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Why the political situation in Russia is so calm

Personnel changes and reforms of the police and internal security agencies point to a calm situation with the government fully in control and the political system functioning normally.

Alexander Mercouris

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The recent reshuffle in the Kremlin discussed by Nathaniel Habibullin and by me, and the very low-key parliamentary election campaign recently discussed by Adam Garrie, all serve to underline the same point: the political situation in Russia is stable and calm.

Whatever the reasons for the Ivanov reshuffle (and in addition to the points previously made by Nathaniel Habibullin and myself it is worth adding that Ivanov recently suffered the tragedy of the death of his son in an accident, which may have diminished his capacity for work) there is no reason to think it implies any sudden shift in policy or that it is the result of any power struggle in the Kremlin. 

Whatever Sergey Ivanov’s faults as a manager Putin would be unlikely to agree to the removal of so loyal a man if he felt that his own position was coming under challenge or if he thought that the situation in the country was becoming unstable.  On the contrary the fact that Putin agreed to Ivanov’s removal is a sign of his confidence in the stability of the political situation in the country.

As for the parliamentary election campaign, my opinion is that domestic factors are more important in deciding how Russians vote than foreign policy ones.  However early indications are that United Russia by riding on Putin’s coat-tails will maintain or even increase its share of the vote, with less reason to worry that the vote is going to be manipulated than was the case in the parliamentary elections in 2011. 

What is striking about this election is how much more low-key the campaign has been by comparison with 2011.  During the 2011 election campaign media talk then centred on Navalny’s description of United Russia as the “Party of Crooks and Thieves”, though how much impact that had on how Russians actually voted is open to doubt.  There has been nothing like that this time largely because, with no prospect of a tandem switch between Medvedev and Putin and with Putin firmly in control and enjoying stratospheric poll ratings, prospects of a major political change are so much lower.

In the quest to prove that there are hidden stirrings of unrest beneath the placid surface some media commentators as is their wont have connected together entirely unrelated things to create a narrative of a darkening picture.  Thus the Ivanov reshuffle, a reshuffle of certain regional governors and of other regional officials, the appointment of Kudrin to an advisory post, and the recent announcement of the formation of a National Guard, are all taken as signs of a gathering political crisis.

A reshuffle of regional governors and officials is however a routine event in Russia.  There is nothing unusual or interesting about the latest one.  It is in fact impossible to see in any of the recent personnel changes whether at the centre or in the regions any evidence of a systematic purge of the power structure in one direction or another. 

Sergey Ivanov and Vladimir Yakunin (who in January stepped down from his position as head of the Russian Railways) are generally thought of as anti-Western hardliners.  Nikita Belykh, recently sacked as Governor of the Kirov Region following his arrest on corruption charges, is however a prominent liberal, as is Mikhail Zurabov who was recently sacked in disgrace from his post as ambassador to Ukraine.  It is impossible to see in these dismissals any evidence either of a liberal or of a conservative shift on the part of the government.

As for the National Guard, its formation has been ably discussed by the Saker and by Gordon Hahn.  In my opinion it is a purely administrative reorganisation of no political significance.  Certainly it is not a case of the setting up of some sort of Praetorian Guard to defend “Putin and the regime” from the people.  On the contrary it has been under discussion in Russia since at least 2012, and follows logically from the police reform of 2011. 

That attempted to increase public confidence in the police and to improve its work as a law enforcement agency by civilianising it (thus the change in its name from “militsia” to “politsia”) and by centralising it at a federal level.  It made total sense therefore, and is fully in line with the philosophy of the 2011 police reform, to separate from the police and the Interior Ministry (which administers the police) the various paramilitary formations (the Interior Ministry troops, the OMON riot police, the MVD Spetsnaz units etc) that the Interior Ministry had acquired during the Soviet period, and to consolidate them in a new agency, which would be called the National Guard.  

