What Putin Said About the Situation in Belarus in His Recent Interview with Rossiya TV

Vladimir Putin answered questions from VGTRK journalist and anchor of Vesti v Subbotu (News on Saturday) programme Sergei Brilyov.

In a recent interview with Rossiya TV, Vladimir Putin discussed several issues, including the current state of the Russian economy and the Covid pandemic. However, I have excerpted below the portion dealing with what is presently happening in Belarus. – Natylie

Sergei Brilyov: Mr President, it is not only the purely economic things that affect the economy (for example, the oil prices returned to $46 as we predicted) but also political factors. Belarus is, certainly, a political factor.

Vladimir Putin: Of course.

Sergei Brilyov: We have seen numerous reports on your telephone conversations with European leaders. But these reports are usually just scanty press releases from the Kremlin Press Service. In fact, you have not yet publicly shared your view of the situation in detail. What do you think of the developments in Belarus?

Vladimir Putin: You know, I think that we have shown much more restraint and neutrality with respect to the events in Belarus than many other countries, both European and American ones, such as the United States.

In my opinion, we have indeed been covering the developments in Belarus quite objectively, from every angle, showing both sides. We believe that it is up to the Belarusian society and people themselves to deal with this. Although, certainly, we care about what is happening there.

This nation is very close to us and perhaps is the closest, both in terms of ethnic proximity, the language, the culture, the spiritual as well as other aspects. We have dozens or probably hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of direct family ties with Belarus and close industrial cooperation. Suffice it to say that, for example, Belarusian products account for more than 90 percent of the total agricultural imports on the Russian market.

Sergei Brilyov: You mean the Belarusian products imported to our country?

Vladimir Putin: Belarusian exports. If we look at other industries – for example, agricultural equipment manufacturing – the figures are similar. Therefore, of course, we care about what is happening there. But it is still up to the Belarusians to deal with this situation.

We most certainly hope that all the parties will have enough common sense to reach a solution in a peaceful way, without running to extremes. Of course, if the people take to the streets, it cannot be ignored. Everybody must listen to them and respond. By the way, the President of Belarus said that he is willing to consider conducting a constitutional reform, adopting a new Constitution, holding new parliamentary and presidential elections based on the new Constitution. But the effective Constitution must not be breached. Did you note that the Constitutional Court of Belarus issued a ruling, according to which it is absolutely unacceptable to establish supra-constitutional bodies which are not envisaged by the country’s basic law and which are trying to take over power. It is hard to disagree with this ruling.

Sergei Brilyov: I looked at what they are writing about Belarus abroad, and often it is not about ideology but simply about facts. A lot of foreign articles about the events in Belarus are accompanied by an explanation what Belarus is and where it is located. This is because as distinct from Russian citizens, many people there know little about it. And, of course, in Russia we remember the events not only after the election but also before it, in part, about the 33 guests at the Byelorusochka hotel and the Russian citizens that were detained.

Mr President, who do you think got into whose trap?

Vladimir Putin: Well, now it is obvious. This was an operation by secret services. The people you mentioned were used without their knowledge in order to move them to Belarus. They received perfectly legal assignments. They were told that they must go to third countries, to Latin America and the Middle East, for absolutely legal work. But in fact they were dragged off to Belarus and presented as a potential attack force in order to destabilise the situation during the election campaign. This had nothing to do with reality.

Let me repeat that these people were going to work in a third country. They were simply lured there, dragged across the border. By the way, our border guards did not let them out and they could not move in anywhere. But de facto they were brought in on fake documents.

Sergei Brilyov: Ukrainian secret services?

Vladimir Putin: This was an operation of Ukrainian secret services in cooperation with their US colleagues. Now this is known for sure. Some participants in this event or observers, well-informed people do not even conceal this now.

Sergei Brilyov: Mr President, I think I have been lucky in my career as a journalist. I had three detailed interviews with Alexander Lukashenko but you know him much better, of course. In this context, I would like to quote what Mr Lukashenko said after one of his telephone conversations with you.

Vladimir Putin: Go ahead.

Sergei Brilyov: He said that when it comes to the military component, we have a treaty with the Russian Federation in the framework of the Union State and the CSTO, that is, a Collective Security Treaty Organisation, and these aspects seem to be covered by that Treaty. Somewhat earlier he said you agreed to provide assistance to Minsk at his first request.

What is meant by “these aspects”?

Vladimir Putin: There is no need to hush up anything.

Indeed, the Union Treaty, that is, the Treaty on the Union State, and the Collective Security Treaty (CSTO) include articles saying that all member states of these organisations, including the Union State, which consists of two states only – Russia and Belarus, are obliged to help each other protect their sovereignty, external borders and stability. This is exactly what it says.

In this connection, we have certain obligations towards Belarus, and this is how Mr Lukashenko has formulated his question. He said that he would like us to provide assistance to him if this should become necessary. I replied that Russia would honour all its obligations.

Mr Lukashenko has asked me to create a reserve group of law enforcement personnel, and I have done this. But we have also agreed that this group would not be used unless the situation becomes uncontrollable, when extremist elements – I would like to say this once again – when the extremist elements, using political slogans as a cover, overstep the mark and start plundering the country, burning vehicles, houses, banks, trying to seize administration buildings, and so on.

