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Does Russia have the best armed forces in the world?

Russia’s military forces are arguably the most effective in the world today because they possess an unmatched combination of a clearly defined and realistic mission, the ability to wage war at every level, and a strong military tradition.

The Saker

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This article is published with the permission of the author, first published by The Saker.

In my recent article “Risks and Opportunities for 2017” I made a statement which shocked many readers. I wrote:

Russia is now the most powerful country on the planet. (…) the Russian armed forces are probably the most powerful and capable ones on earth (albeit not the largest ones) (…) Russia is the most powerful country on earth because of two things: Russia openly rejects and denounces the worldwide political, economic and ideological system the USA has imposed upon our planet since WWII and because Vladimir Putin enjoys the rock-solid support of about 80%+ of the Russian population. The biggest strength of Russia in 2017 is a moral and a political one, it is the strength of a civilisation which refuses to play by the rules which the West has successfully imposed on the rest of mankind. And now that Russia has successfully “pushed back” others will inevitably follow (again, especially in Asia).

While some dismissed this as rather ridiculous hyperbole, others have asked me to explain who I can to that conclusion. I have to admit that this paragraph is somewhat ambiguous: first I make a specific claim about the capabilities of the Russian military, and then the “evidence” that I present are of a moral and political nature! No wonder that some expressed reservations about this.

Actually, the above is a good example of one of my worst weaknesses: I tend to assume that I write for people who will make the same assumptions I do, look at issues the way I look at them, and understand what is implied. My bad. So today I will try to spell out what I mean and clarify my point of view on this issue. To do this, however, there are a number of premises which I think need to be explicitly spelled out.

First, how does one measure the quality of an armed force and how can armed forces from different countries be compared?

The first thing which need to immediately get out of the way is the absolutely useless practice known as “bean counting”: counting the numbers of tanks, armored personnel carriers, infantry combat vehicles, artillery pieces, aircraft, helicopters and ships for country A and country B and come to some conclusion about which of the two is “stronger”.

This is utterly meaningless.

Next, two more myths need to be debunked: high tech wins wars and big money wins wars. Since I discussed these two myths in some detail elsewhere (here) I won’t repeat it all here.

Next, I submit that the purpose of a military force is to achieve a specific political objective. Nobody goes to war just for the sake of war and “victory” is not a military, but a political concept. So yes, war is the continuation of politics by other means. For example, the successful deterrence of a potential aggressor should be counted as a “victory” or, at least, as a successful performance of your armed forces if their goal was to deter.

The definition of “victory” can include destroying the other guy’s armed forces, of course, but it does not have to.  The British did win the war in the Malvinas/Falkands even though the Argentinian forces were far from destroyed.

Sometimes the purpose of war is genocide, in which case just defeating a military forces is not enough.

Let’s take a recent example: according to an official statement by Vladimir Putin, the official objectives of the Russian military intervention in Syria were to 1) stabilize the legitimate authority and 2) create conditions for a political compromise.

It is undeniable that the Russian armed forces fully reached this two objectives, but they did so without the need for the kind of “victory” which implies a total destruction of your enemies forces.

In fact, Russia could have used nuclear weapons and carpet bombing to wipe Daesh, but that would have resulted in a political catastrophe for Russia. Would that have been a “military victory”? You tell me!

So, if the purpose of a country’s armed forces is to achieve specific and political objectives, this directly implies that saying that some country’s armed forces can do anything, anywhere and at any time is nonsense. You cannot access a military outside a very specific set of circumstances:

1) Where: Space/geographical

2) When: Time/duration

3) What: political objective

Yet, what we see, especially in the USA, is a diametrically opposite approach. It goes something like this:

We have the best trained, best equipped and best armed military on earth; no country can compete with our advanced stealth bombers, nuclear submarines, our pilots are the best trained on the planet, we have advanced network-centric warfare capabilities, global strike, space based reconnaissance and intelligence, we have aircraft carriers, our Delta Force can defeat any terrorist force, we spend more money training our special forces than any other country, we have more ships than any other nation, etc. etc. etc.

This means absolutely nothing. The reality is that the US military played a secondary role in WWII in the European theatre and that after that the only “kinda victory” it achieved is outright embarrassing: Grenada (barely), Panama (almost unopposed).

