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Russia’s Legacy Term: 2018 – 2024 and Beyond

What the “expert pundits” can not manage to predict about Russia.

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Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, it is said keeps surprising Western pundits – not with any unexpectedly rash surprise announcements, but with his consistent political and diplomatic positions. His is not a cleverly sneaky “disinformation” campaign aimed at undermining democratic “values”. Quite the opposite, he has been consistent, which in the geopolitical dimensions of our time is an exceedingly rare quality.

Since 2000, he has been openly and repeatedly stating that Russia’s sovereign national interests head his agenda. No evangelizing, no regime changes, no funny business. Much criticism has been levelled at Putin for supposedly championing his own brand of “autocratic democracy” and disallowing any competitive opposition within Russia.

That may be true to a degree; however, it is also worth asking whether the Russian national interest is being well served by this approach, especially in this place and at this time.

While it is considered to be in exceedingly bad taste and politically incorrect to say anything positive about Putin, I will have to put my neck on the block. All things considered, and in our imperfect world he does what he says and that resonates positively with most of Russias citizenry. No mean achievement, especially when contrasted and compared to so many countries with far longer “democratic” timelines that are experiencing continually contradictory internal hissy fits, the he-said, she-said crowd.

Consider that since the fall of the Soviet Union there have effectively been only two elected administrations so it might make common sense to demonstrate restraint over any free-for-all power grab by a smorgasbord of parties and interests. This for many is also preferable, at least until the body politic fully matures. Recall that the dominant oligarchic era and its influence was with great difficulty and only recently brought to heel.

Many commentators who try to package Russia’s reality in bytes that can be easily and immediately consumed through various media mostly make similar errors; they view the playing field in Russia through their own national optics, preconceptions and perspectives. Very few make the necessary sacrifice of time and involvement to immerse themselves in the actual “on the ground” 21st century Russian reality. Picturing the world from Des Moines is far different than seeing the world sitting in Omsk, this applies not only to geopolitical perceptions… doesn’t it?

Putin’s third period was eventful: Sanctions, demonization, accusations, polarization with the west, and maintaining the principles of steering an independent sovereign nation through constantly shifting currents and conflicting flows of internationalized political populism from the West.

Putin has now started on his fourth term, many inside the government call this his legacy term. He is not aligned with any political party, which in American political parlance I guess would brand him as an “independent”. He was obviously not elected by interests in the USA, Damascus, Beijing, Kiev, or Brussels, but by Russians with a mandate to continue serving the Russian national interest as best he can, maintaining engagement without submission, and getting down to succession planning.

Commentators and self-styled experts have written and spoken much about what that might mean, and much of that commentary is couched within an aura of sub-rosa plotting, mischief and hidden agendas. So much for expert commentary, the facts, statements and actions speak differently.

It only requires patience to objectively examine the track record of public statements made by the Russian administration on a number of subjects, from economics, Ukraine, Syria, missile strikes, nuclear treaties, Iran, Oil & Gas, NATO, Skripals, China, trade treaties, and the United Nations to get the impression that facts and simple truths no longer matter very much in the west. Diplomacy has been supplanted by unipolar target marketing, and all that it implies.

Some of the standout issues that Russia has been forced to battle include restrictions on their free trade opportunities, the unipolar erosion of diplomatic norms between nations and the increasing disregard of the UN. Underlying much of this is the increasingly urgent need to diversify away from restrictive US Dollar dominated banking and financial systems. In short, to become less reliant on self interested globalized geopolitical groups, and more self sufficient as an independent sovereign nation.

Since the recent March election, the new Russian administration is even now criticized for not doing enough to visibly and sharply reform itself. After all, “reform” is a positive word, isn’t it? It is a “must do” word and concept!

Reform therefore should be all the rage and implemented come what may, and damn the torpedoes! It might be useful to prioritize between “wanted and needed” when making assumptions about the lack or abundance of reforms in Russia.

The 4th term administration under Putin can be described as being an implementation command. Over the past eight years, many of the directions the economy has to develop, diversify into and make operational have to a greater or lesser degree been tested in select regions of the country. Some of these “reforms” needed reworking, some have had to be re-thought, and those that have shown practical and pragmatic benefit will be implemented. Sadly very little was been reported on this in the English language press these past eight years, perhaps it is too practical to be deemed newsworthy?

