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The Stalinist Witch-Hunt Against Russian Athletes

The campaign to ban Russian athletes is an unethical and grossly political affair.

Alexander Mercouris

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When the doping scandal involving Russian athletes first broke I wrote a piece for Sputnik in which I said that an across the board ban on Russian athletes would be contrary to the principles of the Olympic movement and would be openly and grossly discriminatory. 

Reversing the standard of proof and barring athletes against whom there is no evidence simply because they happen to be Russians would be so obviously wrong and unjust that it would inevitably raise questions about the motives of those behind it.  These were the words I used:

“The Russian authorities are challenging some of the allegations — as it is their right to do — but look to be genuinely offering cooperation to help solve the problem. For example, they have offered to appoint a foreign specialist to head their laboratory. The right thing to do is not to impose a blanket ban but to work with the Russian authorities so that the problem can be solved. That may involve bringing criminal charges and imposing individual bans on specific persons, barring them from involvement in international sports training and competition.

If that does not happen and a blanket ban on Russian athletes is imposed instead, then it seems to me that the world’s sporting bodies will not only have retreated from their ideals but will open themselves up to questions about what their real motives are.”

Since I wrote those words it has unfortunately become all too clear that the concerns I expressed in the final paragraph were only too justified.

The Russians do not deny that there has been a doping problem in Russian sport and seem to have made a genuine effort to respond to the concerns of the international sporting bodies.  Though it is barely reported in the West, since January samples of all Russian track and field athletes are sent to Britain for testing.  Russian athletes now engaging in doping would presumably have to fool or gain the cooperation of the British authorities in order to do it.  Neither seems very likely.  The Russians have also banned the individuals they allege were involved in doping from further involvement in sport, and have brought criminal charges against some of them.

Notwithstanding these steps, since January there has been an escalating campaign to discredit Russian sports and to have Russian athletes banned from the Olympic Games, which are due to take place in Rio de Janeiro.  It first began with a media campaign against Russia’s Maria Sharapova, Russia’s iconic tennis champion.  Sharapova was banned for using meldonium, a Soviet era medicine still made in Latvia which is very commonly used in the former USSR, and which it was perfectly legal for athletes to use until just the beginning of this year.

The Russians have made it fairly clear they think the reason meldonium was placed on the list of prohibited substances is because Western athletes don’t take it as it is hardly known in the West.  By contrast many Russian athletes do take it – as do many other Russians – for purely medical reasons.  Though Sharapova only took the medicine for a period of 2 weeks after it was prohibited, a media campaign was launched against her in the West, and she was banned from international tennis competition for 2 years.

Not only does this seem grossly disproportionate but it ignores the fact that Sharapova’s explanation – that she took the medicine for purely medical reasons on the advice of her doctor and continued to take it because she missed the email informing her it was banned – is probably true.  If Sharapova had really been taking the medicine to enhance her performance she would presumably have kept the fact she was taking it secret and would have kept a careful eye out in case it was banned, taking immediate steps to conceal her use when it was banned.  That she did none of these things is a strong sign her actions were innocent as she says, and that her perfectly plausible explanation is true.  That the US sports fashion group Nike continues to work with her shows they too believe her explanation is true.

The Sharapova affair however was merely the first act to the drama.  A series of articles appeared in The New York Times and the London Times making lurid allegations of systematic Russian state involvement in doping Russian athletes, and a series of documentaries making the same claims also appeared on German television. 

These allegations are largely based on claims made by individuals the Russian authorities claim were involved in doping, including Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of Moscow’s anti-doping laboratory.  Some of these individuals are the subject of criminal proceedings brought against them by the Russian authorities, including Rodchenkov who has fled abroad.  By contrast these same individuals in the West are called “whistleblowers”, with their allegations assumed to be true.  When the allegations and proceedings the Russians are bringing against them are reported – which is rarely – they are represented as attempts by the Russian authorities to punish and discredit them. 

Followers of the Magnitsky and other affairs will be familiar with the pattern whereby individuals charged with serious crimes in Russia are called “whistleblowers” in the West.  The key point to take away however is that (as is the case in the Magnitsky affair) none of the allegations either by or against these individuals have ever been proved to be true in any contested legal proceedings in any court, even though the allegations involve serious criminal offences.