That way the police and the Interior Ministry become purely civilian law enforcement agencies – as the police reform of 2011 intended they should be.

What both the reshuffle of the governors and the reorganisation of the Interior Ministry and the setting up of the National Guard in fact show is how stable the situation in the country is.  No government that felt itself under serious threat would reshuffle its personnel in the regions or embark on a complex reorganisation of its internal security agencies on the eve of parliamentary elections if there was a serious danger of public unrest.  That the Russian government feels able to do both things is a sign of how secure it feels itself to be.

The degree of misunderstanding there is in relation to these issues is shown by some of the discussions that have centred on the person of Vladimir Kolokolstev, Russia’s Interior Minister.  There have been suggestions that Putin set up the National Guard because he does not fully trust Kolokoltsev and does not feel he can rely on him in case of public unrest.  It was also widely reported that Kolokoltsev was so upset by the setting up of the National Guard that he offered to resign.

If Putin genuinely feared public unrest and distrusted Kolokoltsev he would presumably sack him and replace him with someone more reliable, not leave someone he doesn’t trust in his post whilst carrying out a complicated reorganisation of the country’s internal security agencies which in the short term can only disorganise them and make them less able to cope with public unrest. 

In reality Kolokoltsev was made Interior Minister in May 2012 directly following the 2011 police reform precisely because he is a veteran police officer (he has served continuously in the police since 1982) and is therefore the obvious man to head the Interior Ministry as it is converted into a strictly civilian police agency.  Far from opposing the setting up of the National Guard Kolokoltsev must have anticipated it when he was appointed.  Almost certainly he was involved in creating it.

The episode of the police reform and of the setting up of the National Guard shows something else: that when Russia does carry out a reform of the sort its critics constantly demand, such as one intended to make its police more accountable and responsive and better suited for work in a modern democratic society, it gets no credit for doing it.  Instead the reform gets interpreted in the most sinister imaginable way.

Lastly, on the subject of Kudrin, I have discussed his appointment previously, and made clear my doubts that his appointment to a purely consultative post has any great relevance to the overall political situation in the country.  Whilst it is possible and even likely that following the elections a government reshuffle of some sort will occur, I personally doubt that Putin will appoint Kudrin – a deeply unpopular and highly polarising figure – either Prime Minister or Finance Minister as some people fear and other people hope.  Nor on the strength of what I heard Kudrin say during the SPIEF conference in St. Petersburg in June do I see why Putin would want to do so given that Kudrin’s programme seems to differ little from that of the existing government.

Overall and for whatever reason, Russia on the eve of the parliamentary elections is stable.  There is much criticism of the government – unsurprising given that there has been a recession (see my discussion here) – but its legitimacy and authority are not in doubt, whilst Putin’s popularity is stratospheric and his authority is unchallenged.  Any Western officials or commentators hoping for signs that the situation in Russia is slipping out of control are going to be disappointed.

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‘Hell on Earth’: MSF doctor tells RT of rape, violence, inhumane conditions in Lesbos refugee camp

One toilet for over 70 people, rape, and mental health issues – a doctor from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and an aid worker told RT about the dire conditions in the overcrowded Moria refugee camp in Greece.

Alex Christoforou

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Via RT


One toilet for over 70 people, rape, and mental health issues – a doctor from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and an aid worker told RT about the dire conditions in the overcrowded Moria refugee camp in Greece.

The overcrowded camp on the island of Lesbos, built to accommodate 3,100, houses around 9,000 people. “It’s a kind of hell on Earth in Europe,” Dr. Alessandro Barberio, an MSF clinical psychiatrist, said, adding that people in the camp suffer from lack of water and medical care. “It is impossible to stay there,” he said.

According to Barberio, asylum seekers are subjected to violence “during night and day.””There is also sexual violence”which leads to “mental health issues,” he said, adding that all categories of people at the camp may be subjected to it. “There is rape against men, women and children,” and the victims of sexual violence in the camp often have nightmares and hallucinations, Barberio told RT.

