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The Strange Story of Russia’s Eurobond or How the West is Forcing Russia to Improve its Financial System

The Western attempt to sabotage Russia’s recent Eurobond issue was not only an entirely predictable failure but it has ended up strengthening Russia’s financial system.

Alexander Mercouris

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The story of the floating of Russia’s eurobond is a revealing tale of Western arrogance and Western blindness, not just about Russia but about the operation of the financial markets.   In the process Western actions have achieved the opposite of what Western leaders intended.

On 5th January 2016, as the second oil price fall approached its lowest point, I wrote an article in which – amongst other things – I challenged the entire theory of a Russian budget crisis, which was at that time fashionable. 

I said that if the fall in oil prices did cause a gap in Russia’s budget that Russia would be unable to fill from its Reverse Fund, the Russian government would simply do what all other governments regularly do when they find themselves in the same situation, which is borrow the money to fill the gap.  My precise words were as follows:

“If Russia ever were to find itself in a position where it had to finance a budget deficit of 4.4% of GDP after the Reserve Fund had run out, it would do so by raising the money by floating a bond on the international money markets – or conceivably in Russia – something which most governments do most of the time.

The sanctions do not prevent Russia from doing this and – since what we are talking about is a sovereign bond – it is legally doubtful they can be extended to prevent it.”

As if to prove my point, just a few weeks later, on 5th February 2016, the Russian government unexpectedly announced that it was going to do just that – borrow on the international money markets by floating a eurobond.  The total amount it said it planned to raise this year in this way was $3 billion.

The announcement provoked surprise, with most people seemingly unaware that the sanctions do not prevent the Russian state – as opposed to certain sanctioned Russian individuals and companies – from borrowing in the international money markets.  Few people seemed to understand that without a UN Security Council Chapter VII Resolution it is almost certainly legally impossible to bar a sovereign state like Russia from borrowing in the international money markets in peacetime.

When the point was finally understood talk followed that the proposed eurobond was simply a device to circumvent the sanctions.  The Russian state acting as a sort of agent would supposedly borrow on the international money markets and pass the money on to the sanctioned individuals and companies to provide them with the money they were barred from raising themselves.

On 11th March 2016, in a subsequent article I said this was nonsense:

“Quite apart from the fact that doing something like that would be the one guaranteed way of scaring off Western buyers from future bond issues, it would mean the Russian government is willing to take on the foreign debt of Russian companies onto its books, thereby transforming their debt into sovereign debt. 

Anyone with any knowledge of the way the Russian government does its business would know that is inconceivable.  Given the exorbitant cost in interest payments to the country’s budget of doing such a thing, there is no possibility anyone in the Russian government is considering it, since it violates the fundamental principles of sound budgeting and financial management upon which the Russian government runs its budget.”

In the event the prospectus of the eurobond contained an undertaking that any money raised from the sale would not be provided to sanctioned individuals or companies but would be used to strengthen Russia’s budget and its foreign exchange reserves.

I also pointed out in the same article the true reason for Russia floating a eurobond when there are more than sufficient funds in the Reserve Fund to cover fully Russia’s budget needs this year:

“Briefly, the Russian government wants to show the world that it can fund its budget by borrowing if it has to and that the sanctions do not prevent it doing so.

In passing, a successful bond issue will also show that the market does not agree with the repeated downgrades of Russia’s credit rating carried out by the three big international credit rating agencies – a fact which the Russians, who are in constant dialogue with the credit rating agencies, will doubtless point out to them.”

Though over time the Western financial press rather grudgingly admitted there was nothing illegal about Russia floating a eurobond there continued to be claims – or hopes – it would fail to find buyers.

As to that here is what I said in the same article on 11th March 2016:

“Russia’s exceptionally strong financial position – with a strong government committed to keeping the deficit low and under control, very low levels of government debt, large foreign currency reserves, a big trade surplus, an abundance of natural resources, and a good recent history of paying debt on time despite the oil price fall and the sanctions – means it should have no difficulty (borrowing if it wants to).

As to the likely success of the issue, the growing consensus is that – as I predicted – barring a sudden catastrophic change in the international situation or in the world economy, it will find no lack of buyers and will therefore be a success, though – as The Economist also correctly points out – the Russian government can also borrow on its own domestic financial markets within Russia itself – as it has previously done – if it has to.”

