Russia and the G8: Is Russia isolated or does it represent the global majority?

JRL/2013/ 117/42

Is Putin really as isolated on Syria as we are told? There is plenty of evidence that he is in general agreement with world opinion. He is in better agreement with Americans about intervention than Obama is: a number of polls show opposition to US involvement in the 60s. Better with the British than Cameron is: similar results in the UK. As to the rest of the world, a recent Pew survey shows there is little support for intervention anywhere else either. Putin’s opposition to outside interference much better reflects world opinion than the interveners do. Which may be why there is such an intense campaign against Russia and Putin: he must be discredited.

He does not “support Assad” – that is an accusation to drown out what he is really saying. Putin opposes intervention in Syria (and Iraq… and Kosovo… and Libya…) for three reasons: principled, practical and personal. Intervention violates a key international principle because, like it or not, Assad’s regime is the recognised government of the country. By what right does a fraction of NATO, unsupported by its population, decide to pick a side in a vicious civil war? Once upon a time, interventions were legitimised by the UN (1st Gulf War); then by NATO (Kosovo); now by only some of NATO (Libya). Secondly, there is nothing to suggest that the end result will benefit anyone. Russia is a cautious country that plays by primum non nocere – first, do no harm. Previous Western/NATO interventions have done little for stability and have often resulted in aiding and comforting their enemies (a definition of treason in most countries). Finally, he fears that Russia might be on the list of undesirable governments to be overthrown. He has seen the appetite for intervention grow with the feeding.

Therefore, Putin opposes intervention in Syria because it is questionably legal, sets (another) dangerous precedent, will almost certainly leave behind it a more chaotic, miserable and dangerous situation (vide Kosovo or Libya) and because he fears the extension to Russia. It has nothing to do with any “alliance”, “support” for Assad, the so-called naval base or arms sales. There is no alliance, he does not “support” Assad, the naval base is a corner of a small port with few facilities and most of the arms sales contracts have been placed on hold. But it is necessary to demonise Putin to drown this out. The fuss about the Russian air defence missiles which never appeared was a useful distraction from the (US-crewed) air defence missiles which did appear. The fuss about the so-called naval base distracts attention from new US bases. The ritual reiteration of Putin’s support for Assad smokescreens the surreptitious support for his enemies.

So: not only will Putin be proven correct in that some-of-NATO’s interference will not have a happy ending, not only is his condemnation of intervention in accord with majority world opinion so far as can be determined but it is even in accord with opinion in the countries whose leaders are cheering on NATO’s next adventure in “humanitarian interventions”.

While Putin may be out of step with the G8 majority (somewhat smaller than it pretends to be – does anyone seriously think Tokyo has signed on? Berlin kept out of the last adventure, who expects it to participate in this one? Is Rome on board?), that pseudo-majority is itself out of step with public opinion in its own countries and, so far as can be determined, out of step with world opinion.

Calling him isolated is an attempt to shout down the reality that the interveners’ own electorates do not support intervention.


SYRIA. So the West doing it again, intervening in a fight by trying to pick the right side on the foolish assumption that if Assad is wrong the others must be less wrong; this will lead to more involvement because mere arming won’t do the job. It will, as before, wind up giving aid and comfort to the very people it’s fighting elsewhere in the world. Especially as they are strengthening their position in Syria. The triumph of hope over experience. Even such a reflexive supporter of the present US Administration as the NYT can see this. And, somehow, it’s all Putin’s fault. Incredible. The CW excuse is not believable as Ron Paul explains. I rarely agree with Brzezinski but he’s right to call it propaganda. And what you hear about Russia is part of the information “battlespace preparation”. And it’s been a successful distraction campaign: the S-300 fuss covered up the deployment of Patriots and today’s headlines read “Putin opposes West” rather than “Another military adventure to benefit our enemies”.