Asylum seekers in Moria “are in constant fear of violence,” and these fears are not groundless, the psychiatrist said. “Such cases [of violence] take place every week.”

There is “one toilet for 72 people, one shower for 84 people. The sanitation is bad. People are suffering from bad conditions,” Michael Raeber, an aid worker at the camp, told RT. They suffer from mental health problems because they are kept for a long time in the camp, according to Raeber.

“There is no perspective, they don’t know how their case will go on, when they will ever be able to leave the island.” The camp is a “place where there is no rule of law,” with rampant violence and drug addiction among the inhabitants, Raeber said.

In its latest report, MSF, which has been working near Moria since late 2017, criticized the unprecedented health crisis in the camp – one of the biggest in Greece. About a third of the camp population consists of children, and many of them have harmed themselves, and have thought about or attempted suicide, according to the group.

Barberio was behind an MSF open letter on the state of emergency in Moria, released on Monday, in which he writes that he has never “witnessed such overwhelming numbers of people suffering from serious mental health conditions.”

Calling the camp an “island prison,” he insisted that many of his patients in the camp are unable to perform basic everyday functions, “such as sleeping, eating well, maintaining personal hygiene, and communicating.”

A number of human rights groups have strongly criticized the conditions at the camp and Greece’s “containment policy”regarding asylum seekers.

Christina Kalogirou, the regional governor of the North Aegean, which includes Lesbos, has repeatedly threatened to shut down the facility unless the government improves the conditions. On Tuesday, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said that Greece will move 2,000 asylum seekers out of the severely overcrowded camp and send them to the mainland by the end of September.

Greece, like other EU states, is experiencing the worst refugee crisis since WWII. According to International Organization for Migration estimates, 22,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Greece since the start of this year alone.

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Erdogan accepts Syria DMZ off-ramp, in deal with Putin (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 111.

Alex Christoforou

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The deal struck in Sochi averts a large scale Syria’s offensive on Idlib, as Turkey gives it guarantee to monitor what will effectively become a demilitarized zone.

According to the agreement, troops from Russia and Turkey will enforce a new demilitarized zone (DMZ) in Idlib, from which ISIS/Al Qaeda rebels will be required to withdraw by the middle of next month.

Speaking alongside Erdogan, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the 15 to 20 km-wide zone would be established by October 15th. The DMZ would require a complete “withdrawal of all radical fighters” from Idlib, including the rebranded Al-Qaeda affiliated Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).

Putin also noted that heavy weapons would be withdrawn from the DMZ by all opposition forces by October 10th, which is a move supported by the Syrian government.

The Russian President described the agreement as a “serious result” further saying that “Russia and Turkey have confirmed their determination to counter terrorism in Syria in all its forms”.

Erdogan said both his country and Russia would carry out coordinated patrols in the demilitarized zone:

“We decided on the establishment of a region that is cleaned of weapons between the areas which are under the control of the opposition and the regime.”

“In return, we will ensure that radical groups, which we will designate together with Russia, won’t be active in the relevant area.”

According to Al Jazeera Iran’s foreign minister has hailed an agreement between Turkey and Russia to avert an assault on the Syrian rebel-held Idlib province, as an example of “responsible diplomacy”.

An agreement to halt plans for an offensive on the last major rebel-held stronghold was announced in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Monday after a meeting between the Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

On his Twitter account, Zarif wrote: “Intensive responsible diplomacy over the last few weeks-pursued in my visits to Ankara & Damascus, followed by the Iran-Russia-Turkey Summit in Tehran and the meeting (in) Sochi-is succeeding to avert war in #Idlib with a firm commitment to fight extremist terror. Diplomacy works.”

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the agreement reached in Sochi, which for now avoids full scale conflict in Idlib, Syria. Who won, who lost, and which interests were met with the DMZ agreement?

