Memo to the NYT: The Russia Ship Has Sailed

Ship Sailing Away

The arrogance and solipsism displayed by the editors of the New York Times never fails to amaze me. After spending almost 3 years doing their part to push a conspiracy theory in which Russia was the devil to blame for the fact that we have Trump, which just represented an escalated level of the vilification that has been heaped on Putin and Russia in stages since 2003, the New York Times finally decided in a July 21st oped that just maybe Washington should now try to sorta kinda saddle up to Russia just a tiny bit because…you know, China.

Really?

Allow me to provide a short explanation to the out-of-touch NYT editors about why Russia will not be trusting Washington any time soon and has decided that it will likely get better results from the continued strengthening of relations with other important and influential countries.

First, there is the matter of the western corporate media, which is the mouthpiece for the political class, pushing accusations of every incredible crime against Russia’s leader short of cannibalism, and characterizing the Russian people as being inherently dishonest and so primitive that a significant percentage of them are still going to the bathroom in the bushes.

More importantly, however, there are the actual policies that Washington has implemented against Russia since Reagan and Gorbachev negotiated the end of the Cold War, after which Washington chose to take a triumphalist attitude, seeking to press its foot on a supine Russia’s chest as it flexed its muscles in the middle of the ring while the crowds lapped it up.

As readers of this blog are well aware, Secretary of State James Baker, along with other prominent members of the leadership of the western world, promised Gorbachev in early 1990 that in exchange for allowing a reunified Germany into NATO, the military alliance would not move “one inch east” further toward Russia’s borders. This promise was crucial in getting Gorbachev’s agreement as Germany had marched into Russia through the Polish-Ukrainian corridor twice in the first half of the 20th century, the second time resulting in the deaths of 27 million Soviets and the utter destruction of a third of the USSR during WWII.

In 1999, against the advice of knowledgeable diplomats and others, Bill Clinton broke that promise and welcomed Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic into the alliance.

In 2002, George W. Bush unilaterally withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, one of three legs of the nuclear arms control arrangements between the two nuclear superpowers, in order to pursue a possible first strike advantage over Russia, upsetting the strategic nuclear balance.

In 2004, NATO was expanded further with the entry of seven new members, including the Baltic states right on Russia’s western border.

In 2006, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, during a visit to Moscow, had a heated exchange with Putin about the eventual entry of Ukraine and Georgia into NATO. Putin explained that Ukraine was a culturally and ethnically divided country and pushing Ukraine into NATO would likely set off a negative cascade of consequences that would ultimately be detrimental to both Ukraine and Russia. He warned Rice that such a move would amount to “playing with fire.” Two years later, in a cable back to Washington, then ambassador to Russia, William Burns, relayed a conversation with Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, in which Lavrov reiterated that Ukraine in NATO was a red line for Russia, presciently citing the possibility that exploiting Ukraine’s divisions on behalf of NATO expansion could lead to a civil war and Russia would be faced with having to choose whether or not to intervene – a decision Lavrov said Russia did not want to make.

In 2013-14, the democratically elected leader of Ukraine was pushed out in an illegal coup, actively supported by Washington with neo-Nazis acting as the muscle, that brought an anti-Russian government into power. Crimea, which had historically been part of Russia since the late 18th century with a majority of its population comprised of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers, also had an important naval base on its coast called Sevastopol. Crimea/Sevastopol had been administratively moved by Khrushchev in 1954 from Russia to Ukraine, with no one yet foreseeing the future breakup of the USSR. In 1991, as Ukraine gained its independence, Crimea remained with Ukraine as an autonomous region and Russia retained its naval base in Sevastopol via a leasing agreement with Kiev. As events unfolded on the Maidan in February of 2014, the Russian government feared that NATO could move in on its naval base in Sevastopol.

Earlier this year, with U.S.-Russia relations at an all-time low amidst the constant media rants of Trump being an agent of the Kremlin with Robert Mueller in the role of Mighty Mouse on his way to save the day, the Trump administration announced its unilateral withdrawal from the INF Treaty, the second leg of the nuclear arms control stool.

The New START Treaty, the third and last remaining leg of the stool, which expires in 2021, does not look like it’s long for this world either.

At this point, it’s no wonder that Russia would decide to turn toward constructive working relationships with other countries and multilateral institutions that aren’t controlled by Washington, such as China, the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), SCO, the Chinese Asian Investment Infrastructure Bank, and others.

China is the world’s other major economic power and the leadership in both Russia and China have publicly described the relationship between the two countries as a “strategic partnership.” And the ties seem to be strengthening all the time. According to news recently aggregated by Russia Matters, Russia and China have stepped up joint military practices:

Russian and Chinese bombers conducted their first long-range joint air patrol in the Asia-Pacific on July 23. 

To reinforce the strategic importance of Russian-Chinese relations, the day after these maneuvers, the Chinese government published a “white paper” in which it promised to further increase military cooperation between the two countries. More from Russia Matters:

Releasing a new defense “white paper” on July 24, China vowed to step up military cooperation with Russia and accused the U.S. of undermining regional stability, the Wall Street Journal reported. The Sino-Russian military relationship, in contrast, plays “a significant role in maintaining global strategic stability,” the paper said. 

Though it aspires to have the leadership role in the region, unlike Washington, China generally does not appear to adhere to a zero-sum mentality in its relations with other nations, opting to focus on investing in mutually beneficial economic projects such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union is working with the BRI, as is Europe, many of the central Asian countries, Iran and Pakistan. In order for this ambitious project of a modern, high-tech trade route on land and sea that parallels the old Silk Road, China and its partners need a stable Eurasia with a developed infrastructure. Therefore, peace is in all these players’ interests.

As for those who say that ties between the two countries are undermined by China’s potential future designs on Russian territory, I see no substantive evidence that China would do anything of the sort in connection with Russia – a nuclear superpower and, as Obama even begrudgingly admitted before leaving office, is the world’s second most powerful military.  There is simply no reason to believe that China’s leadership is stupid or crazy enough to think such a move would be in their interests. It’s not the 1960’s with loose cannons like Khrushchev and Mao at the helm.

Moreover, what Tao Wang of Yicai Research Institute stated at the East Asia Forum three years ago about the Russian-Chinese relationship is still relevant:

….China and Russia are still complementary economies. One is rich in resources and high military technology, while the other is good at mass manufacturing and rich in cash. This complementarity is well demonstrated by their partnership in Central Asia, where China provides investment in resource-rich yet unpredictable countries while Russia ensures the stability of ruling regimes.

So the question becomes: what does Washington really have to offer Russia at this point that would be worth them seriously considering throwing themselves into the Washington camp at China’s expense?

The only truly valuable things that Washington could offer are 1) meaningful nuclear arms control negotiations, and 2) putting a freeze on NATO expansion. Unfortunately, I don’t see either of these things happening in Washington any time soon. Even if Trump decided he really wanted to pursue these things, there is no one around him that could competently conduct negotiations and the infrastructure for meaningful diplomacy – as opposed to the “everything for me and nothing for you” approach that Washington mistakes for diplomacy – is non-existent right now.

But even more than that, why in the world would Russia trust any agreement that Washington got them to sign when it repeatedly breaks agreements whenever it wants? If there’s one thing that Washington has been a smashing success at since the end of the Cold War, it would be convincing the rest of the world that its word isn’t worth 2 cents.

