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Discussing America with Russians over a cup of tea

The geopolitical surprises just seem to keep coming

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Accusations, posturing and hysterical finger pointing is oddly the weird new normal in our world. It reminds me of an old market truism – ‘buy the rumors, sell the facts’. Amplified by continued demonization of all things Russian, including their newly re-elected president, I was curious to get current views here on the ground among connected influential Russians and just share them.

I called and met many friends, business partners and contacts in Russia whom I have known for years, some in business, politics and some in government. The result of my informal chats over tea or coffee was largely as I had expected, though it may be of interest to those not living and working in Russia. I spoke with many people, I will just cover three otherwise this opinion piece would make Tolstoy’s War & Peace look like a leaflet.

Tatiana:

One friend whom I met and spoke with about the current state of affairs is involved in Russian politics, and a highly placed champion of what is known here as the “liberal opposition”. “I am depressed. For most of my life, America symbolized for me the virtues of openness, truth, unfettered objective press, constitutional law, showing the rights and obligations which allow a democracy to function well in the world, regardless of who is at the helm. It was the example set for other countries to follow. It was like a story from some distant mythical land of long ago, perhaps a Camelot, and just as illusory it seems to me now.

Russia is still a work in progress, a tremendous amount of vision, sweat and effort have and will continue to be spent in the re-birth of my country from the chaos of less than nothing 20-/+ years ago. There is much that we have done that is successful, that we all are proud of, and we are the first to see what still has to be done – corruption, special interests, in short everything the rest of the nations on this planet also have to deal with in their own ways and in their own particular contexts.

We are not perfect, we know this well, but we will raise up our country in spite of any difficulties or pressures. There is a basic reality, we are Russian. We are not Americans or British or Germans, Italians, Turks, Japanese or Greeks. The several popularized brands of democracy that work in each of those nations is not what works for Russia in this time and space, it would be wrong, and forcing the issue will lead to failure. Russia is developing democratically, but in its own time and own terms – we have patience, and we will succeed eventually but not to the beat of any other nations drums or timelines.

It has taken a very painful period of soul searching for me to arrive at an undeniable truth, which was my degree of deep disenchantment. That the America I cherished is far from the ideal it has marketed to the world so well for decades. The strongest feeling I have is one of deep personal betrayal of both trust and faith. It was obvious back in the communist era that there was an ideological standoff, and that the American brand of democracy and the Soviet brand of communism were antithetical, oil and water, never to mix. It was Burger King versus Kotletki. This was an understandable state of affairs, and largely justified. There was an understanding that once the failed ideology of communism was off the table, and Russia turned to become an open market capitalist model with a developing political infrastructure, then there would no longer be any ideological conflict as our goals were largely the same as in the west.

Freedom to pray to whatever faith you ascribe to is deeply rooted nationwide, freedom to travel anywhere, freedom to make and spend your money as you wish, freedom to do business, freedom to responsibly and accountably protest or set out arguments for change can and are heard, freedom to vote or not to, and more. We have just had an election. Whatever others or I may wish for, it was indeed a democratic election without pressure. True, we all knew who would win, and the vast majority of our people are pleased with the win and supportive of the result.

That is the bottom line – the vast majority voted for,appreciate and do support this president. They do so in this time and place that demands consistency and follow-through, and while he may be the only realistic show in town today, he has proven himself capable and with the right intentions for the country’s internal interests. Eventually we may become an “either/or” country like America, but for now continuity and stability are preferable to experimentation and potential chaos – for we have seen both many times in our past. I can only imagine if we had an election hangover like the Trump/Clinton election paralyzing and dividing our country for more than a year after – no thank you.

Now it is apparent to me that the acceptance of Russia as a sovereign nation by the group of ‘free’ nations led by the US is wholly contingent on Russia accepting a subservient role, politically, economically and culturally. To my way of thinking, a sovereign nation has the power to do everything necessary to govern itself, such as making, executing, and applying its own laws; imposing and collecting taxes fairly; making war and peace as needed; and forming treaties or engaging in commerce with foreign nations. One example, for instance is the United States of America, which enjoys such status. I cannot say the same for many of the member nations within the EU construct, or the EU itself, even the UK, but that is their business and certainly not ours to tinker with, disparage or try to change. Russia is not exporting its views or waging any idealogical marketing campaigns, or evangelizing on how other nations should live their lives. Our priorities are first of all Russia, and keeping to our commitments with friends and allies, it’s as simple as that.