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Via Xinhuanet

An anticipated Syrian military offensive on the northwestern province of Idlib is on hold after Turkey and Russia reached a deal following Ankara’s guarantee on behalf of the rebel groups, experts said.

The deal was reached Monday by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia, as the two sides agreed to create a demilitarized buffer zone in Idlib, the last rebel stronghold.

This agreement brings Turkey to a position of giving a guarantee on behalf of the rebel groups, the experts said.

“Moscow is convinced that it would not be able to handle the burden of a humanitarian tragedy in case of a military offensive in Idlib,” said Metin Gurcan, a Turkish security analyst with the Istanbul Policy Center of Sabanci University.

Russia has also secured its airbases in northern Syria, including its airbase in Hmeymim as a guarantee by Turkey under the Sochi agreement, he said.

Gurcan recalled a trilateral summit of Turkey, Iran and Russia held in Iranian capital Tehran early September, which ended without agreement as Erdogan’s call for a ceasefire in Idlib was rejected by Moscow and Tehran.

Erdogan’s proposal for a ceasefire by all parties in Idlib was rejected by Putin on the grounds that those groups were not represented at the table there, he said.

“Now Turkey has given a guarantee on behalf of radical groups which Putin earlier said that ceasefire cannot be discussed because they were not represented at Tehran meeting,” Gurcan said.

Now everyone is curious how Turkey has given guarantee to Moscow and how will those radical groups accept a proposal for demilitarization by surrendering heavy weapons and withdrawing from the demilitarized zone, Gurcan noted.

“Ankara has given this promise relying on its military power on the ground and on its capacity to convince armed opposition groups,” he said.

Turkish army has reinforced its presence in Idlib in the past few months, and Turkey has 12 military outposts with 1,200-1,300 troops on the border line of the province separating the rebel stronghold from the pro-Iran militia-controlled South of Aleppo and the government-controlled southeast, Gurcan said.

Rebel groups, including the Free Syrian Army, in the region are gathered with Turkish backing under the banner of the “National Front for Liberation.”

Putin and Erdogan agreed on Monday in Sochi to create a 15-20 km buffer zone along the line of contact between rebels and regime troops by Oct. 15.

The agreement entails the “withdrawal of all radical fighters” from Idlib as well as “heavy weaponry from this zone,” Putin said at the joint press conference after signing the deal with Erdogan.

By the end of the year, transportation routes between the key port of Latakia and Aleppo as well as the city of Hama must be restored, Putin added.

The Russian leader also said all heavy weapons had to be withdrawn from the zone by Oct. 10, according to Erdogan’s proposal.

Ankara has been warning against any military offensive by Russia-backed Syrian regime forces in Idlib, warning that it would lead to a humanitarian crisis and refugee influx to the Turkish border.

Turkey and Russia, along with Iran, are guarantors of the Astana deal which declared ceasefire in four de-escalation zones in Syria, including Idlib.

Turkey will deploy more troops in Idlib province after the Sochi deal, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday.

“We will need extra troop reinforcements. Turkey and Russia will patrol on the border areas. Civilians and moderate (opposition) will stay here,” Cavusoglu said.

Another outcome of the Sochi deal is that Turkey and Russia prevented a possible attack by the United States in Idlib, Naim Baburoglu from Aydin University said.

He recalled that the U.S. was giving signals that it wanted to intervene in the situation in Idlib, if Syrian government troops launch an assault on the rebel stronghold.

Washington recently threatened to take swift and decisive actions against any use of chemical weapons in Idlib.

“This agreement showed that the U.S. has room for maneuver only in the east of Euphrates and Manbij region,” Baburoglu said.

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Pat Buchanan: “The Late Hit” On Judge Kavanaugh

Wha exactly is professor Ford’s case against Judge Kavanaugh?

Patrick J. Buchanan

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Authored by Patrick Buchanan via Buchanan.org:


Upon the memory and truthfulness of Christine Blasey Ford hangs the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, his reputation and possibly his career on the nation’s second-highest court.

