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Here’s why Russia’s backing Turkey’s resurgence as a Mideast power

Moscow sees Ankara’s rise as beneficial to its long-term interests

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(New Eastern Outlook) – When Ataturk founded modern Turkey he took advantage of the one moment in history when Turkish nationalism had an exclusive character. Turkish political leaders have always had a deep-seated need to project themselves everywhere, and not only within their former empire. You can’t run Turkey and allow it to be on the fringes of Europe and Asia: it must be a leading player in both, or the locals won’t stand for it.

It takes little imagination to see that Turkey has a Grand Plan in its old stomping ground of the Middle East. It has shown that it is willing to break ranks with other NATO members and put its own needs first, even when ostensibly part of the same operation. It is not happy with anyone else shaping the region to suit themselves, but this is not because they are rivals of Turkey but because they are not Turkey itself.

Most recently Turkey has been with working with the Free Syrian Army, but fighting other less embedded terrorists rather than Assad. This is not because it is threatened by those terrorists, but because it is seeking to balance what the US in doing in its so-called war on terrorism – working hand-in-hand with the PKK and Kurdish fighters in Syria and the region, who are currently bigger threats to Turkey than Syria.

Turkey’s interests in Syria, and Mosul, centre on oil. As long as oil flows, illegally, from these places to Turkish industry and the country’s overseas clients Turkey doesn’t mind Syria being carved up in the process. However US actions put the PKK, and Kurds in general, closer to that oil. Ankara won’t have the resources to resist its domestic Kurds, or threaten anyone else, if the PKK gets its hands on the oil.

But for domestic consumption all this is being framed as a national crusade. Turkey feels it is entitled to all the resources of its former empire. Even if these countries are independent, they are still expected to pay due deference to Turkey as their former master, in the same way members of the Commonwealth are expected to follow the UK’s lead in international affairs and resource exploitation. If they don’t, Turkey is prepared to fight to regain what was once its own, because it wouldn’t be Turkey if it didn’t take charge.

All this is laid out in Turkey’s National Pact, a document Erdogan suggested the Prime Minister of Iraq should read to understand Turkey’s interest in Mosul. The pro-government Turkish media are also redrawing Turkey’s borders in a series of maps, including a number of areas Turkey still has a historical claim to.

But why is Turkey being allowed to get away with this, when this independent action would see it branded as an aggressor under other circumstances? 

Accidental equivalence

Turkey is being allowed to think it can reclaim its old glory because Russia sees Turkish dominance of the Middle East as beneficial to itself in the long-term. It would balance the US presence there, and provide the threat that if Russia is branded as the enemy for ever more the West might lose Turkey too.

Despite all its efforts to demonise Turkey and Muslims, the West doesn’t really want Turkey on the opposite side, because it also has historical memory. To appease the millions of EU citizens whose homelands were ruled by the Ottomans for 500 years, it would have to deal with Russia as a partner, however much those same people also hate the Russians.

This was confirmed by the recent Turkish military action in Syria, which was undertaken in collaboration with the Russians. It was only a year ago that Turkey shot down a Russian jet over Syria, an action which had severe diplomatic repercussions. Russia would not be working with Turkey, or vice versa, unless the two countries had identified a mutual interest which overrode any conflict between them.

The basis of this mutual interest is spelled out in the Astana memorandum, signed by Russia, Iran and Turkey. This establishes de-escalation areas in a number of locations in Syria, in which conflict is supposed to end and humanitarian assistance is to be provided, which will be policed by these three countries. It confirms that the three countries will continue to fight ISIS and other groups declared terrorist by the UN, but that everyone else should respect a ceasefire within these zones.

According to global affairs analyst Patrick Henningsen, this memorandum reformulates the language of the Syrian conflict from the fabricated, inverted reality used by NATO and moves its centre of gravity eastwards, by making the regional powers responsible for resolving the conflict. As a Kremlin press release from Sept. 25 says: “The Syrian de-escalation zones give an opening for putting an end to the civil war in the country and for a political settlement of the crisis based on respect for Syrian sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

This action is a direct contradiction of the US and NATO policy of removing Assad because he is considered the greater threat. The nature of the de-escalation zones, as spelled out, also makes them starkly different to the demilitarised zones established by NATO during the Balkan Wars, which were never demilitarised from within but became arms dumps from which attacks on Serbs were launched with impunity.

Furthermore, it was the US which instigated the Syrian conflict by selecting “moderate” terrorists it could use to create a Kurdish state in the region. If other powers walk in and sort it out, more attention will be paid to this, and US freedom of action in other countries will be curtailed. We might also note that US-Turkish relations have been on the rocks since Washington refused to extradite the US-based Gulen to Turkey. With Trump under pressure in the US for alleged illegal links with the Russians, it will soon be asked why this action was taken, when it produced the diplomatic outcome Russia wanted but the West didn’t.