When I travel to America and several European countries, especially these past 5 years I return home almost speechless at the degree of orchestrated misunderstanding that has poisoned public perception through western media and politicians against Russia. The facts simply do not hold water if they ever are examined dispassionately.

Throughout it all I have tried to see things from a western perspective, I have gone to great lengths speaking with friends in many countries, most of whom are as shocked as I am at the positions taken in the west. I have seen disinformation and felt its claws throughout my youth in those communist times, but it pales compared to the media assault directed against my country today by the paragons of all that is supposedly free, correct and ethical. Perhaps having had the privilege to grow up and live inside such initially democratic systems, it makes it easier to disregard and make a parody of what made them special, or am I mistaken?

To my way of thinking and most Russians, being free and independent means not having to parrot the ideas of anyone, both as sovereign individuals or as a sovereign nation, it is as simple as that. Thinking and acting in the best interests of yourself, your family, town, and country. One of the many principles I have always respected that are embodied in the US constitution was that people were not to be pre-judged, they were accepted as being innocent until and unless proven guilty in an independent court of law. Those values have certainly been trashed at least on the international political and diplomatic front in the US, UK and Brussels. There is no dissonance in goals or values between Russia and the western world, this confrontation has been manufactured and marketed worldwide by the land of the free and home of the bravely exceptional, but to what democratic purpose if any? And why should it be at all when our peoples visions and values mostly correspond?”

Alexander:

A successful influential CEO who heads an international Russian based resources holding company. Much of what was said earlier were also part of Alex’s views, but his emphasis was trade and financial. “Conspiracies are usually nonsense, like the secret more than one person knows – it does not remain secret for long. That being said, something discordant is afoot in our world and the root causes of just about anything political or economic leads to, or is led by money. Today, and for the last 70+ years since Bretton Woods global money was the US Dollar. Since Nixon delinked gold from the dollar, and the simultaneous creation then of Petro Dollars, Euro Dollars and so forth, the breadth and depth of US Dollar domination in our world just kept growing. The global financial and trading system is dominated by the dollar, and by virtue of that domination, it has also become for lack of a more appropriate description – weaponized. It is a constantly threatening stick whether you eat of the carrot or not… not very democratic.

The other side of the dollar is the inconvenient and massive debt pegged to that fiat currency throughout the world. This debt mainly finances the USA’s ability to project its sometimes peculiar brand of PC behavior, subsidized and financed by countries having little recourse other than to buy US bonds supporting such policies. It has come to the point that if you are well entrenched in dealing with only the US dollar, you must accept and accede to whatever behavior modification program Washington demands of you, or else go cold turkey for your dollar fix.

The EU and UK and several other allied to the US nations are a case in point – no serious discussion, no objective analysis, not much real professional diplomacy, and almost no respect for cultures whatsoever. It is sort of like the attitudes and Pavolvian abuse I used to get when simply enjoying a cigarette after class at Stanford on the quad…it isn’t forbidden, but you are regarded as a serial killer. Oh well, it is California, even by US standards they are off the wall.

George W. Bush once said ‘if you’re not with us, you’re against us’, well that pretty much could have been uttered today in DC as well. Let us remember the famous seemingly eternal Jackson–Vanik amendment to the Trade Act of 1974. It was originally intended to affect U.S. trade relations with countries of the Communist bloc that restrict freedom of emigration and other human rights. It remained in place and pressuring Russia long after communism was replaced by capitalism. When finally it was lifted in 2012 it was immediately substituted by the Magnitsky Act which is an example of unfounded and unproven rumor becoming legislation. Therefore, the stick remains in play regardless of anything, especially proof, only the word of a carpetbagger like Browder and his Hermitage with whom I am very familiar, hence incredulous. When Crimea re-joined Russia in 2014, even more trade limitations were introduced despite the reality that the majority of the population of Crimea yearned and voted to rejoin Russia, hence sanctions, even more sticks in our country’s wheels. It interested me to look into how many sanctions programs the United States has going today, the list is impressive and I even have it saved here on my iPhone, I’ll post it to you (he did, and here it is):

