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Austria, world’s intelligence capital, leans toward Russia

Austria to host Vladimir Putin next week

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If the Russians did it, and insert accusation here, then surely the Austrians would know about it. After all, they’re the intelligence capital of the world.

They’re supposed to be home to the best spies, and perhaps have lots of good ones, themselves.

So, again, if Russia was up to all the nefarious activities that Washington and London keep griping about, then surely they would have some goods on it and therefore know that cozying up to Moscow isn’t the best maneuver. But apparently, they haven’t yet caught on.

NBC news reports:

VIENNA — In a 19th-century kaffeehaus here, a handful of political activists nod their heads while sharing opinions many would consider racist, homophobic and awash with conspiracy theories.

One topic is never far from their lips: These men believe that historically neutral Austria should turn its back on the West and embrace Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“It’s our aim to somehow counter this negative image of Russia propagated in Western media,” Alexander Markovics, 26, says between sips of fizzy apple juice.

“We have to take the side of Russia,” the stocky and bearded Markovics adds. “Russia is a country that gets oppressed and is actually the victim of Western imperialism.”

Here in Austria, pro-Kremlin views aren’t just confined to fringe political meetings.

The country’s government appears to be drifting closer to Putin. With Vienna widely regarded as the spying capital of the world, that has serious implications for Washington and its allies.

One factor is at the heart of these concerns: the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) — which is openly supportive of Russia.

“Austria is economically and politically integrated in the West, but the FPÖ is trying to play the card of being part of the East,” says Gustav Gressel, a former desk officer at the Austrian Ministry of Defense. “If you have an East-West confrontation, you basically have parts of your enemy behind your own lines.”

Founded by former Nazis in the 1950s, the FPÖ has been a junior member of the country’s coalition government since December. As part of that deal, it was given responsibility for Austria’s defense and interior ministries, and with them the domestic and military intelligence services.

The FPÖ won 26 percent of the vote in last year’s legislative elections by deploying anti-establishment, anti-immigrant populist rhetoric that was condemned by opponents as racist, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic.

The party and its leading figures are also unashamedly fans of Putin. The idea of a pro-Russia party controlling intelligence services has led to fears that Western secrets aren’t safe any more if shared with Vienna.

“Austria is part of the European Union defense policy, and whatever is agreed and discussed there will be leaked to Moscow,” predicts Gressel, who is now a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin.

“The issue is trust and mistrust,” says Siegfried Beer, a leading espionage expert at the Austrian Center for Intelligence, Propaganda and Security Studies, who added that in terms of security and dealing with partners, giving the FPÖ control of the intelligence services “was not the best solution.”

Austria’s tradition as a playground for espionage dates back to the 19th century and was immortalized in the 1949 film, “The Third Man.” Spying is legal here unless it’s against the Austrian state itself.

It was therefore no coincidence that Vienna was the venue for a high-profile spy swap between the U.S. and Russia in 2010 involving renowned Russian agent Anna Chapman.

The country’s neutral status — neither part of NATO nor allied to Russia — means it’s home to a large number of nongovernmental and international organizations. Experts say many diplomats working in the city are actually spies, with Beer and others estimating the number at around 7,000.

‘IT STINKS TO HIGH HEAVEN’

The FPÖ is not shy about its affection for Russia.

In 2016, party leader Heinz-Christian Strache signed a formal “cooperation pact” with Putin’s United Russia party — unprecedented for a mainstream political group in Western Europe.

It was not just symbolic. After the deal, the parties agreed to “reinforce the links between our parties and countries, including in the field of international security,” according to United Russia politician Sergei Zheleznyak.

“There’s a cause for concern,” says William Eacho, who served as U.S. ambassador to Austria from 2009 to 2013. “It’s certainly going to give other nations pause when it comes to sharing intelligence with the Austrians.”

Both Eacho and Beer say there is no concrete evidence that the FPÖ has so far used its position in government to help Russia.

But the point, they say, is that Russian links alone would be enough to prompt concern among Western powers.

“In the Austrian Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior, which are controlled by the FPÖ, you have people collaborating with the power you are preparing yourself to go to war against. That’s not very reassuring,” says Gressel, the former defense official.