Too many people in the insulated political class in Washington (I’m looking right at you, NYT editors) continue to see the world as a bad facsimile of a professional wrestling show where the goodies and the baddies can switch sides from week to week with just a change of costume and a ham-handed change of narrative at their direction. In the real world, when you’ve spent years pitching diplomacy out the window and systematically destroying any modicum of trust, it works a little differently.

U.S. Conference of Mayors Wants to Know Where 2020 Candidates Stand on Nuclear Disarmament; Update on Previous Post About Poll Claiming 10% of Russians Have Been Tortured

Sign pointing to old fallout shelter in NYC

On July 1st, the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM), concluded its 87th annual conference during which they unanimously adopted a new resolution called Calling on All Presidential Candidates to Make Known Their Positions on Nuclear Weapons and to Pledge U.S. Global Leadership in Preventing Nuclear War, Returning to Diplomacy, and Negotiating the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. According to United for Peace and Justice, the resolution calls on “all Presidential candidates of all political parties” to make these “priority issues in the 2020 Presidential campaign”.

The resolution acknowledged the profound dangers of the recent abrogation of the INF Treaty and called on all candidates to pledge to get back into the agreement, officially renounce a first strike policy, abide by the NPT obligation of nuclear powers to work toward disarmament, and reverse Washington’s opposition to the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons – a treaty supported by virtually all countries of the world except for the current nuclear powers.

United for Peace and Justice described the USCM as:

[T]he nonpartisan association of 1,408 American cities with populations over 30,000, has unanimously adopted Mayors for Peace resolutions for 14 consecutive years. Resolutions adopted at annual meetings become USCM official policy.

As noted in this year’s resolution, “Mayors for Peace is working for a world without nuclear weapons and safe and resilient cities as essential measures for the achievement of lasting world peace, and has grown to 7,756 cities in 163 countries and regions, with 215 U.S. members.”  

*****

In a recent post, I expressed skepticism about a Levada Center poll reported on by western media claiming that 10 percent of Russians had been tortured by Russian law enforcement authorities. This post was forwarded by my mentor, Sharon Tennison, to her large network of followers, which includes both Russian and American professionals, including members of academia, law, journalism, retired diplomatic personnel and others who are interested in her three decades of work fostering good will, understanding and citizen-to-citizen ties between the U.S. and Russia. Last week, Sharon posted some important feedback on my post from a Russian-American lawyer, Igor Brusil, who was able to review the original report by the Levada Center. He was also able to speak to the authors of the Levada Center report for clarification on the methodology used. Here is what he reported back:

Yesterday and today I received three emails from the individuals involved in the Levada Center’s survey on torture. These emails clarified what was meant as “torture” in the context of that survey. However, it became clear to me that the key question – “what exactly happened to you that you consider to have been torture” – was not answered by the survey. In fact, such a question was not even posed to the responders.

First, according to Levada Center, it approached the survey from the standpoint of “torture” as this term is defined in the UN Convention Against Torture, which may be found at https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/cat.aspx. In that document “torture” is defined in Article 1 as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

Second, it appears that another, more expansive, understanding of “torture” was at play, as described on page 44 of the Levada report. According to page 44, “torture” includes verbal abuse, threats of extortion and other non-physical acts, as well as threats directed at third persons.

Third – and more important – is that those respondents (all 356 of them), who said they had been “tortured” relied on their own understanding of torture. Even more interesting is that Levada did NOT ask those 356 individuals what exactly happened to them that the respondents regarded as “torture.”

I find it curious that those 356 individuals could not even agree on what acts constitute torture. For example, as shown in Table 32 on page 56 of the report, of those “tortured” respondents only 54% regard the use of electrical shock, wet towels and cellophane bags as torture;  73% regard acts like “rape and physical violence that leads to trauma” as torture; and 41% regard verbal abuse as “torture.”

Considering that there may have been up to three understandings of torture at play (one – UN Convention, two – explanation on page 44, three – whatever the respondents thought), the study would have been stronger, in my view, if Levada had asked its respondents to list specific acts of their alleged torture and then applied the same definition of torture to those acts. However, as the survey stands now, it suggests that about 10% of those who had “a conflict” with law enforcement subjectively regard at least some of the acts of law enforcement as torture, but we do NOT know what those acts are.

You may print my initial comment on this survey and follow it up with this summary of the responses I have received from Levada. I think that any intelligent analysis of a survey requires that we know the survey’s methodology and assess its validity in light of the limitations of the methods used.

Kind regards,

Igor

IGOR A. BRUSIL, Esq.
The Brusil Law Group, Ltd.

Western Think Tank Acknowledges Donbas Rebels Represent Homegrown Rebellion with Actual Grievances; Ceasefire Successfully Brokered Between Rebels & Kiev Forces, Along with Prisoner Swap; Proposal for Citizen-to-Citizen Diplomacy Between Ukraine and Russia Scuttled by Kiev; Oliver Stone’s Latest Interview with Putin

Those who remain in Donbass must contend with shelled roads, military checkpoints, and nightly curfews. Photo by Florian Rainer

In a glimmer of hope, a Brussels-based think tank that is funded by the Soros Foundation along with Sweden, Norway, Finland, France, Canada and Australia (among others), has issued a report on the Ukraine conflict that acknowledges what some of us have been saying for a long time: the Donbass rebels are not Russian puppets, but mostly Ukrainian citizens who executed an uprising due to legitimate grievances in the aftermath of the 2014 coup in Kiev.

The International Crisis Group recently published Rebels Without a Cause: Russia’s Proxies in Eastern Ukraine. According to academic Russia expert Paul Robinson – who brought this report to my attention in a recent blog post:

“The ICG’s report is based on interview[s] with ‘rebels, Russian fighters, former and current Russian officials, and de facto republic officials, as well as analysis of public statements and other open sources.’ It is very clear about the origins of the war in Donbass, telling readers that:”

The conflict in eastern Ukraine started as a grassroots movement. … demonstrations were led by local citizens claiming to represent the region’s Russian-speaking majority. They were concerned both about the political and economic ramifications of the new Kyiv government and about moves, later aborted, by that government to curtail the official use of Russian language throughout the country.

The fact that a western organization is acknowledging this represents a significant change in the narrative, which up to now has insisted that the Donbas rebels were mostly Russians who had spilled over the border (or Ukrainians who were controlled by Moscow) to cause trouble for the new “democracy revolution” government in Kiev.

I’d like to think that this may portend a willingness on the part of some of the political class in the west to work toward the resolution of this conflict in particular and a lowering of tensions with Russia in general. The conflict in the Donbass or with Russia more generally is not in the interests of the people of the west, much less the people of Ukraine or Russia.

With that thought in mind, I’m pleased to report that the latest behind-the-scenes negotiations have resulted in the successful brokering of a ceasefire on the contact line in the Donbas, with both sides having pulled back. According to the OSCE report of July 18th:

BRATISLAVA, 18 July 2019 – OSCE Chairperson-in-Office and Slovak Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Miroslav Lajčák welcomed the new recommitment to an unlimited ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, starting from 21 July at 00 hrs. 01 min. (Kyiv time), as agreed at the meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group held in Minsk on 17 July.

