COMMENTS FROM THE LOCKED WARD

(Miscellaneous comments from pieces dealing with Russia I’ve collected. Most of them anonymous or with pseudonyms, they illustrate either rabid hostility to everything Russian or stone-dead ignorance of reality. I post from time to time when I see them, spelling mistakes and all.)

Libyans ousted a dictator, but an ensuing civil war has
drawn in Russia, Turkey and others with a thirst for control

Washington Post

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 25 FEBRUARY 2021

FAKE NEWS. Hackers or leakers (“We are Anonymous”) have released documents (1, 2, 3, 4) showing that a lot of “trusted news sources” are actually outlets for London-directed propaganda. All under sanctimonious claims of “democracy-promotion” or countering “disinformation”. (Apparently, “disinformation” is most dangerous when it’s true: “Another barrier to combating disinformation is the fact that certain Kremlin-backed narratives are factually true…”). Credit to Max Blumenthal (“…revealing Reuters and the BBC as apparent intelligence cut-outs feasting at the trough of a British national security state…”), Kit Klarenberg (“Thomson Reuters Foundation… has engaged in information warfare initiatives on behalf of Whitehall.”), Neil Clark (“The double standards are off the scale.”) and the hackers/leakers themselves for telling you what the corrupt “trusted sources” never will. Summary by Andrew Korybko. It’s an information war against Russia and I remind you of two good rules. First: when NATO accuses Russia of doing something, it is an admission that NATO is already doing it; it’s all projection. Second: pretend you’re a Soviet citizen reading Pravda when you read Western “news” media.

DISILLUSION. Read this (translation) (original). The author is one of the most liberal people in Russia. He’s had it with Europe – a “New Ethical Reich”; “You just need to unhook this carriage, cross yourself and start building your own world.” Published in Russia’s most liberal paper and causing quite a stir.

MULTI-ETHNIC. Putin (search on Neanderthal nationalism) stresses that the slogan “Russia only for [ethnic] Russians” (Россия только для русских) is bad for the country, for [ethnic] Russians and ahistorical. He is correct – Russia has always had different peoples and religions. This is the reason for the choice of the four “recognised religions”: there have always been Orthodox Christians, Muslims, Jews and Buddhists in “the Russian lands”. It’s also why there are two words for “Russian” – one meaning ethnic, the other political. I would also observe that, in contrast with North America, the native peoples of the Russian Federation still live where they have always lived.

NAVALNIY. No longer “prisoner of conscience” to Amnesty International. They noticed cockroaches.

SOCIAL MEDIA. Levada poll shows its importance. Online sources (combining social media and internet news) now beat TV for news. Worth noting that FB and Twitter score low. VK is number one.

CONSISTENT. Putin’s views on the Soviet experiment haven’t changed: a Bolshevik “time bomb” (1991). “Road to a blind alley” (1999). 2016. McFaul is equally consistent.

ARCTIC OCEAN IS A RUSSIAN LAKE. More evidence.

NORILSK NIKEL. A diesel spill last year resulted in a two billion USD fine; a building has just collapsed. Potanin, the owner, admits responsibility. Potanin was one of the seven men who, according to Berezovskiy, owned Russia in the 1990s. He took Putin’s warning to heart and concentrated on business.

RUSSIA-IRAN. Another naval exercise in the Indian Ocean. (Video)

WESTERN VALUES™. Insulting war veterans: in the UK bad; in Russia OK.

I WAS WRONG calling NATO a paper tiger – it’s a paper pussycat dreaming it’s a tiger. Very dangerous; take the UK for example: one the one hand, it cuts troops and on the other it funds war propaganda. This will not have a good ending.

DEFENDER OF THE FATHERLAND DAY. From one of the greatest generals ever: “Fight the enemy with the weapons he lacks.” Russia has air defence, hypersonic missiles and EW; NATO hasn’t.

GPS. Has Russia figured out how to spoof GPS? In which case, the war will be over before it begins. Russia has its own system and I’ll bet it’s EW-hard. China has its own system too.

AMERICA’S BACK. Back in Afghanistan; back in Germany; back in Iraq, back in Syria, back to Trump is a Russian agent. Back to Assad must go. And she’s back. Back.

FLAT LEARNING CURVE. A great takedown of the Baker’s husband’s appeal to repeat past failures: “Robert Kagan Diagnosed America’s Biggest Problem: Americans Who Don’t Want To Run the World“.

THE DEATH OF IRONY. NATO GenSek: “China and Russia are at the forefront of an authoritarian pushback against rules-based international order.” To which I answer: Libya.

SOUTH. Trouble brewing in Georgia and Armenia. Neither very prosperous or stable and that not helped by US/NATO destabilising.

UKRAINE. The only thing he’s missed in the unfolding Ukraine disaster is the possibility of a major nuclear power station accident.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

NAVALNIY AND TREASON

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

(Thanks to John Helmer who, as far as I know, was the first to suggest that Moscow is preparing a treason accusation against him.)

On 1 February RT published a video taken by the FSB of a meeting between Second Secretary Ford of the British Embassy in Moscow, identified by the FSB as an SIS officer, and Vladimir Ashurkov at a restaurant in Moscow. The video was filmed some time in 2012. Ashurkov is the Executive Director of Navalniy’s Anti-Corruption Foundation; he is presently living in the UK where he sought refuge after being charged with embezzlement. In the video he is making a pitch for financial support to the tune of “10, 20 million dollars a year” not, he assures Ford, “a big amount of money for people who have billions at stake”. In short, invest in us us and, when we take over, we’ll pay you back. With interest. Big interest. In the meantime, perhaps Ford could get him some kompromat for use inside Russia. In a word, he’s trying to sell Russia to a foreign power. Which, by any standards, is treason. Ford is non-committal and merely suggests that Ashurkov look to one of the foreign NGOs that the British fund. (It should be understood that the “N” in “NGO”, is silent like the “p” in “pseudo”.). But, given that the video was made six or seven years ago, we don’t know whether the British or others took up Ashurkov on his offer. But we can be reasonably sure that the FSB knows the answer to the question.

I believe that the publication of this video marks a major step towards the Russian government charging Navalniy and his organisation with treason. Note that RT attached to its report a discussion of the famous “spy rock”. Utter nonsense: “alleged… allegedly… allegations”, a “fabrication”, more “pressure against Russian NGOs” RFE/RL assured us in 2006; “they had us bang to rights” admitted a British official in 2012. The FSB has cleverly disarmed the expected cries of fake! setup! lies! and other denials from the West by reminding everyone that it was the FSB that told the truth that time.

Security services hate revealing anything. Their unvarying intention is to hang onto information because a little bit of information can be nursed into a lot of information: a seed revealed is just a seed, but a seed kept and nurtured can grow into a forest. I recommend Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America to show how the ancestors of Russia’s security organisations nurtured every little seed until they grew so big a network in the American government that they were probably better informed than the White House. So, to get them to give up a seed is a big step. It doesn’t happen, as they say, by accident.