During our conversation with Mr Lukashenko, we came to the conclusion that now it is not necessary, and I hope that it will never be necessary to use this reserve, which is why we are not using it.

I would like to say once again that we proceed from the belief that all the current problems in Belarus will be settled peacefully, and if any violations are permitted by either side – the state authorities and the law enforcement personnel, or the protesters – if they exceed the framework of the law, the law will respond to this accordingly. The law must be equal for everyone. But speaking objectively, I believe that the Belarusian law enforcement agencies are exercising commendable self-control despite everything. Just take a look at what is happening in some other countries.

Sergei Brilyov: Yes, but the first two days were awful for many people.

Vladimir Putin: You know what I think about this. Was it not awful when people died in some European countries nearly every day?

Sergei Brilyov: This is why Lukashenko rejected Macron’s mediation, offering instead to help him deal with the yellow vest protests.

Vladimir Putin: Is it not awful when a defenceless person is shot in the back and there are his three children in his car?

Sergei Brilyov: Yes, it is awful.

Vladimir Putin: Have those who are putting the blame on Belarus and the Belarusian authorities, President Lukashenko, have these people condemned these acts? I have not heard anything about this. Why such discrimination?

This makes me think that the issue is not the current events in Belarus, but that some forces would like to see something different happening there. They would like to influence these processes and to bring about the solutions that would suit their political interests.

Therefore, I would like to say once again that the general situation [in Belarus] is improving, by and large. And I hope that all the problems – and there are indeed problems, because otherwise the people would not have taken to the streets – that all these problems will be settled peacefully within the framework of the Constitution and the law.

Sergei Brilyov: Thank you, Mr President.

Read the full interview here.

Gordon Hahn – Belarus: The Slavic Knot Tightens

By Gordon Hahn, August 23, 2020

As previously thought, Aleksandr Lukashenko’s harsh rule in Belarus is likely finished (www.facebook.com/gordon.hahn1/posts/10223340676086689). A few scattered thoughts on the dynamics taking shape around the Belarus crisis; one that threatens both the ‘stability’ and peace of Europe, Eurasia, and the world.

BELARUS

1. The situation is likely to deteriorate slowly over time.

2. Aleksandr Lukashenko is an unsteady element, who is likely to become more desperate and trigger-happy the longer the protests persist. His overreactions will provoke greater resistance. In this way, Belarus 2020 is not necessarily Russia 2021 or 2024. Putin is a careful, balancing, soft authoritarian. Where Putin nudges and prods with incentives and disincentives, Lukashenko shoves and batters to intimidate.

3. The regime thus far has split only on the edges, with the state bureaucracy and security forces still remaining loyal. However, Lukashenko’s popular support base is slowly disintegrating, as the protests by factory workers and others indicate. Over time, regime unity is also likely to deteriorate.

4. Lukashenko is using a ‘besIeged fortress’ strategy now to reinforce his support base in state and society, warning of possible intervention by NATO forces. His defense minister has raised the specter of a NATO ‘humanitarian intervention’ model in order to conduct an air campaign against Minsk as Washington and Brussels did in Serbia (www.rbc.ru/politics/23/08/2020/5f41b8479a79471b497ceef8?from=from_main_3&fbclid=IwAR2bppfrQ3XQEkXuakn6zh5xlszi6xTV4QH9EAFKy06XD0KYChEzo-mmkpE). The Serbian campaign, NATO expansion, and color revolution policies have had a profound effect on the politics of several pro-Russian Slavic and post-Soviet states in addition to those of Russia herself. The threat of NATO expansion and humanitarian interventions can be something in which some politicians and opinion makers sincerely believe and/or a bogey man deployed to create a rally around the flag effect and to discredit domestic opposition.

5. The risk of violence on the part of the opposition, which would likely spark a ruthless and bloody crackdown far greater than that which we have seen hitherto, grows the longer the protests continue. Some leaders will become frustrated with peaceful demonstrations, and Belarusian nationalists – while fewer in proportion than in Ukraine or Russia – will be increasingly inclined to turn to violence. In this case, the Maidan example is unfortunately germane.

RUSSIA

1. Putin is cautious in general. In this crisis he will be exceedingly so. At this point, he appears to be hedging his bets, making no threatening sounds towards the West and maintaining some separation from Lukashenko’s listing ship.

Continue reading here.

From the Vault – “FAIL-SAFE”: How a Classic Cold War Novel & Film Still Resonates Today

Given the major (positive) feedback I received from my recent post about the power of story to move people where facts and argumentation alone cannot, I have decided to re-post this review I did a few years back of the novel Fail-Safe about an attempt to avert a nuclear holocaust. The novel was also made into a movie in 1964 – the same year as Dr. Strangelove. However, Dr. Strangelove was released just a bit earlier and so got all the attention. Below is a scene from the movie in which Walter Mathau’s character, Walter Groteschele – loosely based on the real military strategist Albert Wohlstetter – tries to argue that a limited nuclear strike on the Soviet Union, and the millions of deaths it would entail could theoretically be justified.

