The complete interview of Putin by TASS News Agency is now available on YouTube, broken own into clips by topic, with English subtitles. The playlist is available here:
This is the first clip on the list and each subsequent clip should automatically play after the other.
By Natylie Baldwin
Originally appeared at Oped News, June 23, 2020
Many American pundits and politicians have referred to Vladimir Putin as a nationalist. This has always been a disingenuous characterization of the Russian president to anyone who has studied him carefully over the years. Putin is more what could be termed 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 connotes 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 western press. Moreover, there are real nationalist politicians in Russia, namely Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the LDPR Party and one of the more popular opposition politicians. One can get an idea of some of his more outlandish ideas here – including support for monarchy and denigrating diplomacy.
In an interview with Oliver Stone in June of 2019, Putin specifically gave his opinion of nationalism:
Vladimir Putin: In general nationalism is a sign of narrow-mindedness.
Within the context of domestic Russian politics, Putin is a moderate. He sees himself as a Russian patriot and pragmatist whose top priorities are the security and stability of Russia as well as improving Russians’ living standards. Anyone who has an understanding of Russian geography and history immediately comprehends these priorities and why they resonate with the Russian people, who overwhelmingly believe that Putin, whatever his flaws, took a country that was literally on the verge of being a failed state in 2000 and turned it around. In order to keep the country together after the disaster of the 1990s, it was necessary to foster social cohesion. Consequently, Putin encouraged the trend, already underway, of the re-discovery of Russia’s pre-Soviet cultural heritage, with the Orthodox Church playing a significant role and Russians’ cultural conservatism acknowledged. All this reflected the need to emphasize boundaries, rootedness and order in the search for stability after the chaotic Yeltsin era that plunged the nation into massive poverty, crime and its worst mortality crisis since World War II. There is also a strong sense of duty and loyalty that Putin personally values.
These qualities have made him attractive to some western conservatives, despite the fact that in many ways Putin is a statist as is fitting with Russia’s long political history, which does not include the libertarianism that a large segment of American conservatives have traditionally embraced. Conversely, Putin’s cultural conservatism has been weaponized by liberal Democrats, especially as it pertains to gay rights. Ironically, this obscures the fact that Putin’s actual record shows a leader with a more nuanced and moderate socio-political view as he’s overseen the expansion of individual rights for Russians within the justice system and opposes re-institution of the death penalty. Meanwhile Russian women enjoy maternity and child benefits that American women could only dream of.
In an interview with Rossiya 1 on May 17th, Putin stated that Russia – a country straddling two continents and 11 time zones – was more its own civilization than just a country.
Continue reading here.
A few weeks ago Russia experienced a major oil spill in the Arctic region near the Taimyr Peninsula, which occurred due to melting permafrost and instability as well as negligence in maintaining oil storage and infrastructure.
According to Oilprice.com, on May 29:
a fuel storage tank owned by Russian nickel and palladium mining company, Nornickel, collapsed and spilled 21,000 tonnes (about 158,000 barrels) of diesel into the nearby Ambarnaya river outside the Siberian city of Norilsk. The accident–which has drawn comparisons to the Exxon Valdez accident off Alaska in 1989– is being regarded as the worst of its kind in Russia’s Arctic region. One source has reported that as much as 29,000 tonnes (about 218,000 barrels) of diesel could have found its way into the soil and nearby water bodies.
President Vladimir Putin declared a state of federal emergency in the Krasnoyarsk region as Nornickel scrambled to try and contain the spill from contaminating the Arctic zone. But their best efforts have failed, and now there are reports that the oil has flowed 12 miles north and seeped into a nearby Arctic Lake where it might cause untold damage to marine ecosystems.
Putin was reportedly furious about the handling of the spill by the Nornickel corporation, including its alleged failure to adequately maintain the tank as well as a delay of up to two days in reporting the incident. In addition to declaring a federal emergency Putin ordered billionaire part-owner of Nornickel, Vladimir Potanin, to pay the full cost of the cleanup.
Though government investigators and environmental groups in Russia have blamed negligence by Nornickel in its maintenance of the tank, the accident occurred within the backdrop of Russia suffering global warming and its effects at 2.5 times the rate of the rest of the world:
A large number of industries, roads, and entire cities are built atop the permafrost terrain in Russia. When the permafrost thaws, the ice that has remained stable and buried deep in the ground loses stability. Experts have already noted that thawing permafrost is responsible for fissures that have appeared in apartment buildings in Norilsk.