Chairperson Lajčák stressed that this development constitutes an urgently needed and significant step, particularly considering the rising number of civilian casualties along the contact line reported by the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM). Noting the importance of ensuring the sustainability of the ceasefire in order to avoid the failures of previous recommitments, the Chairperson-in-Office underlined that maintaining the ceasefire is as crucial as the recommitment itself. “A meaningful ceasefire needs to be permanent and irreversible. I urge all sides to live up to their commitments, and finally establish a comprehensive, sustainable and unlimited ceasefire, which can open the door for the peaceful resolution of the conflict,” Lajčák said.

Lajčák noted that this recommitment builds on the positive developments in the recent process of disengagement of forces and hardware from Stanytsia Luhanska, which has been facilitated and monitored by the SMM, as well as in concrete plans to finally repair the bridge –a crucial daily crossing point for thousands of people in the Luhansk region and badly damaged by the conflict. “I particularly welcome the common understanding reached by the sides yesterday in Minsk regarding the need to start repair work on the bridge at Stanytsia Luhanska. These repairs are urgent; they need to happen without delay. The people on the ground have suffered for too long already. And, we need to use this momentum to take even more positive steps forward,” he stressed.

The following day, Ukrainian president Zelensky announced the details of a possible prisoner swap between Ukraine and Russia. The AP reported:

KIEV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s president on Friday outlined the details of an impending prisoner swap with Russia, saying that Kiev is willing to release a jailed Russian journalist in exchange for a Ukrainian film director.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s statement comes at the end of the week of shuttle diplomacy, with the Russian and Ukrainian human rights ombudswomen holding talks both in Moscow and in Kiev. The flurry of activity around imprisoned Russians and Ukrainians follows last week’s first telephone call between Zelenskiy and Russian President Vladimir Putin….

….Zelenskiy said in televised comments Friday that Ukraine could release journalist Kirill Vyshinskiy, who has been in jail for a year on treason charges, if Russia releases film director Oleg Sentsov from a Russian prison colony. Sentsov is serving 20 years in a Russian prison for allegedly plotting acts of terrorism.

I will keep an eye on this development and post any updates if the exchange actually takes place.

Zelensky’s Servant of the People party appears to have won yesterday’s snap parliamentary elections, according to exit polls, but did not win an outright majority. Andriy Purbiy, an avowed neo-Nazi who has served as the speaker for the past several years, will now be out of office. [Update: Zelensky’s Servant of the People party did, in fact, win a majority in the Rada, which gives Zelensky much more room to implement whatever program he wants – NB]

And now for a splash of cold water…

In a recent article, Russia expert Nicolai Petro discussed an incident that doesn’t bode well for the idea of Zelensky resisting the inevitable pressure he’s going to get from the ultra-nationalist elements in Ukraine who won’t stand for any agreement with Russia or reconciliation with the Donbas. A major Russian TV station and a Ukrainian TV station had planned to hold direct people-to-people talks between the two countries but were forced to cancel it due to threats of violence:

On July 7 the Russian television channel Russia-24 and the Ukrainian television channel “NewsOne” announced that they would hold a two-hour live studio discussion called “We Need to Talk” on July 12. NewsOne explained its initiative as a response to the fact that “today in Ukraine roughly 70 percent of people expect direct political discussions with Russia.” It also recalled that during the late 1980s space bridges between Phil Donahue and Vladimir Pozner had “laid the beginnings for contacts between peoples who, thanks to their politicians, found themselves in a Cold War.” Within 24 hours, however, the show was cancelled. Organizers cited “direct physical threats to journalists and their families,” as the reason they had been forced to abandon their attempt to “organize a space for the discussion of nonpolitical questions through the efforts of ordinary people who had never questioned the territorial integrity of Ukraine, without politicians and odious propagandists.”

Needless to say, if this program had been allowed to proceed it could have potentially laid the groundwork for reconciliation between the two neighbors. Perhaps the fact that extremists sabotaged such an effort is not a surprise, but the reaction by various government representatives – including Zelensky – is disturbing. Petro goes on:

The mere idea of engaging in a dialogue with Russians was attacked by nearly every political party. The prime minister said it “played into the hands of the enemy.” The speaker of parliament demanded that the Ukrainian Security services respond immediately to this “brutal violation of Ukrainian law.” The National Council for Television and Radio said it would meet in extraordinary session to consider revoking NewsOne’s broadcasting license. The prosecutor general stated that there was ample legal reason for doing so, and for his part initiated a criminal investigation of NewsOnes owners for support of terrorism and treason. With a bit of Orwellian flair, the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine issued a statement that, while affirming the rights of Ukrainian journalists, declared its “outrage” at the idea of any interaction with “a Russian propaganda channel.”

Such a reaction was more or less expected from the Old Guard that had just been thrashed electorally, but how did the new president respond? He recorded a video and posted it on the Internet, calling the attempt at dialogue “cheap and risky PR-hype on the eve of the elections.” Instead of a televised discussion among average people, Zelensky challenged Putin to sit down with him and four other world leaders—Trump, May, Macron and Merkel—to talk about “who Crimea belongs to and who is ‘not there’ in Donbass.”

It seems to me that Zelensky had an opportunity here to show some leadership, but failed. By agreeing with the suggestion that merely talking to average Russians – whom most Ukrainians have familial ties with – was “cheap” and “risky PR” he is reinforcing the idea that Russians are inherently not to be trusted and an enemy. Instead of allowing a space to be opened up for Ukrainians and Russians to see and talk to each other as regular human beings, he dismissed it out of hand.

As stated in a previous post, if Zelensky is to have any prayer of achieving a positive resolution of the Donbas conflict and a modus vivendi with Ukraine’s next door neighbor – as he promised to do and earned him the election victory, he’s going to have to take on some heavy opposition. The only way he can hope to work around that opposition is by motivating average Ukrainians to have his back. The people-to-people talks could have been a tool on behalf of that if he’d had the savvy to recognize it.

Interview with film director Oliver Stone, June 19, 2019.

On June 19th, Oliver Stone conducted an interview with Putin at the Kremlin. Topics included a heavy focus on Ukraine, as well as touching on U.S. politics and U.S. tensions with Iran.

I’d like to include below a direct quote from Putin in this interview about nationalism. I’ve heard many American pundits and politicians call Putin a nationalist, which I’ve always found to be a disingenuous characterization of him. Putin is what I would call a sovereigntist. He believes unequivocally in national sovereignty and in Russia’s right to be an independent nation that freely makes its own decisions in its perceived interests – engaging in multilateralism when appropriate, but as a respected equal. This is not nationalism in the commonly understood meaning of the word, which denotes a form of national chauvinism – the idea that a country (or ethnic group) is superior to others and has the right to do what it wants at anyone else’s expense. I have never heard Putin say anything that suggests this kind of ideology – unless he’s being quoted out of context, which happens frequently in the west. Moreover, there are real nationalist politicians in Russia, namely Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the LDPR Party. Putin has had public disagreements with Zhirinovsky and those like him. Here is the quote – emphasis is mine:

Vladimir Putin: In general nationalism is a sign of narrow-mindedness but I do not want to offend Mr Medvedchuk [Ukrainian politician and negotiator].