For all these reasons, these zones present a challenge to the West. But if this challenge is met head on this will drive Turkey into Russia’s orbit, not Europe’s, and all parties concerned know Europe hasn’t got the nerve to do that.

Strategic Depth is deeper than we thought

To gain greater insight into what is becoming a consistent Turkish policy, the place to start is the 2001 book by Ahmet Davutoğlu called Strategic Depth. In this the former Prime Minister talks about creating Lebensraum for the Turkish people. He also promotes his version of pan-Islamism, which unlike some other versions makes the term synonymous with neo-Ottomanism.

As a piece of political theory, this book presented a point of view. But Davutoglu was not only Turkey’s Prime Minister but Minister of Foreign Affairs. Until his resignation on 5 May 2016 he was considered the architect of a new Turkish foreign policy, which is exactly what he said it should be in his book.

This is why some question Davutoglu’s actual importance in foreign policy. It is very convenient to say that others wrote the policy, or that things just happened that way, when people know how much of Mein Kampf  became a reality a few years after that book had been openly published, and been made required reading, when those who had actually read it had a responsibility to prevent such things occurring.

Drawing new maps on TV is not a harmless pastime. It is often forgotten that Indira Gandhi’s famous attack on the Golden Temple of Amritsar, the holy shrine of the Sikh community , was largely driven by separatist Sikhs publishing a map of their separate “Khalistan” homeland which included New Delhi. On Argentinian maps the Falkland Islands are described as belonging to Argentina, the British ownership of them being deemed illegal. As in Gandhi’s reverse case, it was inevitable that when the Buenos Aires government had other problems it would show how big it was by enforcing this historic claim, even if that brought that government down.

Maybe Europe, despite being full of old empires, thought the Turks weren’t serious, or wouldn’t dare because they wanted Europe too much. But it is that desire for Europe, and Europe’s encouragement of it for its own ends, which have helped create the present situation, which Erdogan has once twisted into one in which he can’t lose.

Erdogan has complained publicly about the Treaty of Lausanne, which drew modern Turkey’s borders after the Ottoman Empire was dismembered after World War I https://www.voanews.com/a/turkey-erdogan-treaty-of-lausanne-borders/3547651.html. He says it made the country too small, and put many ethnic Turks outside its boundaries. The corollary of this is that those of other nationalities, such as Kurds and Armenians, who were included in the new Turkey should be able to separate from it. But Erdogan would not accept that, because ethnic homogeneity was not the point he was making.

Erdogan reckons that the Treaty of Lausanne should be set aside because Turkey is on the right side of global politics, not a vanquished enemy as it was then. After all, the West keeps telling it how important a strategic ally it is, and Turkey has housed US and NATO bases for a very long time, even when it was a military dictatorship seemingly at odds with Western rhetoric about what countries should be.

Turkey should be rewarded for good behaviour, says Erdogan. If not, it will have no obligation to play others, game anymore, and will do what it wants to redress the Western insult.  It has all the tools it needs to settle accounts, lots of unpaid proxy fighters and refugees, official and unofficial to toss across the border to flow to Old Europe, especially Germany, as the preferred venue.

Russia does not want Turkey calling the shots alone, and neither does Turkey want its old empire dominated by the Russians who liberated large chunks of it. But they both know the West doesn’t want either of them to expand their influence either.

The two countries can best achieve that by working together. The Western need for Turkey provides both countries with a protective shield, and when Russia has played its usual game of demonstrating how the West has compromised itself it is more likely to put Turkey in direct control of the new reality rather than stay itself, as Turkey would be happy to do Russia’s bidding to remain in that position provided it could pretend to its own public that it was really in charge again.

The Middle Eastern peoples also have historical memories of the Turks. They have no more wish to see them in charge again than East Europeans do. But those very historical memories encourage them to play a long game. If Turkey can help them remove the US, a disease of the skin, the Middle Eastern countries can preserve their souls, and they can deal with the Turks at a later date.

US plans for a Kurdish State are being undone, to the delight of Turkey, and with efforts to eliminate Assad faltering it is likely to be totally expelled from Syria. The Middle East has too much oil to be allowed to run its own affairs. So someone will have to fill the void, and from a US point of view too that may as well be Turkey, if it has to be. At least it is still technically a Western ally, and if the West helps it run the Middle East this might turn it away from Russia, which current US policy has failed to accomplish.

At least for now it would also be in the Western interest to allow Turkey a freer hand in the Middle East, so it gains no benefit from allying with Russia. Such an arrangement would ignore the local population, but that is what the US does all the time. It would help the US even more if it turned Turkey’s increased influence in the Middle East into an extension of present US policy, beating the Russians again whilst behaving just as badly as ever.

Credit: Henry Kamens

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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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