Environmental groups such as the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace Russia have pointed out that the risks of thawing permafrost to Arctic infrastructure are public knowledge, and companies like Nornickel should take the necessary steps to avert disasters.
Just this past weekend, Siberia saw record-high temperatures of 100 degrees. As I discussed in a post last year, though a substantive environmental movement has been slow to effectively get off the ground in Russia, many Russians are increasingly concerned about climate change and other environmental issues as major storms, floods and wildfires on an unprecedented scale have been occurring throughout the country. As reported by private Russian news agency Interfax, a recent state-run poll of Russian opinion revealed that 1/3 of Russians were unhappy with the government’s handling of environmental issues, with the majority of those dissatisfied residing in small to medium sized cities further away from Moscow and St. Petersburg. The Interfax report also noted that “Ecological issues have been among the most prominent causes of public protest in Russia in the last few years, with demonstrations against waste disposal being held from Moscow to Murmansk Region.”
Some are wondering if the oil spill will finally be the catalyst for implementing more environmental reforms and regulation. As Bloomberg reported:
Yet stricter regulation to prevent and liquidate oil spills has been stalled in parliament since 2018, when a draft bill passed its first reading. The law would require companies with fuel storage or pipelines to maintain detailed plans to contain spills and create financial reserves to fix any damage.
After the accident, Putin ordered checks of similar tanks around Russia and urged the quick adaptation of new legislation. This week, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin revived talk of the 2018 bill.
But the legislation in question has been criticized as insufficient:
The draft is too vague to make an impact and needs a clear mechanism to create provisions, according to Darya Kozlova, head of oil and gas regulation at Moscow-based Vygon Consulting. A better approach would be to rely on insurance policies and online monitoring, she said.
But it isn’t just environmental and public interest groups that recognize the increasing implications of the problem for the economy and society. Russia’s energy minister, Alexander Novak, has publicly acknowledged that, with the drop in oil demand caused by the Covid pandemic and the more competitive cost of renewables, the future role of fossil fuels in providing the world’s energy needs will likely fall:
Firstly, the Russian official explained that lifestyle changes, such as less flying and fewer car trips, would mean that the energy industry will be “experiencing a structural change” in the coming years.
The development of digital, cloud and IT technologies will also affect the energy sector, the energy minister said. “More electricity will be consumed, less will be generated from hydrocarbon sources, more from renewable energy sources,” he stated.
Due to these changes, Novak explained that he no longer agrees with previous estimates that the share of hydrocarbon energy would drop down to 75 percent by 2040. Due to the increased efficiency and reduced cost of renewable sources, the minister believes this prediction will be wrong.
In a post last September, I wrote about how the EU had passed a resolution assigning equal blame to Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union for the start of WWII. I noted that in a pubic appearance at the time, Putin said that he’d be writing an article in the future about WWII addressing the inaccuracies reflected in the EU resolution:
This is the backdrop in which Putin recently announced that he is working with various archival documents and will write an article responding to the EU resolution and the historical inaccuracies that form its foundation.
Vladimir Putin’s article has just been published by The National Interest. The article discusses Word War II, the events leading up to the war, and the need to expand on the post-WWII world order to maintain peace and solve global problems. An excerpt is below. Feel free to discuss in the comments section.
The Real Lessons of the 75th Anniversary of World War II by Vladimir Putin
Seventy-five years have passed since the end of the Great Patriotic War. Several generations have grown up over the years. The political map of the planet has changed. The Soviet Union that claimed an epic, crushing victory over Nazism and saved the entire world is gone. Besides, the events of that war have long become a distant memory, even for its participants. So why does Russia celebrate the ninth of May as the biggest holiday? Why does life almost come to a halt on June 22? And why does one feel a lump rise in their throat?
They usually say that the war has left a deep imprint on every family’s history. Behind these words, there are fates of millions of people, their sufferings and the pain of loss. Behind these words, there is also the pride, the truth and the memory.
For my parents, the war meant the terrible ordeals of the Siege of Leningrad where my two-year-old brother Vitya died. It was the place where my mother miraculously managed to survive. My father, despite being exempt from active duty, volunteered to defend his hometown. He made the same decision as millions of Soviet citizens. He fought at the Nevsky Pyatachok bridgehead and was severely wounded. And the more years pass, the more I feel the need to talk to my parents and learn more about the war period of their lives. However, I no longer have the opportunity to do so. This is the reason why I treasure in my heart those conversations I had with my father and mother on this subject, as well as the little emotion they showed.
