TRUMP-PUTIN AFTER OSAKA

(Response to a question from Sputnik)

I’m not very optimistic. As everyone knows, Trump years ago said it would be better to get along with Russia than not. A perfectly reasonable point of view and not a thought that Roosevelt, Kennedy, Nixon or Reagan would have had much trouble with. But Clinton lost the “more than a 99% chance” election and “Russian interference” became her favourite excuse; the typists of the complaisant US media snapped to attention and repeated and repeated the charge, pumping the intensity of “Russian interference” to ever higher levels.

Mueller’s report has killed the collusion charge but the other half of the lie, Russian interference, remains.

Until a real investigation is completed and people are charged, convicted and sent to jail – we who been following events can name many of them – producing effects so indisputable that even the readers of the NYT and WaPo, the watchers of MSNBC and CNN, the last partisans in Congress, are speechless, the loudly shouted charge that Trump is Putin’s stooge will block genuinely improved relations.

So, until – if – that happens, I can’t expect much except minor improvements. Which are better than nothing but a good deal short of what is necessary between two powers either of which can obliterate us.

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 27 JUNE 2019

PUTIN DIRECT LINE. (Eng) (Rus) Deep in the weeds, this one: trash (apparently piling up since Soviet times), healthcare, maternity and child care issues, farming, corruption (declining said Putin, it’s the inevitability of punishment that matters), over-zealous inspectors, protecting Russia’s electronic/internet/cyberspace against attacks (several mentions of Washington’s attacks on Huawei), air routes, water supply. “Russia’s greatest problem” was to secure “higher labour efficiency”. Little on foreign issues other than that Putin & Co stand ready to talk (but I get the impression that they don’t expect they’ll get much chance to). Sanctions had led to substitution: “Look, if ten years ago I… had been told that we would be exporting agricultural products worth $25.7 billion, like we did last year, I would have laughed… ” Suppose Russia gives in? he doubted sanctions would ever stop – Huawei again. Why is he polite to those “slinging mud at us”? he was brought up that way and rudeness isn’t useful in negotiations. And we learned a reason why he does these things; “a direct line that is intended to bring the bottlenecks into focus and to find solutions to these problems”. A theme this year was how orders from the centre often aren’t fulfilled on the ground. He and the producers observed that “Problems end as soon as Direct Line starts”. I re-read one of his earlier ones (from 2002) and I would say that today’s concerns are smaller, they’re more about the uneven implementation of strategic plans or fine tuning some strategy than the need for big solutions for big problems. Which is a sign, of course, of how far things have improved since then. (In those days, Russia was finished.) See below.

STATISTICS. I saw these numbers the other day. Life expectancy steadily climbing. Meat consumption up. Murders down. All reasons why Russians generally believe that Putin & Co are getting the job done. (And, it should always be remembered, half of those who don’t like him, don’t because he hasn’t occupied Ukraine or bombed Tbilisi into obedience. Russian exceptionalists, so to speak.)

PEOPLE POWER. The Boss’ advice was taken: referendum, strong opposition discovered, church cancelled. But the Boss’ opinion should not have been sought. And, as we see every year in Direct Line, there are still too many people asking Batyushka to fix their roof.

FLOATING NPP. Approved for operation. It is to be towed to isolated places in the Russian north to provide power. Causing, no doubt, more blather like this or this about Russia taking over the Arctic.

FREEDOM OF NAVIGATION. Russia does its bit to ensure ships carrying goods through the Panama Canal can do so; it’s the principle of the thing. (Russian ship transits Panama Canal. Now in Cuba.).

MH17. More unsupported allegations from JIT (note that Bellingcat seems to be the source.) Malaysia PM Mahathir (correctly) remains sceptical: “Even before they examined the case, they have already claimed it was done by Russia“. As do I (the port air engine intake is an important clue). BTW, what happened to the last “conclusive proof” out of JIT… attentive people remember.