Another excerpt of this interview that I’d like to include involves Iran. I’ve heard several analysts – typically those who do not have a very deep understanding of Russia – claim that Russia would benefit from a U.S. war or continued tensions with Iran. This is nonsense. Whatever short-term benefits Russia might get in the form of fossil fuel economics or other items mentioned, it would pale in comparison to the the larger problems that a conflict in the area would cause: further destabilization of the Middle East – which is much closer to Russia’s backyard than the U.S., and intensified sectarian conflict and increased risk for terrorism that Russia does not want to infect it’s Muslim region in the Caucasus. Here is what Putin had to say about this, preceded by Stone’s question:

Oliver Stone: Continuing that theme of strategy of tension, how is Russia affected by the US-Iranian confrontation?

Vladimir Putin: This worries us because this is happening near our borders. This may destabilize the situation around Iran, affect some countries with which we have very close relations, causing additional refugee flows on a large scale plus substantially damage the world economy as well as the global energy sector. All this is extremely disturbing. Therefore we would welcome any improvement when it comes to relations between the US and Iran. A simple escalation of tension will not be advantageous for anyone. It seems to me that this is also the case with the US. One might think that there are only benefits here, but there will be setbacks as well. The positive and negative factors have to be calculated.

Read the transcript of the full interview here.

Putin & Zelensky Have First Direct Conversation by Phone; Is Putin Really Rehabilitating Stalin?

(L) Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky © Sputnik; (R) Russian President Vladimir Putin © Sputnik / Aleksey Nikolsky

It was reported on July 11th, that Putin had his first direct conversation via telephone with new Ukrainian president Zelensky. According to RT, the call was initiated by Zelensky and focused on possible future negotiations on the Donbas conflict. However, it seems that Putin was irritated by Zelensky’s suggestion that the Normandy format be modified to include the U.S. and outgoing UK Prime Minister Theresa May who would likely be out of office by the time of any such talks:

The two presidents also touched upon the idea of continuing the talks in the ‘Normandy format’, which includes French and German leaders alongside those of Russia and Ukraine. Earlier, Zelensky urged Putin to talk in person in a video address he released on Monday. Yet, he also said that he expects the leaders of the US, the UK, Germany and France to chaperone him during such a meeting.

Zelensky’s decision to invite the outgoing British Prime Minister Theresa May prompted Putin to chide the Ukrainian leader. Putin particularly asked in what capacity she would be present at the talks, which are unlikely to take place before she leaves her post.

It doesn’t seem like Zelensky – an actor and complete political novice – is doing a good job of earning Putin’s respect so far, acting like he needs to be babysat if he’s going to talk to the Russian president. Granted, Trump was also an entertainer with no political experience, but he at least tried to give the impression that he was going to be his own man. Zelensky doesn’t come across as very confident in holding the office that he voluntarily pursued.

The Kremlin put out a very short summary of the phone call:

At the initiative of the Ukrainian side, Vladimir Putin had a telephone conversation with President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky .

They discussed issues of settlement in the south-east of Ukraine and joint work on the return of persons held on both sides. An agreement was reached to continue this work at the expert level.

The possibility of continuing contacts in the “Norman format” was also discussed.

We’ve all heard the claims from the MSM and self-serving politicians and pundits that Putin is rehabilitating his “favorite” Soviet/Russian leader, Josef Stalin. But genuine unbiased experts on Russia know that this isn’t true.

Putin has publicly condemned Stalin’s crimes numerous times, most notably in 2007 when he visited Butovo, a mass grave outside of Moscow that holds the bodies of over 20,000 who were shot dead during the height of Stalin’s purges from 1936 – 1938. Putin’s comments, as reported by Reuters, after the visit:

“We know very well that 1937 was the peak of the purges but this year was well prepared by years of cruelty,” Putin said beside a mass grave after laying flowers at a memorial.

Putin said such tragedies “happen when ostensibly attractive but empty ideas are put above fundamental values, values of human life, of rights and freedom.”

“Hundreds of thousands, millions of people were killed and sent to camps, shot and tortured,” he said. “These were people with their own ideas which they were unafraid of speaking out about. They were the cream of the nation.”

Moreover, in October of 2017, Putin attended the opening of the Wall of Grief Monument to the Victims of Repression in Moscow – a monument specifically dedicated to the victims of Stalin’s repressions and a project that he helped get approved. An excerpt of his comments follows:

“Millions of people were branded as enemies of the people, were executed or crippled, underwent torture in prisons and forced deportations,” he said. “This terrible past cannot be erased from the national memory. And certainly cannot be justified by whatever imaginary greater good of the people…

…. “The persecution campaign was a tragedy for our people, our society, a ruthless blow to our culture, roots and identity. We can feel the consequences now and our duty is not to allow it to be forgotten.”

Recently, the Washington Post and The Guardian both ran articles pushing the claim yet again that Putin – in his admiration for Stalin – is seeking to rehabilitate his image in Russia and whitewash his crimes. British Russia expert Paul Robinson, with some research assistance from Russia-based journalist Bryan MacDonald, refutes these accusations:

The more important questions are whether the Post and the Guardian are right that a) Stalin is being rehabilitated in Russia, b) this is the fault of the Russian state, and of Vladimir Putin more personally, and c) allowing the possibility of any ‘heroic’ achievements by the Soviet state – most notably victory in the Second World War – inevitably leads to a whitewashing of Soviet repression. Fortunately, in his Twitter thread Bryan points us to a document which provides an answer, namely a statement issued yesterday by the Permanent Commission on Historical Memory of the Council of the President of the Russian Federation. It’s worth translating this in full [note: I have copied in bold only the first few paragraphs which I think are the most relevant – Natylie]:

We have heard that monuments to I.V. Stalin are being constructed in towns in Russia.

Those of our fellow citizens and those political forces, who are prepared to forget and even justify the death and deprivation of freedom of millions of our compatriots, incite both bitterness and sympathy. Those who were victims of political repression, the deportation of peoples, collectivization, and the Holodomor, were often the best in the country. These repression are firmly connected to the name of I.V. Stalin.

And those who erect monuments voluntarily or involuntarily justify these repressions. These fellow citizens of ours are also victims of that regime: they’ve lost their sense of sympathy for our deeply suffering country.

We do not call for the establishment of monuments to I.V. Stalin on private plots of land to be banned. But civil servants of all levels must know that it is impermissible to allow state or municipal land or buildings to be used for this purpose. Such acts not only contradict morality and respect for our deceased, innocently suffering predecessors, but also contradict official state policy.

In answer to our questions above, what this makes clear is that a) yes indeed, there are moves afoot to rehabilitate Stalin, but b) the Russian state isn’t too fond of these and is pushing back against them, and c) it’s perfectly possible to take pride in the Soviet victory in the Second World War while condemning Stalinist repressions – the idea that celebration of wartime victory inevitably morphs into rehabilitation of Stalin simply isn’t true.

Russians in general have a complicated view of Stalin’s legacy, with his popularity waxing and waning over the years.  According to a 2017 Levada poll, 46 percent of Russians had a positive view of Stalin and 43 percent had a negative or indifferent view of him.  The majority of respondents in a 2016 poll characterized Stalin as a tyrant and acknowledged that his repressions led to “millions of casualties among innocent Soviet citizens.”