Strong indications the eurobond issue would indeed be a success in fact came within days of my writing that.  In mid March 2016 Gazprom tapped the Swiss capital market looking to raise 500 million Swiss francs ($505 million).  The issue was be four times oversubscribed.

Faced with this situation Western governments had a choice.  They could have bowed to the inevitable accepting that Russia had a right to float a eurobond for which it would have no difficulty finding buyers.  Or they could try to sabotage it.  Not surprisingly they chose the second option.

The result was a sustained campaign by Western governments to sabotage the sale.  This took various forms.  The one that attracted most attention was a campaign to pressure Western banks – some of which had shown an interest in helping Russia place the eurobond – to boycott the sale. 

Other forms received less publicity.  They included warnings to Western fund managers to get their clients to boycott the eurobond. 

There were also legally dubious efforts to prevent Euroclear and Clearview, the main Western bond depositories, from providing clearing services despite trade in the bonds being entirely legal and despite the fact that Euroclear and Clearview are private entities which have agreements with Russia to provide Russia with such services for its bonds.

Western leaders and officials appear to have assumed these steps would stop the sale or would cause its failure with the bonds offered failing to find buyers.

Placing a government bond is a massively complex operation.  It is the job of the banks that manage the sale to place the bonds most advantageously on the market.  That requires deep knowledge of the market in order to achieve the most effective outreach to potential buyers.  There are also immense technical challenges in receiving and processing the bids, in deciding amongst them if the issue is oversubscribed, and in transferring the bonds to the buyers.

A small number of Western banks have the necessary expertise to carry out such operations and do so with great efficiency.  By contrast Russian banks like Sberbank and VTB have little such experience since by comparison with Western banks they are relatively small and have far shorter trading histories.  It is not therefore surprising that Western governments apparently assumed that without help from Western banks the bond sale could not happen or would fail.

As for Euroclear and Clearview, the clearing services they provide not only provide buyers with security for their bonds but mean they can dispose of them electronically without having to go through the cumbersome process of despatching paper certificates.

By mid April Western officials appear to have convinced themselves their campaign to stop the issue had worked.  Under Western government pressure most – though not all – Western banks had pulled out of involvement in the placement.  The banks that were left were smaller ones that do not usually take the lead in making such placements. 

Meanwhile reports circulated that worries about the lack of guaranteed clearing services by Euroclear and Clearview together with Western government warnings were deterring the big Western institutional investors from participating in the bond sale.

The Western financial press – obviously heavily briefed by Western officials – started to report that Russia’s attempt to float the bond was proving to be a failure.  Certain comments by Russian Finance Minister Siluanov that Russia did not actually need to borrow in the international money markets this year (which is true) were misrepresented to mean the sale of the bond had been called off.

The result was that when Russia floated its eurobond a few days ago  – with Russia’s VTB bank acting as the sales manager – the Western financial press was taken by surprise.  This was so even though the plan to float the bond had been announced more than 2 months ago. 

As news of the sale filtered in the Western financial press – again no doubt taking its lead from Western officials – retreated into denial. 

The Financial Times initially called the response “tepid”, reporting the Russians had only raised $1.7 billion out of the $3 billion they were seeking. 

If the Russians had indeed offered bonds worth $3 billion for sale but had only been able to sell bonds to a value of $1.7 billion that report would have been true and it would have been right to call the bond sale a failure.  In fact the Russians offered 8,750 10 year bonds each at a price of $200,000 with an annual yield of 4.75% and sold all of them.  The total asking price of the bonds offered for sale was $1.75 billion (8,750x200k) – exactly the amount which was raised from the sale.   

The Financial Times confused the $1.75 billion of bonds the Russians offered in this one issue with the figure of $3 billion of bonds the Russians say they may sell over the course of the whole year.  VTB – the bank that managed the sale – has confirmed there may be more sales of more bonds later this year.  The Russian Finance Ministry however says this will depend on whether the state of Russia’s budget justifies doing it.

As for the demand for the bonds, the Russians say the offering attracted bids totalling $7 billion ie. the sale was more than three times oversubscribed.  That does not make the response look “tepid”.