G8 MEETING. Much abuse of Putin at the G8 meeting over Syria. But as to Harper’s “G-7 plus one” I would be surprised if Japan supported this new “humanitarian intervention” and Germany hasn’t in the past. Maybe Italy’s not too enthusiastic either so I suspect it’s more like G4 ½ plus 3½ . Interventions were once legitimised by the UN (1st Gulf War); then by NATO (Kosovo); now by some of NATO (Libya). Apparently there is still supposed to be an effort to be led by Moscow and Washington to produce some sort of political solution.

TRIAL. A protest last year against Putin’s re-appearance led to violence. All my sources agree it was started by a small band of protesters; the police may or may not have over-reacted. (BTW one of the best pieces of evidence that it was pre-planned is Ksenia Sobchak’s live journal entry in which she says she will not be attending because she knows an incident is planned.) The trial of the alleged ringleaders has begun (“Bolotnaya Case”). By the way, contrary to what you hear in the West, Putin’s support rating, according to Levada, while perhaps declining a bit, remains at levels most other politicians can only dream of.

NGO LAW. Putin says it can be improved. He doesn’t mention them, but I hope he means that polling companies like Levada and VTsIOM will be clearly exempted. They’re not NGOs; they’re companies which do occasional work for foreigners. BTW, for those of you who wonder if the US FARA law is active, here’s the evidence. Concerning, oddly enough, John McCain’s foreign policy advisor Randy Scheunemann and Saakashvili’s government. (Hyperlinks for PDF copies). We are indeed all Georgians (or were, see below).

GOODBYE RUSSIA. A prominent economist has stated that he is frightened to return to Russia and Garri Kasparov says he won’t either. I know nothing of the first (a sympathetic view of his plight) but I can’t help the suspicion that the latter may be motivated by the fact that he has been superseded by Navalniy (coverage of his trial for embezzlement here) as the West’s approved opposition leader.

ENERGY. If the US Energy Information Administration is correct that Russia has the world’s largest shale oil resources then, given its known enormous oil and gas reserves, it looks as if Russia Inc will be making money out of energy production for years to come.

DIVORCE. The Putins are divorcing. The official line is that with Putin’s work hours they have hardly seen each other for years and that there is no one else. Some Western reactions erecting the usual structures on the head of this pin. Orthodoxy permits divorce and remarriage in some circumstances.

CORRUPTION. A couple more cases have been begun but the reporting has grown quiet of late. Two possibilities: the investigations are proceeding (these things can take a long time) or the investigators have bitten off more than they can chew and digest. We will see.

AT LAST. Medvedev says the Baikal Pulp and Paper Mill will finally be closed down. It has been polluting this pristine area since 1966.

GEORGIA-RUSSIA. Two good steps. Tbilisi was invited to participate on security for the Sochi Olympics and has accepted and the first Georgian wine has finally arrived in Russia and will be followed by much more.

GEORGIA. And now it transpires that in Saakashvili’s “democratic Georgia” thousands of phone taps and secret recordings of his opponents were made. The Western view is crashing fast.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (

Does the Prism scandal challenge America`s democratic values?

In connection with the PRISM scandal, we should remember the Venona intercepts. Back in The Day, a number of broadcasts to Soviet agents in the US, Canada and the UK were intercepted and saved. They were in a code that was never completely broken but they were pondered over and over again, for years – decades – by Western intelligence agencies. Bit by bit parts of the messages were understood. But never completely; full understanding came only after the collapse of the USSR opened the original messages.

Those charged with the security of their country had better take this source of information seriously. The Enemy communicates. After 911 (and lots of it before, truth be known) all this stuff – ie everything – was vacuumed up and stored in case it had to be searched later. The PRISM data collection effort is, as it were, the gathering of a mountain of dross in which there may be a few nuggets of ore. John Smith’s phone calls (or yours) hold no interest today and there is no reason to take the enormous effort to look at them, but they might be later when we find out who he really is. Billions of phone calls, tweets, twitters, e-mails and everything else. It’s all out there, it’s all recordable, almost all of it is of no interest at all, but we don’t know today which is and which isn’t. So keep it all, because we can. Perhaps it might have been better to have explained the process openly at the beginning but intelligence organisations do have a bias towards secrecy.