I don’t know what the President is doing, but whatever it is he’d better be right. Khrushchev isn’t going to sit around forever and watch those planes move in on Moscow. The whole thing rests on the President’s ability to persuade Khrushchev it was an accident. If he doesn’t, then we’re going to have all-out, 100 per cent, slam-bang, hell-bent war. That’s right, isn’t it, General?

-Congressman Raskob, “Fail-Safe,” page 206

For those who are familiar with the story of Fail-Safe due to the 1964 film directed by the legendary Sidney Lumet and starring Henry Fonda in an unforgettable performance as a U.S. president who finds himself in a nuclear crisis with the Soviet Union, the book is much like the film but delves deeper into the central themes as well as some of the main characters’ psyches and background.

The story explores not only the ideological foundation of the Cold War conflict of 1945 to 1989 and its contribution to creating the immediate crisis but also the related political, psychological and technological foundations. On the political level, the question is implied throughout: why do ideological differences in how to organize one’s society have to mean confrontation that puts all of humanity at risk as opposed to a “live and let live” approach? As the US president and Soviet premier (openly referred to as Khrushchev) attempt to deal with the crisis, it is clear that a psychological spiral of long-standing mutual distrust and perceived escalations have made the situation worse, creating circumstances that compound the crisis as it is learned that an understandably suspicious Soviet military leadership has already jammed radio communications on the US nuclear bombers that are on their way to attack Moscow as the result of a mistaken “go” order. The jamming has prevented the US leadership from communicating the error and an abort-mission order to the pilots.

This poisoned atmosphere of distrust leads directly to the horrendous decisions made to resolve the crisis later on.

On the technological side, it is brought out that the US nuclear bombers were given the erroneous “go” order to proceed to Moscow on an attack mission as the result of procedures that were supposedly infallible or as close to it as possible — hence, the term “Fail-Safe”. In the midst of the crisis, one of the foremost engineers of the system, who works for a private contractor, is forced to acknowledge that the more complex a system is, the more error-prone it is:

The fact of the matter is that the machines move so fast, are capable of such subtle mistakes, are so intricate, that in a real war situation a man might not have the time to know whether a machine was in error or was not telling the truth. (page 187)

Furthermore, the political and financial climate in Washington disincentivizes acknowledging potential errors and weaknesses in the system:

Those of us who manufacture the gear, who had some notion of what it was being used for — we never told anyone that it was infallible. But somewhere in Washington they had to say it was perfect, that it couldn’t make a mistake. General, there is no such thing as a perfect system and they should have told you that… Look, for years there has been a fellow named Fred Ikle, who has been working with the Rand Corporation and the Air Force on how to reduce war by accident. He has found flaw after flaw in the system, at just the same time that the newspapers were saying it was perfect. Kendrew over in England has talked about accidental war for years — loud and clear. So have dozens of others. Most of us, the best of us on the civilian side, we knew that a perfect system is impossible. The mistake was that no one told the public and Congress. (page 207)

Thus, technology — typically viewed without question as a convenient solution to excess labor or time-consuming tasks — becomes instead a short-cut that ensnares its subjects.

What is remarkable about Fail-Safe isn’t just its thought-provoking look at a topic of profound importance, but its ability to draw the reader in emotionally through complex and compelling characters who must grapple with the concrete decisions — large and small — that will contribute to the ultimate climax as the story unfolds.

The president, in terms of age, temperament and background, is clearly modeled on then-president John F. Kennedy. The reader gets to know the president through his translator, Peter Buck. Buck, who was discovered years before to have an uncanny talent for picking up the Russian language, along with its nuances and dialects, has been coasting through his job at the White House while going to law school at night as his services were understood only to be needed in the event of a crisis. Needless to say, it takes several seconds for it to sink into Buck when he gets the call on the special red phone in his drawer and is instructed by the president to meet him at the entrance to the underground bunker beneath the White House ASAP.

Then there is Walter Groteschele, a nihilistic professor who advocates the most hard-line positions imaginable in theoretical discussions of potential nuclear war, including first-strike actions, rattling off figures on what would constitute an acceptable number of deaths (in the millions) from the ensuing conflagration to still be considered a victory:

In one way, the public way, he was a respectable high priest of civic death. This dialogue he had raised from a secretive conversation to a respectable art. It was a game at which he was exquisite. Almost by his own single-mindedness and wit he had introduced to a whole society the idea that a calm and dispassionate and logical discussion of collective death was an entertainment. By refinements and logical innovation he had made municipal death a form of style and a way of life. (page 125)

The president has allowed Groteschele to be present and offer his opinions at his teleconferences with his national-security team during the crisis.

And there is General Warren Black, a reflective warrior tormented by a recurring nightmare of brutality in which the perpetrator’s identity is elusive, who worries about the implications of conflict in the age of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), and is also an old college friend of the president. He is ultimately (and ironically) tasked with an unimaginable responsibility.