People of my age and I believe it is important that our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren understand the torment and hardships their ancestors had to endure. They need to understand how their ancestors managed to persevere and win. Where did their sheer, unbending willpower that amazed and fascinated the whole world come from? Sure, they were defending their home, their children, loved ones and families. However, what they shared was the love for their homeland, their Motherland. That deep-seated, intimate feeling is fully reflected in the very essence of our nation and became one of the decisive factors in its heroic, sacrificial fight against the Nazis.
I often wonder: What would today’s generation do? How will it act when faced with a crisis situation? I see young doctors, nurses, sometimes fresh graduates that go to the “red zone” to save lives. I see our servicemen that fight international terrorism in the Northern Caucasus and fought to the bitter end in Syria. They are so young. Many servicemen who were part of the legendary, immortal 6th Paratroop Company were 19-20 years old. But all of them proved that they deserved to inherit the feat of the warriors of our homeland that defended it during the Great Patriotic War.
This is why I am confident that one of the characteristic features of the peoples of Russia is to fulfill their duty without feeling sorry for themselves when the circumstances so demand. Such values as selflessness, patriotism, love for their home, their family and Motherland remain fundamental and integral to the Russian society to this day. These values are, to a large extent, the backbone of our country’s sovereignty.
Nowadays, we have new traditions created by the people, such as the Immortal Regiment. This is the memory march that symbolizes our gratitude, as well as the living connection and the blood ties between generations. Millions of people come out to the streets carrying the photographs of their relatives that defended their Motherland and defeated the Nazis. This means that their lives, their ordeals and sacrifices, as well as the Victory that they left to us will never be forgotten.
We have a responsibility to our past and our future to do our utmost to prevent those horrible tragedies from happening ever again. Hence, I was compelled to come out with an article about World War II and the Great Patriotic War. I have discussed this idea on several occasions with world leaders, and they have showed their support. At the summit of CIS leaders held at the end of last year, we all agreed on one thing: it is essential to pass on to future generations the memory of the fact that the Nazis were defeated first and foremost by the Soviet people and that representatives of all republics of the Soviet Union fought side by side together in that heroic battle, both on the frontlines and in the rear. During that summit, I also talked with my counterparts about the challenging pre-war period.
That conversation caused a stir in Europe and the world. It means that it is indeed high time that we revisited the lessons of the past. At the same time, there were many emotional outbursts, poorly disguised insecurities and loud accusations that followed. Acting out of habit, certain politicians rushed to claim that Russia was trying to rewrite history. However, they failed to rebut a single fact or refute a single argument. It is indeed difficult, if not impossible, to argue with the original documents that, by the way, can be found not only in the Russian, but also in the foreign archives.
Thus, there is a need to further examine the reasons that caused the world war and reflect on its complicated events, tragedies and victories, as well as its lessons, both for our country and the entire world. And like I said, it is crucial to rely exclusively on archive documents and contemporary evidence while avoiding any ideological or politicized speculations.
I would like to once again recall the obvious fact. The root causes of World War II mainly stem from the decisions made after World War I. The Treaty of Versailles became a symbol of grave injustice for Germany. It basically implied that the country was to be robbed, being forced to pay enormous reparations to the Western allies that drained its economy. French marshal Ferdinand Foch who served as the Supreme Allied Commander gave a prophetic description of that Treaty: “This is not peace. It is an armistice for twenty years.”
It was the national humiliation that became a fertile ground for radical sentiments of revenge in Germany. The Nazis skillfully played on people’s emotions and built their propaganda promising to deliver Germany from the “legacy of Versailles” and restore the country to its former power while essentially pushing German people into war. Paradoxically, the Western states, particularly the United Kingdom and the United States, directly or indirectly contributed to this. Their financial and industrial enterprises actively invested in German factories and plants manufacturing military products. Besides, many people in the aristocracy and political establishment supported radical, far-right and nationalist movements that were on the rise both in Germany and in Europe.
The “Versailles world order” caused numerous implicit controversies and apparent conflicts. They revolved around the borders of new European states randomly set by the victors in World War I. That boundary delimitation was almost immediately followed by territorial disputes and mutual claims that turned into “time bombs”.
One of the major outcomes of World War I was the establishment of the League of Nations. There were high expectations for that international organization to ensure lasting peace and collective security. It was a progressive idea that, if followed through consistently, could actually prevent the horrors of a global war from happening again.
However, the League of Nations dominated by the victorious powers of France and the United Kingdom proved ineffective and just got swamped by pointless discussions. The League of Nations and the European continent in general turned a deaf ear to the repeated calls of the Soviet Union to establish an equitable collective security system, and sign an Eastern European pact and a Pacific pact to prevent aggression. These proposals were disregarded.