These media stories were timed to coincide with the meeting of the International Association of Athletics Federations (“IAAF”) on 17th June 2017, which upheld the ban on Russian track and field athletes attending the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.  As if to make sure the decision went the “right” way, a series of hostile articles appeared just before the meeting in the British media which made serious accusations against Lord Coe, the IAAF’s President, with one British Conservative MP even threatening to have him investigated by the British Parliament.  That the intention behind the articles was to pressure Lord Coe and the IAAF to impose a blanket ban on Russian track and field athletes is strongly suggested by the way some of the articles all but accused him of covering up for the Russians in the past.  Perhaps not surprisingly, once the blanket ban on the Russian athletes was announced the media campaign in Britain against Lord Coe stopped.

The sequel to the IAAF ban is that Russian athletes have appealed against the ban to the Court of Arbitration for Sports in Lausanne.  However, in what obviously was not a coincidence, on the first day of the hearing on 18th July 2016 the international anti-doping agency WADA released a report, drawing heavily on Rodchenkov’s claims, which again alleges systematic state involvement in doping of Russian athletes, this time at the winter Olympics in Sochi. 

Even more interesting than the WADA report itself is that it finally made clear who is actually behind the campaign to prevent Russian athletes from attending the Rio Games.  The report was leaked before it was published to the US and Canadian sports authorities, who used it to lobby the International Olympic Committee (“IOC”) to have the entire Russian team, not just the track and field athletes, banned from the Rio Games.  The fact that the leak has compromised WADA’s appearance of independence, and the ethical issues involved in the sporting bodies of two countries lobbying the IOC for a blanket ban of the athletes of a third country, appears to have shocked some European sports officials.  That however is unlikely to concern those behind the campaign, not to mention their media allies.

This is becoming a very ugly affair.  Those who demand a wholesale banning of Russian athletes are not saying they will be using prohibited substances if they go to Rio.  In the case of the Russian athletes, whose samples are now being tested in Britain, that is now for all practical purposes either impossible, or at least extremely difficult.  Nor do they say what they want the Russians to do beyond what they have done already. 

Instead they demand that athletes against whom there is no evidence of previous wrongdoing and who there is now every reason to think will be competing in Rio cleanly, should be banned because of allegations of wrongdoing against other athletes and sports officials with whom they happen to share the same nationality.  That is collective punishment of people belonging to the same national group as well as guilt by association, practices formerly considered unacceptable in civilised countries.  

Those behind the campaign have even at times come close to saying that the Russians should confess that the allegations of systematic state involvement in doping are true if they want Russian athletes to be allowed to compete in Rio.  That it is profoundly wrong and unethical to bully a confession out of someone should be obvious.  In this case, if such a confession were ever given, it would almost certainly be treated as proof of the guilt  of every Russian athlete who has ever competed in international sports competitions.  A campaign to strip them of their titles and their medals would surely follow.

In fact what this affair most resembles is a Stalinist witch-hunt.  Wild allegations of a conspiracy based on the evidence of a few compromised individuals are treated as proof of guilt against an entire class of persons.  Demands for confessions and for stern punishments of those declared guilty follow.  The presumption of innocence is cast aside, the burden of proof is reversed, and due process is ignored.

One demand more than any other demonstrates how ugly this affair has become.  The IAAF and now the sports bodies of the US and Canada are not only demanding that Russian athletes prove their innocence before they can take part in the Games.  They also demand that even if athletes prove their innocence, they should only be allowed to take part in the Games as “neutrals” and not as Russians.  Thus even if proved innocent Russian athletes would have to deny their nation and their country – foregoing the right to wear its colours or hear its anthem if they win.  

The IOC has up to now rejected this truly outrageous demand.  Time will show whether it stands its ground.

If the case in Lausanne were simply being decided on legal principles there is no doubt the Russian athletes would win.  Imposing a blanket ban on athletes of one country simply because they happen to be citizens of that country when there is no evidence against them is wrong at so many levels it is difficult to believe any court would allow it.  However one has to face the reality that even courts that were once genuinely independent and impartial now find themselves increasingly used as weapons in what is coming to be called “lawfare”.   It is therefore no longer possible to take anything for granted. 