As the success of the sale became increasingly clear, the Western financial press switched to saying that demand for the bonds came largely from investors within Russia, or from Russian investors buying the bond from offshore.  They also claimed there was little trading in the bonds in the secondary bond market, and pointed out that the 4.75% annual interest Russia is paying on the bonds is high, which they say is proof that demand for the bonds was weak. 

Why the fact the bond might have been bought principally by Russian investors (investing in a bond issue of their own government) should be a problem is not explained.  However it seems it may not even be true.  The Russians have not provided a precise regional breakdown of all the bids they received.  However they say 70% of the bonds with a value totalling $1.2 billion were sold to foreign investors (a third of them British) and that these foreign investors were not Russians using offshore accounts.  Since the Russians checked all the bids before deciding which of them to accept they are in a position to know.

As for the two other claims – that there was little trading in the bonds in the secondary bond market and about the 4.75% interest rate – they are serve as good examples of the sort of portentous statements Western commentators like to make, which actually mean little and which more often than not – as in this case – simply beg the question.

This was a bond floated by a country – Russia – which is currently under sanctions and which is in conflict with the Western powers.  Its sale was managed without the involvement of any of the big Western banks.  There is for the moment uncertainty as to whether or not the two big depositories, Euroclear and Clearview, will provide clearing services for it.

Of course a bond floated in such circumstances would have to be offered at a higher rate of interest to attract buyers.  Of course some buyers would have doubts about buying it, which together with concerns about the the absence of clearing services provided by Euroclear and Clearview and the non-involvement of the big Western banks no doubt accounts for the alleged lack of trading in the bonds in the secondary bond market.  It tells us nothing about the relative success or failure of the bond sale to make these points.  The real point is that the bond was nonetheless and despite these obstacles successfully sold and that the interest Russia must pay on it – 4.75% – is by no means excessively high and is well below distress levels.  As for the alleged lack of trading in the bond in the secondary bond market, that will almost certainly pick up over time as investors doubts are assuaged.

In summary, not only has Russia successfully floated a bond despite the sanctions and despite the Western campaign to sabotage it, but the bond was heavily oversubscribed and was sold mostly to foreign investors.  Even Russia’s waspish former Finance Minister Alexey Kudrin – a man who has never been shy of talking down Russian economic successes – says the bond issue was a success.   On the facts it is impossible to disagree with him.

That however is only half the story.

Even if the Western campaign to sabotage the bond was on its own terms a failure, it did nonetheless produce a result, though one completely different from the one Western governments intended.  It showed that Russia can float bonds in the international money markets without the help of Western banks and despite the denial of clearing services by Euroclear and Clearview and in the face of a sustained campaign by Western governments to stop it doing so.  Russia has been able to do this by relying on its own institutions first and foremost its own banks.

By campaigning to stop Western banks from participating in the bond sale Western governments ensured that it was a Russian bank – VTB – that managed the sale.  In the process VTB has gained valuable experience in providing this service, making it more capable of doing so again in the future.

The reason the decision was taken to offer bonds worth only $1.75 billion for sale instead of the full $3 billion talked about was almost certainly VTB’s inexperience in managing such a sale, not worries about a lack of buyers.  The same was almost certainly true of the decision to conduct the sale over 2 days rather than one.  The total bids on the first day apparently came to $5 billion so it cannot have been worries about lack of buyers on the first day that lay behind these decisions.  However limiting the offering to $1.75 billion instead of $3 billion and holding the sale over 2 days rather than one is precisely the sort of step that is sensibly taken in order to reduce the pressure on an inexperienced bank and its sales team so as to avoid mistakes. 

The experience VTB has now gained through its successful conduct of the sale will make it more capable of carrying out such sales in future.  As it gains experience it will be able to manage larger sales over shorter periods.  With each offering its reach will grow, extending to more of the high value international investors Russia wants to attract when it sells its bonds.