The League of Nations also failed to prevent conflicts in various parts of the world, such as the attack of Italy on Ethiopia, the civil war in Spain, the Japanese aggression against China and the Anschluss of Austria. Furthermore, in case of the Munich Betrayal that, in addition to Hitler and Mussolini, involved British and French leaders, Czechoslovakia was taken apart with the full approval of the League of Nations. I would like to point out in this regard that, unlike many other European leaders of that time, Stalin did not disgrace himself by meeting with Hitler who was known among the Western nations as quite a reputable politician and was a welcome guest in the European capitals.
Poland was also engaged in the partition of Czechoslovakia along with Germany. They decided together in advance who would get what Czechoslovak territories. On September 20, 1938, Polish Ambassador to Germany Józef Lipski reported to Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland Józef Beck on the following assurances made by Hitler: “…in case of a conflict between Poland and Czechoslovakia over our interests in Teschen, the Reich would stand by Poland.” The Nazi leader even prompted and advised that Poland started to act “only after the Germans occupy the Sudetes.”
Continue reading here.
As I discussed in a recent post, Washington will be removing almost 10,000 troops out of Germany. I also speculated that these troops could end up in Poland or the Baltics. As it turns out, last August, the U.S. government had threatened to move troops from Germany to Poland in an effort to supposedly get Germany to pay more for the troop presence.
Infobrics – the news outlet for the BRICS coalition – reported this week that Bulgaria has shown interest in having the troops moved there:
The Atlantic Council of Bulgaria is urging for the Balkan country’s government to not pass up the opportunity and advocates that they should ask the U.S. to relocate American soldiers from Germany to Bulgaria.
In a Facebook post, the Atlantic Council of Bulgaria argues that “The urgent need to strengthen NATO’s southeastern flank, in the context of the violated balance of powers in the Black Sea in favor of the Russian Federation” and “a new generation of people who are permanently oriented towards the values of the Euro-Atlantic family and firmly determined to permanently interrupt Russian dependencies, which are still stumbling the development of the state,” are reasons why the U.S. must relocate its troops to Bulgaria.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon just provided an additional $250 million in military assistance to Ukraine and NATO has decided on another round of flirtation with the country by offering the designation of “enhanced opportunity partner.” Scott Ritter gave the following analysis:
The designation of “Enhanced Opportunity Partner” is the latest example of NATO outreach to Ukraine, which fosters the possibility of full membership, something that the Ukrainian Parliament called its strategic foreign and security policy objective back in 2017. The current president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has likewise expressed his desire to put engagement with NATO at the top of his policy priorities…
…In 2008 NATO declared that Ukraine could become a full member when it was ready to join and could meet the criteria for membership, but refused Ukraine’s request to enter into a formal Membership Action Plan. The lack of popular support within Ukraine for NATO membership, combined with a change in government that saw Viktor Yanukovych take the helm as President, prompted Ukraine to back away from its previous plans to join NATO.
This all changed in 2014 when, in the aftermath of the Euromaidan unrest Yanakovych was driven out of office, eventually replaced by Petro Poroshenko, who found himself facing off against a militant minority in the Donbas and the Russian government in the Crimea. The outbreak of fighting in eastern Ukraine since 2014 prompted Poroshenko to renew Ukraine’s call to be brought in as a full-fledged NATO member, something the transatlantic alliance has to date failed to act on.
There is a saying that if something looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it must be a duck. Given its lengthy history of political and military interaction with NATO, including a decade-long military deployment in Afghanistan, Ukraine has achieved a level of interoperability with NATO that exceeds that of some actual members. US and NATO military personnel are on the ground in Ukraine conducting training, while Ukrainian forces are deployed in support of several ongoing NATO military commitments, including Iraq and Kosovo. Ukraine looks like NATO, talks like NATO, acts like NATO – but it is not NATO. Nor will it ever be.
The critical question to be asked is precisely what kind of relationship NATO envisions having with Ukraine. While the status of “enhanced opportunity partner” implies a way toward eventual NATO membership, the reality is that there is no discernable path that would bring Ukraine to this objective. The rampant political corruption in the country today is disqualifying under any circumstances, and the dispute with Hungary over Ukraine curbing minority rights represents a death knell in a consensus-driven organization like NATO.