Putin’s comments are carefully chosen and honest as far as they go. One can be quite certain that Spetssvyaz, the Russian signals intelligence organisation, is doing the same thing to the best of its abilities and budget. Putin said nothing that he will have to apologise for later. But he said nothing very informative either.

The point is that this stuff is all collected and stored and, maybe, later, a bit is looked at in detail, in theory, when a judge or other legal authority grants permission. In theory. The practice, of course could easily be different. Some rogue breaks into the database; security requirements are twisted into industrial espionage; the tax people want information on somebody the authorities don’t like; some other government authority – with, of course, the very best and purest of motives – needs to know something.

Contemporary technology allowed Sir Francis Walsingham to intercept only letters. But modern technology makes possible the collection of enormous amounts of information: he intercepted hundreds of letters; his successors intercept millions of tweets. Simply put: you either trust the authorities to make the correct judgement to look only at the bad guys or you don’t. There is no easy answer. If you trust the authorities to create the right safeguards, and follow them, you can sleep peacefully. If not, not; the future will tell whether you were right or wrong.

But the USA under Obama is not the only one doing this, and no one should be simple enough to think it is.

Is Russia’s ‘foreign agents’ law justified?

How one reacts to Russia’s NGO law depends on what one thought those NGOs were doing in the first place. If they were disinterestedly and objectively advocating for and monitoring universal human rights, then the Russian law is objectionable. But if they were functioning as an arm of a foreign country’s policy then the Russian law must be seen as an act of self defence.

Which leads us to the Russian law’s model: the American Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938. This act is still in force and has a section of the US Department of Justice charged with its enforcement. Note that the official description has many of the words that opponents of the Russian act claim to find so offensive: “agents of foreign principals”, “political or quasi-political capacity” “foreign agents” “Counterespionage” “National Security”. In 1938 the coming war was visible and there were many foreign interests that wanted to shape American public opinion. FARA was, therefore an act of self defence.

Is the Russian act also an act of self defence? Consider the reaction to Russia’s Duma election; despite results consistent with the findings of numerous opinion polls that Putin’s pedestal party was losing support but still commanded half the vote, US Secretary of State Clinton condemned the result instantly and the foreign-funded NGOs produced supporting “evidence” which did not stand up to later investigation (Vedomost’s examination of Moscow results, the only serious examination of which I am aware, found nothing much). Consider Suzanne Nossel, smoothly moving between government and NGOs, committed to using “human rights” as part of the arsenal of US power. Consider a US official admitting that countries that don’t cooperate get “reamed” on human rights. It’s not “human rights”, it’s realpolitik.

Sceptics should ask themselves two questions: after all, it wouldn’t be the first time that reporting on Russia was stage managed. The first is why, in the endless think pieces about the Russian law, is the American law never mentioned? Second, why won’t the NGOs register under the law? In theory, once registered, they can still operate even if labelled, to quote FARA, as “agents of foreign principals”; shouldn’t they want to test whether this is true? Think how much stronger their case would be if they complied with the law and were shut down anyway. If they are, as they claim, objective seekers after truth, shouldn’t they be confident that the truth will out? Why are they folding without a struggle? Makes one wonder whether they are flaming out as a last obedience to their foreign masters because the truth is that they have no existence on their own. You should be suspicious: truthful reporting would mention that Russia is not alone with such a law and brave human rights supporters would forge on anyway. All this makes me more confident that the Russians are correct: it’s not human rights, it’s Nosselism.

Oh, and just as a matter of interest, Nossel has been associated with three NGOs: Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and, today, PEN. (and not, by the way, to universal acclaim “Humanitarian imperialism” “cooption of the Human Rights movement by the U.S. government” and plenty more). In the last month the three have run pieces on Russia’s NGO law, AI still wants to free Pussy Riot and PEN has something on writers in Russia. But none of them, curiously enough, has anything to say about tax authorities harassing political opponents and legal authorities listening in on reporters’ conversations.