Active current US Sanctions Programs and date of inception: Balkans-Related Sanctions 02/03/2017, Belarus Sanctions 10/24/2017, Burundi Sanctions  06/02/2016, Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act of 2017 (CAATSA) 03/15/2018, Central African Republic Sanctions  12/13/2017, Counter Narcotics Trafficking Sanctions 03/06/2018, Counter Terrorism Sanctions 03/22/2018, Cuba Sanctions  02/09/2018, Cyber-related Sanctions 03/23/2018, Democratic Republic of the Congo-Related Sanctions 02/05/2018, Global Magnitsky Sanctions 12/21/2017, Iran Sanctions 01/12/2018, Iraq-Related Sanctions  12/27/2017, Lebanon-Related Sanctions 07/30/2010, Libya Sanctions 02/26/2018, Magnitsky Sanctions 12/20/2017, Non-Proliferation Sanctions 01/12/2018, North Korea Sanctions 03/01/2018, Rough Diamond Trade Controls 05/21/2008, Somalia Sanctions 07/05/2012, Sudan and Darfur Sanctions  10/12/2017, South Sudan-related Sanctions 09/06/2017, Syria Sanctions 06/21/2017, Transnational Criminal Organizations  01/30/2018, Ukraine-/Russia-Related Sanctions  03/15/2018, Venezuela-Related Sanctions 03/19/2018, Yemen-Related Sanctions 04/14/2015, Zimbabwe Sanctions.

Many sanctions. Yet how many of them are in reality broadly supported in the international arena? How many countries levy such controls over free trade to themselves influence America’s unilateral actions? We have not yet come to treaties and tariffs, the stuff of open trade or conversely trade wars. The United States has a number of treaties and agreements in place, I will also post them to you (he did so again):

Andean Community (1969), ASEAN–Australia–New Zealand Free Trade Area (AANZFTA) – 2010, ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) 1992, Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA) 1975, Central American Integration System (SICA) 1993, Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) 1992, Commonwealth of Independent States Free Trade Area (CISFTA) 2011, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) 1994, G-3 Free Trade Agreement 1995, Greater Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA) 1997, Dominican Republic–Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) 2004, East African Community (EAC) 2005, European Economic Area (EEA; European Union–Norway–Iceland–Liechtenstein) 1994, European Union Customs Union (EUCU; European Union–Turkey–Monaco–San Marino–Andorra) 1958, European Free Trade Association (EFTA) 1960, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) 1981, International Grains Agreement 1995, North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) 1994, Pacific Alliance Free Trade Area (PAFTA) 2012, Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP = ASEAN plus 6), South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) 2004, Southern African Development Community Free Trade Area (SADCFTA) 1980, Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) 1991.

With such negotiated agreements and treaties in place, I am surprised that just recently the new administration in the US has declared that it shall unilaterally cancel, and then renegotiate many of them, notably NAFTA, and ASEAN that are making the news now.

This trend is extending beyond just trade. The number of international agreements have given birth to “judicial” or “legislative” bodies that have come to interpret and expand obligations well beyond what was set out in the underlying treaties, placing them beyond the effective control of domestic or international institutions. This trend has and does raise fears among nations that they will continue to see their sovereign authority erode, a sacrifice to populist political bluster and being force fed economic programs that may not be congruent with their own county’s needs or interests.

My pet theory is that some of the treaties the US is threatening to cancel will in fact be only very gently amended, but in exchange for this generosity, the US will expect a quid pro quo broad coalition of those same nations to stand behind its very specific tariff and trade war with China. Similarly as many members of the EU have been pressured to support the (probably) eternal sanctions against Russia. This at a time when America’s dominance in the Southeast Asian region is increasingly fragile, and likely to erode further without such broad backing – who knows, time will tell if my view has any weight.

What most if not all these free trade agreements have in common is that the US Dollar one way or another is the transferring medium. That in itself is not such a bad thing, but it is a unipolar monopoly, this has implications especially if like any reasonable businessman you want to diversify your risk exposure to something other than the fiat dollar, Euro, or Yen. This then leaves the Yuan as the last reserve currency in the basket, and this leads to another stink that also affects my Russia as we are neighbors, and that is the trade position US administration is now taking with China. A decision was made just this week unilaterally impose significant tariffs on imports from China, which is another stick on the back of the US rule-based global trading system camel. The sum by today’s standards is not much, only 60 billion US dollars, but it will have wide consequences, unintended or not.

I do a lot of good business with China, and aside from the numbers of business, there is a very important factor of ‘face’. It is of consequence, and it matters. It should not be taken lightly and should never be dismissed. Therefore, we will probably witness an escalating trade war between the US and China as well since Washington is pressing China to reduce its 375-billion-dollar trade surplus with the United States by 100 billion dollars as soon as possible. I often ask myself – who agreed and allowed such a trade imbalance in the first place? I am concerned that these sanctions and trade battles will undermine multilateral trading systems and destabilize the global economy that has apparently just started to recover from the US originated globally dollarized financial crisis 10 years ago.