But the real dealbreaker is the ongoing standoff between Kiev and Moscow over Crimea. There is virtually no scenario that has Russia leaving it voluntarily or by force. The prospects of enabling Ukraine to resolve the conflict by force of arms simply by invoking Article 5 of the UN Charter is not something NATO either seeks or desires.
Which leaves one wondering at NATO’s true objective in continuing to string Ukraine along.
Read the full article here.
It is also worth noting that half of Ukrainians think their country is on the verge of collapse and the IMF has provided their recent funding with conditions that convey their distrust of the governance of the country, particularly in the area of corruption.
Last summer Psychology Today posted an article online (which I just read recently) called Pathocracy. The term refers to the psychological pathology often found among political leaders and how the political and social structure of the modern world seems all too often to catapult pathological people to positions of power.
The author, Steve Taylor PhD, discusses the origins of the naming and study of pathocracy. The term was coined by Andrew Lobaczewski, a Polish psychologist who lived under Nazi occupation during WWII and then under repressive Soviet rule. Taylor writes of Lobaczewski:
Lobaczewski devoted his life to studying human evil, a field which he called “ponerology.” He wanted to understand why ‘evil’ people seem to prosper, while so many good and moral people struggle to succeed. He wanted to understand why people with psychological disorders so easily rise to positions of power and take over the governments of countries.
Taylor explains that Lobaczewski was jailed and tortured during the Soviet era in Poland and unable to publish his work on pathocracy and ponerology until he escaped to the west.
This line of study is fascinating and totally legitimate. But there are some problems with Taylor’s essay as it goes on. First, he repeats the common myth about human history that the brutality and tyranny of the modern world has always been so:
Pathocracy is arguably one of the biggest problems in the history of the human race. History has been a saga of constant conflict and brutality, with groups of people fighting against one another over territory and power and possessions, and conquering and killing one another.
This is actually not an accurate portrayal of human history. For most of existence, humans lived in relatively small egalitarian tribes that emphasized cooperation. As outlined by anthropologist Douglas P. Fry in his groundbreaking work The Human Potential for Peace: An Anthropological Challenge to Assumptions About War and Peace. While there were individual homicides, we did not see “constant conflict and brutality, with groups of people fighting against one another over territory and power and possessions” until the rise of agricultural settlement around 10,000-13,000 years ago. Once humans settled in one place and grew crops, food could then be hoarded, controlled and weaponized, while surpluses could promote larger population growth. Essentially, this allowed humans to go beyond taking what they needed from their immediate environment to survive to then taking more than their fair share from both the environment and other groups of humans. Social stratification, hierarchy and competition for territory rose out of this manner of organizing humans, with all of the attendant horrors like war and torture emerging in the archaeological record.
If Taylor has an erroneous starting point as his premise, then he’s not going to be asking the right questions surrounding ponerology. He goes on to point out that a small number of humans suffering from personality disorders on the anti-social spectrum have often managed to rise to positions of power:
A small minority of humans suffer from personality disorders such as narcissism and psychopathy. People with these disorders feel an insatiable lust for power. People with narcissistic personality disorder desire constant attention and affirmation. They feel that they are superior to others and have the right to dominate them. They also lack empathy, which means that they are able to ruthlessly exploit and abuse others in their lust for power. Psychopaths feel a similar sense of superiority and lack of empathy, but the main difference between them and narcissists is that they don’t feel the same impulse for attention and adoration. To an extent, the impulse to be adored acts as a check on the behavior of narcissists. They are reluctant to do anything that might make them too unpopular. But psychopaths have no such qualms.
He then points out that, conversely, those with reasonably high amounts of empathy are not interested in attaining power, leaving the field open to the pathological types lacking empathy. Those who have a sufficient level of ambition and ruthlessness will serve as enablers within the power structure.
Taylor then quotes from a writer, Ian Hughes, who posits that democracy – specifically touting the founders of the US constitution – was intended to put a check on the rise of these disordered individuals. I can see where this idea might sound like it makes some sense in theory, but in reality it’s problematic because we’ve had many leaders throughout US history that have started and presided over wars as well as large-scale massacres of Native Americans and the enslavement of African-Americans. It’s also very debatable whether we have a substantive democracy at all these days in the US rather than the outer trappings of democracy – and even those superficial trappings seem to be disappearing.
Following up on this line of reasoning, Taylor states that these pathological leaders always hate democracy and seek to destroy or roll back what democratic institutions may already be in existence. One of the leaders he cites as an example of this is, of course, Vladimir Putin. I’ve written more than once of how this is not an accurate depiction of Putin. This demonstrates that Taylor is immersing himself in establishment media sources that are distorted, which is another problem with his essay.