The Russian saying, “measure twenty times, cut once” applies. The impasse of an “Obamacare” would not go down well if it happened in Russia, nor would trashing established, negotiated treaties be considered right, ethical or proper, but that is just the local Russian take on such developments even though it apparently clashes with the current fashion in some western countries.

On the economic front, the new administration includes several proven players including Elvira Nabiullina, central bank governor, who was responsible for the important economic moves between 2012 and 2018, including the switch to a free-floating ruble, the reduction of inflationary pressures, and the banking system clean up.

Finance minister Anton Siluanov, Kudrin’s former deputy in the ministry. His efforts to shift government borrowing to the domestic market helped Russia demonstrate its resilience under adverse sanctioned circumstances.

Alexei Kudrin now heads Russia’s Audit Chamber, which should appeal to international investors. He is the author of much of the program president Vladimir Putin has adopted for his next six years in office.

With the ever reliable Medvedev as PM, and re-designated insiders administering other branches of government several diversified directions in the economic and administrative fabric of Russia should be apparent in short order. This administrative team whatever it may lack in multi-party diversity, is certainly strongly united as a command structure and fully capable to bringing the planned new programs into being.

Trial programs have been tested in several regions of the country based on creating a unified digital platform for government. This platform will be operating at a nationwide level by 2020. It may cut the number of bureaucrats by as much as 25-30%. Other regional test programs should become national allowing Russia to reduce its commodity export dependence, relying instead on innovative businesses, deeper processing of agricultural, mineral, energy commodities locally and the export of services from financial to IT.

Putin recently said, just after this election, “We need breakthroughs in every area. I am deeply convinced that such a spurt can only be effected by a free society that accepts everything that’s new and advanced,  rejects injustice, backwardness, ignorant traditionalism and a deadening bureaucracy — everything that holds people back from opening up fully.” That sounds classically early 20th century American to me, and looks to be in the sovereign national interest of the country, regardless of which brand of democracy is marketed or advertised. He went on to call for Russia to reduce its poverty level by half before 2024, raise the average life expectancy from 72.5 to 78 years and become one of the world’s five biggest economies.

So here we are, May of 2018. It is worth having a look at the new financial outlooks for the Russian Federation in view of the above, and what “expert pundits” did not manage to predict:

Russia should achieve a 2018 budget surplus of RUB440.6bn ($7.1bn), instead of the previously expected deficit of RUB1.27 trillion ($20.5bn), the government confirmed on May 10. This surplus is roughly 0.45% of GDP instead of the expected deficit of 1.3% of GDP, according to this years amended draft federal budget for 2018. The Finance Ministry also lowered its projected inflation levels, to 2.8% from the previously expected 4%. Inflation has been creeping up this year but remains on the level of 2.2%-2.3% – a record low for the Russian Federation. The recent tumble of the ruble against the dollar caused by the imposition of new US sanctions this past April may spark more inflation, but efforts are underway to mitigate such effects. The Finance Ministry also revised upward Russian budget revenues for 2018, from RUB15.157 trillion to RUB17.032 trillion.

It seems more than strange that this is being promoted in the west as somehow contrary to and subverting established western values. On the contrary, it looks like Russia’s values are exactly in the right place and steadily evolving to be better.

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The End Of The US Unipolar Moment Is Irreversible

The United States is in the terminal phase of its unipolar moment.

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Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The past weeks have shown how part of the American establishment is weighing the pros and cons of the Trump administration’s strategies around the world. I have a strong feeling that in the coming weeks we will see the destabilizing effects of American politics, especially towards its closest allies.

A disastrous flip of events appears to be on its way, in case Trump were to lose the November midterm elections (the House and Senate elections). If this were to happen, the Trump administration would probably exploit the Russia gate conspiracy claiming that Moscow had now acted in favour of Democrats. Trump could argue that Moscow was disappointed by the lack of progress in softening US sanctions against Russia; indeed, by Trump’s measures against Russia (expulsions, sanctions, property seizures) and its allies (China, Iran and Syria).