Others allege that the FPÖ’s fondness for Russia has already had a measurable effect. Austria was one of the few European Union countries that refused to follow the U.K. and others in expelling Russian diplomats after the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter on British soil in March.

The FPÖ’s senior coalition partner is the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP), led by Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz. Kurz, 31, explained that he wouldn’t expel diplomats because he wanted Austria to be a “builder of bridges between East and West” and “to keep the channels of communication to Russia open.”

The FPÖ has also called for an end to anti-Russia sanctions and backed a referendum on leaving the European Union — an institution Putin has long sought to destabilize…

A REBALANCING ACT

Austria’s warmth for Russia is neither new nor confined to the far-right, however.

The Allies and Soviets withdrew from the country in 1955 on the condition it wouldn’t take sides in the Cold War. It entered the E.U. in 1995, but never joined NATO.

Many Austrian citizens appear to have a fondness for Russia, too. More than one-third said they favored softer sanctions after the annexation of Crimea in 2014, according to a poll by the Austrian market research company OGM.

Back in the kaffeehaus, Markovics and his friends say that “heavy” Western “propaganda” over Crimea spurred them into creating their activist group, called the Suworow Institute after a Russian military leader from the 1700s.

The institute employs seven people and has around 100 members, according to its founder, 31-year-old Patrick Poppel.

“We try to present a different perspective especially on Russian foreign policy,” Poppel says, peering through his small, wire-rimmed glasses.

Poppel and Markovics were both members of the FPÖ, but quit because they feel the party hadn’t gone far enough in supporting Moscow while in government. They also say the FPÖ has been too soft on what they call the “Islamization” of Europe by refugees.

They deny any links to the Russian state, and say they are not racist or fascist.

However, Poppel talks of defending “Christian civilization” by closing Austria’s borders to immigrants and Muslims. He also wants to repatriate all those deemed non-indigenous — even though his wife is from Armenia — and speaks out against liberals who advocate “extreme homosexuality and feminism.”

Ultimately, Markovics says, the group believes that “elites” in the U.S. and its allies are dominating Europe, and “making profit out of actions that could lead us directly into nuclear apocalypse.”

They see greater ties with Russia as a way to rebalance that.

‘DEFINITELY NOT A THREAT’

The FPÖ insists its links to Moscow are not problematic.

Johannes Hübner is a lawyer, former FPÖ lawmaker and member of the Austrian-Russian Friendship Society. He withdrew his candidacy in last year’s legislative elections after giving a speech some claimed had anti-Semitic overtones — something he denies.

Speaking to NBC News over eggs and avocado on the veranda of his spacious Vienna apartment, Hübner recounted his time in Parliament.

“As a politician, I used a lot of my energy to lobby for more understanding for Russia and to lobby against cutting ties with Russia again,” he says.

Unlike the fringe Suworow Institute, the Austrian-Russian Friendship Society boasts high-profile politicians, businessmen and academics in Vienna and Moscow among its members.

Its board includes prominent FPÖ lawmaker Johann Gudenus, 41, a square-jawed speaker who studied in Moscow. He is often cited as the prime example of his party’s deep ties with Russia. When contacted by NBC News, Gudenus’ spokesman said he was not available.

Does Hübner see any problem or malice in fostering ties to a country often criticized by Western watchdogs as undemocratic and a human rights abuser?

“It is definitely not a threat,” he says, smiling gently. “I was in politics for almost nine years here and I would have realized if [Russia] tried to influence policy … or if they bribed people for a dark network. It doesn’t exist.”

Like many in the FPÖ, he says building bridges to Russia is important to counterbalance the “overwhelming American influence,” which is too often presented as the “white knight” of global affairs.

“The Moscow influence in Europe is zero,” Hübner adds. “It would be good if we had more influence from Russia. Not 50 percent, but maybe 10 percent or 15 percent. Now it is maybe 1 percent.”

Next week, the Austrian President, Alexander Van der Bellen and Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, are scheduled to host Russian President Vladimir Putin and talk relations as well as economic cooperation. They intend to discuss world events and their perspectives on major issues.

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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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