Majority of Veterans Say Post-9/11 Wars Weren’t Worth Fighting; According to New Poll, Most Russians Want Democracy, but Not Western Style Liberal Democracy; RPG Attack on Ukrainian TV Station That Was Ready to Show Oliver Stone Documentary

A new poll conducted by Pew in May and released last week, shows that a majority of U.S. war veterans, along with a majority of Americans in general, don’t believe that the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria have been worth fighting. A graphic representing the results is here:

Bryan MacDonald relayed the results of a recent survey of Russians from the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The survey asked Russians their view of democracy and Russia’s relations with the west. According to the results: 48 percent of Russians want a change in their country’s governance and 62 percent believe that some form of democracy is necessary, but western-style liberal democracy was not looked upon as desirable for Russia as 45 percent thought it would bring “chaos and destruction” to their country. As for overall relations with the west, only 24 percent thought they could ever be friendly as opposed to distrustful.

This leads me to believe that my long-standing view of Washington’s foreign policy being counter-productive and in need of a change is as true as ever. Rather than throwing our weight around and bullying the rest of the world to accept our definition of democracy at the end of a gun barrel, we should get our own house in order and provide a more inspiring example to everyone.

The people actually living in a country know better than we do what kind of government and economic system will work best for them, according to their culture and history.

We’ve all known that certain someone in our families or neighborhoods, etc. who constantly dominates, meddles and thinks they know what’s best for everyone else. They also tend to pontificate constantly and never shut up long enough to learn from anyone else.

We should strive not to be that person in the form of a country.

On July 12th, a rocket propelled grenade attack was launched at a TV station in Kiev that was scheduled to air an award-winning documentary by Oliver Stone called Revealing Ukraine. The documentary attempts to follow Ukraine’s path from independence in 1991 to today. It included information from Dr. Ivan Katchanovski, a Canadian-Ukrainian academic who has done the most thorough analysis of the Maidan sniper attacks in February of 2014. As readers of this blog may recall, Katchanovski’s work discredits the Maidan government and Washington’s account – which the MSM has accepted without question – that the scores of people, both protesters and police, killed on the Maidan on March 21st, were murdered by the forces of the Yanukovich government. Katchanovski’s work shows that the deadly shots came from buildings that were controlled by the Maidan forces.

Katchanovski said the following regarding the attack:

#Ukraine TV cancels US documentary broadcast after #Terrorist attack & threats by far right to attack it, by Prosecutor General to launch state treason & terrorism financing investigation & by National Television & Radio Broadcasting Council to sanction it

Popular #Ukrainian TV channel is shelled from grenade launcher in order to prevent its broadcast today of US #Documentary by @TheOliverStone. It would reveal involvement of #Maidan snipers in Maidan massacre. Would there be any reaction from US government?

Apparently there were threats of stopping the broadcast of the documentary prior to the attack:

The National Council of Television and Radio Broadcasting of #Ukraine states that it would monitor this US #documentary and threatens sanctions against a popular Ukrainian news TV channel for showing it

Footage of the attack is below. There are no reported casualties.

The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Desir, immediately condemned the attack:

“I condemn the attack on channel 112 Ukraine premises today in Kyiv. Hopefully nobody was wounded but such violence and threats against media cannot be tolerated. This is an unacceptable act of intimidation which could have had dramatic consequences,” Désir said, welcoming the swift response of law enforcement officials in the case. 

“I call on the Ukrainian authorities to thoroughly investigate this attack, and to bring those responsible for this crime to justice,” Désir said.

Kim Iversen Explains Why War & Foreign Policy Should Be Most Important Issue for Democratic Voters; Mueller Report’s Claim of Russian Interference in 2016 Called into Question by Investigative Report & Federal Judge’s Ruling; Ukrainian President Requests Multilateral Talks with Russia re Donbas Conflict as NATO Builds Up Accessible Ports Near Crimea

Apparently, a lot of potential Democratic party voters have stated in a recent poll that their most important concern is nominating a candidate for president who can defeat Trump because they think he’s particularly dangerous. Political analyst, Kim Iversen, explains in this video that the most dangerous behavior that a president can exhibit is killing. Given that a president has the most power in his/her role as Commander in Chief, his/her decision of whether to unleash the U.S. military on human beings anywhere in the world who are perceived as enemies or to talk to them is a critical criteria for determining how dangerous they are. Based on that criteria, Trump has actually been less dangerous than other presidents who had a more pleasant and less volatile demeanor. She encourages potential Democratic voters to think more deeply about the Democratic contenders for the 2020 presidential nomination and whether they are potentially much more dangerous than Trump.

Kim Iversen

I totally agree with Iversen. But I fear that most people will not use her criteria in making voting decisions. The death and destruction that our president may rain down on other human beings via our military typically happens on the other side of the world and – thanks to a craven media – we hardly ever see the image of the results. Also, only a small percentage of the population is affected by these wars due to the volunteer military force. Therefore, the death and destruction becomes an abstraction that does not resonate and does not factor into voting decisions the way that immediate issues like health care and jobs do. I sincerely hope I’m wrong about this and would like as many people as possible to hear Iversen’s well-articulated argument.

As we all know by now, the Mueller Report found no evidence to support the allegation that Trump colluded with Russia to win election as president. However, it continued to claim that the Russian government interfered in our election, which is being repeated everywhere as flat fact. However, veteran Russiagate journalist, Aaron Mate – who systematically debunked a lot of the collusion nonsense in real time – takes a deep dive into this claim as well. A summary of points from his lengthy article for Real Clear Investigations includes:

  • The [Mueller] report uses qualified and vague language to describe key events, indicating that Mueller and his investigators do not actually know for certain whether Russian intelligence officers stole Democratic Party emails, or how those emails were transferred to WikiLeaks.
  • The report’s timeline of events appears to defy logic. According to its narrative, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange announced the publication of Democratic Party emails not only before he received the documents but before he even communicated with the source that provided them.
  • There is strong reason to doubt Mueller’s suggestion that an alleged Russian cutout called Guccifer 2.0 supplied the stolen emails to Assange.
  • Mueller’s decision not to interview Assange – a central figure who claims Russia was not behind the hack – suggests an unwillingness to explore avenues of evidence on fundamental questions.
  • U.S. intelligence officials cannot make definitive conclusions about the hacking of the Democratic National Committee computer servers because they did not analyze those servers themselves. Instead, they relied on the forensics of CrowdStrike, a private contractor for the DNC that was not a neutral party, much as “Russian dossier” compiler Christopher Steele, also a DNC contractor, was not a neutral party. This puts two Democrat-hired contractors squarely behind underlying allegations in the affair – a key circumstance that Mueller ignores.
  • Further, the government allowed CrowdStrike and the Democratic Party’s legal counsel to submit redacted records, meaning CrowdStrike and not the government decided what could be revealed or not regarding evidence of hacking.
  • Mueller’s report conspicuously does not allege that the Russian government carried out the social media campaign. Instead it blames, as Mueller said in his closing remarks, “a private Russian entity” known as the Internet Research Agency (IRA).
  • Mueller also falls far short of proving that the Russian social campaign was sophisticated, or even more than minimally related to the 2016 election. As with the collusion and Russian hacking allegations, Democratic officials had a central and overlooked hand in generating the alarm about Russian social media activity.
  • John Brennan, then director of the CIA, played a seminal and overlooked role in all facets of what became Mueller’s investigation: the suspicions that triggered the initial collusion probe; the allegations of Russian interference; and the intelligence assessment that purported to validate the interference allegations that Brennan himself helped generate. Yet Brennan has since revealed himself to be, like CrowdStrike and Steele, hardly a neutral party — in fact a partisan with a deep animus toward Trump.