Consider what seeds and seedlings the FSB gave up with this video.

The video exposed a man the FSB had identified as British intelligence. They could have marked him, followed his career, noticed with whom he associated, where he went, whom he met. Fed him false information, exposed his network, found others, followed them and, who knows, turned or compromised some. Now, he’s blown and probably won’t go anywhere near the Russian world again. The British will be back-checking his contacts and network and making a damage assessment and probably shutting things down. So, the FSB gave up years of exposure and mapping of networks.

The video also reveals the degree to which the FSB is following Navalniy’s organisation. Everyone assumed that it was, of course, but it appears that the surveillance team was waiting in the restaurant. So that gives away another part of the FSB’s modus operandi. For all we know, the restaurant was a favourite place of the Navalniy organisation; not any more: they won’t be going there again.

Note how good the sound recording is. That would presumably reveal something about the technology and trade-craft the FSB possesses. I’m sure that, to those who know these things, other details of trade-craft and equipment were revealed as well.

It is an easy deduction that the FSB has more information that it has not revealed: for example whether Ashurkov’s pitch resulted in a sale. (Note that Navalniy’s organisation receives a certain amount of funds via the anonymous Bitcoin). Neither has it revealed any other videos of similar sales pitches that one must assume it has. One can only assume that the FSB already has a good case and can trace the money.

As everyone knows, Navalniy fell sick on a flight inside Russia and a few days later, wound up in a hospital in Germany saying he had been poisoned with novichok. While the ever-changing story requires the reader to completely suspend disbelief, as usual in the information war against Russia, new variants are rolled out, confident that its targets aren’t paying attention past the headlines that Putin has poisoned someone again. Thanks to John Helmer’s reporting, we know that the doctors at the Charité Hospital found many health problems when it examined Navalniy but no evidence of novichok. The novichok “evidence” comes from German and Swedish military facilities which have declined to publish their findings. Navalniy, for his part, has several times asserted that Putin attempted to kill him with novichok. So, we have evidence from two civilian hospitals that show no novichok; there are assertions that it was novichok, but they’re secret and come from military sources; Navalniy says it was novichok. Does this look like prima facie evidence that Navalniy collaborated with foreign intelligence agencies against his country?

Where did Navalniy get the illustrations for his video on Putin’s supposed palace? We know that the building is very far from finished because people went to see it. So somebody supplied the faked-up interiors (complete with Putin himself). A Germany-USA production? “in early December, the [German] studio received a request from the United States about whether it had free production capacity. In strict secrecy, work began on Navalny’s film”. Perhaps there’s another charge here, given the expected importance of this “proof” of Putin’s supposed corruption for Navalniy’s campaign. (Another silly story for the gullible, by the way: where would he keep his loot and when does he have time to enjoy it?)

The entire Western propaganda structure leapt on the story. I’ll just quote this one thing from the NYT’s resident sage, Thomas Friedman, because of its amusement value:

Putin is not very important to us at all. He’s a Moscow mafia don who had his agents try to kill an anti-corruption activist, Aleksei Navalny, by sprinkling a Soviet-era nerve agent, Novichok, in the crotch of his underwear. I’m not making that up! Russia once gave the world Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Dostoyevsky, Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn. Putin’s Russia will be remembered for giving the world poisoned underwear.

“Poisoned underwear”, “mafia don”, “he keeps stalking us”. Plenty more where that came from: if it’s Putin or Russia, the accusation is the proof. Vide Biden’s demand that “He should be released immediately and without condition“. Suspiciously like a coordinated operation; perhaps the FSB can actually show connections.

Navalniy is the latest in a long line of Western anti-Putin heroes. I’ve been in this business for three decades and I’ve forgotten half of them. Reports on protests that carefully avoid mentioning people who would spoil the narritive. Putin is a “moral idiot“. Lots of poisonings of opponents (is the absence from that list of the long-recovered and now-discarded Yushchenko significant?) and even non-poisonings; but no explanations for why the (almost invariably ineffective) poisons change: dioxin, thallium polonium and now novichok. Protests are always about to bring him down. Endless endless nonsense about Putin himself – too much to catalogue. Russophrenia. And so on and on; the people change – Browder and Khodorkovskiy fade to the background, Berezovskiy gives up, begs to be allowed home, kills himself (they say) – but the story never changes. Pussy Riot was huge until it wasn’t. Pavlenskiy does something in Russia, he’s a hero, same thing in France, he’s arrested. Always a fraudulent election in Russia (Moscow should take a leaf out of Washington’s book and call all such claims “conspiracy theories” and block discussion.) Washington says it had the MH17 shootdown on film, but you can’t see it. Nothing is ever proven but it never stops. The audience is assumed to have the IQ and attention span of gnats: Moscow hacked the US election system in 2016 but in 2020 the system was watertight while Russia was hacking everything else. It’s information war; most of it nonsense from proven liars. Maybe Moscow has had enough. The Biden Administration is full of Russia-baiters all fully invested in the Trump/Putin conspiracy theory; there will be no change; it’s time for Moscow to give up expecting anything else.

Maybe Moscow is going to make an example of the latest Western favourite and charge him with treason and prove it. Maybe that’s why this video was released. It would appear to be a case of “providing financial, technical, advisory or other assistance to a foreign state or international organization . . . directed at harming Russia’s security” as the treason law puts it. A revision of the law that came into effect, as it happens, in the year the video was recorded. Collaborating with foreign intelligence structures to create a poisoning narrative would appear to fit the definition too. How about writing a letter to a foreign head of state asking him to sanction your country?

And more hints of evaporated patience: Moscow handed over to the OSCE videos of Western police beating up protesters – Austria, the Netherlands, Poland, the USA, Finland, France and the Czech Republic – helpfully pointing out “For doubters, we have shown a contrasting model. How they do it and how we do it. Feel the difference”. The message is clear: motes and beams; or, as they like to say in the West, “whataboutism“. Moscow then expelled diplomats from three countries, accusing them of participating in protests.

Washington, London et alia will protest in the usual way with all the usual statements about human rights that they themselves are pretty casual about at home (“Почувствуйте разницу”), but I suspect that Moscow doesn’t care much what its enemies say. In this matter it may well be that the idiotic Navalniy poisoning story, coming after all the other evidence-free accusations, was the last straw. And perhaps Beijing’s success in shutting down the equally foreign-inspired troubles in Hong Kong was an encouraging example.

We will see, but it’s another indication that Moscow has had enough. After all, there’s an audience out there that isn’t glued to CNN and the NYT. There’s no chance of changing minds in Washington or London; it might still be possible in Berlin and Paris – Nord Stream II is probably the test – but there are hundreds of millions out there who are listening. Zone B, the Saker calls it.