Perhaps the most disturbing difference between 1962 — when Fail-Safe was first published, with the Cuban Missile Crisis fresh on everyone’s mind — and today is that a book like this could be an instant bestseller, with the film version released two years later in competition with Dr. Strangelove. Unlike Dr. StrangeloveFail-Safe makes a serious and unflinching examination of the insanity of confrontation between two nuclear superpowers, with the psychological, ideological and technological factors that can still converge in Armageddon more easily than many care to realize.

Unlike half a century ago, we are now bombarded with a popular culture that often seeks to normalize torture, never-ending warfare and militarization of society, rather than provide a space for thoughtful reflection or questioning of these phenomena in its story-telling. It is difficult to imagine Hollywood coming out with a film like Fail-Safe today or a show like the original Twilight Zone, tackling similar issues every week in a thoughtful way that didn’t rely on gratuitous sex and violence to titillate and attract viewers.

As for the subject matter of Fail-Safe, in reading it today, one can’t help but feel this all sounds too eerily familiar to today’s renewed tensions between Washington and Moscow and the escalations in Eastern Europe with all they could portend. Both nations still have a ridiculous number of nuclear weapons, with many on hair-trigger alert and fewer lines of communication open as during the original Cold War.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Many rejoiced when the Cold War ended and hoped for a more cooperative approach to international relations and a peace dividend at home. Indeed it sometimes feels as though the fates of the US and Russia are bound together in a strange never-ending dance of fear, fascination, competition and contempt. Whether that fate is inevitable or is being intentionally driven by ideological madmen, drunk on power and messianic visions, holding the fate of humanity in their hands is a matter I have discussed in other articles.

But, unlike articles, which attempt to marshal facts and logic, story-telling is what tends to move people. Our need and capacity for story-telling is perhaps one of the most essential aspects of being human. A film, book or other work of story-telling art for a contemporary mass audience that can convey, like Fail-Safe, on such a visceral level, what is at stake in terms of the continuing dangers of geo-politics in the nuclear age is desperately needed.

Caitlin Johnstone: On Bombs and Bombings

By Caitlin Johnstone, August 18, 2020

For a full week now the Israeli army has been bombing Gaza, a population that is about to run out of fuel for its only power plant due to a years-long Israeli program of deliberate siege warfare.

Yesterday [August 17th] the US ordered an airstrike on Syrian forces, killing one, when they refused to let the illegal occupying force past a checkpoint in northern Syria.

In both cases an arm of the US-centralized empire used wildly disproportionate force against people who stood against a hostile occupation of their own country. In both cases the more powerful and violent occupiers claimed they were acting in “self-defense”. In both cases dropping explosives from the sky upon human beings barely made the news.

Bombs should not exist. Explosives designed to blow fire and shrapnel through human bodies should not be a thing. In a sane world, there wouldn’t be bombs, and if some mentally unbalanced person ever made and used one it would be a major international news story.

Instead, bombs are cranked out like iPhones at enormous profit, and nearly all bombings are ignored. Many bombs are being dropped per day by the US and its allies, with a massive civilian death toll, and almost none of those bombings receive any international attention. The only time they do is generally when a bombing occurs that was not authorized by the US-centralized empire.

This is one of those absolutely freakish things about our society that has become normalized through careful narrative management, and we really shouldn’t allow it to be. The fact that explosives designed to rip apart human anatomy are dropped from the sky many times per day for no other reason than to exert control over foreign countries should horrify us all.

An interesting social experiment when you talk to someone might be to tell them solemnly, “There’s been a bombing.” Then when they say “What?? Where??”, tell them “The Middle East mostly. Our government and its allies drop many bombs there per day in order to keep a resource-rich geostrategic region balkanized and controllable.”

Then watch their reaction.

You will probably notice a marked change in demeanor as the person learns that what you meant is different from what they thought you meant. They will likely act as though you’d tricked them in some way. But you didn’t. You just called a thing the thing that it is, and let their assumptions do the rest.

When someone gravely tells you “There’s been a bombing,” what they almost always mean is that there has been a suspected terrorist attack in a western, majority-white nation. They don’t mean the kind of bombing that kills exponentially more people and does exponentially more damage than terrorism in western nations. They don’t mean the kind of terrorism that our government enacts and approves of.

There’s a lot of pushback nowadays against the racism and prejudices that are woven throughout the fabric of our society, and rightly so. But what doesn’t get nearly enough attention in this discourse is the fact that while some manifestations of bigotry may have been successfully scaled back somewhat in our own countries, it was in a sense merely exported overseas.

The violence that is being inflicted overseas in our name by the US-centralized empire is more horrific than any manifestation of racism we’re ever likely to encounter at home. It is more horrific than the pre-integration American South. It is more horrific than even slavery itself. Yet even the more conscious among us fail to give this relentless onslaught of violence a proportionate degree of recognition and condemnation, even while the consent for it is largely born of the unexamined bigoted notion that violence against people in developing and non-western countries does not matter.

Like many other forms of bigotry, this one has been engineered and promulgated by powerful people who benefit from it. If the mainstream news media were what it purports to be, namely an institution dedicated to creating an informed populace about what’s truthfully going on in the world, we would see the bombings in foreign nations given the same type of coverage that a bombing in Paris or London receives.