In terms of Taylor’s overarching argument that pathological personalities on the anti-social spectrum often rise to the top echelons of power, it is also an oversimplification. One of the worst tyrants and mass murderers in modern history was Adolph Hitler. Interestingly, several psychologists at the time pegged Hitler, not as a psychopath, but as a likely paranoid schizophrenic. Taylor doesn’t seem to acknowledge that people suffering from other severe psychological disorders can also rise to power and be dangerous. Hitler held extremely dangerous delusions that fed an evil ideology that gained steam at a particular time and place in history.
This brings us to another shortcoming of Taylor’s analysis. How are specific political and social conditions conducive or not to the rise of someone like Hitler? Or Stalin? While Stalin is not specifically mentioned by Taylor, he’s consistently recognized as a particularly evil leader (Hitler’s contemporary) who governed over and created the Soviet system for many of the years that Lobaczewski lived under its occupation of Poland. While Stalin no doubt had traits of psychopathy, he also was very much a product of the revolutionary milieu of his time that believed the ends justified the means with regard to violence.
There is also no acknowledgment of the phenomena of the most tyrannical elements emerging from the jockeying for power that follows when diverse revolutionary movements sweep out previous tyrannical regimes.
On the home stretch of the article, Taylor discusses how many psychologists and psychiatrists have publicly stated they think Trump is a leader with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Trump is a full-blown narcissist. However, there are professional rules against psychologists or psychiatrists officially diagnosing a living person whom they have never examined or spoken to.
This also has the effect of pushing the idea – popular among establishment Democrats – that Trump is a uniquely evil or dangerous president rather than a cumulative product of what has come before with previous presidents laying the groundwork for the abusive powers that Trump currently has access to. These include: aggressive war-making with Congress abdicating its responsibility to declare and oversee wars, as well as authorizing torture and illegal surveillance (GWB); expansion of illegal surveillance and drone strikes, the assassination of American citizens without due process, kill lists, limiting of habeas corpus, targeting more whistle-blowers than all previous administrations combined, and allowing government propaganda to be directed at domestic audiences (Obama).
In short, Psychology Today is oversimplifying the problem of pathological and inhumane political leadership and what shapes it, ignoring that there is a dynamic interplay of elements at work. Readers would benefit from a deeper and more comprehensive exploration of this problem from a perspective that better incorporates social psychology and political history.
This neat little 10 minute video gives an overview of how NATO evolved into a never-ending military juggernaut that it was not originally intended to be. The video provides footage of Dwight Eisenhower – NATO’s first commander – explaining that if the alliance was still in existence 10 years hence, it would mean that it had failed in its objective.
The video goes over how the alliance expanded after the dissolution of its Soviet counterpart, the Warsaw Pact, and despite promises that it would not expand “one inch east” beyond a unified Germany. The video ends with AP State Department reporter Matt Lee taking then-State Department spokesman John Kirby to task during a press conference for suggesting that it was Russia at NATO’s doorstep when it was NATO that had expanded to Russia’s border. I remember this exchange when it occurred several years ago. It’s an example of what a real journalist is supposed to do: hold those in power to account for their words and actions, not simply be a mindless stenographer.
Beginning yesterday, the city of Moscow lifted most of its Covid-related restrictions. According to TASS:
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has lifted most restrictions imposed on city residents due to the coronavirus pandemic, including self-isolation rules and digital travel permits. Hair salons will reopen on June 9, sidewalk cafes, museums and dental clinics on June 16, and restaurants and gyms on June 23. However, the wearing of face masks and gloves in public remains mandatory. The mayor attributed the move to a downward trend in coronavirus cases. Experts consider it to be a political decision stemming from lockdown fatigue, Kommersant writes.
The Moscow Times recently reported that Moscow authorities stated that the date when the first Covid case appeared in the country had been moved back from March to January.
“I don’t know how anyone noticed when [Covid-19] came to Moscow, but in reality it was in mid-to-late January. When China was making its first announcements there … in fact, [Covid-19] was already here,” the Moscow administration’s IT chief Eduard Lysenko told the Khabr news outlet in a YouTube interview Tuesday.
Various media outlets have been reporting since Friday that the U.S. has ordered a draw-down of 9,500 troops from Germany, which would leave around 25,000 remaining. However, German authorities have stated that they have received no formal communication from the U.S. about the troop reduction and their only knowledge of it is via media reports. The removal of U.S. troops is popular with the German public.