THE WEST IS LOSING ITS SOFT POWER

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

“Soft power” is a useful concept whose invention is attributed to Joseph Nye in the 1980s. “Hard power” is easy enough to understand: it’s the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay or Marshal Zhukov in Berlin. But soft power is more subtle and seductive: in Nye’s words: “many values like democracy, human rights, and individual opportunities are deeply seductive.” There are two commonly used ranking lists: Portland – Soft Power 30 – and Brand – Global Soft Power Index. Portland’s top ten in 2019 were France, UK, Germany, Sweden, USA, Switzerland, Canada, Japan, Australia and Netherlands. Brand’s in 2020 were USA, Germany, UK, Japan, China, France, Canada, Switzerland, Sweden and Russia. The first rating is very Eurocentric, the other includes Russia and China. Another difference is the position of the United States, but that doesn’t really make much difference to the point of my essay which is about soft power then, now and in the near future.

The Second World War brought the true flowering of the USA’s soft power; from the cargo cults of Melanesia to the cargo cults of Europe, GIs brought the dream to everyone. The USA won the war in a way that no other power did – it emerged immensely stronger and richer into a world in which its natural competitors had been impoverished. At Bretton Woods and San Francisco it shaped the new world to a degree that no other power could. And, understandably, it shaped it to its own benefit, quite convinced that it had every right to do so as the victor and exemplar of the better future. Only the USSR and its sphere grumpily disagreed.

These were the glory times of American soft power. I often think of the movie Roman Holiday in which the American reporter is civilised, polite, doesn’t take advantage of her but gives her confined life a moment of fun and freedom. The best kind of propaganda. (And, interestingly, one of the screenwriters had been blacklisted. Which gives another layer to this intensely pro-American movie, doesn’t it?)

To a friend who grew up in England before and during the Second World War, everything about the USA was exciting. That was soft power in action: bright new future. I would argue that American soft power stood on four pillars: the attractiveness and excitement of its popular culture, its reputation for efficiency, rule of law and the “American Dream”. Every American could expect that his children would be better off – better off in every respect: healthier, longer-lived, better educated, happier, richer – than he was. Some of this was image and propaganda but enough of it was true to make people believe. The wrappings of freedom, wealth and excitement made the package almost irresistible.

The USA owed a great deal of its pre-eminence to sheer luck. Sitting on immense natural resources far from enemies, almost all of its wars were wars of choice and usually wars against greatly inferior forces. But, as Stephen Walt argues, its long run of luck may be ending. “The result was a brief unipolar moment when the United States faced no serious rivals and both politicians and pundits convinced themselves that America had found the magic formula for success in an increasingly globalized world”. Walt is also dispirited about the American reputation for competence which he believes to have been severely damaged by COVID-19. One man’s opinion, to be sure, but he’s not alone. COVID-19 has greatly injured the USA’s and the West’s reputation for efficiency: no better illustration can be given than comparing the confident expectation of October 2019 that the USA and the UK could best handle a pandemic with what actually happened. A big blow to the soft power assumption that the USA and the West were the places where things functioned properly.

One of the biggest casualties has been the promise of the “American Dream”. One graph alone blows this pillar to bits. Until about 1972 wages and productivity were linked – everybody was getting richer together. Since then, the curves have diverged: productivity keeps rising, wages are flat. That’s not what was supposed to happen: the rising tide was supposed to float all boats, not just a few super yachts. The richest one percent owned six times as much as the bottom fifty percent in 1989, now it’s 15 times as much. More significantly, the 50%-90% have seen their share drop seven and a half percentage points. No, your children won’t be better off than you are; and probably not healthier or longer-lived either.

James DeLong discusses the erosion of another soft power pillar with his analysis of Amazon’s decision to deplatform Parler. His conclusion is:

a friend in the investment community likes to remind me that America has a big competitive advantage in the form of the rule of law, or “the insiders aren’t allowed to rob you blind!”. Amazon has decided to prove him wrong.

In the US, and the West in general, you are supposed to know where you are – you’re not subject to the ephemeral whims of a tyrant, as in less lawful regimes: transactions are grounded in law and transparent procedure. Perhaps DeLong is making too much out of something small here, but I don’t think he is. We’ve already seen the boasted principle of innocent until proven guilty disappear the moment Navalniy decides to accuse Putin of something; in the revenge of the present US Administration we will see more arbitrary tyranny justified by exaggerated exigencies. If 6 January was a new Pearl Harbor, extraordinary reactions will be said to be justified. But this is becoming the Western norm: where exactly is the rule of law with Meng in Canada, Sacoulis and Assange in the UK, or Butina in the USA? Will more lawfare against Trump strengthen the image of stability and rule of law?

Neither will the 2020 US election and its consequences advance the American reputation of democratic leadership. Some cheerleaders of “American leadership” like Richard N Haass are quite despondent:

No one in the world is likely to see, respect, fear, or depend on us in the same way again. If the post-American era has a start date, it is almost certainly today [6 January].

Consider the image that Biden’s inauguration sent. Rather than using the COVID excuse to plan a modest ceremony, the full panoply was undertaken. But with no supporters and with soldiers everywhere: note the motorcade pompously passing only people paid to or ordered to attend. It looked like the enthronement of a dictator after a coup. Especially now that the opposition is being censored (deplatformed, as they call it); re-labelled as “domestic terrorists“, possibly under the direction of the arch-enemy Putin; “extremists” must be removed from the US military; the Enemy in already inside Congress. Fence-in the Capitol. The soft power claim of the USA to be the citadel of freedom has taken a hit and will take more.

American movies were one of the vehicles of soft power. Consider, for example, 1939’s Mr Smith Goes to Washington in which a straightforward American, James Stewart, successfully overcomes a corrupt Washington with decency and determination. Many Americans, especially Senators, didn’t get it and railed against the movie – but Spain, Italy, Germany and the USSR understood that it was a powerfully pro-American movie and banned it. Its message was that, even corrupt, the USA is better. Frank Capra made a number of movies about ordinary Americans prevailing with their Everyman decency. A very important part of soft power broadcasting decency and freedom against a background of, to much of the rest of the world, an inconceivable prosperity enjoyed by the ordinary citizen. But in today’s Hollywood’s movies there are no more decent Americans showing the way, just comic book automatons blowing each other up. No message there and no soft power either. If, as this piece wonders, China is Hollywood’s future – it’s already the largest market – then why would you need Hollywood at all? There’s no American soft power in Godzilla vs Kong.

Popular culture, competence, justice and values and the dream of betterment may have been the pillars on which the USA’s soft power was based, but the ground upon which those stood was success. Success made the others attractive; success is the most powerful attraction. The West is losing its aura of success – endless wars, divisive politics, COVID failure, financial crises, debt. And ever more desperate attempts to hold power against ever bolder dissent. It’s just beginning. And not just the USA, the West doesn’t present well any more: protests in Amsterdam, London, Berlin; a year of gillets jaunes in France. The world is watching. Not efficient, not attractive, not law-based. Not successful.