As for the attempts to block Russia using the clearing services provided by Euroclear and Clearview, these are legally speaking so dubious – given that what is involved are trades in perfectly legal bonds – that if Euroclear and Clearview persist with them they are likely to face legal challenges.   The Russians have confirmed they are in talks with Euroclear and they are almost certainly in discussion with Clearview as well.  No doubt their lawyers – the British law firm Linklaters & Alliance – will be explaining to Euroclear and Clearview during those talks that the Russians are reserving all their legal options and that none have been ruled out.  Given that the attempt to sabotage the sale of the bonds has been a failure there is little point any longer in denying them clearing services.  Probably Euroclear and Clearview have already come round to this view and the probability is they will quietly agree to provide the bonds with the usual clearing services shortly.

The attempt to block Russia’s access to clearing services for its bonds – just like the earlier threats to drive Russia out of the SWIFT interbank payments system and to stop Russian banks from providing debit and credit card services through Visa and MasterCard – in fact exposes the basic fallacy of the West’s whole approach to Russia.  Western politicians and Western officials simply cannot grasp that Russia is as sophisticated a society as their own. 

Ultimately Euroclear and Clearviews are just a depositories, just as SWIFT is just an electronic payment system and Visa and MasterCard are just card providers.  There is no magic about what they do.  Western leaders and officials however always seem to think there is.  It never seems to occur to them that others like the Russians if barred from using them can simply duplicate what they do.  

This pattern of misguided belief in Western superiority – and Russian inferiority – recurs again and again.  Western leaders and Western officials wildly overestimated the effect of the sanctions on Russia, assuming they would result in a credit crunch.   They apparently believed the entire Russian banking system would grind to a stop if it was disconnected from SWIFT and that a threat to do so would panic the Russians into making political concessions.  They also seem to have believed that the mere suggestion that Visa and MasterCard might block debit and credit cards issued by Russian banks would lead to a crisis of confidence in the Russian banking system.

In the event the Russians have had no difficulty meeting their financial obligations despite the sanctions and the anticipated credit crunch has simply not happened.  Meanwhile, in response to the threats to disconnect Russian banks from SWIFT, the Russians have developed their own electronic interbank payment system as a potential alternative to SWIFT.  It was successfully tested earlier this year and though for the moment it is only functioning as a back-up, in the event of Russia’s disconnection from SWIFT it could be activated immediately.  Similarly what the veiled threats to interfere with the operation of Russian debit and credit cars has done is made Russia introduce its own Mir bank card, wholly independent of Visa and MasterCard, both as a back-up and as an alternative to them.

Notwithstanding this record of failure, Western politicians and Western officials seem to have been blinded by the same assumptions of Western superiority – and Russian inferiority – in relation to the recent bond sale.

They seem to have assumed that no Russian bank would be able to duplicate the sort of management of a multi-billion dollar sovereign bond sale that Western banks can provide.  They also seem to have assumed that if Western depositories like Euroclear and Clearview declined to offer the bonds their clearing services that would stop the sale of the bonds dead in its tracks.

In fact Russia already has its own bond depository systems, including ones set up in collaboration with China to provide clearing servicing for bonds issued in Chinese currency.  As Russia increasingly switches to bonds floated in its own currency and in Asian currencies there is no reason why these depository services should not be extended to provide clearing services for all types of bonds that Russia issues.  As a matter of fact, though it has received scant attention, at the same time that Russia was floating its eurobond in the international money markets, it also successfully floated over a 2 week period on its own domestic market three rouble bond issues to a total value of around $600 million.

The biggest mistake of all is however in Western leaders’ failure to understand their own markets. 

At a time when there is a general shortage of safe bonds it should have been obvious that a bond offered by Russia – financially one of the world’s strongest states – which comes with a very good rate of return because of the (relatively) high interest rate would have no difficulty finding buyers since it would be seen as both highly profitable and extremely safe.  Using legally dubious means to try to stop it was frankly foolish and was an invitation to failure.  So of course it has proved.

At its most basic level what it has done is confirm the point I made originally: the Russians are able to raise all the money they need on the international money markets and there is nothing Western governments can do – short of declaring war – to prevent them.

It is however even bigger than that.  By trying to block the Russians from using the services of Western banks and Western depositories to float their bond what Western governments have actually achieved is force the Russians to do it themselves.  The result is that the Russians have now gained knowledge of how to conduct a multi-billion dollar international sovereign bond sale, just as previous Western actions forced them to set up their own electronic interbank payment system in place of SWIFT and create their own Mir bank card. 