This would immediately bring consciousness to the unconscious bigotry that those in the US-centralized empire hold against people in low and middle income countries, which is exactly why the plutocrat-owned media do not report on it in this way. The US-centralized empire is held together by endless violence, and the plutocrats who run it have built their kingdoms upon the status quo of that empire.

When people set out to learn what’s really going on in their world they often start cramming their heads with history and geopolitics facts and figures, which is of course fine and good. But a bigger part of getting a clear image of what’s happening in the world is simply turning your gaze upon things you already kind of knew were happening, but couldn’t quite bring yourself to look at.

Thanks for reading! The best way to get around the internet censors and make sure you see the stuff I publish is to subscribe to the mailing list for at my website or on Substack, which will get you an email notification for everything I publish. My work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, liking me on Facebook, following my antics on Twitter, throwing some money into my tip jar on Patreon or Paypal, purchasing some of my sweet merchandise, buying my books Rogue Nation: Psychonautical Adventures With Caitlin Johnstone and Woke: A Field Guide for Utopia Preppers. For more info on who I am, where I stand, and what I’m trying to do with this platform, click here. Everyone, racist platforms excluded, has my permission to republish, use or translate any part of this work (or anything else I’ve written) in any way they like free of charge.

The Power of Story to Change Hearts and Minds Where Facts & Logic Cannot

Some of you may remember the April 2015 Munk debate – a -semi annual debate that takes place in Toronto with an audience of approximately 3000 on a topic of current public interest. That particular year the debate question was whether the West should engage with Russia or not. Author Anne Applebaum and Russian chess champion and Kremlin critic Garry Kasparov argued for eschewing engagement to punish Putin and the Russian government for its supposed sins. Professor Stephen F. Cohen and Russian journalist Vladimir Posner argued for engagement.

Unfortunately, the audience was swayed by Applebaum and Kasparov and voted for non-engagement. The result of this always bothered me. How is it that an anti-Russia propagandist like Applebaum and a Neocon apologist like Kasparov can beat out one of the best Russia Studies academics in the U.S. and a renowned Russian journalist? In a rational world, Cohen and Posner should have been able to mop the floor with the likes of Applebaum and Kasparov without even breaking a sweat. What happened?

As a life-long lover of literature and someone who has tried my own hand at writing fiction (I have two trunk novels), I have a theory as to why this happened.

There are a small percentage of people, often scholarly types or journalists, who are swayed by and believe in the power of rational argument and the recitation of facts and figures to change people’s minds on any given issue. But the truth is – that is not actually how most people’s minds are changed. Humans evolved as storytellers, from hieroglyphics on caves to oral tradition and the written word, all cultures across time have told stories. Storytelling is how we have imparted ethical guidelines as well as practical information needed for survival.

In the Ted Talk below, author and writing coach Lisa Cron discusses the history and science behind the power of narrative and why it can transform people’s views where logical argument alone cannot. She gives an excellent example of how literature changed far more minds on a critical issue of 20th century American political import than any logical argument. Hint: most of you have read the novel and/or seen the movie. She also cautions people to be aware of the narratives they are being fed by the larger culture and whether those narratives are desirable or harmful.

Getting back to the Munk debate, I think that Applebaum and Kasparov understood the art of storytelling – albeit in a manipulative fashion. Their narrative of Russia and the context of U.S.-Russia relations in the post-Soviet era is very distorted but they managed to spin a compelling story: Kasparov with his framing of himself as an innocent every man up against a big bad bully named Putin and Applebaum with her framing of the noble west who has run out of patience with the incorrigible troublemaker who must be made to answer for his dangerous shenanigans. There is a recognizable protagonist and a recognizable antagonist in their story as well as a call to action.

Cohen and Posner, on the other hand, relied on the presentation of facts and logic. But they hadn’t figured out a compelling counter-narrative or story in which to place those facts. Consequently, the audience went with a story they understood. It was also a story they easily recognized because they had already been primed with lots of propaganda from the media they consume to do so.

I tend to think that academics and journalists who speak the truth about Russia and foreign affairs – while they serve a very important purpose – are not going to be able to turn the ship around on their own. They are going to have to find people in the arts – novelists, filmmakers, musicians, playwrights – to partner with to change hearts and minds through the power of narrative.

Breaking: Kamala Harris is Biden’s VP Pick – Be Prepared for a Hillary Clinton Foreign Policy

It has just been announced that Kamala Harris has been chosen as Joe Biden’s running mate. This will likely portend a continuation of the Neocon/Hyper-interventionist foreign policy we’ve been seeing for decades, along with hostility toward Russia. Below is a video Kim Iversen did back last November detailing how Kamala Harris is a proxy for Hillary Clinton on foreign policy.

Guest Post – Essence of Americanism: Self-Determination Serves as the Basis of Democracy

Today’s guest post is by James Chen. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section belowNatylie

The word “democracy” has been upheld as the holy grail of Americanism by contemporary American political practitioners and pundits. However, self-determination, which served as the corner stone of the nascent American republic established by our founding fathers nearly two-and-half centuries ago, is seldom mentioned in any of our governmental documents and main-stream-media publications.