As for success, I recommend this enumeration of China’s achievements. One after another of first or second in numerous categories. And it’s all happened in the last two or three decades. What will we see in the next two or three? That is success. That is what used to happen in the USA. But it doesn’t any more. According to numbers provided by the World Bank, the levels of extreme poverty declined significantly in the world (2000-2017), quite dramatically in China (2010-2016), significantly in Russia (2000-2010) but actually increased in the USA from 2000-2016. “Deaths of despair” are not success. Soft power will inevitable follow as other countries – probably not the West, it’s true – try to imitate China’s stunning success. To a large extent, the West is living on its capital while China is increasing its.

In retrospect, the recent Davos Forum may turn out to be an inflection moment: Putin’s speech was a blunt statement that what he foresaw at Munich in 2007 has come to pass – the patent failure of the “Washington Consensus” and unilateralism. Xi Jinpeng echoed it. Even Merkel promised neutrality between China and the USA.

Soft power is packing up and getting ready to move house: success attracts, failure repels.

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 11 FEBRUARY 2021

WAR PLANS. US/NATO war plans always start with a heavy bombardment. The expectation is that complete air superiority will be quickly gained so that aircraft and cruise missiles will have unrestricted freedom to destroy vital infrastructure. This succeeds against countries like Iraq, to say nothing of Afghanistan. But it won’t happen if the first few minutes of the war see the destruction of half of NATO’s airfields, hangars, ports and EW assets in a cloud of hypersonic missiles. Russia sends another message to Washington and Brussels – don’t even think of it. But, of course, they are thinking of it. Shoygu called for increased production of hypersonic missiles. Not, they say, easily detectable by radar. A US ship entering the Black Sea would have about three minutes to detect and defend against Kinzhals fired from 550 kms away in Crimea. The just-deployed Bastion system would take longer. Russia isn’t trying to do everything everywhere, just defend its own territory: that’s an achievable goal; the other isn’t.

WAR DREAMS. Fantasy: in NATO planning the Polish Army quickly seizes Kaliningrad. Partial reality: in Polish Army war game, Warsaw is surrounded in five days. Real reality. Poland has targets: see above.

NAVALNIY. The story continues. The theory that he’s being fitted up for a treason charge was given a boost when Zakharova said he should be called an “agent of influence” rather than a politician. His suspended sentence for fraud was lifted and he’s off to prison. Read Yves Rocher’s statement; sounds to me as if the company believes he did swindle them. The fact that there’s now a campaign against the company suggests my deduction is correct. Meanwhile his wife is being set up as the new Navalniy – it’s evident from the Charité report that his health is pretty bad. After the lacklustre performance of the demos, one of his people declared a moratorium but was ordered to reverse the decision.

COVID. The Sputnik vaccine received good press from The Lancet. Vaccination centre in Sochi. Russia has developed a quick PCR process. Forget all that stuff we were saying a few months ago: we want it now. All this is causing cognitive dissonance for Western propaganda organs: read this tripe: “Putin’s COVID-19 charm offensive will be transient“.

FINES. Moscow fines RFE/RL for failure to declare ‘foreign agent’ status on material aimed at Russians. Washington will have the fantods but this is just Moscow’s version of the US FARA legislation in action.

POLICE BRUTALITY. Here’s the video Moscow is giving every visitor who comes to lecture it.

START Extended for five years. A good thing, but otherwise more of the same from Washington: “determination of Russia to damage and disrupt our democracy” and so on.

RUSSIA-CHINA. A piece in the Russian media suggests that the two are very close to concluding a formal military alliance and enumerates the mutual advantages to the world’s largest economy and best military (too soon to call it that? Should we wait a few years when it will be obvious?). It’s coming.

EU. The EU has made a mess of its COVID vaccine policy. An EU official is sent to Moscow to beg for the Sputnik vaccine. But he can’t resist giving the usual moralistic lecture. (As an aside, I am sick and tired of EU flunkeys posturing about “European values”; if it weren’t for the USSR – 80% – and the Anglosphere – 20% – they’d all be goose-stepping around in leather giving each other Hitler salutes: Hitler, Franco, Mussolini and the rest of them were all Europeans). Lavrov is not amused and called the EU unreliable. EU guy returns, usual sources accuse him of being feeble, and he starts talking tough again. “Headless chicken“. Moscow doesn’t care: the Western model is now seen as one of failure.

WESTERN VALUES™. Listen to Blinken explain why Israel can annex Golan ; one day he will explain why Crimea can’t be Russian.

DAVOS. An inflection moment? Putin speaks of the failure of the “Washington Consensus” and unilateralism. Xi agrees. Merkel promises neutrality.

PUTIN DERANGEMENT SYNDROME. Vladimir Putin Has Become America’s Ex-Boyfriend From Hell: “a geopolitical stalker”. This from the outlet that has “stalked” Putin 3000 times in four years. And never forget this demented bit of filth.

UKRAINE. Hopeless. Meanwhile, let’s ban the Russian vaccine. Not that we have any from anywhere else.

THE DEATH OF IRONY. If it’s Russia, it’s OK to ban it. Actually they’re opposition TV channels.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

OBAMA.3

(Answer to a question from Sputnik)

Given that we have a video of Obama saying that he’d like a third term if he had a front man with an earpiece and given what we know of his role in moving the Democratic primaries for Biden, it’s a safe assumption to say that we are now in Obama.3.

So some deductions – START – which he extended, has been extended. Washington will try to re-do JCPOA, negotiated on his time, but Tehran may not be willing, so that could be harder to do. There is every reason to expect more hostility to Russia, more Ukraine, more Syria. Same wars. Less anti-China rhetoric. And, as with Obamas 1 and 2, benefits to the “three B’s” – bankers, billionaires and bomb makers. So the extension of START is probably the last thing that will make Moscow happy.

But I expect that foreign affairs will take a back seat to the predominant efforts of the Biden/Harris Administration of tightening control over “misinformation”, trying to grind Trump and his followers into the dust and the embarrassments of the 25th Amendment. Then the midterm elections will roll the dice again.

1996 ELECTION – AN ALL-IMPORTANT TURNING POINT

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

(This is the second of a two-part series on the 1996 Russian presidential election. They are based on notes I made at the time in the Canadian Embassy in Moscow. I was an accredited observer in both rounds in Moscow Oblast. A reporter accompanied me on the first round and a program appeared on CBC Newsworld, but I haven’t been able to find it on YouTube.)

The first round results had Yeltsin edging Zyuganov and Lebed running a strong third. While I got the placing of the top two wrong I did correctly understand Zyuganov’s inability to build on his December vote. But, Zyuganov had hardly been one of the CPSU’s stars: his highest position being in the central propaganda department, a place where they put the clunkers. The strong showing of Aleksandr Lebed was significant. What seems to have happened is that the people whom I, based on past practice, expected to swell Zhirinovskiy’s poll figures, voted for him instead. Likewise, Yavlinskiy slipped badly: clearly many of his voters went over to Yeltsin, understanding that a vote for him was wasted; the beginning of the end for him: a recent poll shows that he and his Yabloko party have completely faded from the political scene. But what I had got right was the central reality that the majority didn’t want the communists back and they understood that to vote for anyone but Yeltsin was effectively to vote for Zyuganov. The reality that Yeltsin was unpopular and that conditions were miserable for most Russians had no effect on this decision. Neither did American election wizards nor flashy rock concerts.