Having gained this knowledge the Russians have no reason not to use it and there is no reason to think they won’t.  The Finance Ministry is already saying Russia will in future use only its own banks and depositories when conducting future bond sales.  Perhaps it’s exaggerating but more likely it means what it says.  Why after all shouldn’t it?  

Truly Western governments when it comes to Russia seem intent on proving Nietzsche’s dictum true: that which does not break us makes us stronger.  Certainly that has been true of Russia’s eurobond sale.  By trying and failing to sabotage it the West has only managed to make Russia stronger.

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Understanding the Holodomor and why Russia says nothing

A descendant of Holodomor victims takes the rest of us to school as to whether or not Russia needs to shoulder the blame.

Seraphim Hanisch

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One of the charges that nationalist Ukrainians often lodge against their Russian neighbors is that the Russian government has never acknowledged or formally apologized to Ukraine for the “Holodomor” that took place in Ukraine in 1932-1933. This was a man-made famine that killed an estimated seven to 10 million Ukrainians , though higher estimates claim 12.5 million and lower ones now claim 3.3 million.

No matter what the total was, it amounts to a lot of people that starved to death. The charge that modern-day Russia ought to apologize for this event is usually met with silence, which further enrages those Ukrainians that believe that this issue must be resolved by the Russian acknowledgement of responsibility for it. Indeed, the prime charge of these Ukrainians is that the Russians committed a genocide against the Ukrainian people. This is a claim Russia denies.

To the outside observer who does not know this history of Russia and Ukraine’s relationship, and who does not know or understand the characteristics of the Soviet Union, this charge seems as simple and laid out as that of the Native Americans or the blacks demanding some sort of recompense or restitution for the damages inflicted on these societies through conquest and / or slavery. But we discovered someone who had family connections involved in the Holodomor, and who offers her own perspective, which is instructive in why perhaps the Russian Federation does not say anything about this situation.

Scene in Kharkiv with dead from the famine 1932-33 lying along the street.

The speaker is Anna Vinogradova, a Russian Israeli-American, who answered the question through Quora of “Why doesn’t Russia recognize the Holodomor as a genocide?” She openly admits that she speaks only for herself, but her answer is still instructive. We offer it here, with some corrections for the sake of smooth and understandable English:

I can’t speak for Russia and what it does and doesn’t recognize. I can speak for myself.

I am a great-granddaughter of a “Kulak” (кулак), or well-to-do peasant, who lived close to the Russia/Ukraine border.

The word “кулак” means “fist” in Russian, and it wasn’t a good thing for a person to be called by this label. A кулак was an exploiter of peasants and a class enemy of the new state of workers and poor peasants. In other words, while under Communism, to be called a кулак was to bring a death sentence upon yourself.

At some point, every rural class enemy, every peasant who wasn’t a member of a collective farm was eliminated one way or another.

Because Ukraine has very fertile land and the Ukrainian style of agriculture often favors individual farms as opposed to villages, there is no question that many, many Ukrainian peasants were considered class enemies like my great grandfather, and eliminated in class warfare.

I have no doubt that class warfare included starvation, among other things.

The catch? My great grandfather was an ethnic Russian living in Russia. What nationality were the communists who persecuted and eventually shot him? They were of every nationality there was (in the Soviet Union), and they were led by a Ukrainian, who was taking orders from a Georgian.

Now, tell me, why I, a descendant of an unjustly killed Russian peasant, need to apologize to the descendants of the Ukrainians who killed him on the orders of a Georgian?

What about the Russian, Kazakh golodomor (Russian rendering of the same famine)? What about the butchers, who came from all ethnicities? Can someone explain why it’s only okay to talk about Ukrainian victims and Russian persecutors? Why do we need to rewrite history decades later to convert that brutal class war into an ethnic war that it wasn’t?

Ethnic warfare did not start in Russia until after WWII, when some ethnicities were accused of collaboration with the Nazis and brutal group punishments were implemented. It was all based on class up to that time.

The communists of those years were fanatically internationalist. “Working people of all countries, unite!” was their slogan and they were fanatical about it.

As for the crimes of Communism, Russia has been healing this wound for decades, and Russia’s government has made its anticommunist position very clear.

