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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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Curious Bedfellows: The Neocon And Progressive Alliance To Destroy Donald Trump

The neocon metamorphosis is nearly complete as many of the neocons, who started out as Democrats, have returned home, where they are being welcomed for their hardline foreign policy viewpoint.

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Authored by Philip Giraldi via OffGuardian.com:


The Roman poet Ovid’s masterful epic The Metamorphoses includes the memorable opening line regarding the poem’s central theme of transformation. He wrote In nova fert animus mutatas dicere formas corpora, which has been translated as “Of shapes transformed to bodies strange, I purpose to entreat…”

Ovid framed his narrative around gods, heroes and quasi-historical events but if he were around today, he would no doubt be fascinated by the many transformations of the group that has defined itself as neoconservative.The movement began in a cafeteria in City College of New York in the 1930s, where a group of radical Jewish students would meet to discuss politics and developments in Europe. Many of the founders were from the far left, communists of the Trotskyite persuasion, which meant that they believed in permanent global revolution led by a vanguard party. The transformation into conservatives of a neo-persuasion took place when they were reportedly “mugged by reality” into accepting that the standard leftist formulae were not working to transform the world rapidly enough. As liberal hawks, they then hitched their wagon to the power of the United States to bring about transformation by force if necessary and began to infiltrate institutions like the Pentagon to give themselves the tools to achieve their objectives, which included promotion of regime change wars, full spectrum global dominance and unconditional support for Israel.

The neocons initially found a home with Democratic Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson, but they moved on in the 1970s and 1980s to prosper under Ronald Reagan as well as under Democrat Bill Clinton. Their ability to shape policy peaked under George W. Bush, when they virtually ran the Pentagon and were heavily represented in both the national security apparatus and in the White House. They became adept at selling their mantra of “strong national defense” to whomever was buying, including to President Obama, even while simultaneously complaining about his administration’s “weakness.”

The neoconservatives lined up behind Hillary Clinton in 2016, appalled by Donald Trump’s condemnation of their centerpiece war in Iraq and even more so by his pledge to end the wars in Asia and nation-building projects while also improving relations with the Russians. They worked actively against the Republican candidate both before he was nominated and elected and did everything they could to stop him, including libeling him as a Russian agent.

When Trump was elected, it, therefore, seemed that the reign of the neocons had ended, but chameleonlike, they have changed shape and are now ensconced both in some conservative as well as in an increasing number of progressive circles in Washington and in the media. Against all odds, they have even captured key posts in the White House itself with the naming of John Bolton as National Security Adviser and Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State. Bolton’s Chief of Staff is Fred Fleitz, a leading neocon and Islamophobe while last week Trump added Iran hawk Richard Goldberg to the National Security Council as director for countering Iranian weapons of mass destruction. Goldberg is an alumnus of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which is the leading neocon think tank calling incessantly for war with Iran.

Meanwhile, the neocon metamorphosis is nearly complete as many of the neocons, who started out as Democrats, have returned home, where they are being welcomed for their hardline foreign policy viewpoint. Glenn Greenwald reports that, based on polling of party supporters, the Democrats have gone full-Hillary and are now by far more hawkish than the Republicans, unwilling to leave either Syria or Afghanistan.

The neocon survival and rejuvenation is particularly astonishing in that they have been wrong about virtually everything, most notably the catastrophic Iraq War. They have never been held accountable for anything, though one should note that accountability is not a prominent American trait, at least since Vietnam. What is important is that neocon views have been perceived by the media and punditry as being part of the Establishment consensus, which provides them with access to programming all across the political spectrum. That is why neocon standard-bearers like Bill Kristol and Max Boot have been able to move effortlessly from Fox News to MSNBC where they are fêted by the likes of Rachel Maddow. They applauded the Iraq War when the Establishment was firmly behind it and are now trying to destroy Donald Trump’s presidency because America’s elite is behind that effort.