I would agree that the US military was successful in deterring a Soviet attack, but I would also immediately point out that the Soviets then also successfully deterred a US attack. Is that a victory?

The truth is that China also did not suffer from a Soviet or US attack; does that mean that the Chinese successfully deterred the Soviets or the Americans? If you reply ‘yes’ then you would have to accept that they did that at a fraction of the US costs, so whose military was more effective – the US or the Chinese one?

Then look at all the other US military interventions, there is a decent list here, what did those military operations really achieve. If I had to pick a “least bad one” I would reluctantly pick the Desert Storm which did liberate Kuwait from the Iraqis, but at what cost and with what consequences?!

In the vast majority of cases, when the quality of the Russian armed forces is assessed, it is always in comparison to the US armed forces. But does that make sense to compare the Russian armed forces to a military which has a long record of not achieving the specific political objectives it was given?

Yes, the US armed forces are huge, bloated, they are the most expensive on the planet, the most technology-intensive and their rather mediocre actual performance is systematically obfuscated by the most powerful propaganda machine on the planet. But does any of that make them effective?

I submit that far from being effective, they are fantastically wasteful and amazingly ineffective, at least from a military point of view.

Still dubious?

Okay. Let’s take the “best of the best”: the US special forces. Please name me three successful operations executed by US special forces. No, small size skirmishes against poorly trained and poorly equipped 3rd world insurgents killed in a surprise attack don’t qualify. What would be the US equivalent of, say, Operation Storm-333 or the liberation of the entire Crimean Peninsula without a single person killed? In fact, there is a reason why most Hollywood blockbusters about US special forces are based on abject defeats such as Black Hawk Down or 13 hours.

As for US high-teach, I don’t think that I need to dwell too deeply on the nightmares of the F-35 or the Zumwalt-class destroyer or explain how sloppy tactics made it possible for the Serbian Air Defenses to shoot down a super-secret and putatively “invisible” F-117A in 1999 using an ancient Soviet-era S-125 missile first deployed in 1961!

There is no Schadenfreude for me in reminding everybody of these facts. My point is to try to break the mental reflex which conditions so many people to consider the US military as some kind of measuring stick of how all the other armed forces on the planet do perform.

This reflex is the result of propaganda and ignorance, not any rational reason.

The same goes, by the way, for the other hyper-propagandized military – the Israeli IDF – whose armored forces, pilots and infantrymen are always presented as amazingly well-trained and competent.

The reality is, of course, that in 2006 the IDF could not even secure the small town of Bint Jbeil located just 2 miles from the Israeli border. For 28 days the IDF tried to wrestle the control of Bint Jbeil from second rate Hezbollah forces (Hezbollah kept its first rate forces north of the Litani river to protect Beirut) and totally failed in spite of having a huge numerical and technological superiority.

I have personally spoken to US officers who trained with the IDF and I can tell you that they were totally unimpressed. Just as Afghan guerrillas are absolutely unanimous when they say that the Soviet solider is a much better soldier than the US one.

Speaking of Afghanistan.

Do you remember that the Soviet 40th Army who was tasked with fighting the Afghan “freedom fighters” was mostly under-equipped, under-trained, and poorly supported in terms of logistics? Please read this appalling report about the sanitary conditions of the 40th Army and compare that with the 20 billion dollar per year the US spends on air-conditioning in Afghanistan and Iraq! And then compare the US and Soviet occupations in terms of performance: not only did the Soviets control the entire country during the day (at night the Afghan controlled most of the country side and the roads), they also controlled all the major cities 24/7.

In contrast, the US barely holds on to Kabul and entire provinces are in the hands of the insurgents.

The Soviets built hospitals, dams, airports, roads, bridges, etc. whereas the Americans built exactly nothing.

And, as I already mentioned, in every interview I have seen the Afghans are unanimous: the Soviets were much tougher enemies than the Americans.

I could go on for pages and pages, but let’s stop here and simply accept that the PR image of the US (and Israeli) military has nothing to do with their actual capabilities and performance.

There are things which the US military does very well (long distance deployment, submarine warfare in temperate waters, carrier operations, etc.) but their overall effectiveness and efficiency is pretty low.

So what makes the Russian armed forces so good?

