This priest’s flag-burning is very-clearly an example of taking this teaching to heart.
  • What kind of message is the Cardinal sending people about the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church?
  • Father Paul Kalchik was abused twice, and once by a priest, and his acknowledgment of the sex-abuse cases as a “gay thing” is well known in church circles. The Roman Catholic prohibition on married priests, which itself is not in line with Apostolic teachings, has contributed to the growing network of “gay” seminaries within that Church. Why does Rome go on hiding this?
  • All this comes down to the biggest question: Who is Rome serving? Homosexuality and its cousins are serious sins and they cause enormous and frightful trauma to those so impacted. If the Roman Church cannot call the truth out for what it is, then, what are they doing?

Further information about this situation, described on the Fox News website notes that Cardinal Blase Cupich had cautioned Kalchik not to burn the flag, but he reportedly went ahead with it and recited a prayer of exorcism before doing so.

The Archdiocese released a letter saying that “Father Kalchik needs to take time away from the parish to receive pastoral support,” amid a swirl of allegations that Cupich had threatened – through his vicars – for Kalchik to be forcibly committed to St. Luke’s Institute for further evaluation and treatment.

Kalchik had first announced that this flag, which was found in storage, would be burned in a church bulletin in early September. He was immediately warned by the Archdiocese of Chicago not to move forward with such an act. However, Kalchik did go ahead – later telling a local NBC reporter that the did so “in a quiet way” and that the flag, which also had a cross adorned over it, “was cut into seven pieces, so it was burned over stages in the same fire pit that we used for the Easter vigil Mass.”

The rainbow flag, set alight by parishioners earlier this month, once hung in the back of the sanctuary. Kalchik had reportedly spoken out in recent months, and even written to Pope Francis, about his own trauma as a victim of a predatory Roman Catholic priest.

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‘Steps everyone will notice’ – Syria to get powerful Russian S-300 system

New defense systems are expected to be in Syria within two weeks, suggesting that the Russians seriously mean what they say.

Seraphim Hanisch

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On September 22, Robert Bridge wrote about how an Israeli incursion into Syria that ended with the downing of a Russian IL-20 plane and fifteen crewmen was an incident that the Russian Federation’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said: “The actions of the Israeli military were not in keeping with the spirit of the Russian-Israeli partnership, so we reserve the right to respond.”

And the Israelis are concerned, as they should be. After what they did, and their subsequent blame game, trying to pin the responsibility for this incident on the Syrian forces (which are backed by Russia), now the payback has arrived.

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TASS reported September 24th that Russia decided to install advanced S-300 anti-missile and anti-aircraft batteries in Syria. The older S-200 systems could not differentiate between friendly and unfriendly targets, which was how the Israeli fighters managed to not get shot down. They “framed” an IL-20, and the missiles intended to stop the incursion instead took out a Russian plane.

TASS writes:

Within two weeks, the Syrian army will get from Russia S-300 air-defense missiles to strengthen its combat capabilities following the downing of a Russian Ilyushin Il-20 aircraft in Syria, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Monday.

“A modern S-300 air defense missile system will be supplied to the Syrian Armed Forces within two weeks. It is capable of intercepting air assault weapons at a distance of more than 250 kilometers and hit simultaneously several air targets,” the minister said.

Shoigu said S-300 missiles will strongly strengthen combat capabilities of the Syrian air defense due to their jamming invulnerability and firing speed.

“I will underscore – at the request of the Israeli side, in 2013 we suspended the delivery of S-300 systems that were ready for the dispatch, while the Syrian military had undergone training. Now the situation has changed, and we are not to blame,” the defense minister said.

Command posts of the Syrian air defense will also be equipped with Russian automated systems, which guarantee the identification of Russian aircraft, the defense chief stated.

“The command posts of Syrian air defense forces and units will be equipped with automated control systems only supplied to the Russian armed forces. This will facilitate centralized control over all forces and resources of the Syrian air defense, monitor the situation in the air, and ensure operative issuance of orders. Most importantly, we will guarantee the identification of all Russian aircraft by the Syrian air defense systems,” Shoigu said.

A Russian electronic surveillance Il-20 plane was downed over the Mediterranean Sea late on September 17 when it was flying back to the Russian airbase at Syria’s Hmeymim. According to the Russian defense ministry, the plane was shot down by a missile from a Syrian S-200 air defense complex when it was firing at four Israeli F-16 aircraft attacking targets in the Latakia Governorate. The Israeli pilots actually used the Russian aircraft as a cover, exposing it to Syrian missiles, the ministry stressed.

Looking at a map of military forces and theatres of conflict in Syria is all but incomprehensible at first glance. The nation is strategically located and is the stress point of at least two major powers – Russia and the United States / NATO. The Israelis showed their rather characteristic propensity to mislead and what is surprising is the rather gutsy way they appear to have tried to do this with the Russians. Again, Israel took upon itself the “right” to conduct raids in Syria. The only major power with internationally accepted authority to be there is Russia.

With ISIS effectively defeated, the real nature of the Syrian conflict as a proxy war becomes more evident. President Putin’s handling was masterful, but one can probably expect the level of tension in this region to be especially high now.

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