Anyway, Lebed was the kingmaker and a deal was swiftly made. Yeltsin replaced Pavel Grachev as Defence Minister with Lebed’s nominee; Lebed himself was appointed Secretary of the Security Council of Russia. His reasons for supporting Yeltsin were strikingly similar to my villager’s: “I was facing two ideas – an old one that has shed lots of blood and a new one which is being implemented very badly at the moment but has a future. I have chosen the new idea”.

In fact, the election results were rather sophisticated. The electorate essentially told Yeltsin that he was re-elected but there must be more order, less corruption and the war in Chechnya must be stopped. And, to a considerable extent, they got what they wanted. Lebed stopped the war and, eventually, we got to Putin and his team. The better future did run through that 1996 choice.

After the first round results it was a matter of calculating whose votes would go where in the second round. I made a simple Excel program in which I played with various assumptions and I concluded that the probability of Yeltsin’s second round victory was pretty robust. Lebed’s support for Yeltsin was a major plus and now the anti-communist vote (“reformers” as they were simple-mindedly labelled in the West) had the choice of staying home and risking a communist return, or holding their noses and voting Yeltsin. A VTsIOM poll, taken before Lebed’s appointment, showed agreement with my assessment of movement from supporters of their candidate to Yeltsin in the second round: 39% of Lebed’s (14% to Zyuganov); 51% percent of Yavlinskiy’s (6% to Zyuganov); 14% of Zhirinovskiy’s (25% percent to Zyuganov).

The whole point is that, whatever people may think today,

you didn’t have to like Yeltsin to vote for him.

With respect to considerations of whether the vote was fraudulent there are some reflections to be made. While I do not rule out small-scale shaving of numbers, the objective realities were that Zyuganov’s support was high but flat and the anti-communists would unite around someone. A fact, that many today are unwilling to accept, is that the majority did not want the communists back. Therefore a communist defeat was always probable and the question was who would be the one to defeat them. In the absence of a “third force”, Yeltsin was the most likely beneficiary. No need for fakery or American wizardry.

The second vote on 3 July met everyone’s expectations with Yeltsin four points over 50% and Zyuganov stuck at 40.7%. The remainder ticked the “Against all” box.

In retrospect the election was a supremely important moment in post-USSR Russian history because it opened a path that has proved to be successful. In 1996 there were two opposing stories about recent Russian history. I wrote a report arguing that the election had shown that the majority favoured one of the stories. I am rather interested that today the losing story has gained at least partial acceptance in the West. And some Russians never abandoned it. And strange that is: if you approve of the Putin Team, as most Russians do, the real world reality is that Putin would not have appeared had the 1996 vote gone the other way. But politics are often more passionate than rational.

Since the breakup of the USSR, the Russian opposition had a consistent opinion that Yeltsin was not the legitimate head of a legitimate state: he had been elected in 1991 as president of a Russia which was part of the USSR; he was one of the trio that had broken up the USSR; he prolonged his rule by extra-constitutional means including violence; his so-called reforms were the robbery of the common wealth. The electorate knew this and Yeltsin and his gang could not survive a fair election. The theory was bolstered by the success of opposition parties in the elections after 1991. The strong version was that the whole process had been orchestrated by Russia’s enemies in the West and that Gorbachev and Yeltsin were the accomplices or dupes of these foreign conspirators. It was a story which explained how the – to them – popular and successful USSR had so quickly collapsed. This story was the glue that held together an opposition at whose rallies could be seen posters of both Nikolay II and his murderer.

Therefore the 1996 presidential election could be seen as a contest over the correct interpretation of the “October events” of 1993. The opposition claimed that the defenders of constitutional order were destroyed by an unconstitutional regime; Yeltsin’s supporters maintained that constitutional order, faced with an armed revolt, took forceful but legal measures. The election was an opportunity for the people to choose one or the other. The opposition believed that the Yeltsin gang could not afford to lose and therefore would never risk a free election. This notion took a beating: Yeltsin did have the courage to risk election and he won. The population did not buy the opposition historiography; they decided that Yeltsin had been the legitimate head of a legitimate state. Which is not to say that they approved of all that he did or even liked him very much. As argued above, Yeltsin was the lesser evil.

The 1996 election was highly significant: it returned legitimacy to the government. A quarter of a century later, Putin, chosen by Yeltsin himself, is undeniably the legitimate president of all the Russias.

It is, however, interesting to see in 2021, references to Yeltsin’s having destroyed Russia’s democracy in October 1993. That is, in my opinion, a ridiculously over-simplifed view.

The October crisis of 1993 had several causes and those most remembered are the differences grounded in opposition to the Yeltsin team’s policy which, in essence, was the uprooting of the communist structure accompanied by an orgy of looting and the destruction of people’s savings and livelihoods. A frightful and lawless time for most.

But there was a structural cause which made a struggle inevitable. Gorbachev’s 1988 design to democratise the USSR involved a Congress of Peoples’ Deputies which elected a sitting legislature, the Supreme Soviet; that body elected a chairman who would be the leader of the country. And so, through 1989, Gorbachev chaired the meetings of the Supreme Soviet. As time went on, however, it became evident that the country’s leader could not do what he had to while refereeing endless debates. It also became clear that the Supreme Soviet was too big and too prone to mere talk. In 1990 the system was changed: the Supreme Soviet continued to exist but grafted onto it was an executive presidency. Gorbachev became president and his deputy became speaker of the Supreme Soviet. Exactly the same process was followed in the RSFSR: a Russian Congress, Supreme Soviet and Boris Yeltsin as speaker. Yeltsin learned what Gorbachev had and in 1991 the Russian Federation adopted a presidential system; Yeltsin became president and deputy speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov became speaker.

This solved the problem of ensuring a powerful executive to do all the unpopular things that had to be done but, in doing so, created another problem: which was supreme? The Congress of Peoples’ Deputies had been elected to be the nation’s sovereign power, the Supreme Soviet its daily manifestation and its speaker the leader of the country. Then these powers were given to the president. So there were two supreme powers, two first citizens and any act by one actor which was opposed by the other could be deemed unconstitutional. Thus, as Yeltsin was determined to act, most of his actions were considered unconstitutional by partisans of the Supreme Soviet; to Yeltsin’s side it was they who were unconstitutional.