For one thing, their mission, to defend Russia, is commensurate with the resources of the Russian Federation. Even if Putin wanted it, Russia does not have the capabilities to built 10 aircraft carriers, deploy hundreds of overseas bases or spend more on “defense” than the rest of mankind combined. The specific political objective given to the Russian military is quite simple: to deter or repel any attack against Russia.

Second, to accomplish this mission the Russian armed forces need to be able to strike and prevail at a maxial distance of 1000km or less from the Russian border. Official Russian military doctrine places the limits of a strategic offensive operation a bit further and include the complete defeat of enemy forces and occupation of his territory to a depth of 1200km-1500km (Война и Мир в Терминах и Определениях, Дмитрий Рогозин, Москва, Вече, 2011, p.155) but in reality this distance would be much shorter, especially in the case of a defensive counter-attack.

Make no mistake, this remains a formidable task due to the immense length of the Russian border (over 20’000km of border) running over almost every imaginable type of geography, from dry deserts and mountains to the North Pole region.

And here is the amazing thing: the Russian armed forces are currently capable of defeating any conceivable enemy all along this perimeter. Putin himself said so recently when he declared that

We can say with certainty: We are stronger now than any potential aggressor, any!”

I realise that for a mostly American audience this will sound like the typical garden variety claptrap every US officer or politician has to say at every public occasion, but in the Russian context this is something quite new: Putin had never said anything like that before. If anything, the Russian prefer to whine about how numerically superior their adversaries seem to be (well, they are, numerically – which every Russian military analyst knows means nothing).

Numerically, the Russian forces are, indeed, much smaller than NATO’s or China’s. In fact, one could argue for the size of the Russian Federation, the Russian armed forces are rather small. True. But they are formidable, well-balanced in terms of capabilities and they make maximal use of the unique geographical features of Russia.

[Sidebar: Russia is a far more “northern” country than, say, Canada or Norway. Look at where the vast majority of the cities and towns in Canada or Scandinavia are located. Then look at a map of Russia and the latitudes at which the Russian cities are located. The difference is quite striking. Take the example of Novosibirsk, which in Russia is considered a southern Siberian town. It is almost at the same latitude as Edinburgh, Scotland, Grande Prairie, Alberta or Malmö in Sweden]

This is why all the equipment used by the Russian Armed Forces has to be certified operational from temperatures ranging from -50C to +50C (-58F to 122F). Most Western gear can’t even operate in such extremes.

Of course, the same also goes for the Russian solider who is also trained to operate in this range of temperatures.

I don’t think that there is another military out there who can claim to have such capabilities, and most definitely not the American armed forces.

Another myth which must be debunked is the one of Western technological superiority. While it is true that in some specific fields the Soviets were never able to catch up with the West, microchips for example, that did not prevent them from being the first ones to deploy a large list of military technologies such as phased-array radars on interceptors, helmet-mounted sights for pilots, supercavitating underwater missiles, autoloaders on tanks, parachute deployable armored vehicles, double-hulled attack submarines, road-mobile ICBMs, etc.

As a rule, Western weapon systems tend to be more tech-heavy, that is true, but that is not due to a lack of Russian capabilities, but to a fundamental difference in design.

In the West, weapon systems are designed by engineers who cobble together the latest technologies and then design a mission around them. In Russia, the military defines a mission and then seeks the simplest and cheapest technologies which can be used to accomplish it.

This is why the Russian MiG-29 (1982) was not a “fly-by-wire” like the US F-16 (1978) but operated by “old” mechanical flight controls. I would add here that a more advanced airframe and two engines instead of one for the F-16, gave the MiG-29 a superior flight envelope. When needed, however, the Russians did use fly-by-wire, for example, on the Su-27 (1985).

Last but not least, the Russian nuclear forces are currently more modern and much more capable than the comparatively ageing US nuclear triad.  Even the Americans admit that.

So what does that all mean?

This means that in spite of being tasked with an immensely difficult mission, to prevail against any possible enemy along the 20’000+km of the Russian border and to a depth of 1000km, the Russian armed forces have consistently shown that they are capable of fulfilling the specific political objective of either deterring or defeating their potential enemy, be it a Wahabi insurgency (which the Western pundits described as “unbeatable”), a Western trained and equipped Georgian military (in spite of being numerically inferior during the crucial hours of the war and in spite of major problems and weaknesses in command and control), the disarmament of 25’000+ Ukrainian (supposedly “crack”) troops in Crimea without a single shot fired in anger and, of course, the Russian military intervention in the war in Syria were a tiny Russian force turned the tide of the war.

In conclusion, I want to come back to my statement about Russia being the only country which now openly dares to reject the Western civilizational model and whose leader, Vladimir Putin, enjoys the support of 80%+ of the population.

These two factors are crucial in the assessment of the capabilities of the Russian armed forces. Why? Because they illustrate the fact that the Russian soldiers knows exactly what he fights for (or against) and that when he is deployed somewhere, he is not deployed as a tool for Gazprom, Norilsk Nickel, Sberbank or any other Russian corporation: he knows that he is fighting for his country, his people, his culture, for their freedom and safety.

Furthermore, the Russian soldier also knows that the use of military force is not the first and preferred option of his government, but the last one which is used only when all other options have been exhausted. He knows that the Russian High Command, the Kremlin and the General Staff are not hell-bent on finding some small country to beat up just to make an example and scare the others.

Last but not least, the Russian solider is willing to die for his country and while executing any order.  The Russians are quite aware of that and this is why the following circulated on the Runet recently:

Translation: under both photos it says “private of the US/Russian Army, under contract, deployed in a combat zone”. The bottom central text says “One of them needs to be fed, clothed, armed, paid, etc. The other one just needs to be ordered “this way” and he will execute his mission. At any cost”

At the end of the day, the outcome of any war is decided by willpower, I firmly believe that and I also believe that it is the “simple” infantry private who is the most important factor in a war, not the super-trained superman.

In Russia they are sometimes called “makhra” – the young kids from the infantry, not good looking, not particularly macho, with no special gear or training. They are the ones who defeated the Wahabis in Chechnya, at a huge cost, but they did. They are the one which produce an amazing number of heroes who amaze their comrades and enemies with their tenacity and courage. They don’t look too good in parades and they are often forgotten. But they are the ones which defeated more empires than any other and who made Russia the biggest country on earth.

So yes, Russia currently does have the most capable armed forces on the planet.  There are plenty of countries out there who also have excellent armed forces.  But what makes the Russian ones unique is the scope of their capabilities which range from anti-terrorist operations to international nuclear war combined with the amazing resilience and willpower of the Russian solider.

There are plenty of things the Russian military cannot do, but unlike the US armed forces, the Russian military was never designed to do anything, anywhere, anytime (aka “win two and a half wars” anywhere on the planet).

For the time being, the Russians are watching how the US cannot even take a small city like Mosul, even though it had to supplement the local forces with plenty of US and NATO “support” and they are unimpressed, to say the least.

But Hollywood will surely make a great blockbuster from this embarrassing failure and there will be more medals handed out than personnel involved (this is what happened after the Grenada disaster).

And the TV watching crowd will be reassured that “while the Russians did make some progress, their forces are still a far cry from their Western counterparts”.

Who cares?

(EDITOR’S POSTSCRIPT: In this article – republished with his permission – the Saker makes some interesting comparisons between the success of Russian Special Forces operations and the contrasting failure of such operations when carried out on a large scale by US Special Forces.

The most notorious failure of a US Special Forces operation in my lifetime was the failure of the US Special Forces operation in 1980 intended to free the hostages held in the US embassy in Tehran.

The most spectacularly successful Russian Special Forces operation carried out in my lifetime is one which is scarcely ever discussed today, since it was the Soviet seizure of Prague airport in 1968.