Trump would not hesitate to claim Russian interference in the midterms to aid the Democrats, citing intelligence reports. He would say that Russia aims to create chaos in the US by placing roadblocks in the way of attempts to “Make America Great Again” and handing the House and Senate to the Democrats. He would use the electoral defeat to blame his accusers of getting aid from Russia. In doing so, he would be accelerating the implosion of his administration in an all-out war with the establishment. The mainstream media would dismiss Trump’s accusations against the Democrats of collusion with Russia as a conspiracy theory of an unravelling presidency. All this, summed up, would lead to the Democrats having majority in both houses, easily proceeding to the impeachment of Trump.

Italy is piggybacking on the US, operating side by side with Washington to expand its role in North Africa, especially in Libya. However, Rome will have to offer something in return to please Trump. Evidence points to the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) as the quid pro quo, the US encouraging Italy to complete it in order to put pressure on Germany’s North Stream II project and undermine Russian gas deliveries to the EU. I have the impression that the only card available for Italy to play (and which interests Trump) is an endorsement of Washington’s positions on Iran, given that Italy already shares in common with Washington differences with Paris and Berlin on many issues. In this sense, Conte’s words about US intelligence info on the JCPOA paves the way for further decisions:

“”I didn’t take a specific stand. I said we are willing to evaluate the necessity to take more rigorous stances if the (nuclear) accord is shown to be ineffective. We are waiting to have elements of intelligence, Italy would like to evaluate it with its EU partners”

As evidence of Washington’s failed strategy towards Iran, India continues to buy crude oil from Iran, increasing the amount in the last month by 52%. China is also increasing its importation from Iran. Meanwhile, Iran is working with other countries to circumvent the US dollar in order to sustain their mutual trade within a new framework of agreements. Washington is especially disappointment with New Delhi, with American officials continuing to reiterate that India’s intentions align with Washington’s. Since November, with the imposition of counter-sanctions on countries that continue to work with Iran, Washington’s bluff will become evident to everybody, much to the disappointment of the Trump administration.

In the meantime, relations between Canada and Saudi Arabia have almost completely broken down on account of human rights. Ambassadors have been expelled and there is a continuing war of words, with trade between the two countries being brought to a stop. This is the latest example of the divisions manifesting themselves within the Western elites, with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Trump administration being in opposition to the likes of France, Germany and Canada.

What is also clear is that the issue of energy is central to Washington’s strategy. Between criticism of the German Nord Stream II and invitations to Italy to finish the Trans Adriatic Pipeline, it is clear that both the Trump administration and the policy makers of the deep state are strongly concerned about what actions allies and enemies could take to overcome the pressure brought to bear by Washington on the issues of energy, Iran, and sanctions. This shows that the US is very fearful of de-dollarization, especially coming from its allies.

Bypassing sanctions with currencies other than US dollar, or creating creative finance structures that bypass the SWIFT payment system, are the only means of maintaining relations between countries in spite of Washington’s sanctions. The US strategy is limited in the short term and certainly harmful in the long term for US Dollar financial hegemony.

That Washington’s allies are even entertaining such possibilities places US financial hegemony at great risk in the long run. This worries the American deep state a great deal, even without Trump, who in any case will not be in charge past 2024 (should he be re-elected in 2020).

One of the points of greatest tension is precisely this strategic difference between the Trump administration and the policy makers in the deep state (AKA Langley and Foggy Bottom). While the former can increase the pressure on allies (through NATO, the JCPOA, TTIP and TPP) to obtain immediate solutions and benefits, the latter must above all consider the effects in the medium and long term, which are often harmful for US interests. The imposition of sanctions on Iran, and the obligation of European allies to comply with this directive, is a prime example.

Another of Washington’s strategies revolves around the price of oil. The United States would have no problem seeing the price of crude oil skyrocket. Secretly, many in the administration hope that Iran will take the first false step by closing the Strait of Hormuz (Teheran will not make this move as things stand now); some even hope that the crisis between Canada and Saudi Arabia will have some impact on the cost of crude oil.

Even trade war and tariffs should be seen as part of Trump’s short-term strategy to demonstrate to his base that something is being done against countries that he thinks are taking advantage of the United States. In reality, Trump knows, or should know, that there is no way of stopping China’s growth, a result of globalization that has been the engine of free-market capitalism, making the western elite richer than ever before. Trump deceives his base with trade wars and tariffs, but in the long run the costs will be borne by American consumers, many of whom are Trump’s voters.