Theoretically, on the political spectrum, the opposite of democracy is authoritarianism. Authoritarianism almost always leads to imperialism. And the only effective antidote against imperialism is faith in self-determination.

It is also worth noting that without self-determination, a democratic political system could hardly be cultivated in any political state striving for self-governance, let alone be implemented. In other words, when there’s no self-determination, there’s no self-governance. It could be recognized in Thomas Jefferson’s words:

Every man, and every body of men on earth, possesses the right of self-government. Every nation has a right to govern itself internally under what forms it pleases, and to change these forms at its own will.  Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the form of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.

An important historical aspect regarding self-determination that every American should know, is that it was enshrined as the basic mandate of the two most prominent American foreign policy proclamations of the 20th century: the Fourteen Points by President Woodrow Wilson and the Atlantic Charter by President Franklin Roosevelt. Both documents served as the foundation to build a peaceful world respectively after the two most destructive calamities in human history.

Without discussing the reasons why self-determination is omitted from our current political discussion by our politicians and main-stream-media, we can still easily identify many disastrous consequences that have arisen from its omission while our government has been involved in manipulating the world order since the end of WWII. Let’s just name several out of the long list in a reverse chronological order: 1. Current expansion of Chinese imperialism in the East Asia, 2. Current expansion of Turkish imperialism in the Middle East, 3. The Yemeni Civil War by proxies, 4. The Syrian Civil War by proxies, 5. The Ukrainian revolution with American involvement, 6. The regime change in Libya, 7. The regime change in Iraq, 8. The NATO bombing of Belgrade without UN authorization, 9. The dissolution of Yugoslavia without dissolution of Bosnia-Herzegovina, 10. The Kurdish genocide by the Turkish government with US support in Southeast Turkey, 11. The aggrandized expansion of the NATO war machine after dissolution of the Soviet Union, 12. The US interference of Russian presidential election in 1996, 13. the destruction of Afghanistan’s progressive society, 14. The Turkish invasion, occupation and colonization of Cyprus, 15. Multiple staged coup d’etats in Central and South America, 16. The regime change in Cambodia and consequent massacre, 17. The Vietnam War, 18. The 1965 regime change in Indonesia and consequent massacre, 19. The 1955 Istanbul pogrom, 20. The 1953 regime change in Iran and its consequences, 21. The Greek Civil War, etc..

The shameful thing is that in most of the cases listed above, not only was our government not on the side to promote or protect the principle of self-determination, but, on the contrary, it was on the side of the suppressors or perpetrators committing crimes against humanity with American taxpayer money.

By analyzing all the mistakes listed above, it should not be difficult for any fair-minded, rational American to appreciate the causal relationship between the reason, i.e., the total disregard of the world peoples’ will for self-determination and the obvious consequence, i.e., the American imperial power abused, the authoritarian regimes emboldened, many democracies suppressed and civilized societies destroyed, innocent populations massacred, wars and conflicts prolonged, and American interests severely curtailed.

There are several primary mechanisms taking places in the causal relationship leading to wars and serious conflicts:

  1. Staging military forces unnecessarily in the territory of any sovereign state could encroach on the right for self-determination of the people of that state.
  2. Establishing a permanent military organization consisting of multiple states with superior military and economic power over a targeted state could encroach on the right for self-determination of the people of all the states involved, forming a dependency-codependency conundrum.
  3. Providing military or financial support to any authoritarian state committing aggression against other states or distinct ethnic groups could embolden the authoritarian regime of that state and cause extreme harm to the victimized states and ethnic groups.
  4. Forming close business relations with any authoritarian state demonstrating total disrespect for the principle of self-determination could also encourage the authoritarian regime of that state to perpetuate its imperial actions, jeopardizing local and even world peace.
  5. Staging regime changes in other sovereign states to advance American imperial or business interests could cause tremendous harm to the people of the targeted states. The resulting states after the staged regime change are seldom democratic.
  6. Lastly, the suppressed people yearning for self-determination might not always be as silent as lambs.

Bearing in mind the importance of the principle of self-determination, the American politicians should try to relinquish our imperialist foreign policy and replace it with a commitment to supporting self-determination around the globe as the basis for democracy against authoritarianism. This was well understood by President John F. Kennedy more than half a century ago. He would have prevented the U.S. involvement in Vietnam had he not been assassinated five months after his last major speech, delivered on June 10, 1963, at American University, which clearly suggested a desire to end the meaningless cold war perpetuated by imperialism. The desire for genuine peace echoed the pledge he made in his inaugural speech less than three years before to uphold the same tenet for liberty, human rights and self-determination by our forebearers of the American Revolution.

Today, I urge all American politicians to finish what our fallen predecessors started and to continue safeguarding the principles upheld by our previous great leaders.  This is the direction that will lead to doing the right things as opposed to continuing to do the wrong things.

James J. Chen has had a life-long interest in history, politics, and the humanities. He has begun writing on these topics, with a particular emphasis on the the U.S.’s role in the evolution of the modern world.  He lives and practices medicine in the San Francisco Bay Area. His website address is: https://jamesjchen.wixsite.com/save-the-country.