We shall know the answer on Thursday 21st July 2016, when the Court will publish its decision, from which be it noted there is no appeal.

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Understanding the Holodomor and why Russia says nothing

A descendant of Holodomor victims takes the rest of us to school as to whether or not Russia needs to shoulder the blame.

Seraphim Hanisch

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One of the charges that nationalist Ukrainians often lodge against their Russian neighbors is that the Russian government has never acknowledged or formally apologized to Ukraine for the “Holodomor” that took place in Ukraine in 1932-1933. This was a man-made famine that killed an estimated seven to 10 million Ukrainians , though higher estimates claim 12.5 million and lower ones now claim 3.3 million.

No matter what the total was, it amounts to a lot of people that starved to death. The charge that modern-day Russia ought to apologize for this event is usually met with silence, which further enrages those Ukrainians that believe that this issue must be resolved by the Russian acknowledgement of responsibility for it. Indeed, the prime charge of these Ukrainians is that the Russians committed a genocide against the Ukrainian people. This is a claim Russia denies.

To the outside observer who does not know this history of Russia and Ukraine’s relationship, and who does not know or understand the characteristics of the Soviet Union, this charge seems as simple and laid out as that of the Native Americans or the blacks demanding some sort of recompense or restitution for the damages inflicted on these societies through conquest and / or slavery. But we discovered someone who had family connections involved in the Holodomor, and who offers her own perspective, which is instructive in why perhaps the Russian Federation does not say anything about this situation.

Scene in Kharkiv with dead from the famine 1932-33 lying along the street.

The speaker is Anna Vinogradova, a Russian Israeli-American, who answered the question through Quora of “Why doesn’t Russia recognize the Holodomor as a genocide?” She openly admits that she speaks only for herself, but her answer is still instructive. We offer it here, with some corrections for the sake of smooth and understandable English:

I can’t speak for Russia and what it does and doesn’t recognize. I can speak for myself.

I am a great-granddaughter of a “Kulak” (кулак), or well-to-do peasant, who lived close to the Russia/Ukraine border.

The word “кулак” means “fist” in Russian, and it wasn’t a good thing for a person to be called by this label. A кулак was an exploiter of peasants and a class enemy of the new state of workers and poor peasants. In other words, while under Communism, to be called a кулак was to bring a death sentence upon yourself.

At some point, every rural class enemy, every peasant who wasn’t a member of a collective farm was eliminated one way or another.

Because Ukraine has very fertile land and the Ukrainian style of agriculture often favors individual farms as opposed to villages, there is no question that many, many Ukrainian peasants were considered class enemies like my great grandfather, and eliminated in class warfare.

I have no doubt that class warfare included starvation, among other things.

The catch? My great grandfather was an ethnic Russian living in Russia. What nationality were the communists who persecuted and eventually shot him? They were of every nationality there was (in the Soviet Union), and they were led by a Ukrainian, who was taking orders from a Georgian.

Now, tell me, why I, a descendant of an unjustly killed Russian peasant, need to apologize to the descendants of the Ukrainians who killed him on the orders of a Georgian?

What about the Russian, Kazakh golodomor (Russian rendering of the same famine)? What about the butchers, who came from all ethnicities? Can someone explain why it’s only okay to talk about Ukrainian victims and Russian persecutors? Why do we need to rewrite history decades later to convert that brutal class war into an ethnic war that it wasn’t?

Ethnic warfare did not start in Russia until after WWII, when some ethnicities were accused of collaboration with the Nazis and brutal group punishments were implemented. It was all based on class up to that time.

The communists of those years were fanatically internationalist. “Working people of all countries, unite!” was their slogan and they were fanatical about it.

As for the crimes of Communism, Russia has been healing this wound for decades, and Russia’s government has made its anticommunist position very clear.

This testimony is most instructive. First, it points out information that the charge of the Holodomor as “genocide!” neatly leaves out. In identifying the internationalist aspects of the Soviet Union, Ukraine further was not a country identified as somehow worthy of genocidal actions. Such a thought makes no sense, especially given the great importance of Ukraine as the “breadbasket” of the Soviet Union, which it was.