Indeed, the largely successful swing by the neocons from right to left has in some ways become more surreal, as an increasing number of progressive spokesmen and institutions have lined up behind their perpetual warfare banner. The ease with which the transformation took place reveals, interestingly, that the neocons have no real political constituency apart from voters who feel threatened and respond by supporting perpetual war, but they do share many common interests with the so-called liberal interventionists. Neocons see a global crisis for the United States defined in terms of power while the liberals see the struggle as a moral imperative, but the end result is the same: intervention by the United States. This fusion is clearly visible in Washington, where the Clintons’ Center for American Progress (CAP) is now working on position papers with the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

One of the most active groups attacking President Trump is “Republicans for the Rule of Law,” founded by Bill Kristol in January 2018, as a component of Defending Democracy Together(DDT), a 501(c)4 lobbying group that also incorporates projects called The Russia Tweets and Republicans Against Putin. Republicans Against Putin promotes the view that President Trump is not “stand[ing] up to [Vladimir] Putin” and calls for more aggressive investigation of the Russian role in the 2016 election.

DDT is a prime example of how the neoconservatives and traditional liberal interventionists have come together as it is in part funded by Pierre Omidyar, the billionaire co-founder of eBay who has provided DDT with $600,000 in two grants through his Democracy Fund Voice, also a 501(c)4. Omidyar is a political liberal who has given millions of dollars to progressive organizations and individuals since 1999. Indeed, he is regarded as a top funder of liberal causesin the United States and even globally together with Michael Bloomberg and George Soros. His Democracy Fund awarded $9 million in grants in 2015 alone.

Last week, the Omidyar-Kristol connection may have deepened with an announcement regarding the launch of the launch of a new webzine The Bulwark, which would clearly be at least somewhat intended to take the place of the recently deceased Weekly Standard. It is promoting itself as the center of the “Never Trump Resistance” and it is being assumed that at least some of the Omidyar money is behind it.

Iranian-born Omidyar’s relationship with Kristol is clearly based on the hatred that the two share regarding Donald Trump.

Omidyar has stated that Trump is a “dangerous authoritarian demagogue… endorsing Donald Trump immediately disqualifies you from any position of public trust.”

He has tweeted that Trump suffers from “failing mental capacity” and is both “corrupt and incapacitated.”

Omidyar is what he is – a hardcore social justice warrior who supports traditional big government and globalist liberal causes, most of which are antithetical to genuine conservatives. But what is interesting about the relationship with Kristol is that it also reveals what the neoconservatives are all about. Kristol and company have never been actual conservatives on social issues, a topic that they studiously avoid, and their foreign policy is based on two principles: creating a state of perpetual war based on fearmongering about foreign enemies while also providing unlimited support for Israel. Kristol hates Trump because he threatens the war agenda while Omidyar despises the president for traditional progressive reasons. That hatred is the tie that binds and it is why Bill Kristol, a man possessing no character and values whatsoever, is willing to take Pierre Omidyar’s money while Pierre is quite happy to provide it to destroy a common enemy, the President of the United States of America.

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At Age 70, Time To Rethink NATO

The architect of Cold War containment, Dr. George Kennan, warned that moving NATO into Eastern Europe and former Soviet republics would prove a “fateful error.”

Patrick J. Buchanan

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Authored by Patrick Buchanan via The Unz Review:


“Treaties are like roses and young girls. They last while they last.”

So said President Charles De Gaulle, who in 1966 ordered NATO to vacate its Paris headquarters and get out of France.

NATO this year celebrates a major birthday. The young girl of 1966 is no longer young. The alliance is 70 years old.

And under this aging NATO today, the U.S. is committed to treat an attack on any one of 28 nations from Estonia to Montenegro to Romania to Albania as an attack on the United States.

The time is ripe for a strategic review of these war guarantees to fight a nuclear-armed Russia in defense of countries across the length of Europe that few could find on a map.

Apparently, President Donald Trump, on trips to Europe, raised questions as to whether these war guarantees comport with vital U.S. interests and whether they could pass a rigorous cost-benefit analysis.

The shock of our establishment that Trump even raised this issue in front of Europeans suggests that the establishment, frozen in the realities of yesterday, ought to be made to justify these sweeping war guarantees.

Celebrated as “the most successful alliance in history,” NATO has had two histories. Some of us can yet recall its beginnings.