Why America Needs to Embrace Pluralism Instead of Exceptionalism

Secretary Pompeo Delivers Remarks to the Media
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Addresses the Media

By Natylie Baldwin, OpEd News, July 30, 2020

“We, the freedom-loving nations of the world, must induce China to change, just as President Nixon wanted. We must induce China to change in more creative and assertive ways, because Beijing’s actions threaten our people and our prosperity.

We must start by changing how our people and our partners perceive the Chinese Communist Party. We have to tell the truth. We can’t treat this incarnation of China as a normal country, just like any other.”

– Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo continues to bloviate on a litany of sins that the Chinese government is guilty of, and various politicians and media outlets continue their nonstop propaganda about how evil Russia is, it is clear that the goals is to keep Americans perpetually indoctrinated with the idea that these two nations are incorrigible enemies.

This is consistent with the National Defense Strategy (NDS) of 2018, which states that the main threats facing the United States in the foreseeable future are Russia and China. And while the terminology of “great power competition” is thrown around, there is emphasis placed on the implicit clash of values with the U.S.-led west, with several references to the “free and open international order” that these two nations are putatively in violation of.

This shares some continuity with the Neoconservative-inspired Wolfowitz Doctrine of the early 1990’s, which granted Washington the right to forcibly determine what values and political framework the rest of the world should adhere to while maintaining hegemony over the world. The Democratic Party has embraced similar foreign policy ideas. Even the “progressive” wing, represented by Bernie Sanders, touted a need to take on the world’s “authoritarians” who were threatening the enlightened west.

All societies throughout modern history have had to prioritize various issues that impact national survival and their populations: the balance between the individual and the collective good, or the impact of change vs group instability, democracy versus economic development, etc. Different societies have resolved these issues in different ways, with varying results.

But the United States, with its triumphalist attitude at the close of the Cold War, decided that its way of life had been judged to be inevitable for everyone in the world. This was summed up in Francis Fukiyama’s The End of History. Western, especially American, political values and norms have been assumed to be the only correct way to resolve the most basic questions of organized life, regardless of whether a country has had any meaningful experience with western values. If a country disagrees or chooses to prioritize differently, they have been deemed backward or illegitimate.

This leaves no space for pluralism, negotiation or peaceful co-existence. Instead, it leads to a world in which conflict is inevitable and differences are irreconcilable. Constant war and the threat of war, especially with the three most powerful players on the world stage – the U.S., China and Russia – having nuclear weapons arsenals at their disposal, makes this an immoral and unsustainable framework.

Continue reading here.

The Khabarovsk Protests

Monument to Yerofey Khabarov in Khabarovsk

For over three weeks straight, thousands of residents of the far eastern city of Khabarovsk have taken to the streets in protest of the removal and arrest of the local governor, Sergei Furgal, a member of the right-wing LDPR party who beat out the United Russia-favored candidate for the post in 2018. Protesters initially demanded that Furgal be released or at least tried locally rather than in Moscow where he is currently imprisoned. Protests swelled after Putin appointed an outsider, Mikhail Degtyaryov (but also a member of the LDPR party), to replace Furgal. However, the number of demonstrators in recent days appears to be decreasing.

Furgal was arrested for involvement in the murder of several entrepreneurs from 2004-2005. According to a July 16th Interfax report, the Russian Investigative Committee, which is overseeing the case has claimed “irrefutable proof” of Furgal’s guilt via its spokeswoman Svetlana Petrenko:

“At this stage, the investigation already has irrefutable evidence of Sergei Furgal’s involvement in organizing the murders of entrepreneurs Yevgeny Zorya and Oleg Bulatov, and an attempt to murder Alexander Smolsky,” Petrenko told Interfax on Thursday.

The crimes were committed in the Khabarovsk Territory and in the Amur Region in 2004-2005, she said.

“Considering the gravity of the offences committed and the liability under the relevant Russian Criminal Code article, it’s for the court to decide whether statutes of limitation may apply. But the investigators have no doubt that Furgal participated in the murders as the immediate organizer,” Petrenko said.

This is supported by the evidence collected, including forensic expert reports, materials obtained in police inquiries, witness statements, and other information, she said.

“The work on uncovering the crimes was never interrupted but complicated badly due to the fact that most individuals aware of what happened were intimidated. They refused to give detailed testimony against Furgal or his accomplices,” Petrenko went on to say.

So, if there’s a plausible case against Furgal for multiple murders, one might ask, why the protests against his arrest? Naturally, the situation is more complicated than the western corporate media is making it out to be with their predictable line of this being strictly about dissatisfaction with Putin who is presumably taking his political revenge on the governor. Russia-based journalist, Bryan MacDonald, who lived for 2 and 1/2 years in Khabarovsk, wrote a good backgrounder on the conditions and atmosphere in Khabarovsk at the time that Furgal won his governorship:

In the end, it was a landslide. Nationalist opposition candidate Sergei Furgal of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) defeated President Putin’s man Vyacheslav Shport by a margin of almost 70 percent to just under 28 percent in the race to become governor of Khabarovsk. Meanwhile, contests in Vladimir, Khakassia and Primorye also delivered setbacks to the ruling party, United Russia.

