RIAN AND VOR. The state-owned RIA Novosti and Voice of Russia radio will be absorbed into a new media conglomerate called Rossiya Segodnya with Dmitriy Kiselyov as its head. (Western propaganda line on him laid out here for easy re-typing. Note that what he said isn’t actually controversial in many countries – although it might be in Russia. But, hey, it’s Russia: say what you want.) The stated reasons were that the new organisation would be more efficient, save money and better present Russia’s image in the world. Well, Russia could certainly do with something that did a better job of getting its POV out and I was personally quite disgusted when I caught RIAN repeating the lie that Putin had called the USSR’s breakup the “greatest” geopolitical catastrophe: a state-owned news outlet should get it right. So we’ll see. As usual, the Western line is that Putin has crushed press freedom. But, feeble in 2003 and non-existent in 2008, what’s left to crush?
CORRUPTION. The Investigative Committee Head gave us some official numbers. In the last two years corruption has cost 9 billion RUB (US$271 million) (sounds low to me) of which 4 billion was recovered. More than 1600 lawmakers and local government officials were prosecuted (sounds ballpark correct to me). Putin has just created an organisation in the Presidential Administration to focus on corruption. A Sisyphean job and not to be completed in his lifetime. Or ours. Or, in truth, in anybody’s anywhere.
AMNESTY. Putin has submitted a draft resolution on an amnesty to the Duma. In commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution, it is said to affect about 15,000 people, 1500 or so of whom are in jail. Lots of rumours: Khodorkovskiy, Pussy Riot, Navalniy; but only rumours at the moment.
PUSSY RIOT. The Supreme Court ordered a sentence review; not all mitigating factors were taken into account.
RUSSIA INC. The Economy Ministry has cut its 2014 growth estimate to 2.5% from 3%. Sounds bad eh? But a Eurozone forecast is 1.1% and a USA forecast 2.8%. So not so bad. Do you expect this context to be reported? Of course not. (Check the URLs out, Dear Readers: it’s a real clue to the way Russia is reported. The headline should read: “Russia cuts growth estimates, but still expects to do better than most anyone else in G8”. If “Putin’s rule is falling apart”, what’s happening to the rules of others?)
CUBA. Moscow will write off $29 billion of Cuba’s Soviet-era debts. As I like to point out, when the Russian Federation took over the USSR’s assets and debits, the debits were real (the Paris Group expected – and received – full repayment). The so-called assets, on the other hand, were some valuable real estate but mostly worthless obligations like Cuba’s debt. So Moscow paid 100 cents on the dollar and received a penny or two on the dollar. So, if we add this small net income to the huge capital flight (for a brief, exciting, moment Estonia was a major oil exporter – I personally saw hundreds of Russian oil tanker cars in the Narva trainyards in 1994) and put it against Western aid (much of which had to be paid back), who was subsidising whom in the 1990s? And that doesn’t even add in all the cheap energy to Russia’s neighbours. One can understand why many Russians do not consider the 1990s to be some lost paradise that Putin has stolen from them.
EU. Georgia and Moldova signed association agreements with the EU in Vilnius. I guess we’re supposed to believe that Moscow can bully big Ukraine but not little Moldova.
GAS WARS. Not the least of the problems in Ukraine is that it is broke. Naftohaz has just announced that it has agreed with Gazprom to defer payments for winter fuel deliveries to next spring. But the only way it can pay is to pry some money out of Brussels, Moscow or… Beijing.
UKRAINE. The Western destabilisation of Ukraine continues. Why it wants to do so I don’t understand. But a lot of what the West does I don’t understand – what was the Libyan intervention about? Not to improve the “human rights” situation there, that’s for sure. Ukraine is tense, divided and angry. A poll at last: 46% for the EU, 36% for the Customs Union, 19% undecided. (English). But also see this: 30% think the EU deal would be beneficial, 39% don’t and 30% are undecided. Much more complicated than the propagandistic picture the Western media paints.
SYRIA CW. The OPCW confirms all unfilled Syrian CW munitions containers have been destroyed. A private source informs me that the destruction is “field expedient” (sledgehammers) but effective. Meanwhile Seymour Hersh has a piece arguing that the famous attack was, as Putin maintained all along, a false flag operation.