TRUE? FALSE? Who knows? it’s the NYT after all. “U.S. Escalates Online Attacks on Russia’s Power Grid“. Does that sound like a good idea to you? Anyway, it shows that pieces like this from 2017 were projection. All this provocation, baiting and risk because of… see below.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA. Not only did the FBI never examine the DNC’s servers but it never saw an un-redacted final copy of the Crowdstrike report accusing Russia of hacking them. It’s all assertion by interested parties. The interference meme is nonsense too – read this.

IRAN. I believe them when they say they will shut it down: they fought Iraq for eight years until they prevailed. Very dangerous indeed.

GEORGIA. The Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy meets in Tbilisi; the President, a Russian, gives a speech in Russian. This leads to riots. At the same time Washington and its minions are pushing for a Gay Pride march in a country where there isn’t much support for such things. Washington is apparently deeply concerned about this in Georgia but not elsewhere. I agree with Jatras that it sounds like an attempt at a coloured revolution: protesters with signs in foreign languages are hardly grassroots (Russian in Latin script!!??). Moscow has banned flights to Georgia and blocked Georgian airlines: this will hurt their tourism revenue. Remittances are a significant part of Georgia‘s economy and Russia is the largest source so blocking those may be next on the list. (Worked with Turkey, didn’t it?)

UKRAINE. Poroshenko’s new church is de-laminating in fights over money.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

COMMENTS FROM THE LOCKED WARD

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

Trump has criticized President Obama in foreign policy matters but refuses to say anything negative about Putin who he is clearly taking orders from in this Iran imbroglio. He is a comprised fool and a danger to our Nation.

I bet you Putin rang you and told you not too

 

Response to Trump tweets on why he didn’t attack Iran, 21 June 2019

A MONTH IN THE LIFE OF THE WORLD’S RICHEST MAN

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

Between one hundred billion and one hundred and sixty billion dollars. That’s a lot of moolah. Taking the lower number, that’s a line of thousand dollar bills half way to the Moon. Personal yacht? buy the latest Princess cruise ship, staff it, have it all to yourself forever and still have 99 billion or so to fool around with. A brand new Italian super car every day for ten years wouldn’t make much of a dent. You like to cruise? Reserve the Owner’s suite on every Princess cruise ship and have a private plane standing by 24/7 just in case. Hotels? Buy a couple in your favourite part of the world; permanently rent the Emperor’s Suite in a couple of dozen others. Put yourself into orbit on your private orbiter. Private planes? how about a double-decker Airbus? Only a billion for two. Private Caribbean island? Lots to choose from. Hire a bunch of healthy organ donors and a mobile hospital to follow you around. Anything. Build a new Great Pyramid, it’s chump change out of $100 billion. Endow a university chair to study your life and works. Fill Easter Island with giant statues of yourself. It would be impossible to spend that much in a human lifetime.

This, we are told, is the extent of Putin’s wealth.

In the book, “Russia’s Crony Capitalism: The Path from Market Economy to Kleptocracy,” Aslund estimates that through the practice of “crony capitalism,” Putin has amassed a net worth between $100 billion and $160 billion, which would make him richer than the officially wealthiest man in the world, Amazon owner Jeff Bezos.

(Love that “net” – sounds so precise.) Pfeh! says Browder: a measly one hundred – try two hundred billion! Nah! A trivial seventy billion says somebody else. Why not eleventy-seven squintillion? Net.

The origin of the “Putin is fabulously rich” story seems to have been this interview with Stanislav Belkovskiy (certainly he’s used as the source often enough.) Russia is about to collapse, nothing is working properly: agriculture, banking; all failing. But Putin & Co have trousered millions for the day when they will have to get out:

Putin knows that extremely destructive processes are going on that he simply can not control. Therefore, it is important for him to leave the game, as long as the explosion has not yet occurred. There will be no third term for him.

The acuity of this analysis is spoiled a bit by the fact that, twelve years later, Putin and Russia are still there. Belkovskiy turns out to be the cousin of Boris Berezovskiy which gives away his motivation. Boris Berezovskiy, by the way, was the chief anti-Putinist until he begged Putin to be allowed back in. Whereupon he committed suicide. They say.

And where, by the way, does Putin keep all the gelt?

Not a good idea to do it offshore, especially when you consider suggestions like “Why Exposing Putin’s Wealth Would Be Obama’s Best Revenge” or “Why not seize Putin’s assets?” or “US ready to target Russian president’s hidden $40bn stash“. But where inside? A gigantic bag of paper rubles will be worth nothing when Russia crashes. Gold? but gold is heavy and hard to move at the Last Moment. Title deeds? Gazprom shares? Same problem: if he’s squirrelling it away against the day the building collapses, it doesn’t make much sense to keep it in the building, does it?

But these are questions nobody asks.

Remember the Panama Papers? First they were about Putin; then when somebody noticed that the word “Putin” didn’t appear anywhere, they were by Putin. But bubbles keep bubbling. Leaked US diplomatic cables citing opposition sources (opposition sources are the gold standard of reliability, aren’t they?) NYT speculates away: “it [the Obama Administration] is sending a not-very-subtle message that it thinks it knows where the Russian leader has his money“. The Sun hit it out of the park in 2016: “many believe” “claimed” “claimed” “rumoured” “believe he could be” “alleged” “alleged” “said to be” “alleged”. How many tonnes of rumours equal one gram of fact?

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Let’s have a look at how the world’s wealthiest man spent his time in April 2019. English and Russian.

  • Monday 1 April: telephone conversations with three foreign leaders, meeting with a businessman
  • Tuesday 2 April: more phone calls, another businessman, congratulations
  • Wednesday 3 April: visit to a factory, birthday greetings, meeting with a foreign leader and discussions, press statement on same
  • Thursday 4 April: meetings with two foreign leaders, an opening ceremony, condolences
  • Friday 5 April: government committee meeting, more greetings
  • Saturday 6 April: no activity noted
  • Sunday 7 April: greetings and a phone call to a foreign official
  • Monday 8 April: more greetings, talks with foreign officials, press conference on same
  • Tuesday 9 April: greetings, meetings with several foreign leaders, attend international forum
  • Wednesday 10 April: more greetings, meeting with foreign leader, meeting with Russian official, meeting with government committee, church visit
  • Thursday 11 April: greetings, ceremony, government meeting
  • Friday 12 April: congratulations, factory visit, meeting with foreign businessman, gala event
  • Saturday 13 April: quiet day: just greetings to a judo tournament
  • Sunday 14 April: no activity noted.

In the rest of the month, nine government meetings, two phone calls to foreign leaders, eight meetings with foreign leaders or officials, five meetings with Russians, five international talks or forums, two trips inside Russia, three news conferences or interviews, one foreign trip and two ceremonies. Two days off, one of which was Easter when he went to church. And so on; the month before the same and the month after. Month after month.

Fun eh? Where’s the time to play with his yachts, visit his palaces, wind up his watch collection? The man works all the time. What’s the point of being the world’s richest man if you slave away in meeting after meeting, interviews, endless paperwork, strategy sessions, planning meetings, briefing notes, meeting preparations, debriefings? Doesn’t sound like some guy who’s trousered huge sums of money, does it? More like the hard-working president of his country.

But maybe the wealth is more of a concept, really. Navalniy, “Russia’s Last Opposition Hero“, helpfully suggests “The czar of corruption owns everything and nothing“. I guess that means Putin’s wealth is some figure between zero and infinity.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

So, we’re supposed to believe that Putin has used his position to steal vast sums which he can safely hide neither at home nor abroad, sums of which he doesn’t spend a kopek because he’s too busy sending greetings to The Age of Archaeology: Discoveries, Goals, Perspectives International Forum, answering media questions about the latest meeting with the President of Turkey and holding meetings with the Russian Security Council. On his off days, he spends two hours standing in church.

But it’s all a GIGO circle: people with a grudge against Putin (Berezovskiy’s cousin, the inventor of the Magnitskiy fraud, Integrity Initiative trolls) tell the punters what they want to hear. There are lots of folk-tales about smart little guys tricking stupid giants (ATU 328 in fact); the giant, hearing what he wants to hear, believes it. Russia, they imagine, is a sort of mafia project of which Putin is the capo di tutti capi and dips his beak into every deal. After being told what they want to hear by people who want to tell them what they want to hear, they decide that sanctioning the underbosses will make them turn against Putin. And, with Washington’s customary expectation that changing the Boss will change the whole country, they do this. Over and over again.

And they never learn. Years of unbroken failure never seem to teach them anything. The sanctions aren’t working because the assumption is wrong. These are the very same people who promised a quick victory in Afghanistan, a quick victory in Iraq and are now promising a quick victory in Iran; their learning curve is absolutely flat.

As someone observed: the US bench (read NATO and the UK too) on Russia is very shallow. Their intelligence is lousy and their unbroken record of failure should teach them that.

But it doesn’t, they continue and people make money and serve their own ends by encouraging them to do so. Jack tricks the giant and gets a bag of gold. Two million quid in the case of Integrity Jack.

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 13 JUNE 2019

CORRUPTION. I haven’t written much on the subject lately not because corruption in Russia has stopped, but because I haven’t seen much to comment on. But there are some things this week that are worth reporting. An official has been charged with fraud: in essence taking money for something that wasn’t done. Another more complex case combines organised crime, officials, embezzlement on state projects and incomplete plea bargains made earlier by a defendant. The third case involves a traffic accident and the collusion of a forensic expert to get the guilty party off. Further investigation revealed the fake forensic report but the punishment of the expert appears to be trivial. Details are at Southfront. Probably the most interesting case is that of Ivan Golunov. a reporter specialising in corruption stories. He was arrested on drug charges on Friday; immediately his lawyer said the drugs were planted. On Saturday a court released him into house arrest. On Monday three newspapers came out in his support and the Interior Ministry said several different DNA signatures were on the drugs. On Tuesday the prosecution dropped the case, he was freed, the police who arrested him were suspended and an investigation into their conduct opened. Two senior police generals were fired today. Two things strike me: how quickly it happened, and the fact that the Interior Ministry swiftly produced evidence suggesting the drugs were planted. (RFE/RL amusingly spins it as if Putin had personally been behind every step until forced off by public pressure.) My conclusion from all this: plenty of fraud, embezzlement and police misbehaviour but also a system that is, at the very least, making it more difficult for the bad guys.

PUTIN POPULARITY. Also from RFE/RL is this: “Russians’ Trust In Putin Sinks To New Low“. The reference is to a May VtsIOM poll. But there were two questions: in the question of approval of institutions, “President of Russia” scored 65.8%; in the open question of which politician do you trust, “V.V. Putin” scored 31.7%. The Kremlin asked VtsIOM to explain how twice as many people could “approve” as “trust” and the answer was the difference between closed and open questions. I’m a bit confused myself (can there be anybody in Russia who doesn’t know that Putin is President?) but I don’t think that Putin & Co have much to worry about. (And the poll showed that his pedestal party was still well in front. Contrary to what you’d think if you believed the Western media, as customary, the KPRF is second and Zhirinovskiy third; Navalniy is lumped in with the pack sharing 10% support).

SPIEF. Just wrapped up; each year’s bigger than the last. 19 thousand participants from 145 countries, 650 agreements worth 3.1 trillion rubles ($48 billion).

RUSSIA/CHINA. Putin and Xi spent quite a lot of time together: Putin: “truly comprehensive partnership and strategic interaction”; Xi: “high level of bilateral relations and close strategic cooperation”. Putin’s spokesman says it would be wrong to think they were “coordinating efforts” against Washington. Well… not perhaps in exactly those words: maybe they’re just making plans, or taking action.

DOLLAR. “International financial organisations need to adapt and reconsider the role of the dollar, which, as a global reserve currency, has now become an instrument of pressure exerted by the issuing country on the rest of the world.” Said Putin at SPIEF, after much talk with Xi Jinpeng. Neither engages in empty talk or boasting: I think they’re ready to roll. Once Washington started using SWIFT as a weapon it stopped being convenient.

D DAY. Rather curious guest list but this is the rationale. Russia (and other former USSRs) not invited; sets off usual fuss. But two balanced Western takes: AFP and New Statesman. This interesting set of polls show that the Russians do have some reason to feel neuralgic. I will have something soon on SCF arguing that many Russians underestimate the importance of D Day even if Westerners over-hype it. It was an essential part of the 20%.

NUGGETS FROM THE STUPIDITY MINE. “How British spies smuggled secrets about Putin’s new supersonic bomber out of country…” Yeah, sure; then they boasted to the DM. Sounds like the sort of story the Integrity-Challenged Initiative would invent thinking it was a wizard jape.

EUROPEANS ARE REVOLTING. According to a Spanish newspaper, Washington is demanding closer integration in weapons manufacturing between the USA and Europe. American LNG is now “freedom gas“, almost twice the price of Russian gas (but, as we all know “freedom isn’t free”:) And Ankara has until 31 Jul to drop the S400 purchase or no F35s (a threat or a promise? Latest F35 catastrophe). Erdoğan remains defiant. Trump mulls sanctions over NordStream 2. “From now on, the US will put might over market” and Europe may have to choose between the two.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

VICTORY DAY

First published Strategic Culture Foundation under the title “Why Russia’s Victory Day Was Crucial for the Survival of ‘European Values'”

This is the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate in Belgium on 18 April 2018. It has been performed every night since 1928 except during the German occupation. What you see above is, as I calculate, the 31,237th performance; at the moment of writing, it has happened another 401 times and will again tomorrow night. Through this gate – much rebuilt – passed the majority of British Empire soldiers in the First World War. Including my Great-Uncle Roland Lines (killed in 1916) and my wife’s Grandfather John Thompson who made it all the way through.

Battle of Britain Day is commemorated with flypasts and solemn ceremonies. In the USA Memorial Day honors veterans and military graves are tidied and decorated. For decades there has been a standing guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery. Remembrance Day, celebrated throughout the Commonwealth (and even in Moscow once) attracts ever-larger crowds in Ottawa. In 2000 an unidentified body was recovered from one of the Canadian grave sites around Vimy Ridge and interred in a sarcophagus at the National War Memorial in Ottawa with a huge crowd watching. Since 1945, the Netherlands has sent Ottawa tens of thousands of tulip bulbs in thanks for liberation by the Canadian Army. Since 1947 Oslo has sent a giant Christmas tree for Trafalgar Square. D-Day commemorations are larger every year. The Juno Beach Centre was opened in 2003 – 59 years after the event. The Normandy American Cemetery Visitor Center was opened four years later.

We shall remember them“. People do remember: in different ways, at different times. Tim Cook describes how the memory of the Canadian Corps victory at Vimy Ridge has waxed and waned over the years until today it eclipses everything else.

It’s true that governments have different motives for emphasising this or that, but, if the people do not follow, the memorials fall flat. And traditions grow: in Canada placing one’s poppy – the World War One symbol throughout the Commonwealthon the Grave appears to have developed spontaneously. All these varied ceremonies, retrospective memorials, changing attitudes go on in many countries without the accompaniment of snarky op-ed writers babbling about ostentation, legitimise, ominous nostalgia, personality cults, military muscle, rattling swords or perpetuating a war mystique to shore up failing popularity.

Except about Russia.

Of course, not, never, not about Russia.

Victory Day – 9 May in Russia because of time zones rather than the 8 May VE-Day celebrated by the Western Allies. Here is a video of the real thing and here is a re-enactment.

Some numbers. There is a rough agreement that 80% of the German and German allied military casualties occurred on the Soviet front; the rest of us – UK, USA, Canada, Australia, India, South Africa, New Zealand and all the European resistance movements – accounting for the other 20%. In the process, according to the latest numbers, 27 million Soviet citizens died.

A political officer polled his rifle battalion in January 1945 and found that 208 of the 300 soldiers had had a family member killed by the Germans; I doubt that any of the American, British or Canadian battalions attacking on D-Day would have found the same. Soviet soldiers who made it from Moscow to Berlin – and I actually met one once – spent months fighting through the total destruction of their homeland. Anglosphere wars are usually fought offstage: we have no idea. For the Soviets some numbers of the destruction — estimates, of course. Sacred War has become the anthem, and Russian audiences stand and uncover when they hear it. Other countries have other songs, but for Russia the Second World War was the slaughterhouse.