In 1948, Soviet troops, occupying eastern Germany all the way to the Elbe and surrounding Berlin, imposed a blockade on the city.

The regime in Prague was overthrown in a Communist coup. Foreign minister Jan Masaryk fell, or was thrown, from a third-story window to his death. In 1949, Stalin exploded an atomic bomb.

As the U.S. Army had gone home after V-E Day, the U.S. formed a new alliance to protect the crucial European powers — West Germany, France, Britain, Italy. Twelve nations agreed that an attack on one would be treated as an attack on them all.

Cross the Elbe and you are at war with us, including the U.S. with its nuclear arsenal, Stalin was, in effect, told. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops returned to Europe to send the message that America was serious.

Crucial to the alliance was the Yalta line dividing Europe agreed to by Stalin, FDR and Churchill at the 1945 Crimean summit on the Black Sea.

U.S. presidents, even when monstrous outrages were committed in Soviet-occupied Europe, did not cross this line into the Soviet sphere.

Truman did not send armored units up the highway to Berlin. He launched an airlift to break the Berlin blockade. Ike did not intervene to save the Hungarian rebels in 1956. JFK confined his rage at the building of the Berlin Wall to the rhetorical: “Ich bin ein Berliner.”

LBJ did nothing to help the Czechs when, before the Democratic convention in 1968, Leonid Brezhnev sent Warsaw Pact tank armies to crush the Prague Spring.

When the Solidarity movement of Lech Walesa was crushed in Gdansk, Reagan sent copy and printing machines. At the Berlin Wall in 1988, he called on Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”

Reagan never threatened to tear it down himself.

But beginning in 1989, the Wall was torn down, Germany was united, the Red Army went home, the Warsaw Pact dissolved, the USSR broke apart into 15 nations, and Leninism expired in its birthplace.

As the threat that had led to NATO disappeared, many argued that the alliance created to deal with that threat should be allowed to fade away, and a free and prosperous Europe should now provide for its own defense.

It was not to be. The architect of Cold War containment, Dr. George Kennan, warned that moving NATO into Eastern Europe and former Soviet republics would prove a “fateful error.”

This, said Kennan, would “inflame the nationalistic and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion” and “restore the atmosphere of the cold war in East-West relations.” Kennan was proven right.

America is now burdened with the duty to defend Europe from the Atlantic to the Baltic, even as we face a far greater threat in China, with an economy and population 10 times that of Russia.

And we must do this with a defense budget that is not half the share of the federal budget or the GDP that Eisenhower and Kennedy had.

Trump is president today because the American people concluded that our foreign policy elite, with their endless interventions where no vital U.S. interest was imperiled, had bled and virtually bankrupted us, while kicking away all of the fruits of our Cold War victory.

Halfway into Trump’s term, the question is whether he is going to just talk about halting Cold War II with Russia, about demanding that Europe pay for its own defense, and about bringing the troops home — or whether he is going to act upon his convictions.

Our foreign policy establishment is determined to prevent Trump from carrying out his mandate. And if he means to carry out his agenda, he had best get on with it.

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The ISIS attack in Syria appears to have failed in its real mission

ISIS probably tried to get Mr. Trump to keep troops in Syria, but in reality this attack shows no compelling reason to remain there.

Seraphim Hanisch

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ISIS is one of the bloodiest, most brutal organizations to ever exist in modern history. During its meteoric rise, the “Caliphate” struck with death and fear across the deserts of Iraq and the wastes of Syria, seducing a seemingly increasing number of recruits from the West, developing its own currency and financing abilities, all the while remaining a death cult, in the conviction that their eventual destruction would trigger a far greater Islamic uprising.

But something changed for them starting in about 2013. While ISIS got quietly aided and abetted by President Obama’s (perhaps not unwitting) support through neglect and then even quieter collaboration (Obama thought ISIS could be “managed” in the effort to oust Bashar Al-Assad from Syria), its power and reach extended through much of Syria.