None of this means that the Mueller report’s core finding of “sweeping and systematic” Russian government election interference is necessarily false. But his report does not present sufficient evidence to substantiate it.

On July 9th, Mate tweeted out the following details on a ruling just made by a federal judge in DC regarding whether Mueller adequately made the case of the IRA – a St. Petersburg-based troll farm that put out click-bait on various social media platforms in 2016 – being connected to the Russian government:

Federal judge has issued a significant rebuke of a core Mueller claim. Mueller claims that the IRA — a Russian troll farm — was the 2nd of “two principal interference operations” by Russian gov’t. But as judge notes, Mueller’s implied link between IRA & Russian gov’t was false:

This is a major blow not just to Mueller but to the entire “Russian Active Measures” talking point. As the judge acknowledges, the IRA (which, btw, put out juvenile clickbait mostly unrelated to the election) is a private entity & Mueller never establishes a Kremlin connection.

This inconsistency, confirmed by a DC judge, raises new Qs about the validity of Mueller’s claim of a “sweeping and systematic” Russian gov’t interference campaign. If Mueller was disingenuous in falsely trying to link it to Russian gov’t, what else was he disingenuous about?

Here is the DC Judge’s order that I’m quoting from. Judge rebukes Mueller & DOJ for falsely suggesting a link between IRA & Russian government, and for suggesting that IRA carried out a Kremlin “Active Measures” campaign — a “central” Mueller allegation: https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/6185644/Sealed-Order.pdf …

And Russia-based journalist Bryan MacDonald tweeted on July 8th that Russian news agency Tass is reporting that Ukrainian president Zelensky is requesting multi-lateral talks with Russia, US, UK, Germany and France regarding the Donbas conflict:

New Ukrainian President Zelensky has proposed settlement talks with Putin on Crimea & Donbas. He wants the summit held in Minsk with Trump, Merkel, Macron & the next UK PM present. The Kremlin says it will consider the offer.

Meanwhile, a defense magazine is reporting that the U.S. is retrofitting Ukrainian naval ports to accommodate U.S. and NATO warships just miles away from Crimea:

Centered at the Ochakiv Naval Base and the military facility at Mykolaiv — 40 miles east of Odessa and less than 100 northwest of Crimea — the American-funded effort includes reinforcing and upgrading existing piers and adding a new floating dock, security fencing around the bases, ship repair facilities, and a pair of brand-new Maritime Operations Centers from which Ukrainian and NATO forces can direct exercises and coordinate activities….

…While Ukraine isn’t a NATO member, it does receive training from NATO forces and is currently hosting the annual Sea Breeze exercise that includes US and allied warships and several hundred Marines…. 

…Romania, which sits just 150 miles across the water from Crimea, is buying the Patriot air defense system from the US, and Romanian and American forces recently held a series of air defense drills in the Black Sea that simulated shooting down drones.

Was Stalin Really Responsible for At Least 20 Million Deaths?

Stalin in an authorized image taken in 1937 and used for state publicity purposes

During the Cold War and after, estimates of the number of deaths that Soviet dictator Josef Stalin was responsible for had numbered 20 million and even as high as 60 million. The following is an excerpt from “Chapter 3: The Stalin Era and WWII” of my forthcoming book. This excerpt discusses updated estimates based on more recently available material, including from the Soviet/Russian archives, as well as where the original inflated estimates originated. The famines of 1930 – 1933, including in Ukraine and Kazakhstan, are discussed in more detail in a later part of the chapter. – Natylie

Stalin’s Terror and the Gulags   

The Soviet labor camps were first established in 1919 and housed aristocrats and former members of the Provisional Government (Gulag Museum 2017).  But the gulags, in which prisoners toiled in extreme weather conditions with insufficient provisions, were greatly expanded under Stalin’s rule, swelling during the Great Purge of 1936 – 1938 when 1.5 million were arrested.  Approximately 750,000 were executed during this same period (Gulag Museum 2017). 

A very high proportion of the arrestees were party officials, including military officers, party secretaries and factory managers (Harris 2016).  By January of 1938, it was already being acknowledged within the Central Committee that the scale of the arrests was becoming counter-productive as the fear they elicited among party officials was undermining job performance (Harris 2016). 

It is recognized that Stalin’s head of the NKVD (political police and pre-cursor to the KGB), Nikolai Yezhov, was largely responsible for carrying out the Great Terror of 1936 – 1938 as well as shaping Stalin’s understanding of the alleged conspiracies to undermine the Soviet government.  As James Harris explains in The Great Fear: Stalin’s Terror of the 1930’s:

His commitment to break the conspiracies against the regime and root out enemies was doomed to fail because the conspiracies and enemies were largely chimaeric products of a misguided reading of flawed intelligence. Accelerating the patterns of arrests, interrogations, execution and exile deepened the appearance of conspiracy and enemy activity.  Because the NKVD acted overwhelmingly on the content of denunciations or “confessions” obtained under torture, and not on physical evidence of counterrevolutionary conduct, they could never get to the “bottom” of conspiracy (Harris 2016).

Yehzov was eventually hoisted on his own petard when a backlog of appeals against NKVD convictions mounted and compromising materials against him surfaced.  This was compounded when an NKVD colleague stationed in Japan defected, which led to suspicions that Yehzov was going after innocent citizens while protecting real enemies in his midst.  Stalin fired Yehzov in November of 1938, replacing him with Lavrenti Beria, and used him as a scapegoat for the recent excesses, although Stalin himself had personally overseen and approved lists of citizens to be arrested and executed.  By 1939, the number of arrests had tapered off (Harris 2016). 

It should be noted that the number of deaths that Stalin was purportedly responsible for during his long reign was greatly inflated during the Cold War era when Robert Conquest’s 1968 book The Great Terror first estimated approximately 20 million deaths (NYT 2015).  Conquest, a former British intelligence officer, admitted that he was an unapologetic Cold Warrior who thought that the Soviet Union and Stalin could best be understood as a science fiction story world and character (Fitzpatrick 2019).  Cold War propagandizing and caricaturized thinking likely played a role in this characterization of Stalin as Conquest generalized out from various sources, including claims by Soviet defectors (Fitzpatrick 2019). 

Even popular historian Timothy Snyder, who shows little sympathy for Russia, estimates that Stalin is likely responsible for closer to 6 – 8 million deaths (Snyder 2011), based on research for his 2010 book Bloodlands.  According to Snyder, with the exception of the war period from 1941 – 1945, the vast majority of prisoners left the gulags alive.  The total number of Soviet citizens who died in the gulags for the entire Stalinist period is between 2 and 3 million, which is still an astounding number (Snyder 2011). 

Snyder’s overall figure includes estimates for the famines of 1930 – 1933 of which the famine that specifically took place in Ukraine, often referred to as The Holodomor, is estimated at 3.3 million out of the total of 5 million (Snyder 2011).

Sources:

  1. My visit to the Gulag Museum in Moscow, May/2017;
  2. Harris, James.  The Great Fear: Stalin’s Terror of the 1930’s.  Oxford University Press.  Oxford, UK.  2016;
  3. Robert Conquest, Historian Who Documented Soviet Horrors, Dies at 98” by William Grimes.  New York Times.  8/4/15;
  4. People and Martians” by Sheila Fitzpatrick.  London Review of Books.  1/24/19;
  5. Hitler vs. Stalin:  Who Was Worse?” by Timothy Snyder.  New York Review of Books.  1/27/11.

Poll Claiming 10% of Russians Have Been Tortured Doesn’t Pass the Smell Test

Guards Outside of Black Dolphin Prison near Kazakh border. Photo courtesy of National Geographic.

Update: I’ve been contacted by a reader who stated the following: “If over 30 years 0.33% of the adult population – so one in 300 annually – experienced some sort of police violence, you can get to 10%. “
Fair enough. But if one has to stretch back 30 years in order to make the figures credible, then that would include the entire “Wild West” Yeltsin era.
Natylie

On June 26th – 27th, the western-owned Moscow Times, The Independent (UK), and the U.S.-government funded RFE/RL all published articles about a poll put out by the independent (i.e. western funded) Levada Center claiming that 10 percent of all Russians have been tortured by Russian authorities.

I’m not suggesting that Russia is Candyland or that police there don’t abuse their authority. I’m aware that there are problems in their criminal justice system – as there are in many other nations, including in the west. If the claim would have been that 10 percent of all prisoners in Russia had been tortured, it would have certainly been in the realm of the plausible. But 10 percent of the entire population of Russia smelled fishy to me.

Now, I’m no math whiz, but I really can’t surmise how one can make the numbers work.

Russia has an overall population of just under 145 million people. 10 percent of that would equal just over 14 million people. It sounds like the Levada poll is claiming that 14 million Russians have been tortured. According to prisonstudies.org, just over a half million Russians (552,188) were being criminally detained in Russia as of January of 2019. That figure includes pre-trial detainees and remanded prisoners. Additionally, the incarceration rate in Russia has been steadily declining since 2008.

It’s extremely unlikely that every Russian who has ever been detained in Putin-era Russia has been tortured, so considerably more than 14 million people had to have been detained by the authorities. Again, how does this add up?

Unfortunately, I don’t read Russian so I can’t read the original poll that was linked to. I’d be interested to know who was included in the sample population and how torture was defined, among other things.

If any readers have specialized knowledge of the Russian criminal justice system and can help me to understand how this could be accurate, please feel free to leave a comment or contact me.

From what I have studied of the Russian criminal justice system, this doesn’t fit the gradual trend in the Putin era of trying to clean up the system and provide more protections for prisoners and the accused. That’s not to say that more doesn’t still need to be done, but there is a trend toward improvement.

Until I see credible evidence making this add up, I’m going to have to consider this claim to be very dubious.

Putin’s June 27th Interview with the Financial Times

Russian President Vladimir Putin

On June 27th, Putin sat down for an in-depth interview with the editor of the Financial Times, Lionel Barber, as well as its Moscow Bureau Chief, Henry Foy. Unfortunately, the article is behind a paywall, but I’ve included some important excerpts below with a bit of my own commentary in italics. I have quoted Putin at length to convey his thoughts more clearly and accurately. What he says is so often misrepresented and/or taken out of context in western media.

Rules of International Relations During Cold War vs. Now; Now is More Dangerous

Putin: [D]uring the Cold War, the bad thing was the Cold War. It is true. But there were at least some rules that all participants in international communication more or less adhered to or tried to follow. Now, it seems that there are no rules at all. In this sense, the world has become more fragmented and less predictable, which is the most important and regrettable thing.

On Disagreements with Previous U.S. Presidential Administrations Since 2000 – Particularly on Abrogation of ABM Treaty

Putin was asked to discuss his relationships with all 4 different U.S. presidents that he has dealt with since he took office in 2000. He mentions that there were plenty of times that he had disagreements – “debates” and similar language is a diplomatic way of saying there were arguments or conflicts. He specifically mentions the abrogation of the ABM Treaty by the Bush II administration. This is probably because it is seen as paving the way for the continuing dismantlement – at Washington’s behest – of the nuclear arms control apparatus.

Putin: .We debated this matter for a long time, argued and suggested various solutions. In any event, I made very energetic attempts to convince our US partners not to withdraw from the Treaty. And, if the US side still wanted to withdraw from the Treaty, it should have done so in such a way as to guarantee international security for a long historical period. I suggested this, I have already discussed this in public, and I repeat that I did this because I consider this matter to be very important. I suggested working jointly on missile-defence projects that should have involved the United States, Russia and Europe. They stipulated specific parameters of this cooperation, determined dangerous missile approaches and envisioned technology exchanges, the elaboration of decision-making mechanisms, etc. Those were absolutely specific proposals.

I am convinced that the world would be a different place today, had our US partners accepted this proposal. Unfortunately, this did not happen. We can see that the situation is developing in another direction; new weapons and cutting-edge military technology are coming to the fore. Well, this is not our choice. But, today, we should at least do everything so as to not aggravate the situation.

About That 2016 Election

I’ve read and viewed many interviews with Putin over the years and he actually seems to have a pretty good grasp of U.S. history and politics. After the 2008 financial crisis, during speeches in international fora, he also provided a critique of the unequal affects resulting from how global capitalism has been organized. In addition to a law degree, Putin worked on an economics dissertation when he was a young man, so he’s not ignorant of these issues. His analysis of how Trump won is similar to that of others who did not get caught up in partisan diversions.

Putin: Russia has been accused, and, strange as it may seem, it is still being accused, despite the Mueller report, of mythical interference in the US election. What happened in reality? Mr Trump looked into his opponents’ attitude to him and saw changes in American society, and he took advantage of this….

Has anyone ever given a thought to who actually benefited and what benefits were gained from globalisation, the development of which we have been observing and participating in over the past 25 years, since the 1990s?

China has made use of globalisation, in particular, to pull millions of Chinese out of poverty.

What happened in the United States, and how did it happen? In the United States, the leading US companies -the companies, their managers, shareholders and partners – made use of these benefits. The middle class hardly benefitted from globalisation…The middle class in the United States has not benefited from globalisation; it was left out when this pie was divided up. The Trump team sensed this very keenly and clearly, and they used this in the election campaign. It is where you should look for reasons behind Trump’s victory, rather than in any alleged foreign interference. This is what we should be talking about here, including when it comes to the global economy.

The Russia-China Relationship

Putin was asked if Russia was putting too many of its eggs “in the China basket.”

Putin: First of all, we have enough eggs, but there are not that many baskets where these eggs can be placed. This is the first point.

… Let me point out that the Friendship Treaty with China was signed in 2001, if memory serves, long before the current situation and long before the current economic disagreements, to put it mildly, between the United States and China….

….Yes, Russia and China have many coinciding interests, this is true. This is what motivates our frequent contacts with President Xi Jinping. Of course, we have also established very warm personal relations, and this is natural. Therefore, we are moving in line with our mainstream bilateral agenda that was formulated as far back as 2001, but we quickly respond to global developments. We never direct our bilateral relations against anyone. We are not against anyone, we are for ourselves.