This testimony is most instructive. First, it points out information that the charge of the Holodomor as “genocide!” neatly leaves out. In identifying the internationalist aspects of the Soviet Union, Ukraine further was not a country identified as somehow worthy of genocidal actions. Such a thought makes no sense, especially given the great importance of Ukraine as the “breadbasket” of the Soviet Union, which it was.

Secondly, it shows a very western-style of “divide to conquer” with a conveniently incendiary single-word propaganda tool that is no doubt able to excite any Ukrainian who may be neutral to slightly disaffected about Russia, and then after that, all Ukrainians are now victims of the mighty evil overlords in Moscow.

How convenient is this when the evil overlords in Kyiv don’t want their citizens to know what they are doing?

We saw this on Saturday – taken to a very high peak when President Petro Poroshenko announced the new leading “Hierarch” of the “Ukrainian National Church” and said not one single word about Christ, but only:

“This day will go down in history as the day of the creation of an autocephalous Orthodox church in Ukraine… This is the day of the creation of the church as an independent structure… What is this church? It is a church without Putin. It is a church without Kirill, without prayer for the Russian authorities and the Russian army.”

But as long as Russia is made the “problem”, millions of scandalized Ukrainians will not care what this new Church actually does or teaches, which means it is likely to teach just about anything.

Russia had its own Holodomor. The history of the event shows that this was a result of several factors – imposed socialist economics on a deeply individualized form of agrarian capitalism (bad for morale and worse for food production), really inane centralized planning of cropland use, and a governmental structure that really did not exist to serve the governed, but to impose an ideology on people who really were not all that interested in it.

Personal blame might well lay with Stalin, a Georgian, but the biggest source of the famine lay in the structures imposed under communism as a way of economic strategy. This is not Russia’s fault. It is the economic model that failed.

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Mueller Finally Releases Heavily Redacted Key Flynn Memo On Eve Of Sentencing

Alex Christoforou

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Via Zerohedge


Having initially snubbed Judge Emmet Sullivan’s order to release the original 302 report from the Michael Flynn interrogation in January 2017, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has finally produced the heavily redacted document, just hours before sentencing is due to be handed down.

The memo  – in full below – details then-national security adviser Michael Flynn’s interview with FBI agents Peter Strzok and Joe Pientka, and shows Flynn was repeatedly asked about his contacts with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and in each instance, Flynn denied (or did not recall) any such conversations.

The agents had transcripts of Flynn’s phone calls to Russian Ambassador Kislyak, thus showing Flynn to be lying.

Flynn pleaded guilty guilty last December to lying to the FBI agents about those conversations with Kislyak.

The redactions in the document seem oddly placed but otherwise, there is nothing remarkable about the content…

Aside from perhaps Flynn’s incredulity at the media attention…

Flynn is set to be sentenced in that federal court on Tuesday.

Of course, as Christina Laila notes, the real crime is that Flynn was unmasked during his phone calls to Kislyak and his calls were illegally leaked by a senior Obama official to the Washington Post.

*  *  *

Full document below…

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Don’t Laugh : It’s Giving Putin What He Wants

The fact of the matter is that humorous lampooning of western establishment Russia narratives writes itself.

Caitlin Johnstone

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Authored by Caitlin Johnstone:


The BBC has published an article titled “How Putin’s Russia turned humour into a weapon” about the Kremlin’s latest addition to its horrifying deadly hybrid warfare arsenal: comedy.

The article is authored by Olga Robinson, whom the BBC, unhindered by any trace of self-awareness, has titled “Senior Journalist (Disinformation)”. Robinson demonstrates the qualifications and acumen which earned her that title by warning the BBC’s audience that the Kremlin has been using humor to dismiss and ridicule accusations that have been leveled against it by western governments, a “form of trolling” that she reports is designed to “deliberately lower the level of discussion”.

“Russia’s move towards using humour to influence its campaigns is a relatively recent phenomenon,” Robinson explains, without speculating as to why Russians might have suddenly begun laughing at their western accusers. She gives no consideration to the possibility that the tightly knit alliance of western nations who suddenly began hysterically shrieking about Russia two years ago have simply gotten much more ridiculous and easier to make fun of during that time.

Couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the emergence of a demented media environment wherein everything around the world from French protests to American culture wars to British discontent with the European Union gets blamed on Russia without any facts or evidence. Wherein BBC reporters now correct guests and caution them against voicing skepticism of anti-Russia narratives because the UK is in “an information war” with that nation. Wherein the same cable news Russiagate pundit can claim that both Rex Tillerson’s hiring and his later firing were the result of a Russian conspiracy to benefit the Kremlin. Wherein mainstream outlets can circulate blatantly false information about Julian Assange and unnamed “Russians” and then blame the falseness of that reporting on Russian disinformation. Wherein Pokemon Go, cutesy Facebook memes and $4,700 in Google ads are sincerely cited as methods by which Hillary Clinton’s $1.2 billion presidential campaign was outdone. Wherein conspiracy theories that Putin has infiltrated the highest levels of the US government have been blaring on mainstream headline news for two years with absolutely nothing to show for it to this day.

Nope, the only possibility is that the Kremlin suddenly figured out that humor is a thing.

The fact of the matter is that humorous lampooning of western establishment Russia narratives writes itself. The hypocrisy is so cartoonish, the emotions are so breathlessly over-the-top, the stories so riddled with plot holes and the agendas underlying them so glaringly obvious that they translate very easily into laughs. I myself recently authored a satire piece that a lot of people loved and which got picked up by numerous alternative media outlets, and all I did was write down all the various escalations this administration has made against Russia as though they were commands being given to Trump by Putin. It was extremely easy to write, and it was pretty damn funny if I do say so myself. And it didn’t take any Kremlin rubles or dezinformatsiya from St Petersburg to figure out how to write it.

“Ben Nimmo, an Atlantic Council researcher on Russian disinformation, told the BBC that attempts to create funny memes were part of the strategy as ‘disinformation for the information age’,” the article warns. Nimmo, ironically, is himself intimately involved with the British domestic disinformation firm Integrity Initiative, whose shady government-sponsored psyops against the Labour Party have sparked a national scandal that is likely far from reaching peak intensity.

“Most comedy programmes on Russian state television these days are anodyne affairs which either do not touch on political topics, or direct humour at the Kremlin’s perceived enemies abroad,” Robinson writes, which I found funny since I’d just recently read an excellent essay by Michael Tracey titled “Why has late night swapped laughs for lusting after Mueller?”

“If the late night ‘comedy’ of the Trump era has something resembling a ‘message,’ it’s that large segments of the nation’s liberal TV viewership are nervously tracking every Russia development with a passion that cannot be conducive to mental health – or for that matter, political efficacy,” Tracey writes, documenting numerous examples of the ways late night comedy now has audiences cheering for a US intelligence insider and Bush appointee instead of challenging power-serving media orthodoxies as programs like The Daily Show once did.

If you wanted the opposite of “anodyne affairs”, it would be comedians ridiculing the way all the establishment talking heads are manipulating their audiences into supporting the US intelligence community and FBI insiders. It would be excoriating the media environment in which unfathomably powerful world-dominating government agencies are subject to less scrutiny and criticism than a man trapped in an embassy who published inconvenient facts about those agencies. It certainly wouldn’t be the cast of Saturday Night Live singing “All I Want for Christmas Is You” to a framed portrait if Robert Mueller wearing a Santa hat. It doesn’t get much more anodyne than that.

Russia makes fun of western establishment narratives about it because those narratives are so incredibly easy to make fun of that they are essentially asking for it, and the nerdy way empire loyalists are suddenly crying victim about it is itself more comedy. When Guardian writer Carole Cadwalladr began insinuating that RT covering standard newsworthy people like Julian Assange and Nigel Farage was a conspiracy to “boost” those people for the advancement of Russian agendas instead of a news outlet doing the thing that news reporting is, RT rightly made fun of her for it. Cadwalladr reacted to RT’s mockery with a claim that she was a victim of “attacks”, instead of the recipient of perfectly justified ridicule for circulating an intensely moronic conspiracy theory.

Ah well. People are nuts and we’re hurtling toward a direct confrontation with a nuclear superpower. Sometimes there’s nothing else to do but laugh. As Wavy Gravy said, “Keep your sense of humor, my friend; if you don’t have a sense of humor it just isn’t funny anymore.”

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