And much more. If Kavanaugh is voted down or forced to withdraw, the Republican Party and conservative movement could lose their last best hope for recapturing the high court for constitutionalism.

No new nominee could be vetted and approved in six weeks. And the November election could bring in a Democratic Senate, an insuperable obstacle to the elevation of a new strict constructionist like Kavanaugh.

The stakes are thus historic and huge.

And what is professor Ford’s case against Judge Kavanaugh?

When she was 15 in the summer of ’82, she went to a beer party with four boys in Montgomery County, Maryland, in a home where the parents were away.

She says she was dragged into a bedroom by Brett Kavanaugh, a 17-year-old at Georgetown Prep, who jumped her, groped her, tried to tear off her clothes and cupped her mouth with his hand to stop her screams.

Only when Kavanaugh’s friend Mark Judge, laughing “maniacally,” piled on and they all tumbled off the bed, did she escape and lock herself in a bathroom as the “stumbling drunks” went downstairs. She fled the house and told no one of the alleged rape attempt.

Not until 30 years later in 2012 did Ford, now a clinical psychologist in California, relate, in a couples therapy session with her husband, what happened. She says she named Kavanaugh as her assailant, but the therapist’s notes of the session make no mention of Kavanaugh.

During the assault, says Ford, she was traumatized. “I thought he might inadvertently kill me.”

Here the story grows vague. She does not remember who drove her to the party. She does not say how much she drank. She does not remember whose house it was. She does not recall who, if anyone, drove her home. She does not recall what day it was.

She did not tell her parents, Ford says, as she did not want them to know she had been drinking. She did not tell any friend or family member of this traumatic event that has so adversely affected her life.

Said Kavanaugh in response, “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time.”

Mark Judge says it never happened.

Given the seriousness of the charges, Ford must be heard out. But she also needs to be cross-examined and have her story and character probed as Kavanaugh’s has been by FBI investigators as an attorney for the Ken Starr impeachment investigation of Bill Clinton, a White House aide to George Bush, a U.S. appellate judge and a Supreme Court nominee.

During the many investigations of Kavanaugh’s background, nothing was unearthed to suggest something like this was in character.

Some 65 women who grew up in the Chevy Chase and Bethesda area and knew Kavanaugh in his high school days have come out and spoken highly of his treatment of girls and women.

Moreover, the way in which all of this arose, at five minutes to midnight in the long confirmation process, suggests that this is political hardball, if not dirt ball.

When Ford, a Democrat, sent a letter detailing her accusations against Kavanaugh to her California congresswoman, Anna Eshoo, Ford insisted that her name not be revealed as the accuser.

She seemingly sought to damage or destroy the judge’s career behind a cloak of anonymity. Eshoo sent the letter on to Sen. Diane Feinstein, who held it for two months.

Excising Ford’s name, Feinstein then sent it to the FBI, who sent it to the White House, who sent it on to the Senate to be included in the background material on the judge.

Thus, Ford’s explosive charge, along with her name, did not surface until this weekend.

What is being done here stinks. It is a transparently late hit, a kill shot to assassinate a nominee who, before the weekend, was all but certain to be confirmed and whose elevation to the Supreme Court is a result of victories in free elections by President Trump and the Republican Party.

Palpable here is the desperation of the left to derail Kavanaugh, lest his elevation to the high court imperil their agenda and the social revolution that the Warren Court and its progeny have been able to impose upon the nation.

If Kavanaugh is elevated, the judicial dictatorship of decades past, going back to the salad days of Earl Warren, William Brennan, Hugo Black and “Wild Bill” Douglas, will have reached its end. A new era will have begun.

That is what is at stake.

The Republican Senate should continue with its calendar to confirm Kavanaugh before Oct. 1, while giving Ford some way to be heard, and then Kavanaugh the right to refute. Then let the senators decide.

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