U.S.-China Relations

Putin: However, of course, we have to admit that it is not only about China’s industrial subsidies on the one hand or the tariff policy of the United States on the other. First of all, we are talking about different development platforms, so to speak, in China and in the United States. They are different and you, being a historian, probably will agree with me. They have different philosophies in both foreign and domestic policies, probably.

But I would like to share some personal observations with you. They are not about allied relations with one country or a confrontation with the other; I am just observing what is going on at the moment. China is showing loyalty and flexibility to both its partners and opponents. Maybe this is related to the historical features of Chinese philosophy, their approach to building relations.

Therefore I do not think that there would be some such threats from China. I cannot imagine that, really. But it is hard to say whether the United States would have enough patience not to make any rash decisions, but to respect its partners even if there are disagreements. But I hope, I would like to repeat this again, I hope that there would not be any military confrontation.

The Future of the New START Treaty

As has been documented here over the course of several weeks, Putin is again pointing out that Washington is showing no interest in preserving what little is left of the nuclear arms control agreements. It is being reported that John Bolton is gunning for the destruction of the New START treaty as would be expected.

Putin: We said that we are ready to hold talks and to extend this treaty between the United States and Russia, but we have not seen any relevant initiative from our American partners. They keep silent, while the treaty expires in 2021. If we do not begin talks now, it would be over because there would be no time even for formalities.

Our previous conversation with Donald showed that the Americans seem to be interested in this, but still they are not making any practical steps. So if this treaty ceases to exist, then there would be no instrument in the world to curtail the arms race. And this is bad.

China’s “Military Buildup”

Putin: You mentioned the build-up of naval forces in China. China’s total defence spending is $117 billion, if memory serves. The US defence spending is over $700 billion. And you are trying to scare the world with the build-up of China’s military might? It does not work with this scale of military spending. No, it does not.

Risk Assessment

Putin:  Any decision-making process is accompanied by risk. Before taking one’s chances, one has to meticulously assess everything. Therefore, risk based on an assessment of the situation and the possible consequences of the decisions is possible and even inevitable. Foolish risks overlooking the real situation and failing to clearly comprehend the consequences are unacceptable because they can jeopardise the interests of a great number of people.

On Assad Stepping Down in Syria

Putin: When we discussed this matter only recently with the previous [Obama] administration, we said, suppose Assad steps down today, what will happen tomorrow?

They said, “We don’t know.” But when you do not know what happens tomorrow, why shoot from the hip today? This may sound primitive, but this is how it is.

Therefore, we prefer to look at problems thoroughly from all possible angles and not to be in any hurry. Of course, we are perfectly aware of what is happening in Syria. There are internal reasons for the conflict, and they should be dealt with. But both sides should do their bit. I am referring to the conflicting parties.

On Defining and Imposing Democracy Abroad

Putin: Incidentally, the President of France said recently that the American democratic model differs greatly from the European model. So there are no common democratic standards. And do you, well, not you, but our Western partners want a region such as Libya to have the same democratic standards as Europe and the United States? The region has only monarchies or countries with a system similar to the one that existed in Libya.

But I am sure that, as a historian, you will agree with me at heart. I do not know whether you will publicly agree with this or not, but it is impossible to impose current and viable French or Swiss democratic standards on North African residents who have never lived in conditions of French or Swiss democratic institutions. Impossible, isn’t it? And they tried to impose something like that on them. Or they tried to impose something that they had never known or even heard of. All this led to conflict and inter-tribal discord. In fact, a war continues in Libya.

Venezuela

Putin:  But when a person enters a square, raises his eyes to the sky and proclaims himself president? Let us do the same in Japan, the United States or Germany. What will happen? Do you understand that this will cause chaos all over the world? It is impossible to disagree with this. There will be pure chaos. How could they act like this? But no, they started supporting that person from the very outset.

He may be a very good person. He may be just wonderful, and his plans are good. But is it enough that he entered a square and proclaimed himself president? Is the entire world supposed to support him as president? We should tell him to take part in elections and win them, and then we would work with him as the state leader.

Liberalism – Immigration

Probably the most talked about portion of the interview involved Putin’s discussion of liberalism. He talked about different aspects of liberalism: immigration, gender and sexuality, and as part of the diversity of ideas. I have divided up the quotes accordingly.

As some context, it should be remembered that the Soviet Union was a closed off society for 70 years. Typically, Soviet citizens could not travel outside of the country. When a society has been closed off for a long time, it’s to be expected that the society will be socially and culturally conservative. Moreover, after Soviet society disintegrated, many Russians became interested in their pre-Soviet culture in which the conservative Orthodox Church played an important role. This pre-Soviet Russian cultural heritage has also been looked to as a form of social cohesion, some form of which was necessary to hold the country together as it tried to find its way out of the crisis of the 1990’s/early 2000’s and toward stability.

Putin: What is happening in the West? What is the reason for the Trump phenomenon, as you said, in the United States? What is happening in Europe as well? The ruling elites have broken away from the people. The obvious problem is the gap between the interests of the elites and the overwhelming majority of the people.

Of course, we must always bear this in mind. One of the things we must do in Russia is never to forget that the purpose of the operation and existence of any government is to create a stable, normal, safe and predictable life for the people and to work towards a better future.

There is also the so-called liberal idea, which has outlived its purpose. Our Western partners have admitted that some elements of the liberal idea, such as multiculturalism, are no longer tenable.

When the migration problem came to a head, many people admitted that the policy of multiculturalism is not effective and that the interests of the core population should be considered. Although those who have run into difficulties because of political problems in their home countries need our assistance as well. That is great, but what about the interests of their own population when the number of migrants heading to Western Europe is not just a handful of people but thousands or hundreds of thousands?

…. As for the liberal idea, its proponents are not doing anything. They say that all is well, that everything is as it should be. But is it? They are sitting in their cosy offices, while those who are facing the problem every day in Texas or Florida are not happy, they will soon have problems of their own. Does anyone think about them?

Liberalism – Gender and Sexuality

Putin: So, the liberal idea has become obsolete. It has come into conflict with the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population. Or take the traditional values. I am not trying to insult anyone, because we have been condemned for our alleged homophobia as it is. But we have no problems with LGBT persons. God forbid, let them live as they wish. But some things do appear excessive to us.

They claim now that children can play five or six gender roles. I cannot even say exactly what genders these are, I have no notion. Let everyone be happy, we have no problem with that. But this must not be allowed to overshadow the culture, traditions and traditional family values of millions of people making up the core population.

Liberalism Within the Diversity of Ideas

Various ideas and various opinions should have a chance to exist and manifest themselves, but at the same time interests of the general public, those millions of people and their lives, should never be forgotten. This is something that should not be overlooked.

Then, it seems to me, we would be able to avoid major political upheavals and troubles. This applies to the liberal idea as well. It does not mean (I think, this is ceasing to be a dominating factor) that it must be immediately destroyed. This point of view, this position should also be treated with respect.

…. For this reason, I am not a fan of quickly shutting, tying, closing, disbanding everything, arresting everybody or dispersing everybody. Of course, not. The liberal idea cannot be destroyed either; it has the right to exist and it should even be supported in some things. But you should not think that it has the right to be the absolute dominating factor. That is the point.

Read the full transcript of the interview here.