Which, a simple person would think, are quite serious human rights violations.


SYRIAN PROPAGANDA WAR. A week of hysteria – Russia is selling S-300s; they’re here; they’re not here; they’re coming; they’re game-changers. Huge flap (97 million Google hits). What was the evidence for any of it? S-300s date from 1979 (although many improvements) and are not some hitherto unknown super weapon. BTW Syria has lots of Soviet/Russian AD systems and none seems to hamper the Israeli Air Force. In any case Putin has just said no. Like most of the news out of Syria this is misdirection away from something that actually was happening. What would that have been? Assad’s successes (only a year ago he was a goner)? The EU arming the opposition? Ah, this must be what we weren’t supposed to see: the US is deploying its equivalent system in the neighbourhood and may keep it there. And fighter planes too. Well, well, those nasty Russians make useful distractions.

NGOs. The polling company Levada is saying that it is being told to register as a foreign agent under the new law and that it may have to close down. Its director says it receives a trivial amount of its budget – a couple of percentage points – from foreign sources. It is also reported that VTsIOM is hearing similar things. I find this a little fishy. One, who’s telling it? Two, why would it have to close down? Three, take this to court and see what happens and then complain. Four, while Levada is independent (and its boss no fan of Putin), VTsIOM is government-owned; why would the government want to “shut down” both? It’s also worth saying that both come up with similar results – I see no bias in either. As I say, something doesn’t sound right.

POLITKOVSKAYA. The authorities are trying again. They are sticking with the same story: one Lom-Ali Gaitukayev organised the murder at the request of an “unknown mastermind” for $150,000; he hired three relatives and a former policemen to do the actual killing. The trial failed the last time around but the prosecutors are confident they can bring it off it now. The difference presumably is that another former policeman, Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov, hired as the “spotter” for the killers, cut a deal for a reduced sentence in return for telling what he knows. I have always believed that she learned something some powerful player didn’t want known (perhaps without realising it) and that the murder had nothing to do with the authorities. Who’s the “unknown mastermind”? Berezovskiy was always a popular candidate but there is no proof. But now that he’s dead maybe we’ll find out. (I still wish Putin would tell us what was in the letters).

LITVINENKO. We have never had an official finding in the cause of his death and we may never: the coroner has agreed to allow the British intelligence establishment to keep its information secret. But he is now asking for a public inquiry, so it’s not over just yet. We’re told MI6 was paying him money (maybe not – his wife said no in 2007 but yes in 2012). If so, what for? Golly! There sure is a lot more to this story than we were fed originally, isn’t there?

INTERNET. Penetration is approaching the limits in Moscow and St Petersburg and high overall. A remainder that, despite all the perennial assertions that media freedom is crushed, Russians are quite able to find out what’s going on at home and abroad.

MAKHACHKALA MAYOR. Arrested and charged with murder. Clearly some interesting background there.

MOSCOW MAYOR. Has just announced he will resign. The reason seems to be that he wants to run and be elected. He had previously been appointed but now that the system for selecting regional heads (Moscow and St Petersburg count as these) has been changed (again) to election rather than appointment, I guess he wants to legitimate himself this way (and add some time to his term too). I expect that others will do the same.

GEORGIA. The former PM and very close Saakashvili ally, Vano Merabishvili, was arrested last month and charged with numerous crimes including election fixing. Lots of developments in Georgia which are causing cognitive dissonance among Saakashvili’s former shills (Response to that one from Georgian Minister of Justice). (My bit of schadenfreude is here).

CUSTOMS UNION. The Ukrainian government has approved a memorandum applying for observer status in the Customs Union (Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan). This will be welcomed and likely approved. Probably the final nail in the coffin of the “Orange Revolution” fantasy.


© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (