WEAPONISED COURTS

First published at RT with some additions and deletions and hyperlinks stripped out.

A Dutch court has just reversed an earlier Dutch court ruling which reversed an earlier Dutch court ruling. Russia had been sued by a company representing Yukos shareholders. The latest iteration, reversing the reversal and taking us back to the original judgement, demands Russia pay $50 billion. (Yukos was nationalised on the grounds of failure to pay tax arrears after the arrest of its CEO for tax evasion.)

What should Moscow do? It has appealed but perhaps it should think about whether it still wants to play the game. Let’s look at the behaviour of other Dutch courts. Slobodan Milošević appeared at the Hague charged with crimes against humanity, genocide – the full package – in 2001. And quite rightly said most Westerners – had not their media had already named him the “butcher of the Balkans“? In 2016 the International Court of Justice ruled that perhaps he hadn’t been as guilty as all that. Too late: Milošević had died in his prison cell ten years before, the trial still rolling on. The Netherlands is in charge of the investigation into the destruction of the MH-17 flight over Ukraine in 2014. Again we had immediate Western news assertions that Putin and Russia were responsible and the personal assurance of John Kerry that US intelligence resources had watched the whole thing. And it’s been a fact-free Gish gallop ever since. After several investigations, suspiciously dependent on Ukrainian intelligence sources, social media and Bellingcat, with no one asking where the “we saw it” was, the trial of four individuals began in March 2020 and has been proceeding at the same comfortable pace as the Milošević trial. In 2018 Ukraine, without the least suspicion of a chain of evidence, produced some missile parts that it claimed were from the SAM that was said to have shot the plane down. The parts had numbers, numbers can be traced and the missile factory traced them. They were parts of a missile shipped to an AA unit in the west of the Ukrainian SSR in December 1986. The judges decided that the documents were irrelevant because while they “may say something about where the missile was between [19]86 and 91, but they say nothing about where the missile was in July 2014“. (Presumably a daring raid from Donetsk to an ammo dump in western Ukraine had happened; which nobody noticed.)

So one might ask what Russia can expect from any trial held in the Netherlands except an interminable process until the defendant dies.

Russians might then turn their attention to the practice of the rule of law in other Western countries today. Meng Wanzhu is approaching her third year of house arrest in Canada. Julian Assange has been in one of the most severe British prisons for eighteen months and is approaching the second year of his trial. Mariya Butina: in a US prison, often in solitary, on very questionable charges. Venezuela stored its gold in London for safekeeping but can’t have it back (that judgement reversed for now). Or Frédéric Pierucci. Or the EU sanctioning Russia because it couldn’t prove its innocence of the latest accusation. A big fine in a Polish court over the Nord Stream pipeline. The open-ended CAATSA. Russian observers might be forgiven if they regarded this as not rule of law but war of law – lawfare.

Moscow has generally played the game and accepted Western Court rulings: and sometimes, they’ve gone its way: for example the European Court of Human Rights ruling of 2011 that the case against Khodorkovskiy had not been politically motivated. But, given the relentless cascade of accusations – redoubled in the past five years – perhaps Moscow should reconsider on the grounds that Western “justice” will never give it a fair shake.

Will it do so? Well, there have been some hints. At the Valdai conference Foreign Minister Lavrov said that Russia no longer looked to Europe as an example and was not going to be its vassal. The Constitution was recently amended to make Russian law primary. These would appear to be clues that Moscow is at least pondering the conclusion that Western courts are a weapon and. A pity, but there it is. As Margarita Simonyan said:

For fifty years, secretly and openly, we wanted to live like you, but not any longer. We have no more respect for you…

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 19 NOVEMBER 2020

KARABAKH. This ceasefire should last. Russian troops have been moved to the points of contact and secure the road link from Karabakh to Armenia proper. (Deployment positions and General Staff briefing). Baku recovered a lot of territory that had been taken in the first war and can justifiably claim to have won. Armenia, which officially was not involved at all, under its present somewhat colour revolution leadership has lost – but avoided a greater defeat – and Pashinyan is now under considerable pressure to quit. Ankara has once again extended itself but come up short. Moscow has demonstrated that it is the indispensable element in the area. However, it is important to recognise that the final status of Karabakh itself remains undecided and this will be a difficult problem to solve. But it will likely be settled with Moscow’s efforts and not that of outsiders.

NO MORE EMPIRE. Dmitriy Trenin explains to Americans that Russia is just Russia. Moscow knows exceptionalism is a waste and that empire is too.

COVID. A curfew in Moscow at 2300. Phase III trial results of the vaccine are said to be good. To my cynical surprise, Reuters has pretty balanced coverage of the Western reaction to the Sputnik vaccine.

E-VISAS. A quick, easy and cheap visa system goes into effect next year for citizens of 52 countries. None of the “Five Eyes” is included. This move has been in the works since the great success of the quick visas for the World Cup.

ISS. Russia finally loses its taxi monopoly.

RED SEA. It is reported that a small naval logistics base will be constructed in Sudan. Not sure I understand why: I don’t see how this fits into Russia’s defensive posture. Although it might be connected to supporting Iran which is in Moscow’s interest (the enemy of my enemy is my friend).

GUNS. Washington realises its air defence has holes (Tehran’s “black cygnet“). US comms aren’t reliable. Strategic bombers and their weapons loads. Lasers on fighter planes. New nuclear war command bunker. The US State Department fears that the Russian Poseidon weapon underwater nuclear drones could unleash ‘radioactive tsunami’ on US. Well… that’s what they’re designed to do; maybe it’s time to reconsider your policy on Russia. I reiterate – Russia just has to counter.

WESTERN VALUES™. The country that judges other countries’ elections just had an election. Somebody won. One day a court will tell us who. Apparently it’s easy to lose track of votes and takes a long time to find them. There’s a box around here somewhere.

RUSSIA AND THE WEST. I speculate that Moscow is giving up on the West and Western courts.

THE EMPTINESS OF FORMER FLAPS. Remember all we were told about how weak US election security was and how Russia could easily change results? Well, forget it, Russia was shut out this year and US elections are solid as a rock. (Not that these people would give credit to Trump for the alleged re-securing.) Although those pesky Russians are still busy sowing, won’t congratulate and are disinforming.

WITHDRAWALS. The new US Defence Secretary says US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan will be reduced to 2500 each by 15 Jan 2021 and that “All wars must end“. Good luck with that: we’ve just heard a deep state operative boasting about defying Trump on this issue. And there’s opposition from the usual quarters: “leaving too soon”, Russia will “fill the vacuum” (but hasn’t Moscow been there and done that?). I guess they think doubling the Soviet record isn’t enough – Washington should go for the triple.

NEW NWO. 15 Asia-Pacific nations have signed onto the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership: a third of the world economy. And poof goes Obama’s Asian pivot and Trump’s isolate China attempts. The grouping include two of the Five Eyes as well as Japan and South Korea. The world is changing.

UKRAINE. Remember when Putin allegedly told Bush that Ukraine wasn’t even a country? What he meant was that it is a territory assembled out of parts of other countries by Lenin, Stalin and Khrushchev (not the people I’d personally pick to design my country) and deeply divided. It still is in the post-Maidan nightmare. A recent poll in “the poorest country in Europeshows it After all the propaganda, only 41% want to join NATO, 37% want non-alignment, 13% want to join the Russian-led security grouping. 57% expect relations with Russia to get better, 30% do not. Results vary with location. (Here’s the original). All that suffering and misery to remain where they were and not much change on the “cultural map” either. As I said at the beginning, Ukraine no longer exists: the West broke the First Rule of Ukraine.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer\

GOODBYE: HAS RUSSIA HAD ENOUGH INSULTS?

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

I have argued that Russia is not a “European country”; my argument stands on the fact that Russia and Europe had quite different histories and little contact until the Emperor Peter became a major player in European history by knocking Sweden out of the running. I have argued that, whatever they may have wished in the past, an increasing number of Russians today don’t want to be “Europeans”: they view Europe – the West – with increasing distaste and bewilderment. “Europe” is, of course, a word with many meanings: here I mean a culture/civilisation/society that, over the past half millennium, has spread around the world and now is commonly called “the West”. These days, the capital power of the West is the USA but the USA, Canada, Australia, much of South America and many of the other outposts of European settlement are children of the original European civilisation.

Russia’s relationships with the West have gone through many ups and downs – ally, for example, with Britain in 1812, 1914 and 1941, enemy in 1853, 1918, opponent during the so-called Great Game and the Cold War. Russians often see the relationship as one of ungrateful rejection: take, for example, the long-forgotten important service Russia did for the Union in 1863. In my mind this feeling stems from Russia’s unusual history as a predator fish which remembers its long time as a prey fish – its neighbours remember the first, itself the second – the prey fish feeling was, of course, strongly reinforced by the death struggle of 1941-45.

Be that as it may, since the fall of the USSR and the end of communism, Russia has been rejected by the West. After a short-lived period in the very early 1990s when there was talk of “A new era of Democracy, Peace and Unity” “a time for fulfilling the hopes and expectations our peoples have cherished for decades”, the rejection has been unmistakable, brutal and direct. NATO expansion, in whatever platitudes it was wrapped, now stands clear as what Moscow always thought it was – an anti-Russia enterprise moving military forces ever closer to Russia. Russians are quite right to see colour revolutions in their neighbourhood as moves against them. Russia is under a permanent sanctions regime – the excuse changes but the sanctions remain and Jackson–Vanik was instantly replaced by the Magnitsky Act. Washington continually adds new sanctions and ensures that its lackeys do as well. And, even though a strong argument can be made that the sanctions have benefited Russia because Moscow was smart enough to deal with them like a judo master, the fact remains that sanctions are hostile acts short of war.

So, many people wondered how much longer Moscow would keep on making offers to its “partners” and seeing them thrown back at it. Some think Putin is too soft – it’s a generally accepted estimate that about half of the 25% or so of Russians that do not approve of his performance in office do so because they think him too obliging.

Well, maybe it’s happening at last. We will take the remarks by Foreign Minister Lavrov noting that he is not a man who has ever spoken lightly or without thought: whatever he says is to be taken seriously. At Valdai he said:

we must stop considering our Western colleagues, including the EU, as a source of assessment of our behaviour that we need to follow, or measuring ourselves with the same yardstick.

And

if the EU is arrogant enough to declare, with this sense of unconditional superiority, that Russia must understand there will be no “business as usual,” well, Russia wants to understand whether there could be any business at all with the European Union under these conditions.

That’s pretty plain – Russia rejects the West’s self-awarded role of judge and will not be its liegeman. It strongly suggests that Moscow is thinking about giving up. It has, however, made one last offer – perhaps the last offer, even a test: Moscow will not deploy certain missiles if the West does not.

The Navalniy affair seems to have been the one step too many. Aleksey Navalniy is an anti-Putin activist much beloved in the West but mostly ignored by Russians: his poll rating is around the margin of error and only occasionally has he had much of an effect. In August 2020 he fell sick on an airplane which turned back and landed in Omsk where he was hospitalised. A few days later, still in a coma, he was flown to a hospital in Germany. We have only recently learned that the transfer to Germany was at Putin’s direct urging.

It is obvious that Putin didn’t poison him; to believe he did is to believe that the murderer, with the victim in his power, sent him to safety. Nonetheless it was immediately declared that Navalniy had been “poisoned” and by none other than “novichok” and, what is more, by a “a variant that the world did not know until this attack, but which is said to be more malicious and deadly than all known offshoots of the Novichok familyThe fact that he is still alive… is only due to a chain of happy circumstances.” (Those “happy circumstances” remind the cynic of the “miracle” that saved Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey and his family from the novichok smeared everywhere in their house.) Despite this especially “malicious” variant, he was out of his coma in a much shorter period than the Skripals who were not killed by the old version either. The cynic would notice that, despite being “more malicious”, this particular novichok did not need people in hazmat suits cleaning everything in sight. The poison arrived via tea; smeared on a water bottle; on his clothing. In short, a tale we have heard before: the assassins don’t try something simple like a car crash but use something that can be pinned on them; an incredibly deadly poison that is ineffective; the assassins don’t follow through; the story of how the poison got into him keeps changing and no actual chains of custody, evidence or anything else is every presented. But at least the German hospital has been allowed to keep its roof.

The European Union likes to boast about its values. Among them is this: “Everyone who has been charged shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.” But not if you’re Russia. Russia must answer questions demands UK, Europeans on OPCW, Merkel, NATO, When Russia was unable to prove innocence, the EU sanctioned Russian officials as did most of the West.

So, to recap. Navalniy falls sick, receives treatment in Russia, is moved to Germany, “novichok” is found, Russia “fails to explain”, Russia is blamed and sanctioned. No facts, no data, no believable or consistent story. Where was the “proved guilty according to law” there?

Very much of a pattern this and we’ve seen it with the Skripals, Nemtsov, MH17, Magnitskiy, Moskalenko (I wonder if anyone remembers that one? How about Patarkatsishvili?), Litvinenko, Politkovskaya – blame Putin immediately and declare him guilty when he fails to prove the negative and huff “Russia’s contempt for the international norm against chemical weapons use must stop“. Add to this NATO expansion, colour revolutions, endless accusations of submarine incursions or election interference and all the rest. Year after year after year. Even the dullest muzhik in deepest Siberia should have got the point that, as far as the West is concerned, Russia, the ever-enemy, is guilty of any charge you want to make. Russia is guilty just because it is. And anyone who asks about ducks or children can only be a Putinbot spewing fake news.

So is Moscow about to say it’s had enough? If so, it has somewhat of a problem. At the moment and for the foreseeable future, depending on how serious the civil disorder is after its election, the United States is the principal power in the world if for no other reason that it has far more destructive power than anyone else. Moscow must tread carefully here; cutting relations with Washington would cost more than it’s worth. London is probably lost to Moscow but Berlin, Paris and Rome are not necessarily lost. And, as they go, many other Europeans will follow. Therefore Moscow can hope that, in the reasonable near term, more normal relations with some of the principal European powers may be possible. Thus it would be a bad move to cut relations with them.

But, Brussels, the European Union structure, what use is that? Russia has an embassy to the EU because, they say:

The Russian Federation aims to develop close and comprehensive partnership with the European Union based on the principles of equality, mutual benefit and respect for each other’s interests.

Where’s the “close and comprehensive partnership”, where’s the “equality, mutual benefit and respect”? And the next sentence in the website is not true: “Russia and the EU enjoy intensive trade and economic relations.” No they don’t: the only entities to trade with the EU qua EU are manufacturers of office supplies, paper and red tape. Russia has trade with Germany, Italy et al – with members of the EU, not the EU itself. What’s the point?

So, if Moscow has had its fill of three decades of insults, offences and calumnies and wants to make a point, cutting relations with the EU structure would be the place to start: easy and cheap. Pull out the permanent mission and stop all doings: deal with the individual countries one by one. Brussels might even welcome the savings now that it’s lost a chunk of its budget.

2020 US ELECTION — FIRST THOUGHTS

(Response to a question from Sputnik)

The first observation is that Biden has not been officially declared winner and may not be pending court cases, Elector choice and other potential developments.

Whoever is actually resident in the White House, my expectation is that the US domestic situation will become very tense because half the American population will regard the vote as stolen from them and the sitting president illegitimate.

If it’s Biden I expect the first year or so to be taken up with the painful decision of when to remove him on 25th Amendment issues.

This resulting condition of – what? – rioting? incipient civil war? combined with uncertainty over Biden’s future, recrimination inside the Democrat Party over their poor performance and a power struggle inside a Biden Administration will reduce the amount of energy devoted to foreign affairs.

As to Russia specifically, “Russiagate” will be confirmed as absolutely true, Strzok, Brennan, Clapper, Vindman and the others as heroes who saved the republic from Putin and investigations will cease. Biden has promised to be tough on Russia and relations will get worse.

So, it appears we are in a competition – a race? – between the internal decay of the USA into chaos and the warmongering tendencies of the Obama administration.

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 5 NOVEMBER 2020

VALDAI. Putin’s speech is here. To my mind, other than the funeral crack, the most memorable bit was his strong defence of a mixed economy: when things are purring along, free enterprise does the job but in bad times you need the government. I’d say the last 20 years vindicates this point of view.

MOSCOW. I generally regard ratings lists as GIGO except when they provide an unexpected result as this does: Moscow fourth best city in the world for living and doing business. London, New York, and Paris ahead of it. Well… here’s a New Yorker saying COVID has killed NYC, and a Brit saying London too. The world does turn, doesn’t it? COVID is a gigantic black swan and it’s hit the West very hard.

PRESIDENTS. Last week Putin submitted a bill to the Duma that would make ex-presidents members of the Federation Council, today another to given them extensive immunity. Is he planning to go soon? After my predictive failure nine years ago, I’ve given up. I have always expected him to go when he thought the time was right and has a successor ready; he’ll determine the timing. But it’s a black box and I don’t know what’s going on inside. (This is not pseudo wisdom about “Mysterious Russia”: in any political process, we only see things going in and things coming out, what happens inside is speculation).

CORRUPTION. The CEO of the Vostochniy cosmodrome was arrested. The project has seen a lot of corruption and embezzlement.

ARCTIC. There are eight “Arctic nations“. But only one, thanks to its unequalled fleet of powerful icebreakers, has the capability to do anything more than maintain a thin presence. Helmer discusses.

ARMS CONTROL. As START will probably not be renewed, I agree with a Russian chief designer that Russia is well ahead of the USA in nuclear weaponry.

RELIGIONS. Putin had his annual meeting with religious leaders. Quite a variety; read the list.

DOESN’T MAKE ANYTHING. Sputnik reports that Russian scientists have found a way to quickly diagnose cancer. We’ll see: Sputnik sometimes gets ahead of itself on these matters.

SECURITY ORGANS. I think allowing intelligence officers take foreign citizenship and residency is being misinterpreted. If required “by the tasks of operational and intelligence activities”; it’s not permission to get a winter home in Majorca.

SNOWDEN. He was granted permanent status residence and says he will apply for citizenship. He’s very lucky the timing of his passport pull set him down in Russia – one of the few countries that has the will and muscle to defy Washington. Otherwise he’d be sharing the fate of Assange.

PC AND WOKENESS. An interesting essay arguing that the USA is repeating some Russian “follies”.

THE DOSSIER. I was always sure it was made up but I thought there were no actual Russians involved. Turns out there were actual passport-holding Russians, now quarrelling, involved in the invention. Of course, should Biden win, all this will be forgotten and Rachel Maddow’s version will become The Truth. But no Russian fiddling this time we are assured.

BREXIT. Oh, and Putin didn’t do that either. But people got airtime and a few quid out of saying he did.

WESTERN VALUES™. The country that judges other countries’ elections just had an election. Somebody won. One day a court will tell us who. Apparently counting votes is a tremendously difficult task, requiring enormous amounts of time.

BELARUS. A source suggests that the head of the SVR was sent to tell Lukashenka that the situation is serious, he should stop blaming outsiders and take responsibility for his mistakes. This, and other indications, suggest Moscow is pushing for a peaceful transfer of power. Anyway, Tikhanovskaya’s “ultimatum” came and went without effect.

CHICKENS, HOME, ROOST. “…we have repeatedly warned our French partners of the dangers posed by terrorists of North Caucasian origin, while they accepted them as ‘fighters for freedom‘”. “The extremists in this case are more cunning, clever and stronger than you, and if you play these games with them, you will always lose.

BIRTHRATES. We always hear about how Russians are disappearing but the fact is that turning West is much worse for your birthrate: for example the Baltics. Now we have some Ukraine numbers: 40% decline in the birthrate since the Maidan coup. Really, all Moscow has to do, if it covets the territory, is wait a couple of decades and then move into a forest with a few nursing homes scattered though it.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

TODAY’S PUTIN QUOTATION

I would like to tell those who are still waiting for Russia’s strength to gradually wane, the only thing we are worried about is catching a cold at your funeral.

хочу сказать тем, кто ещё ждёт постепенного затухания России: нас в этом случае беспокоит только одно – как бы не простудиться на ваших похоронах.

Address to Valdai Club, 22 October 2020