For us the slaughterhouse was 1914-1918 when about 60,000 Canadians were killed (population then about eight million). Gregory Clark’s father told him and his brother to walk down the back alley because, of all the sons on that street, they were the only ones still alive. (And it irritates me that most Canadians have never heard of Canada’s Hundred Days or know what 8 August means.) 1939-1945 killed about 40,000 Canadians (population about eleven million) so, naturally, the Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month is more sacred to us than 7/8 May.

These are sacred dates. Were the wars “worth it”? Who can say? Alternative history is not convincing. What happened, happened. But the suffering and sacrifice is worthy of honour and remembrance.

But, even so, who would dare say that the defeat of Hitlerism was not a “sacred war”? Only “self-hating Russians” as Paul Robinson puts it: “the self-hating Russian has to deny anything positive about Russian history as well.”

In a word, The USSR, with significant help from the rest of us, defeated Hitler and changed the world away from that dark and horrible future. At enormous cost.

So, Masha Gessen, lose your snark: it is your Grandmother’s day: I know that you’re paid to believe what you believe to be paid but there’s a reality out there and without Zhukov and the rest of them (Stalin too) you wouldn’t have been alive to leave the USSR in 1981. Self-hating.

Wars are terrible. People are killed by mistakes, corruption, incompetence, accident, random events. Bravery and self-sacrifice too. Higher ups decide that this regiment has to make a diversionary attack; hundreds killed. Somebody isn’t paying attention, reads the map wrong, looks in the wrong direction; hundreds killed. It’s never a contest between the Archangel Michael and Satan: it’s only humans. But all this has to be commemorated and respected: people – your people – suffered and died to make the future you live in.

Yes, the history of Victory Day in the USSR/Russia has varied, is malleable and has been re-purposed to fit The Story Of The Moment. There was a big celebration in June 1945Zhukov on a horse, Nazi banners. But Stalin didn’t like to share the limelight and Zhukov got a bit too big and the celebration faded away. Victory Day began to re-appear in 1965 and grew until 1985. It suffered in the general decline until its reappearance in 1995 – the fiftieth anniversary – brought it back. It has now subsumed the May Day military parade and is the Big Day of modern Russia.

But Russia/USSR is not alone in redesigning the past: why would Canada wait 80 years to decide it needed a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier killed in a battle in 1917; why would Americans decide six decades later that D-Day needed a commemorative museum? It’s complicated, it’s involved: there is no easy answer. People don’t forget but they do need to be reminded and governments think they will gain some advantage from reminding them. So in the West, so in Russia.

So, yes. Putin, or somebody in his apparat, may very well have said we need a big military parade on Victory Day (which we’re going to turn into a Really Big Event) because NATO is expanding, Washington and the EU are sanctioning, and the united voice of the Western MSM is accusing and we need support. Time to

  • push the Great Patriotic War
  • which we won
  • and show that today we have lots of pretty effective weaponry
  • in case somebody tries to do it again.

But if the population doesn’t go along with it it falls flat. I mentioned the poppies on the Grave in Canada as a sign that, whatever cynical motives you may ascribe to governments, the population either responds and makes it real, or does not and exposes it as fake.

Back to Russia: the Immortal regiment. A spontaneous development that shows the Western commentariat’s smirking scorn to be “a tinkling cymbal“. Begun in Tomsk in 2011, the idea was that ordinary people, bearing portraits of ancestors who endured the war, should march after the official parade. The notion has spread throughout Russia and around the world. There is nothing to suggest it won’t get bigger. And why not? What would the world look like without their their 80% and our 20%? Read RFE/RL’s snarky and ignorant take; after that, to cleanse your palate, read Gilbert Doctorow’s respectful and understanding take.

They died so that we might live.

Oh, and speaking of “European values”; without the Soviets (80%) and the Anglosphere (20%), today’s “European values” would have a lot more leather and straight-armed salutes than they do today, wouldn’t they?