The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 was a moral and political disaster, and it is completely understandable that no one – including in Russia – today wants to talk about it.  This has however detracted from a proper appreciation of the success of the military side of the operation.
Consider the problems the USSR faced when it decided to invade Czechoslovakia in 1968.  Czechoslovakia was an advanced European country with a modern military, on the face of it a far more formidable adversary than any state the US has fought since the Second World War.  All US military action since the end of the Second World War with the exception of the 1999 Yugoslav bombing war has taken place in what was once called the Third World against states with far less advanced militaries than its own.  By contrast the Czechoslovak military in 1968 was technological roughly equivalent to the Soviet, though of course far smaller and with a much smaller range of capabilities.  By contrast every adversary the US has fought since the Second World War – even including Yugoslavia – has been economically and technologically overwhelmingly outmatched.
For the USSR a war in Europe in 1968 with Czechoslovakia would have been a total catastrophe.  Whilst the USSR undoubtedly had a good intelligence operation in Prague, no one in Moscow could have been sure before the invasion was launched that the Czech government and the Czech military would not resist if given the opportunity to do so.
That was an eventuality which had to be avoided at all costs; and it was, through a spectacular coup de main involving the seizure of Prague airport by a Special Forces unit and the subsequent arrest in Prague by Airborne troops of the whole of the Czech government during the course of a single night (20th-21st August 1968), before resistance could be organised or orders to resist could be given, and before most Czechs were even awake and realised what was happening.
I have never known the US undertake anything comparable with such success.  The contrast with the messy US operations against Grenada in 1983 and Panama in 1989 (both far weaker foes than Czechoslovakia was in 1968), and the over extended operations against Saddam Hussein in 1990 and 2003, is striking, whilst the contrast with the murderously long bombing campaigns against Yugoslavia in 1999, Afghanistan in 2001 and Libya in 2011, is more painful still.
One of the benefits of this decisive and rapid Russian approach is that few die.  Compare for example the limited casualties amongst civilians from the Soviet operations in Prague in 1968 (72 civilians killed) and Kabul in 1979 (no civilians killed), with the number of civilians killed in the roughly comparable US operations against much weaker foes in Grenada in 1983 (24 civilians killed) and Panama City in 1989 (200 to 500 civilians killed).
I also have the clear impression that the Russian military today is much better than the Soviet military was in its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s.  That this is so is shown by the contrast between the logistic strength of the Russian military’s current operation in Syria by comparison with that of the Soviet military in Afghanistan in the 1980s.  The reason for that almost certainly is the far greater care today’s Russia shows its soldiers – AM).

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I really don’t know where to start correcting your factual errors but I’ll list as few. The Russian military is crap. Why? It has technology but no money. You have one tiny aircraft carrier that breaks down constantly. Most of your tanks are the outdated T72 because Russia can’t afford to equip it’s army with it’s most modern tank. Your top Sukoi fighter plane is only for export because your military can’t afford it. In Syria your air force drops unguided bombs because you cannot afford laser guided bombs. That makes me laugh. You do not produce any exports except… Read more »

Alex
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Well you are dumb and did not use your brain after reading it seems. Unguided bombs? Those are CABs, Correctable Aviation Bombs. They are guided. And for ungided bombs russians have “Hermes” targeting computer which allows them to drop ungided bombs with only 10 meters mistake. T-72 has a lot of modifications and shells than can pierce Derpbrams. Bitch please, read more on topics spoken. You have no idea what crap you just burped out.
Also thats not a carrier, thats an aircarrying cruiser. If you have no idea what it is, then you are dumber than I thought.

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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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Bercow blocks Brexit vote, May turns to EU for lifeline (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 112.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss Theresa May’s latest Brexit dilemma, as House of Commons Speaker John Bercow, shocked the world by citing a 1604 precedent that now effectively blocks May’s third go around at trying to pass her treacherous Brexit deal through the parliament.

All power now rests with the Brussels, as to how, if and when the UK will be allowed to leave the European Union.

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Via Bloomberg


Theresa May claims Brexit is about taking back control. Ten days before the U.K. is due to leave the European Union, it looks like anything but.

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow’s intervention, citing precedent dating back to 1604, to rule out a repeat vote on May’s already defeated departure deal leaves the prime minister exposed ahead of Thursday’s EU summit in Brussels.

Bercow, whose cries of “Orrdurrr! Orrdurrr!’’ to calm rowdy lawmakers have gained him a devoted international following, is now the pivotal figure in the Brexit battle. May’s team privately accuse him of trying to frustrate the U.K.’s exit from the EU, while the speaker’s admirers say he’s standing up for the rights of parliament against the executive.

If just one of the 27 other states declines May’s summit appeal to extend the divorce timetable, then the no-deal cliff edge looms for Britain’s departure on March 29. If they consent, it’s unclear how May can meet Bercow’s test that only a substantially different Brexit agreement merits another vote in parliament, since the EU insists it won’t reopen negotiations.

Caught between Bercow and Brussels, May’s room for maneuver is shrinking. Amid rumblings that their patience with the U.K. is near exhaustion, EU leaders are girding for the worst.

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President Putin signs law blocking fake news, 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. 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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