The geopolitical surprises just seem to keep coming, as if it were not enough to sanction Russia, and initiate a trade war with China, there is the very real possibility in the coming days that the US will try to re-impose sanctions on Iran. This can only increase already high tensions between the two countries and the entire middle eastern region, but that is a whole epic by itself. As my Rabbi says – you will reap what you sow – that is the truth, we wait for the shoe to drop.

On Monday March 26th, China activated their Yuan denominated oil futures contract with gold convertibility (As it turned out, around 12 million barrels of Shanghai’s most-active September contract changed hands in the first 55 minutes of trade, more than the most-active contract for Brent).

I have no doubt that Iran, and many others in the oil business will eventually see their way clear to using that exchange and avoid the strings of the US dollar. We in Russia are now preparing to sell $1 billion worth of yuan-denominated bonds in 2018, which will be a small supportive step for the yuan as it grows to be a significant global currency.

As concerns my company, we have positioned ourselves to trade our oil on the Shanghai exchange for Yuan-Gold. I do this because it is close to our disports, pipelines and customers, and makes diversified financial sense. Recently we have shifted our portfolio positions to reflect a much larger percentage in physical gold assets as we feel this will be key in the years to come. There is an extra plus too, I will sleep calmly at night knowing I am not contributing to the new 2018 US budget of $1.3 trillion in additional debt that will never be repaid with value!”

Michael:

The Skripal incident in Salisbury is just the latest dust up coming out of the UK/EU with accusations against Russia and Putin in particular. I decided to ask a man I have known for some time who is closely associated with the state security services. Michael’s reaction to this sad affair was rather emphatic, which in translation I have paraphrased: “What utter and complete rubbish. Yes, there are times when it may be judged in the interests of any nation, even the US, UK or the gaggle that is the EU to take extreme measures such as an ordered killing. Such cases truth be told are extremely rare and extreme. If they were then carried out, it would be planned and done with care without complexity, publicity or drama. In watching the news and listening to what the political leaders in the UK and now even the EU are saying it just beggars belief.

First, if a WMD such as Novichok or any VX were used I assure you that Mr. Skripal and his daughter would not be alive today in an ICU, nor would any first responders who arrived without NBC or similar Hazmat shielded body protection, or the photographers snapping close-up pictures of the place. In short, there would be quite a number of tragic deaths. This is as fishy as the “white helmets” in Syria working without Hazmat protection in areas where supposedly Sarin was deployed against people – it cannot happen without themselves being counted among the dead, or at best thoroughly incapacitated.

Personally, I have never heard of that substance or anything similar being used in anything other than controlled military testing environments many years ago. Secondly, using a nerve agent like a Novichok in reality is simply impractical to use on an individual target, you would have to be nuts, suicidal or delusional to consider it. I do not doubt that somebody attempted to poison the man, but in my opinion, tasked professionals did not carry it out. If it were state sanctioned, I am personally certain such a folly did not come from Russia, now or ever. There are other players who need such melodrama far more than us to suit their worldviews or paint their perspectives.  Look, I know the bureaucracy of our security services, and this cluster-fuck would not have had any chance of consideration or approval – it is just that simple.

More likely, it was for a far more banal reason such as a local business or personal conflict, when such facts will no doubt reveal themselves clearly over time – then it will probably be relegated to some obscure column on the 10th page of a UK newspaper as an inconvenient truth. I cannot even speculate on what toxin was used, but it was not anything close to a military grade nerve agent.

I am not a little put out by what I call this new Twitter diplomacy, it makes noise and dances around issues but doesn’t do the job that must be done which is to sit down with counterparts and talk face to face. There seems to be a new PC stigma certainly in the US that must frighten politicians from meeting or speaking with Russians, it is absurd. That is the role of diplomacy, and that is the way to sorting out truth from lies. I am not aware of anything of value that happens without dialogue and Q&A which can only happen when people are willing to meet and sort things out. It is not Rocket Science after all.

As for the noise and accusations, I can only say that this reminds me of some Hollywood fantasy script. Vladimir Putin has been typecast by the west to be the embodiment of Le Chifre, Auric Goldfinger, Hugo Drax and Francisco Scaramanga all rolled into one, and Russia as a whole is cast as SPECTRE. This is all a ridiculously silly tragic diversion of everyone’s time and intellect, with very real and dangerous consequences, and to what purpose? It helps no-one, and all people shall ultimately lose with such undisciplined undiplomatic schizophrenia running amok.”

***

I have tried to faithfully capture the words, spirit and emotion of these talks; in any event, I hope it is of interest. Maybe I’ll cherry pick some other items in the future, but for now, this seems adequate.

 

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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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