Trump thinks in the very short term, constantly aiming to present himself before his electors with a list of ticked boxes ( Peter Lavelle of Crosstalk gets trademark of this definition), confirming that he is fulfilling his electoral promises. In this way he hopes to win the midterms in November. To succeed in this endeavor, the economy must pick up to a gallop (for now this is happening thanks to a series of tax cuts and the continuous pumping of easy money from the Fed) and he must put pressure on his allies as well as aggressively confront Iran, Russia and China through sanctions, cutting energy supplies and forcing Tehran to negotiate once again the nuclear agreement.

What many analysts struggle with when trying to analyse Donald Trump is that there is no overarching strategy uniting his actions into a coherent policy. Trump acts extemporaneously, often with a very short strategic outlook and for internal political motivations.

Nevertheless, if there is something that worries the deep state, it is the long-term impact of tariffs, trade war, sanctions and impositions on allies; or, to put it most simply, de-dollarization. If there is anything that scares the Trump administration, it is remaining entangled in a destabilizing war with Iran that would lead to the early end of the Trump presidency and destroying its legacy, as Bush’s legacy was destroyed by Iraq.

In all this uncoordinated and inconsistent behaviour, there is the hope of a major rise in the price of oil that would help slow down China’s growth and transform the US shale-gas industry into an ultra-profitable business, further boosting the US economy and allowing Trump to present further evidence to his base of his ability to improve their lives.

The United States is in the terminal phase of its unipolar moment and is struggling to come to terms with the downsizing of its role in the world. Its ruling elite cannot accept the prospect of sharing power, preferring to oppose by all means possible the transition to a world order involving more powers. If this situation is already complex for any superpower enough to manage, a president has been elected who has little regard for compromise and mediation.

Ultimately, in addition to an obvious problem in defining Washington’s role in the world over the next few years, the United States finds itself with a president who is in almost open warfare with an important part of the US establishment. The deep state is still living on the hope of impeaching Trump to halt the loss of US influence, deluding themselves that things can return to how they were at the height of the unipolar moment in the 1990s.

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America’s Lengthening Enemies List

17th years in Afghanistan and America’s list of enemies continues to grow.

Patrick J. Buchanan

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Authored by Patrick J. Buchanan


Friday, deep into the 17th year of America’s longest war, Taliban forces overran Ghazni, a provincial capital that sits on the highway from Kabul to Kandahar.

The ferocity of the Taliban offensive brought U.S. advisers along with U.S. air power, including a B-1 bomber, into the battle.

“As the casualty toll in Ghazni appeared to soar on Sunday,” The Wall Street Journal reported, “hospitals were spilling over with dead bodies, corpses lay in Ghazni’s streets, and gunfire and shelling were preventing relatives from reaching cemeteries to bury their dead.”

In Yemen Monday, a funeral was held in the town square of Saada for 40 children massacred in an air strike on a school bus by Saudis or the UAE, using U.S.-provided planes and bombs.

“A crime by America and its allies against the children of Yemen,” said a Houthi rebel leader.

Yemen is among the worst humanitarian situations in the world, and in creating that human-rights tragedy, America has played an indispensable role.

The U.S. also has 2,000 troops in Syria. Our control, with our Kurd allies, of that quadrant of Syria east of the Euphrates is almost certain to bring us into eventual conflict with a regime and army insisting that we get out of their country.

As for our relations with Turkey, they have never been worse.

President Erdogan regards our Kurd allies in Syria as collaborators of his own Kurdish-terrorist PKK. He sees us as providing sanctuary for exile cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan says was behind the attempted coup in 2016 in which he and his family were targeted for assassination.

Last week, when the Turkish currency, the lira, went into a tailspin, President Trump piled on, ratcheting up U.S. tariffs on Turkish aluminum and steel. If the lira collapses and Turkey cannot meet its debt obligations, Erdogan will lay the blame at the feet of the Americans and Trump.

Which raises a question: How many quarrels, conflicts and wars, and with how many adversaries, can even the mighty United States sustain?

In November, the most severe of U.S. sanctions will be imposed on Iran. Among the purposes of this policy: Force as many nations as possible to boycott Iranian oil and gas, sink its economy, bring down the regime.