Secondly, it shows a very western-style of “divide to conquer” with a conveniently incendiary single-word propaganda tool that is no doubt able to excite any Ukrainian who may be neutral to slightly disaffected about Russia, and then after that, all Ukrainians are now victims of the mighty evil overlords in Moscow.

How convenient is this when the evil overlords in Kyiv don’t want their citizens to know what they are doing?

We saw this on Saturday – taken to a very high peak when President Petro Poroshenko announced the new leading “Hierarch” of the “Ukrainian National Church” and said not one single word about Christ, but only:

“This day will go down in history as the day of the creation of an autocephalous Orthodox church in Ukraine… This is the day of the creation of the church as an independent structure… What is this church? It is a church without Putin. It is a church without Kirill, without prayer for the Russian authorities and the Russian army.”

But as long as Russia is made the “problem”, millions of scandalized Ukrainians will not care what this new Church actually does or teaches, which means it is likely to teach just about anything.

Russia had its own Holodomor. The history of the event shows that this was a result of several factors – imposed socialist economics on a deeply individualized form of agrarian capitalism (bad for morale and worse for food production), really inane centralized planning of cropland use, and a governmental structure that really did not exist to serve the governed, but to impose an ideology on people who really were not all that interested in it.

Personal blame might well lay with Stalin, a Georgian, but the biggest source of the famine lay in the structures imposed under communism as a way of economic strategy. This is not Russia’s fault. It is the economic model that failed.

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Mueller Finally Releases Heavily Redacted Key Flynn Memo On Eve Of Sentencing

Alex Christoforou

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Via Zerohedge


Having initially snubbed Judge Emmet Sullivan’s order to release the original 302 report from the Michael Flynn interrogation in January 2017, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has finally produced the heavily redacted document, just hours before sentencing is due to be handed down.

The memo  – in full below – details then-national security adviser Michael Flynn’s interview with FBI agents Peter Strzok and Joe Pientka, and shows Flynn was repeatedly asked about his contacts with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and in each instance, Flynn denied (or did not recall) any such conversations.

The agents had transcripts of Flynn’s phone calls to Russian Ambassador Kislyak, thus showing Flynn to be lying.

Flynn pleaded guilty guilty last December to lying to the FBI agents about those conversations with Kislyak.

The redactions in the document seem oddly placed but otherwise, there is nothing remarkable about the content…

Aside from perhaps Flynn’s incredulity at the media attention…

Flynn is set to be sentenced in that federal court on Tuesday.

Of course, as Christina Laila notes, the real crime is that Flynn was unmasked during his phone calls to Kislyak and his calls were illegally leaked by a senior Obama official to the Washington Post.

*  *  *

Full document below…

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Don’t Laugh : It’s Giving Putin What He Wants

The fact of the matter is that humorous lampooning of western establishment Russia narratives writes itself.

Caitlin Johnstone

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Authored by Caitlin Johnstone:


The BBC has published an article titled “How Putin’s Russia turned humour into a weapon” about the Kremlin’s latest addition to its horrifying deadly hybrid warfare arsenal: comedy.

The article is authored by Olga Robinson, whom the BBC, unhindered by any trace of self-awareness, has titled “Senior Journalist (Disinformation)”. Robinson demonstrates the qualifications and acumen which earned her that title by warning the BBC’s audience that the Kremlin has been using humor to dismiss and ridicule accusations that have been leveled against it by western governments, a “form of trolling” that she reports is designed to “deliberately lower the level of discussion”.

“Russia’s move towards using humour to influence its campaigns is a relatively recent phenomenon,” Robinson explains, without speculating as to why Russians might have suddenly begun laughing at their western accusers. She gives no consideration to the possibility that the tightly knit alliance of western nations who suddenly began hysterically shrieking about Russia two years ago have simply gotten much more ridiculous and easier to make fun of during that time.

Couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the emergence of a demented media environment wherein everything around the world from French protests to American culture wars to British discontent with the European Union gets blamed on Russia without any facts or evidence. Wherein BBC reporters now correct guests and caution them against voicing skepticism of anti-Russia narratives because the UK is in “an information war” with that nation. Wherein the same cable news Russiagate pundit can claim that both Rex Tillerson’s hiring and his later firing were the result of a Russian conspiracy to benefit the Kremlin. Wherein mainstream outlets can circulate blatantly false information about Julian Assange and unnamed “Russians” and then blame the falseness of that reporting on Russian disinformation. Wherein Pokemon Go, cutesy Facebook memes and $4,700 in Google ads are sincerely cited as methods by which Hillary Clinton’s $1.2 billion presidential campaign was outdone. Wherein conspiracy theories that Putin has infiltrated the highest levels of the US government have been blaring on mainstream headline news for two years with absolutely nothing to show for it to this day.

Nope, the only possibility is that the Kremlin suddenly figured out that humor is a thing.

The fact of the matter is that humorous lampooning of western establishment Russia narratives writes itself. The hypocrisy is so cartoonish, the emotions are so breathlessly over-the-top, the stories so riddled with plot holes and the agendas underlying them so glaringly obvious that they translate very easily into laughs. I myself recently authored a satire piece that a lot of people loved and which got picked up by numerous alternative media outlets, and all I did was write down all the various escalations this administration has made against Russia as though they were commands being given to Trump by Putin. It was extremely easy to write, and it was pretty damn funny if I do say so myself. And it didn’t take any Kremlin rubles or dezinformatsiya from St Petersburg to figure out how to write it.

“Ben Nimmo, an Atlantic Council researcher on Russian disinformation, told the BBC that attempts to create funny memes were part of the strategy as ‘disinformation for the information age’,” the article warns. Nimmo, ironically, is himself intimately involved with the British domestic disinformation firm Integrity Initiative, whose shady government-sponsored psyops against the Labour Party have sparked a national scandal that is likely far from reaching peak intensity.

“Most comedy programmes on Russian state television these days are anodyne affairs which either do not touch on political topics, or direct humour at the Kremlin’s perceived enemies abroad,” Robinson writes, which I found funny since I’d just recently read an excellent essay by Michael Tracey titled “Why has late night swapped laughs for lusting after Mueller?”

“If the late night ‘comedy’ of the Trump era has something resembling a ‘message,’ it’s that large segments of the nation’s liberal TV viewership are nervously tracking every Russia development with a passion that cannot be conducive to mental health – or for that matter, political efficacy,” Tracey writes, documenting numerous examples of the ways late night comedy now has audiences cheering for a US intelligence insider and Bush appointee instead of challenging power-serving media orthodoxies as programs like The Daily Show once did.

If you wanted the opposite of “anodyne affairs”, it would be comedians ridiculing the way all the establishment talking heads are manipulating their audiences into supporting the US intelligence community and FBI insiders. It would be excoriating the media environment in which unfathomably powerful world-dominating government agencies are subject to less scrutiny and criticism than a man trapped in an embassy who published inconvenient facts about those agencies. It certainly wouldn’t be the cast of Saturday Night Live singing “All I Want for Christmas Is You” to a framed portrait if Robert Mueller wearing a Santa hat. It doesn’t get much more anodyne than that.

Russia makes fun of western establishment narratives about it because those narratives are so incredibly easy to make fun of that they are essentially asking for it, and the nerdy way empire loyalists are suddenly crying victim about it is itself more comedy. When Guardian writer Carole Cadwalladr began insinuating that RT covering standard newsworthy people like Julian Assange and Nigel Farage was a conspiracy to “boost” those people for the advancement of Russian agendas instead of a news outlet doing the thing that news reporting is, RT rightly made fun of her for it. Cadwalladr reacted to RT’s mockery with a claim that she was a victim of “attacks”, instead of the recipient of perfectly justified ridicule for circulating an intensely moronic conspiracy theory.

Ah well. People are nuts and we’re hurtling toward a direct confrontation with a nuclear superpower. Sometimes there’s nothing else to do but laugh. As Wavy Gravy said, “Keep your sense of humor, my friend; if you don’t have a sense of humor it just isn’t funny anymore.”

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