But don’t get too excited – or worried – just yet, depending on your political preferences. These were regional elections, fought mainly on local issues, involving personalities barely known in Moscow but well-known in their own backyards. Small town heroes, or villains, as it were….

…The district’s capital, Khabarovsk, is a city of around 600,000 where Moscow is frequently seen as more of a hindrance than a help. That’s partly down to distance (8,400km by car, eight hours on a plane, or six days on a train) but it’s also a reaction to observing increasingly well-heeled Asian neighbors. Although this part of Russia is itself prosperous, boasting the highest wages in the country.

Because the world looks very different from Khabarovsk and Vladivostok. While Moscow and St. Petersburg gaze out upon the rest of Europe and feel reasonably content, the Far East is surrounded by some of the most dynamic economies in the world. And it’s hard not to feel jealous.

On the other side of the Amur river lies China, Japan is across the sea, and South Korea is “down the road.” But the Kremlin is far away. And it’s common to meet people in the Far East who have never been west of the Urals but know their way around the backstreets of Seoul, Tokyo, Shanghai or Bangkok.

MacDonald goes on to explain how the increase in the retirement age fueled disgust at the Kremlin-backed United Russia party in 2018 as most Russians support the welfare state policies established in the 20th century. Read the full article here.

Another article by Kirill Shamiev from July 23rd, also provides a good comprehensive analysis of the protests and their context. Here he describes the history of governance of the Khabarovsk area in the post-Soviet era leading up to Furgal’s election:

The Khabarovsk Region has long been considered the patrimony of regional elites. The first head of the region, Victor Ishayev, emerged in regional politics in the late 1980s, becoming the director of the Khabarovsk Aluminium Plant and first deputy chairman of the executive committee of the Khabarovsk Regional Council of People’s Deputies. Ishayev remained governor from 1991 to 2009, becoming a kind of ‘father’ of the region. He survived the ‘gangster era’ of wild capitalism. He became a loyal supporter of Vladimir Putin. Then, he served as an envoy and minister for the development of the Far East for another five years. Yet in 2019, Ishayev was arrested and charged with fraud (facing up to 10 years in prison). In July 2020, the case was reclassified as embezzlement and sent to the Prosecutor General’s Office to be referred to court.

The mayor of Khabarovsk, Alexander Sokolov, who served continuously since 2000, became a key associate of Ishayev. Back in 1989, Sokolov became the First Secretary of the Khabarovsk City Committee. In the second half of the 1990s worked as the General Director of Khabarovsknefteprodukt, the largest distributor of petroleum products in the region. In 2018, Sokolov retired from politics. But a year later, he was back in the news. The Navalny Headquarters in Khabarovsk released an investigation, disclosing Sokolov’s ownership of houses in the U.S. and the Bolshekhekhtsirsky Nature Reserve, as well as apartments in Moscow and Khabarovsk. Many protesters remembered this as an example of Sokolov’s corruption and his ‘betrayal’ of the region. In the view of the Far Easterners, a mayor of a city with 600,000 inhabitants cannot legally own houses in the United States. This fact is perceived as a token of obvious corruption and lack of regional patriotism.

The Ishayev-Sokolov tandem controlled the Khabarovsk region for 20 years. In the 1990s politicians’ local ties were an advantage in the context of de-institutionalising political power in the country and surging crime. In the end, though, these qualities turned out insufficient as the situation in the country began to stabilise. The change in the post of governor in 2009 did not help the region. In his 10 years in office, Vyacheslav Shport was unable to achieve higher-than-average growth rates. His negative rating was so high that Shport’s portrait was vandalised several times and covered with spittle in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, his home city.

Shamiev points out that Furgal earned some popularity with his policies and approach to the governorship:

As a governor, Furgal quickly won popularity after solving obvious yet acute problems and thanks to his unprecedented political openness. Furgal helped to achieve a sharp reduction in the number of deceived shareholdersprovided free meals to schoolchildren from low-income families, and focused on building boiler houses, local airports, roads and medical infrastructure in remote areas of the region. All these changes came with active information campaigns: video recordings of meetings; voters included in online receptions on Instagram; and Furgal being personally accessible. Furgal’s style of governance was quickly embraced by voters and praised by experts. In a region where everyone knows everyone else, his simplicity and openness stood out in Russia, becoming yet another factor reinforcing his popularity.

Read the full article here.

A couple of more analyses worth reading: Gilbert Doctorow’s, which discusses the idea of the Khabarovsk protests being motivated – at least, in part – due to residents’ disapproval of Moscow’s increasing partnership with China since Furgal was popular and represented a nationalist party; Mary Dejevsky has written about Putin’s “hands off” approach to the protests, letting them generally play out, and not making claims of foreign interference.

*Note to readers: I am starting to work on a larger research project that will be taking up my time over the next couple of weeks. Consequently, blog posts during that time will likely be more sporadic and less in-depth.