It was dual power. And there are only two ways to settle a dual problem condition. If one or both of the powers agrees to step down, a peaceful resolution is possible. If not, it’s war. In England in the 1600s the struggle was between King and Parliament; the issue was settled over forty years by civil war, regicide, dictatorship, restoration of a limited monarchy, a second overthrow of the king and a second and more limited monarchy. In the USA the question was whether states which had created the union could leave it; a four-year war determined that they could not. And so, Russia, like the other two, fought it out in October 1993 with, it should be noted, much less blood shed. In December a new Constitution formalised the supremacy of the Russian president. In October the opposition to Russian President Yeltsin was led by his successor as chair of the Supreme Soviet Ruslan Khasbulatov and his Vice-President Aleksandr Rutskoy. Exactly the same thing had happened in the August 1991 coup attempt against USSR President Gorbachev which was was led by Anatoliy Lukyanov (his successor as chair of the Supreme Soviet) and Gennadiy Yanayev his Vice-President. Yes there were policy disputes, but dual power was the root cause.

In conclusion:

  • The 1996 presidential election was an immensely important turning point in post-USSR Russian history; it made possible what we have in 2021.
  • My first essay argued that Yeltsin won because the majority did not want the communists back and Zyuganov could not extend his appeal past his base. The stagnation of Zyuganov’s support and the gradual migration over to Yeltsin of other peoples’ support was clearly shown by the many contemporary polls. If anything, Betaneli’s polls made the argument more compellingly because his findings, starting so far away from the others’, converged with them at the end. American election whiz kids had nothing to do with this: at most they might have made a bit of difference in the margins; they “rescued” nothing.
  • My second piece argued that the election resolved the legitimacy argument and the historiographical dispute in Yeltsin’s favour. The executive president, not the speaker of the Supreme Soviet/parliament, was Russia’s first citizen. This has endured.

To repeat Lebed and my villager: the one way had been exhausted, so they gave the other – dismal as it had been – a chance. And they were correct: it is very hard to see how one could get to today’s Russia – pretty successful by any measurement and growing more so – had Zyuganov won the 1996 election.

(As a postscript to illustrate the stagnation of Russian politics, of the top five of 1996, Yeltsin is dead, Zyuganov is still head of the KPRF, Lebed is dead, Yavlinskiy is still around but no longer head of Yabloko, Zhirinovskiy is still the head of the LDPR. Of the other players, Yeltsin, Lukyanov and Yanayev are dead and Gorbachev, Rutskoy and Khasbulatov still alive. Putin is the new boy.)

Unfortunately the American boasting (I have a memory – I was Canada’s representative on the G7 group that met monthly – that we rather laughed at their claims) and subsequent stories have kept alive the notion that the election was fixed, that Zyuganov really would have won and that the opposition view of Yeltsin the usurper who used tanks to destroy Russia’s nascent democracy was correct.

It’s curious to see that story still living 25 years after. Even among those who support the future made possible by that 1996 turning point.

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 28 JANUARY 2021

DOOMED. Kasparov, a famous chess player, says Russia’s on the way down thanks to Putin. Said the same thing 13 years ago. Why does the Western media keep printing this rubbish? Silly question.

PUTIN PALACE. Here’s a palace actually built on his orders. And here’s how the richest man in the world spends his time. (But it’s gotta be Putin’s: here’s a photoshop of him in the pool). More rubbish.

COVID. A WHO representative thinks Russia’s getting it under control. Moscow is opening up.

VACCINE. It is reported that the EU is considering approving the Sputnik vaccine because of delays in US ones. Merkel says she will help. Only a few months ago, this was out of the question.

INTERESTING. Zakharova: “The most popular comment I receive from Americans on my personal social media accounts is how to get Russian citizenship“. I doubt much will come of this – but… Russia, land of the free and home of the brave. Has a ring to it, hasn’t it? There are some Americans there.

OPEN SKIES. Moscow is preparing to leave after failing to get assurances that US allies won’t share information with Washington. But, if Washington changes its mind, it will too.

NAVALNIY. Navalniy returns on plane filled with Western reporters and supporters, arrested and, after bail hearing, jailed for 30 days. (Broke probation terms on fraud conviction). Great excuse to sanction Nord Stream! Demos around Russia on Sunday – see video of 14-year old. Usual stuff, usual coverage. Meanwhile both Sweden and Germany keep information about his so-called poisoning from Russia.

NAVALNIY, COCKROACHES AND PISTOLS. I’d heard he’d called Muslims cockroaches but I didn’t know there was a video. Here it is with English subtitles. Definitely Nobel Prize material. Did Washington really want to suggest that he is an “ally”?

DOESN’T MAKE ANYTHING. This week’s “Made in Russia” video: aircraft, vaccine, buses, robot weapons, pigs, medical facilities and a new airport. All very new, shiny and high-tech, too.

PUTIN-BIDEN. They had their first phonecall. Interesting to compare the Kremlin’s record with the White House’s: but Biden has to talk tough, Putin doesn’t. But “interference in the 2020 United States election”? Really? Wasn’t it the most secure ever? Does Biden really want to raise that subject?

RUSSIA-EU. This seems to me to be much harder language than we’ve seen before. More suggestion that Moscow is going to dump the EU qua EU.

SAUCE, GOOSE, GANDER. RFE/RL has been fined for not admitting it’s a foreign agent.

SOLARWINDS HACK. Not Russia but Israel? And another so-called Russian hack blows up.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA. While START will likely be extended for another five years which is good, we can otherwise expect more of the same: Clinton and Pelosi suggest Trump was following Putin’s orders and Biden mentioned bounties, Solarwinds and Navalniy.

FAKE NEWS. The NYT printed over 3000 items on the bogus Trump/Russia story. That’s two a day!

NEW NWO. European poll. Everything has changed: “Most Europeans rejoiced at Joe Biden’s victory in the November US presidential election, but they do not think he can help America make a comeback as the pre-eminent global leader… Majorities in key member states now think the US political system is broken, and that Europe cannot just rely on the US to defend it… look to Berlin rather than Washington as the most important partner… A majority believe that China will be more powerful than the US within a decade and would want their country to stay neutral in a conflict between the two superpowers. Two-thirds of respondents thought the EU should develop its defence capacities… Washington cannot take European alignment against China for granted. Public opinion will have a bigger effect on the relationship than it once did, and needs to be taken into account.” Another time when Trump exposed the emptiness behind the curtain. Note the reference to having to pay attention to “public opinion” – the dreaded populism appears.

EUROPEANS ARE REVOLTING. One of the Trump Administration’s last actions was to impose more sanctions on Nord Stream 2. The chair of the relevant German parliament committee said the sanctions were “unacceptable” and suggested penal duties on US gas. I doubt Biden will change the policy.

UKRAINE. Only 10% of Ukrainians think things are going in the right direction. In a curious parallel, given the US involvement in destroying Ukraine, only 14% of Americans think their country is.

TURKEY. Erdoğan says Ankara will not ask Washington for permission to buy more S-400 SAMs.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

1996 ELECTION – THE AMERICANS DIDN’T ELECT YELTSIN

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation

(This is the first of a two-part series on the 1996 Russian presidential election. They are based on notes I made at the time in the Canadian Embassy in Moscow. I was an accredited observer in both rounds in Moscow Oblast. A reporter accompanied me on the first round and a program appeared on CBC Newsworld, but I haven’t been able to find it on YouTube.)