Apparently, these reports did not dissuade the Russian military from deploying more troops to its western front on the same day to counter what it sees as intensified and provocative NATO actions near its borders, including the scaled down Defender 2020 exercises that had initially been postponed to the pandemic. Newsweek reported:
The Western Military District press service said Friday that the Separate Guards Motorized Rifle Sevastopol Red Banner Brigade was included in Moscow’s Novomoskovsky Administrative District, joining the Guards Red Banner Tank Army “to perform tasks on ensuring the defense of the Russian Federation in the Western strategic direction,” according to the state-run Tass Russian News Agency.
The motorized rifle units are equipped with “more modern weapons and specialized vehicles,” including the T-90A tanks, BTR-82A armored carriers, BMP-3 combat vehicles, and 9A34 Strela-10 and 2S6M Tunguska air defense systems, the Russian military said.
The moves came just days after Colonel General Sergei Rudskoi of the Russian General Staff slammed “anti-Russian” activities conducted by the U.S. and allied states of the 29-member NATO defense pact near his country’s borders. The largest deployment of U.S. troops in a quarter-century was scaled down due to novel coronavirus concerns in March, but the U.S. still stepped up its presence through other maneuvers.
My first thought on hearing about the removal of troops from Germany is: where are they going? I wouldn’t be shocked to find out that they end up in Poland who would be more than happy to host them. This idea is reinforced by the actions of U.S. diplomats to Germany and Poland last month. As Scott Ritter discussed in an article right afterwards:
Richard Grenell, the US ambassador to Germany and the acting director of national intelligence, put matters into motion by writing an OpEd for the German newspaper Die Welt, criticizing politicians from within Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition who were openly calling for the US to withdraw its nuclear weapons from German soil.
Adding fuel to the fire, the US ambassador to Poland, Georgette Mosbacher, tweeted out two days later that “If Germany wants to diminish nuclear capability and weaken NATO, perhaps Poland – which pays its fair share, understands the risks, and is on NATO’s eastern flank – could house the capabilities here.”
Granted, this was specifically in reference to nuclear capabilities but it likely reflects the overall thinking by Washington of possibly shifting military resources around Europe to keep the pressure on Russia. Needless to say, these kinds of actions would not go down well in Moscow.
On a more positive note, there were some signs last week of the beginning of a gradual economic rebound for Russia, including a modest increase in the price of oil. Ben Aris from Business New Europe’s Intellinews reported the following:
Oil prices have also recovered remarkably quickly, driven by optimism over a new OPEC++ production cut deal that will reduce the production of oil by 9.7mn barrels per day (bpd) that was signed on April 13. The price of oil broke back above $40 briefly on June 3, which is once again in the Kremlin’s comfort zone.
So far Russia and most of the other cartel members are sticking to the new deal. Indeed, Saudi Arabia has said that it will cut even more than it committed to in the deal to help prices recover even faster….
…According to the OPEC+ agreement signed in April, production cuts should ease on July 1 from a cumulative 9.7mn bpd to 8mn bpd. The Wall Street Journal reports that Saudi Arabia wants to extend the current 9.7mn bpd quota up until the end of the year, while Russia wants to increase output in July. The two countries reportedly see September as a middle ground and are close to reaching an agreement.
Russia’s official position is now that supply and demand in the oil market could finally be balanced by June or July. That is partly why it is reluctant to extend the OPEC++ production cut deal to the end of the year and wants to ramp up production as early as July. But the Kremlin appears willing to compromise. President Vladimir Putin held talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) last week and pledged “close co-ordination” between their respective energy ministers. Saudi needs oil prices to be closer to $80 for its budget to balance.
Recovery already feeding through to the capital markets
Step back a moment and mull those changes. With oil prices at $40 Russia Inc. is back in business, as the budget more or less breaks even.
And with the ruble trading at RUB68 it even gains some competitiveness on exports as well as seeing budget revenues (which are denominated in rubles) improve from the increased revenues from the recovering oil price (which are converted from dollars). One of the quirks of the Russian budget is it is actually one of the biggest winners of ruble devaluations, as it gets more rubles to meet its obligations in the budget (which are not adjusted for devaluations), even if those rubles are worth less.
Indeed, Russia closed out the first quarter with a triple surplus – trade ($3.8bn), current account ($1.8bn) and federal budget (0.2%). While the budget will also certainly go into deficit in the second quarter – especially after the government just announced a new RUB7.3 trillion National Recovery Plan – the drain on the RUB9 trillion Russia holds in its National Welfare Fund (NWF) reserve fund to cover budget deficits in times of crisis will be greatly reduced.