Iran has signaled a possible response to its oil and gas being denied access to world markets. This August, Iranian gunboats exercised in the Strait of Hormuz, backing up a regime warning that if Iranian oil cannot get out of the Gulf, the oil of Arab OPEC nations may be bottled up inside as well. Last week, Iran test-fired an anti-ship ballistic missile.

Iran has rejected Trump’s offer of unconditional face-to-face talks, unless the U.S. first lifts the sanctions imposed after withdrawing from the nuclear deal.

With no talks, a U.S. propaganda offensive underway, the Iranian rial sinking and the economy sputtering, regular demonstrations against the regime, and new sanctions scheduled for November, it is hard to see how a U.S. collision with Tehran can be avoided.

This holds true as well for Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Last week, the U.S. imposed new sanctions on Russia for its alleged role in the nerve-agent poisoning of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the British town of Salisbury.

Though the U.S. had already expelled 60 Russian diplomats for the poisoning, and Russia vehemently denies responsibility — and conclusive evidence has not been made public and the victims have not been heard from — far more severe sanctions are to be added in November.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is warning that such a U.S. move would cross a red line: “If … a ban on bank operations or currency use follows, it will amount to a declaration of economic war. … And it will warrant a response with economic means, political means and, if necessary, other means.”

That the sanctions are biting is undeniable. Like the Turkish lira and Iranian rial, the Russian ruble has been falling and the Russian people are feeling the pain.

Last week also, a U.S. Poseidon reconnaissance plane, observing China’s construction of militarized islets in the South China Sea, was told to “leave immediately and keep out.”

China claims the sea as its national territory.

And North Korea’s Kim Jong Un apparently intends to hold onto his arsenal of nuclear weapons.

“We’re waiting for the North Koreans to begin the process of denuclearization, which they committed to in Singapore and which they’ve not yet done,” John Bolton told CNN last week.

A list of America’s adversaries here would contain the Taliban, the Houthis of Yemen, Bashar Assad of Syria, Erdogan’s Turkey, Iran, North Korea, Russia and China — a pretty full plate.

Are we prepared to see these confrontations through, to assure the capitulation of our adversaries? What do we do if they continue to defy us?

And if it comes to a fight, how many allies will we have in the battles and wars that follow?

Was this the foreign policy America voted for?

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In Private Meeting, Facebook Exec Warns News Outlets to Cooperate or End Up Dying in ‘Hospice’

“Anyone who does care about news needs to understand Facebook as a fundamental threat.”

The Duran

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Via Common Dreams


During a closed-door and off-the-record meeting last week, top Facebook executive Campbell Brown reportedly warned news publishers that refusal to cooperate with the tech behemoth’s efforts to “revitalize journalism” will leave media outlets dying “like in a hospice.”

Reported first by The Australian under a headline which read “Work With Facebook or Die: Zuckerberg,” the social media giant has insisted the comments were taken out of context, even as five individuals who attended the four-hour meeting corroborated what Brown had stated.

“Mark doesn’t care about publishers but is giving me a lot of leeway and concessions to make these changes,” Brown reportedly said, referring to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “We will help you revitalize journalism… in a few years the reverse looks like I’ll be holding hands with your dying business like in a hospice.”

As The Guardian reported on Monday, Facebook is “vehemently” denying the veracity of the comments as reported by The Australian, referring to its own transcript of the meeting. However, Facebook is refusing to release its transcript and tape of the gathering.

Brown’s warning about the dire prospects for news outlets that don’t get on board with a future in which corporate giants like Facebook are the arbiters of what is and isn’t trustworthy news comes as progressives are raising alarm that Facebook’s entrance into the world of journalism poses a major threat to non-corporate and left-wing news outlets.

As Common Dreams reported in July, progressives’ fears were partly confirmed after Facebook unveiled its first slate of news “segments” as part of its Facebook Watch initiative.

While Facebook claims its initiative is part of an effort to combat “misinformation,” its first series of segments were dominated by such corporate outlets as Fox News and CNN.

Reacting to Brown’s reported assertion that Zuckerberg “doesn’t care about publishers,” Judd Legum, who writes the Popular Information newsletter,argued, “Anyone who does care about news needs to understand Facebook as a fundamental threat.”

“In addition to disputed quote, there are also Facebook’s actions, which are fully consistent with the quote,” Legum added. “We desperately need to develop alternative delivery mechanisms to Facebook.”

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