When, four years ago, the losers concocted the story that the Russians had got Trump elected and beginning the unending series of stories, investigations and allegations, many people said that that was fair enough because Americans had got Yeltsin elected president of Russia in 1996. There was even a Time magazine story to that effect “Yanks to the Rescue“. You can see the argument made on this video.

I was there and I don’t believe it. I watched the polls carefully and a month before the first vote reported:

So the fundamental facts are these: Yeltsin is the only man who can stop the communists and Zyuganov is doing nothing effective to broaden his base from those who supported him in December… This election will be about the lesser of two evils and, at the moment, and with the dynamic of the situation, Yeltsin appears to enjoy that status.

Most Russians didn’t want the communists back and understood, that, like him or like him not – and he wasn’t popular – voting for Yeltsin was the only way to avoid them coming back.

I earlier published an anecdote of a conversation I had with a villager during the election who said that, while life in the village had been pretty dismal, he hoped it could be better for his children and that was why he was voting for Yeltsin. And he was correct: the route to the future did run through Yeltsin. Yeltsin gave way to Putin and the Putin team has achieved much. Russia in 2021 would look very different indeed had Zyuganov, still alive, won in 1996.

Therefore, 1996 was a tremendously important inflection point.

The first key to rationally analysing probabilities was to consider the election realities of Gennadiy Zyuganov, the head of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF). Any observer knew that the communists had a solid and dependable base that would certainly turn out. There was good data from the December 1995 Duma elections when all “communist” parties (not only Zyuganov’s KPRF) received about a third of the votes. It was a reasonable assumption that Zyuganov would retain most of this support six months later. “Brownshirts” took about another 20 percent with Zhirinovskiy’s party (LDPR) taking about half of that. It could also be assumed that he would stay in the race and keep most of his votes. But some of the “brownshirt” vote would go to Zyuganov who campaigned pretty hard for derzhava (Great Power State). Therefore, in January, before any polling was done, we could assume a theoretical maximum for Zyuganov of 35-40%. Zyuganov’s problem was how to attract the other 10-15%. He could get it by persuading people that he wasn’t really a hard communist; that would lose him some of his core but, because they had no other place to go, he could expect to keep most of them. The rules required a run-off between the top two if no one won over fifty percent on the first round. It was highly probable that Zyuganov would get to the second round; the question was who the other finisher would be.

And this is what the video referred to above doesn’t understand: Zyuganov had got the largest vote in December but he hadn’t got more than half; to win the presidency he had to get more than half. Zyuganov’s situation, not Yeltsin and Clinton, was the fixed background against which any analysis had to take place. None of this had anything to do with American whiz kids or money squandered on American-style pizazz: the fundamental reality of Russian politics in the 1990s was there was a strong core of communists – about a third of the population – who would certainly turn out and vote. And that was the situation that opinion polls showed in January: Zyuganov was well in front of Yavlinskiy, Zhirinovskiy, Fedorov and Lebed with President Yeltsin in the middle of the pack. Thus, from the perspective of January 1996, Zyuganov looked like the sure winner.

Some people have stuck at the January moment, failing to take the dynamics into account. But the December election had shown a second reality and that was that the majority did not want the communists back: the communists got a third but they didn’t get half. The dynamic of the interaction of these two realities was the key to understanding the election outcome. And over the next six months what I consider to be the central understanding gradually emerged: if you do anything but vote for Yeltsin, you are effectively voting for Zyuganov. Splitting the vote means Zyuganov wins; staying at home means Zyuganov wins. Only voting for Yeltsin will keep Zyuganov out.

There was one outlying pollster which, although differing from the others at the beginning, served to confirm this trend: Nuzgar Betaneli and his Institute of the Sociology of Parliamentarianism. While the other pollsters asked for whom would you vote today, he claimed to be predicting the final result, although he never explained his methodology, and, as events showed, he wasn’t able to see any farther into the future than the others. In April he gave Yeltsin 16-20% and Zyuganov 38-47%. There was a rumour that his results accorded with the Kremlin’s internal polls and caused an apparent panic which was reflected in Korzhakov’s musings that the election should be postponed or cancelled.

But by May he had upped Yeltsin to 27% and dropped Zyuganov to 42%. In short, Betaneli agreed that Zyuganov was staying within his bounds but that Yeltsin had burst through his. This was the essence of the election dynamics. Betaneli agreed with other pollsters on the remaining candidates; his main disagreement was putting Zyuganov up to 15 points ahead of everyone else’s estimate. At this point numbers were less important than the dynamic. Again, there was no need for American legerdemain, just the reality that Zyuganov wasn’t expanding his appeal, a majority did not want the communists back and they were holding their noses and going for Yeltsin as the most viable alternative.

Two realities made Yeltsin the anticommunist centre: the first was the power of incumbency and the second the lack of a “third force”. He could have been pinched out had the “liberals” coalesced but that would have required Yavlinskiy, Fedorov, Lebed and Gorbachev to sink their differences and unite around one of them. Another scheme floated was a “government of national trust” uniting everyone and leading to a postponement of the elections. But nobody was willing to give over to another and neither of these ideas ever got off the ground. (This was the time of the colourful expression “taxi parties”: all the members could fit into a taxi and drive around in circles. But no taxi would ever merge with another.)

As time went on we could see people, understanding the dynamic, swallowing their misgivings and declaring for Yeltsin. Pamyat, the very first super-nationalist faction, declared for him; Yegor Gaydar, in opposition for more than a year, and Boris Fedorov, whom he fired, came over. Cossack leaders supported him because he’d done something for them. The Russian Orthodox Church quietly instructed its clergy to remind parishioners what the communists had done to it. Primorskiy Region’s Governor Nazdrachenko, who had strongly opposed the border settlement with China, supported him. Moscow Mayor Luzhkov, a very canny player, strongly supported him.

By late May the trend was very pronounced and Betaneli, for all his claims to be able to see farther, was no longer the outlier. The average of ROMIR, CESSI and VTsIOM gave Yeltsin 33.5% and Zyuganov 23.2%. Betaneli had the two even at 36% each. The dynamic was holding: Zyuganov stagnant and the other candidates leaking support to Yeltsin.

The last three polls were VTsIOM (11 June), ROMIR (10 June) and ISP (Betaneli) (7 June). All got the most important thing right which was the steady rise of Yeltsin’s rating over the campaign and the flatness of Zyuganov’s support through the same period. The first two got the order of the top five right; ISP had Yavlinskiy beating Lebed. VTsIOM had very accurate predictions for Yeltsin and Zhirinovskiy and the best fit for Lebed and did detect a rise in his score at the last moment (from seven to ten percent). ROMIR was best for Yavlinskiy and ISP best for Zyuganov. So, generally speaking, the pollsters were in the ball park; Betaneli/ISP, having reversed his starting position, had Yeltsin at 40% and Zyuganov at 31%.