That is not to say the economy has not been hurt by the coronacrisis. Russia’s economy will contract by 5% in 2020 and will start to recover at the end of the year, Economic Development Minister Maxim Reshetnikov said in a statement published on May 22.
In the midst of over 40 million people out of work – 1/3 of whom haven’t been able to access unemployment benefits due to dysfunctional application systems – a pandemic and unrest in the streets all over the country, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the 1960’s, the Democratic Party establishment has decided to respond by trotting out a variation of the completely discredited Russiagate narrative yet again.
During an interview with CNN on May 31st in which former Obama-era National Security Adviser Susan Rice – who’s also in the running as Joe Biden’s VP – provided her opinion on the dynamics behind the George Floyd protests that were heating up throughout the nation. And what grand insight did Ms. Rice offer? Russia done it. Here’s part of the exchange:
“I’m not reading the intelligence today, or these days — but based on my experience, this is right out of the Russian playbook,” Rice, who served as national-security adviser to president Obama, said in a CNN interview on Sunday. “But we cannot allow the extremists, the foreign actors, to distract from the real problems we have in this country that are longstanding, centuries old, and need to be addressed responsibly.”
Anchor Wolf Blitzer responded, “you’re absolutely right on the foreign interference.” Blitzer then asked Rice if she thought the Russians were attempting to “embarrass” the U.S. by “promoting the racial divide in our country.”
“Well we see it all the time, we’ve seen it for years, including on social media where they take any divisive, painful issue . . . and they play on both sides,” Rice said. “I would not be surprised to learn that they have fomented some of these extremists on both sides on social media . . . [or] that they’re funding it in some way, shape, or form.”
Absolutely Incredible: Obama’s Former NSA Susan Rice on CNN talking about the protests and domestic strife— Saagar Enjeti (@esaagar) May 31, 2020
“This is right out of the Russian playbook” pic.twitter.com/luXiPV0bOq
Note that Rice admits she’s not basing this on any actual evidence – “I’m not reading the intelligence today, or these days” – but that she’s basically just spit-balling this ludicrous idea that Russia is behind massive protests involving hundreds of thousands of Americans in every major city in the country and even some smaller ones. Let’s see, I guess that all-powerful and pernicious Putin decided, in the middle of dealing with a public health crisis and economic recession in his own country, that he was going to get into a time machine and create the slave trade, Jim Crow, lynching, and police brutality mixed with a poorly handled economic and health crisis and dilapidated infrastructure in the U.S. Damn, he’s good.
This constant flogging of a phantom Russian conspiracy to destroy the U.S. reminds me of Captain Queeg’s obsessive and paranoid quest to find an elusive key to explain the imaginary theft of a quart of strawberries aboard ship in The Caine Mutiny, ordering his officers to search the entire vessel and all the men to find it.
Here is the scene from the 1954 movie, starring Humphrey Bogart, in which Queeg convinces himself that someone stole a portion of leftover strawberries:
This is comparable to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party establishment convincing themselves of a conspiracy to explain their embarrassing loss to Trump in 2016, kicking off the Russiagate scandal.
Here is the scene where Queeg orders his officers to toss the ship in search of an imaginary key he thinks is at the center of an elaborate scheme to break into the icebox and steal the strawberries:
This is the equivalent of the Mueller investigation and the unhinged rantings of Representative Adam Schiff who kept insisting that he was privy to evidence of Trump-Russia collusion. Eventually the Mueller investigation ended with a whimper and not the bang we’d been promised for months. Now that the transcripts of closed-door interviews between Congress and members of the intelligence and security community as well as the CEO of Crowdstrike have been released, we know that Schiff was lying. There was no evidence of collusion or that the DNC had been hacked, much less by Russia. The Democratic Party establishment had no problem turning Washington upside down looking for the symbolic key that would prove their election strawberries had been stolen.
It’s becoming clear how the cynical political class will be shaping the narrative around the George Floyd protests for the upcoming election. The Democrats will blame Russia, while the Republicans blame the radical left (“antifa”). Though they will blame different parties, the bipartisan consensus will conveniently be that they don’t really have to offer anything to meaningfully help the American people – universal health care, a jobs program, UBI, and an end to the wars will be off the table.
Unlike this sad fiasco, The Caine Mutiny was based on good literature and Queeg, as it turns out, really did believe his own paranoid delusions, making him a pitiful character who elicited sympathy rather than the despised ogre he’d seemed throughout the story.