But then came Russia. Russia didn’t think ISIS should be managed. Russia determined that ISIS should be destroyed. And in 2015, invited by Syria, the Russians came and went to work. They did most of the heavy lifting in terms of driving ISIS back, while (inconveniently for the US and West) also carefully taking back Syrian territory from antigovernment groups that were supported by the US and its coalition of forces operating in the country, including Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, and all the names it took on afterwards. This was quietly carried out because the Americans also had face to save, owing to Obama’s clumsy decision to send American forces into the country, which gradually grew and metastasized into a significantly sized fighting force.

With an extremely complicated group of alliances and enemies, the American forces were forced to quietly abandon their mission of removing Bashar al-Assad from power and to pivot to actually destroying ISIS. President Trump does deserve some credit for his part in helping this to happen. He also deserves a lot of credit for his recent decision to pull American troops out of Syria.

This move was severely condemned by the US hawks, resulting in the resignation / firing / retirement of former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and, in an amusing show of hypocrisy, the pundits from the Anti-Trump crowd at CNN and other news outlets characterized this decision as the US President proving once and for all that he is a Putin operative, a real-life Manchurian President.

ISIS evidently wanted the US not to leave either, so it conducted an attack on Wednesday, January 16th, tragically killing 19 people, with four Americans among the dead. The New York Times was lightning-fast to jump into the fray to carry out what was probably ISIS’ real mission with this attack: to sow seeds of doubt among the US authorities, and to keep American forces in the region (emphasis added).

Four Americans were among 19 people killed in Syria on Wednesday in a suicide bombing that was claimed by the Islamic State, just weeks after President Trump ordered the withdrawal of United States forces and declared that the extremist group had been defeated.

The attack targeted an American military convoy in the northern city of Manbij while troops were inside the Palace of the Princes, a restaurant where they often stopped to eat during patrols, residents said. While the Americans were inside, a nearby suicide attacker wearing an explosive vest blew himself up.

The bombing raised new questions about Mr. Trump’s surprise decision last month to end the American ground war in Syria. Critics of the president’s plans, including members of his own party, said Mr. Trump’s claim of victory over the Islamic State may have emboldened its fighters and encouraged Wednesday’s strike… Mr. Trump’s withdrawal announcement, made over the objections of his top national security officials, “set in motion enthusiasm by the enemy we’re fighting,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and a prominent Trump ally who has nonetheless criticized the military drawdown.

“I saw this in Iraq. And I’m now seeing it in Syria,” Mr. Graham said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday.

The rest of the article, of course, had the Trump Administration defending itself, with Vice President Mike Pence as the spokesman of that defense.

However, already only two days later, the noise about this seems to have faded. There is no ongoing media fury about the President’s decision to remove troops. In fact, aside from the ongoing investigation to confirm that ISIS indeed did carry out this attack, there is no indication of a change in the troop withdrawal process.

If this situation remains as it is, it is a very good sign for these reasons:

  1. President Trump is showing his resolve and confidence in a decision he knows to be right (to withdraw) and not to accede to the War Party wishes.
  2. ISIS is losing its reputation as a significant fighting force as far as the US population is concerned, as it probably should. With the US gone, Russia can prosecute this war full force without risk of creating more serious incidents with the Americans.
  3. The possibility exists that this attack, already heinous in what we know, could have been a false flag, designed specifically to provoke the US troop withdrawal to stop and be reversed.

This last scenario has oddly not been visibly mentioned, but it should be, because it probably happened in April 2018 and earlier. The Duran covered this quite extensively, and while the “official” (Western) investigation has come up curiously silent on the alleged chemical weapons attack last April in Ghouta, the overwhelming body of reports from the region suggested that the “gas” attack was nothing at all but drama to keep the US ensnared in the region. Remember, President Trump at that time also expressed the intention of withdrawing US troops from the area, and this event caused a reversal for a time.

ISIS tried to become a nation. It operates on terror and theater, but it considers itself free to kill people along the way as it creates its pageantry. For the souls of all those innocent people who perished in this attack, we must pray and not forget.

But ISIS is substantially done, and what is left will be dealt with by Russian and Syrian forces.

For once, the definition of “American courage” might be not to fight. President Trump’s decision to remove the troops remains one of the most significant achievements of his presidency, and one of the most important in terms of restoring balance to the United States that it deserves to have.

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