I spent some effort calculating “correction factors” for the polling numbers because polling was pretty new to Russia and there were a lot of errors that observation over time had shown. Generally, “liberals” were over-estimated, Zhirinovskiy very under-estimated and communists somewhat under-estimated. But I kept to the lode star that, whatever the numbers produced by individual pollsters, the dynamic was the indicator: Zyuganov flat, Yeltsin gathering the others. And so my final prediction was that Yeltsin would win a second term although I thought he might come second to Zyuganov on the first round and I expected Zhirinovskiy to come third. For what it’s worth, a panel at the Carnegie Institute just before the vote estimated Zyuganov 31%, Yeltsin 28% and Zhirinovskiy 10-11%.

In the event, we were both wrong: in the first round Yeltsin edged Zyuganov 35.8% to 32.5, Lebed was a strong third at 14.7%, Yavlinskiy was 7.4 %, Zhirinovskiy 5.8% and the others were deep in the weeds (Brytsalov coming dead last. Anybody remember him? YouTube does). I observed the election counting at a military base near Moscow and there Lebed won comfortably with Yeltsin second.

One of the things that the Americans were supposed to have done was put some zip into Yeltsin’s campaign ads. I saw little evidence of that. Perhaps Yeltsin’s most effective ad was this one but there was nothing very impressive about the others. The best ads I saw were for Lebed. The one I most remember was at a work site where people were complaining that the country was going to the dogs and there wasn’t anyone who could lead the way out, a sprightly girl pipes up “есть такой человек, ты его знаешь!” (There is such a man, you know him) and Lebed’s face would appear. (And, amazingly, YouTube has preserved one of the series.) This played to his reputation as a man who could make hard decisions and was the very essence of мужественность (manliness, courage). Something he was to prove later in the year when he went to Chechnya, recognised the war was lost, and swiftly negotiated a ceasefire and withdrawal with Aslan Maskhadov. Zyuganov’s advertising was very Soviet – long screeds on cheap paper which probably didn’t shift a single vote.

The media coverage did heavily favour Yeltsin. Some of it was understandable: Yeltsin used the power of incumbency, was doing newsworthy things and his campaign style was far more active than Zyuganov’s; added to which, most reporters did not want a return to the days of GlavLit censorship. But the coverage was pretty heavy-handed: for example, in the last week, TV carried a program about the Cheka terror, an unflattering movie about Stalin and a hagiographic profile of Nikolay II. But Yeltsin ran a much better campaign than Zyuganov: he bribed the taxpayers with their own money (not unknown in our politics), apparently defused the Chechnya disaster, buried the health issue with his frenetic activity and directed his campaign to the issues people were concerned about; and he was cunning: in Novocherkassk he spoke of the strikers gunned down in 1962. So, while he shamelessly used the incumbent’s advantages, he did things that deserved coverage.

So, the dynamic operated: Zyuganov never got past his start state and Yeltsin gathered in the anti-communist vote. Not that surprising. American political operators had little effect.

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 14 JANUARY 2021

RUSSIA-CHINA. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi says: “In developing China-Russia strategic cooperation, we see no limit, no forbidden zone and no ceiling to how far this cooperation can go.” The two now settle 25% of their business in their own currencies. I would say that the two lasting achievements of the neo-cons and their New American Century have been the ever-closer Moscow-Beijing alliance and the increased influence of Iran. Who did win the Cold War after all?

RESERVES. The Central Bank of Russia has published its account of Russia reserves as of 30 June 2020. The total was 561.1 billion USD (up $44.3 billion since a year before). Euro holdings accounted for 29.5% . For the first time ever gold (22.9%) was a bigger proportion than USD (22.2%). Renminbi was 12.2%. Russia’s economy – failing always failing.

NAVALNIY. The report from the Charité Hospital in Berlin fires another nail gun’s worth into the coffin of the Navalniy story. Numerous health problems, lots of drugs in him, but no novichok symptoms.

NOTE: John Helmer’s site has been under attack since his Navalniy reporting. He has sent me these Twitter-access links Link1 Link 2 Link 3. A reminder that, back in the day, they jammed us.

COVID. Putin has ordered mass use of the Sputnik vaccine (1.5 million inoculated already). No side effects, they say. A scientist is optimistic that COVID will have faded down by the summer.

PUTIN CHRISTMAS. What Putin did on the 6th; what some Americans think he did. Or this.

WESTERN VALUES™. As Western social media apps censor, people are bailing out and Russian ones grow: the founder of Telegram says 25 million new members have joined in past 72 hours. These things are bubbles: Twitter and Facebook are said to have lost fifty billion dollars after banning Trump.

PAVLIK REDEVIVUS. From Vladimir Goldstein. And she wants to be a lawyer, too.

JOKES. Just heard this one: I can make anti-Putin jokes on Russian social media. Big deal, I can make anti-Putin jokes on Western social media. (A re-tread of a Soviet-era joke). Or this: Due to travel restrictions abroad, Americans have done a coup at home.

MOON. Moscow considering manned moon mission. Hmmmm. Russian/Chinese base on the Moon in ten years?

SURVEILLANCE. Moscow City has revealed a plan to spend money on a database containing information about every resident, including passport numbers, insurance policies, salaries, car registrations. Much of it appears to already exist. For safety, security and convenience, of course. Mind you, we all volunteered: we all carry smartphones around broadcasting everything we do.

ARMENIA-AZERBAIJAN. Putin chaired a meeting of the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan. They signed a statement on development of Karabakh region. Here are the official statements after the meeting. Its another step in resolving the difficult problem which has deep roots. I note a reference to the OSCE Minsk Group but I don’t expect it to get much involved. It’s done nothing much in 28 years and who wants the West meddling in the area anyway?

THE EMPTINESS OF FORMER FLAPS. “After months of bashing Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, Western journalists in Moscow line up to be inoculated“. A reminder of the job description.

NUGGETS FROM THE STUPIDITY MINE. I am amused that the US Navy has announced that it may start “freedom of navigation” trips in the Russian Arctic (despite not not signing on to the UNCLOS.) But the biggest US icebreaker is rather elderly and can barely handle two-metre ice. So perhaps it will lease icebreakers from Finland. Given that the Arctic is a Russian lake, not least because of the Russian monopoly of gigantic icebreakers, one can easily imagine some embarrassments for the Americans.

NEW NWO. “We are seeing images that I never imagined we would see in this country-in some other capital yes, but not here. No one in the world is likely to see, respect, fear, or depend on us in the same way again. If the post-American era has a start date, it is almost certainly today.” Richard N Haass.

EUROPEANS ARE REVOLTING. After seven years of negotiation, the EU and China have produced a comprehensive trade agreement. Washington is not amused. Meanwhile Nord Stream 2 chugs along.

UKRAINE. Has been left rather high and dry on vaccines with none of its BFFs in the West doing anything for it. But the Foreign Minister insists Kiev will not buy Sputnik vaccine even if it works: “It [Russia] cares about imposing its propaganda cliches and ideology by supplying the vaccine, even if it were effective”. Like most things in Ukraine, it’s a mess.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer