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In 2011 Russia was a passenger on a runaway train – in 2017 Russia is a geo-political driver

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Many contemporary writings on Russia tend to paint the years between 1991 and 2000 as uniformly bad, while painting the events which transpired between 2000 and the present day as uniformly good. I am personally the first to agree that the 1990s was a uniformly hellish time for Russia and that while the over all trajectory of the years since 2000 has been largely positive, people forget that late into the Presidency of Dmitry Medvedev, Russia was in a very different geo-political place than it is today.

2011 was a year of reckoning for the wider world, but particularly for the Middle East. It was in 2011, when the western powers unleashed a war on Libya and simultaneous proxy ‘regime change’ conflicts in Syria, Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen.

Medvedev who has always been accused of harbouring some latent liberal tendencies, famously allowed the western bloc to pass UN Security Council Resolution 1973 which allowed NATO to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya while authorising NATO the powers to “protect civilians in any capacity”. At the time, alarm bells should have rung the world over and in many parts of the Russian press, they most certainly did. But under Medvedev, Russia merely abstained from voting on the resolution when the use of Russia’s veto would have not only been appropriate, but necessary in terms of offering a peaceful alternative to NATO’s disastrous war on Libya, an  innocent country that had gone out of its way to meet western demands.

Many in the west felt duped. A generation of leaders who campaigned vowing not to repeat the mistakes of the Bush-Blair war on Iraq, did the same thing to Libya only with the slightest amendments to the language used to justify their atrocity. For Barack Obama, David Cameron and Nicholas Sarkozy, it was 2003 all over again and yet another prosperous Arab state was reduced to rubble as a result. Unlike Iraq, Libya shows no signs of recovery. The country with the highest living standards in the history of Africa, is now a failed state with several competing governments and many more terrorist groups running wild.

It was in the aftermath of the 2007/2008 global recession that many in Russia seemed to lose confidence in Russia’s own ability to create prosperous and economically sound conditions for its people. In an age before the unveiling of One Belt–One Road and a Chinese leadership under Hu Jintao that was markedly less assertive than today’s China under the towering figure of Xi Jinping, many in Russia felt that playing ball with the neo-liberals was the only road to salvation.

In reality, Russia’s careful management of fiscal and monetary policies led Russia to weather the storm of the global financial crisis far better than most European states. With the benefit of hindsight, it is now possible to say that the fears surrounding Russia’s ability to recover were all fatuous. In reality, the financial crash of 2007/2008 has led to the rise of multiple anti-neo-liberal parties and movements in Europe and the United States, whilst in Russia, a broadly conservative style of economic management has been roundly vindicated.

Returning to the fateful year 2011, Russia’s influence in the Middle East was space. Traditional allies were left largely to their own devices and the idea of cementing partnerships with traditional US allies in the region was unthinkable to many.

Today, the story has changed and the turning points were in the years 2014 and 2015. In 2012, Vladimir Putin once again became President and since then, Russia has not looked back to the comparatively indecisive Presidency of Medvedev whose only major accomplishment was preventing blood-shed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2008, early into his Presdiency. As it stands, most people have concluded that then Prime Minister Putin and his colleagues were largely responsible for the effectiveness of the security operations against the ethnic-cleansing of the Georgian regime.

In 2014, many fears among Russian politicians, notably those of Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the opposition LDPR, were vindicated when the US brought its ‘projects regime change’ to Kiev in the historic heart of Russian territory and on the doorstep of the modern Russian Federation.

Those like Zhirinovsky who warned that the US would use proxy conflicts on Russia’s borderlands to foment a larger conflict against Russia were once dismissed as mere purveyors of hyperbolic doom and gloom. Many in Russia, particularly those of the Medvedev style of politics, let alone out-and-out liberals, never thought the US would ‘actually do it’.

In 2014, when US proxies in the Ukrainian neo-Nazi right overthrow the Ukrainian government, Russia acted decisively to recognise the democratic vote among Crimeans to re-join Russia. While many in Russia believe the same settlement should have been offered to the Donbass republics, in the eyes of the wider world, there was a point of no return, nevertheless.. The US hit out at Russia directly by engineering a coup in Kiev and as a result, Russia allowed the peaceful return of part of its historic territory, rather than allow the US backed fascist regime in Kiev to wage war on Crimea.

The following year, Russia decided to heed the request of its long-time Syrian ally and conduct military operations against terrorism in Syria.

Two years later, Syria stands on the verge of total victory while its alliance with Moscow is stronger than ever. Moreover, Russia is now the de-facto problem solver for most of the Middle East. Russia has strengthened its partnership with Iran, revitalised an historic friendship with Iraq, continues to become more engaged in partnerships with Lebanon, re-booted relations with Egypt, all while establishing historically good ties to all members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Russia’s rise in Eurasia, the Middle East, East Asia and South East Asia has directly parcelled the inauguration of China’s One Belt–One Road in 2013. Where in 2013, many were sceptical of how lasting and strong Russia’s post-Cold War partnership with China could be, today, Russia and China are both superpowers and form the most important bilateral partnership in the world. For most countries outside of the EU, US and scant parts of the white majority states of the former British Empire, China’s One Belt–One Road is not just a preferred economic and development model but the model. Russia of course is the largest participating member in One Belt–One Road.

Today, Russia has important partnerships with not only Turkey and Iran, two historical adversaries, but also with Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and South Korea, while retaining historically good ties with Vietnam and in many respects, also with India. Relations with Japan are also far better than at any time in late-modern history.

Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union looks to further intensify partnerships with South East Asia in a manner that is harmonious with the leg of China’s One Belt–One Road that looks to cover this economically dynamic region.

Russia has come a long way since 2011. In 2001, many Russians felt that while it was possible to restore the internal economic order, improve living standards and protect Russian citizens under attack in places like South Ossetia and Abkhazia, that Russia did not have a wider role to play in the world.

Today, the opposite is happening. Russia’s dynamic, pragmatic and anti-ideological diplomatic model has put Russia into the geo-political driver’s seat in, a vehicle powered by the Chinese economy. That being said, Russia’s economy is becoming increasingly diversified and powerful while China is becoming increasingly assertive in global diplomacy.

At the same time, the US is losing many of the allies it once took for granted, at the same time that such countries pivot east. Turkey, Pakistan and Philippines are just three large countries that the US once took for granted. It is not able to do so anymore. Many other countries in the Arab world and South East Asia may soon join this list.

Political changes in Cambodia should make the US nervous about its Vietnam policy

While many continue to speculate on whether President Vladimir Putin will seek another term in office, his legacy is already solidified one way or another. His initial period in office was devoted mostly to fixing the domestic and economic problems of the Yeltsin years. During his current term, Russia has gone from a country focused on solving its own problems to a country invited by the rest of the world, to solve global crises.

Between 2012 and the present day, Putin’s current term in office, Russia has gone from a tentative re-emerging superpower to an undisputed superpower that is not only rivalling but eclipsing the United States in many areas.

In the year 2000, many people thought Russia’s best days were behind her and that all a good leader could do was control the speed and severity of the decline. Today, similar statements are being said, only in another geo-political giant of modern history. Sentiments about managed decline being more realistic than global dominance are now on the tips of tongues among the more rational observers of and in US politics.

The tables have turned radically in a very short period of time.

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Trump Demands Tribute from NATO Vassals

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

Strategic Culture Foundation

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Authored by Tim Kirby via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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High-ranking Ukrainian official reports on US interference in Ukraine

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

Seraphim Hanisch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seraphim Hanisch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liability for breaching the law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Definitely.

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

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

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

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