All posts by natyliesb

Obama-era “Chief Propagandist” Richard Stengel Part of Biden’s Transition Team

Richard Stengel propaganda censorship Biden

It hasn’t taken long for president-elect Joe Biden to show his true colors – which basically means giving the finger to those the Democratic Party establishment (yet again) bullied into voting for their candidate, with admonishments that to vote any other way was tantamount to being a psychopath and “hey, we can push Biden left” and “make him” do what’s right and just once he gets in. Those of us concerned about our militarist foreign policy were among the first to get spit on by the Biden team as I brought out in my last post. Earlier this week, those who care about the environment were shown Biden’s backside, and now it’s those who care about civil liberties like free speech who can take their turn at being viewed with contempt now that the Democratic Party has manipulated everyone into voting them in.

It has been announced that Richard Stengel will be part of Biden’s transition team as the top “state media appointee.” Stengel is the former editor of Time Magazine and served in Obama’s State Department where he started the Global Engagement Center. As readers may recall, Obama signed off on dismantling the historical legal prohibition on the U.S. government engaging in propaganda aimed at a domestic audience.

During the Trump era, Stengel was a prominent proponent in the establishment media pushing the Russiagate narrative and thus providing justification for various censorial methods to combat it. Ben Norton has written an in-depth article about Stengel for The Grayzone and why we should be concerned about Stengel’s position in a Biden administration. Here is an excerpt:

At the State Department under President Barack Obama, Stengel boasted that he “started the only entity in government, non-classified entity, that combated Russian disinformation.” That institution was known as the Global Engagement Center, and it amounted to a massive vehicle for advancing US government propaganda around the world.

A committed crusader in what he openly describes as a global “information war,” Stengel has proudly proclaimed his dedication to the careful management of the public’s access to information.

Stengel outlined his worldview in a book he published this June, entitled “Information Wars: How We Lost the Global Battle Against Disinformation and What We Can Do About It.”

Stengel has proposed “rethinking” the First Amendment that guarantees the freedom of speech and press. In 2018, he stated, “Having once been almost a First Amendment absolutist, I have really moved my position on it, because I just think for practical reasons in society, we have to kind of rethink some of those things.

The Biden transition team’s selection of a censorial infowarrior for its top state media position comes as a concerted suppression campaign takes hold on social media. The wave of online censorship has been overseen by US intelligence agencies, the State Department, and Silicon Valley corporations that maintain multibillion-dollar contracts with the US government.

As the state-backed censorship dragnet expands, independent media outlets increasingly find themselves in the crosshairs. In the past year, social media platforms have purged hundreds of accounts of foreign news publications, journalists, activists, and government officials from countries targeted by the United States for regime change.

Days before Norton’s article was posted, Glenn Greenwald discussed the dangerous implications of what has transpired over the past four years and how the worst aspects may be cemented further by a Biden administration, including in the area of censorship of free speech: “Fueled by an overarching indifference on the part of the media, on the part of citizen activism, on the part of the courts, and the other sectors that have been highly active over the last four years and are now likely to take a nap no matter what happens.”

This was stated by Greenwald in a video in which he discusses the three main threats that a Biden/Harris administration poses to the American people: militarism, corporatism and censorship. The video is available to subscribers of Greenwald’s substack site, where he has been publishing his work since leaving The Intercept.

Poll: Majority of Ukrainians Don’t Want to Join NATO; Biden Filling Foreign Policy Transition Team with Think Tank Hawks Funded by Defense Contractors & Oil Companies

According to a recent poll, a majority of Ukrainians still don’t want to join NATO:

Maybe we shouldn’t have helped stir up the hornet’s nest that resulted in the Maidan coup of 2014. Not only does a majority of the Ukrainian population still not want NATO membership, it is the second poorest country in Europe per capita and is still beset with a lot of corruption.

In further signs that a Biden administration will mark a return to the Neocon-Liberal Interventionist war orgy of the Bush-Obama years, many of the members of the Biden transition team come from think tanks funded by war profiteers and fossil fuel companies. According to a report compiled by Antiwar.com:

On Tuesday, Joe Biden released a list of transition teams for the various departments in his future White House. The Pentagon transition team for Biden consists of 23 people, many of whom hail from hawkish think tanks.

These think tanks include Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Center for a New American Security (CNAS), and RAND Corporation.

A report from In These Times found at least eight out of the 23 [transition] team members come from organizations that receive funding from US weapons makers (not including RAND). Besides the CSIS and CNAS employees listed above, In These Times includes Sharon Burke, who works for New America, Shawn Skel­ly, from CACI International, and Vic­tor Gar­cia, from Rebellion Defense.

Jimmy Dore goes into more detail in the video below.

House representatives Barbara Lee of California and Mark Pocan of Wisconsin have sent a letter to Biden asking that whoever is nominated for Secretary of Defense not come from the defense industry. The Hill reported last week:

As House members, Pocan and Lee will not get a vote on Biden’s eventual nominee. But the letter signals the progressive position on the woman widely seen as Biden’s likely choice, Michèle Flournoy [though she was not mentioned by name in the letter].

Flournoy, who was under secretary of Defense for policy in the Obama administration, co-founded consultant group WestExec Advisors, which counts defense contractors among its clients. She is also on the board of defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton.

While I commend this gesture from Lee and Pocan, I will not hold my breath that it will make a bit of difference.

Nicolai Petro: This Is How Ukraine Will Destroy the Rule of Law While Claiming to Defend it

By Nicolai Petro, The National Interest, 11/3/20

In the year following his election, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky’s approval has fallen from 73 percent to a new low in the latest local elections. Although several run-off elections have yet to be held, it is already clear that the president’s party, “Servant of the People,” suffered a major defeat, being unable to win a single mayoral race or even a majority in any regional parliament or city council.

Such a precipitous fall from electoral grace can be attributed in part to professional incompetence and failure to keep his campaign promises, but in even greater measure it stems from Zelensky’s betrayal of his core electorate, which lies in the predominantly Russian-speaking East and South. Since Petro Poroshenko had run on an arch-nationalist agenda, proclaiming “It’s Poroshenko or Putin,” Zelensky’s appeal, stemmed largely from the fact that he was running as the anti-Poroshenko. Ukrainians were tired of the previous president’s efforts to divide the nation along the lines of his campaign slogan-“Army, Language, Faith”-and handed Poroshenko a resounding defeat in every region of Ukraine, except Lviv.

Now, Zelensky seems to think that he has found a way to return to center stage by declaring Ukraine’s entire Constitutional Court a threat to national security. “In a matter of hours,” the president told his party faction in the parliament, “the judges of the Constitutional Court have set the country on the edge of catastrophe. It will either be pulled into bloody chaos, or the state as a system of transparent rules and agreements will cease to exist.”

What did the Constitutional Court, the nation’s final authority in constitutional matters, do that was so awful? 

Read full article here.

Russia Brokers Peace Deal in Nagorno-Karabakh

Map of Nagorno-Karabakh

After Azerbaijan forces took Shushi (aka Shusha by Azeris) on Monday – the second largest city in Nagorno-Karabakh – and were said to be close to taking the capital of Stepanakert, the Armenian Prime Minister announced that he had agreed to an armistice. According to Antiwar.com:

[Armenian PM Nikol] Pashiyan said he signed the deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. “I have signed a statement on the termination of the Karabakh war with Russian and Azerbaijani presidents from 01.00 pm,” Pashiyan said on Facebook.

Pashiyan said the statement “is unbelievably painful for me and our people,” meaning he likely agreed to cede territory to Azerbaijan.

At the time of that report, details had not yet been made public. A later report from RT stated the following:

According to the text of the agreement that appeared in Russian media around midnight Moscow time – when the armistice was to take effect – Russia will deploy almost 2,000 peacekeepers along the line of contact and the “Lachin corridor,” the road connection between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia proper.

These peacekeepers will move in as the Armenian armed forces withdraw, and will stay for five years, according to the draft. An automatic five-year extension of their mandate is envisioned, unless any of the parties objects six months before its expiration.

Neither Armenian nor Azerbaijani forces are supposed to advance beyond their current positions. This leaves the remaining territory of the Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous region somewhat surrounded, with only a 5-kilometer-wide corridor to Armenia proper, under protection of the Russian peacekeepers.

A new road is supposed to be built through the Lachin area over the next three years, to connect Armenia with Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh. In parallel, another road will be built through Armenia to connect Azerbaijan with its enclave of Nakhichevan in the southwest. Until then, Russian border troops will supervise the existing road traffic through Armenia to Nakhichevan.

The agreement also allows for the exchange of prisoners and return of the bodies of soldiers killed. The return of refugees displaced by the recent fighting will be overseen by the UN’s agency for refugees.

An earlier report by Asia Times stated that the deal was hammered out personally by Putin and Turkish president Erdogan and that the peace-keeping mission would be conducted jointly by Russian and Turkish troops. Furthermore, it was pointed out that there are still outstanding concerns for Russia:

If Putin and Erdogan made a deal as reported, there are still tensions between the two that have to be sorted. The most significant is the presence of Syrian radical Islamic fighters imported into Azerbaijan for the Nagorno-Karabakh battle.

Both Putin and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have warned about the presence of the Syrian radicals and made clear they want them out.

Russia also has a black eye because its modern equipment, especially it’s air defense systems situated at bases in Armenia, failed to stop Azerbaijan’s drone assault. Many of Russia’s air defenses were knocked out, including its S-300, by both Turkish Baraktar drones and Israeli Harop suicide loitering munitions.

Thousands of angry Armenians went out in the streets of the capital Yerevan today with reports of government buildings being stormed. Meanwhile, there were scenes of jubilation in Azerbaijan.

According to Democracy Now!: “It is estimated the conflict has killed at least 1,000 people and displaced over 100,000, though some say the death toll is much higher.”

*Update 1: Professor Paul Robinson has done a good write-up here as well.

*Update 2: Russia has denied that Turkey will be part of a joint peacekeeping mission in Nagorno-Karabakh. However, Erdogan has publicly stated, following a telephone conversation with Putin, that Turkey will be helping to monitor the situation from a joint center – the location of which is to be determined by Azerbaijan:

Presidents of Russia and Turkey Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan conducted a phone conversation on Tuesday discussing the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh and Syria, the Directorate of Communications of the Turkish President told journalists.

“President Erdogan during the talks noted that yesterday a step in the right direction was made on the path to the permanent settlement in Nagorno-Karabakh. President Erdogan stated that Turkey together with Russia will also conduct observing and monitoring activity over ceasefire using a joint center which will be created in a region determined by Azerbaijan in a territory liberated from Armenian occupation,” the communique made public after the conversation said.

Putin Submits Legislation to Prepare Eventual Transfer of Power; UK Media Comes Up with BS Story About Putin’s Health

Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin

Putin has been busy submitting bills that would indicate that he is setting the practical groundwork for an eventual transition of power. The first was a bill in connection with the State Council. Before going into what this bill does, let’s review what the State Council is and what the recent constitutional amendments would change.

The State Council was created in 2000 and is currently an advisory body to the president to coordinate different parts of government and advise on critical issues. As reflected in the new constitutional amendments, It is now to become an official executive body. Rather than being a ceremonial advisory body, it will now have the power to set the direction of both domestic and foreign policy, with a focus on socio-economic development.

The constitutional amendments, while granting the president the power to create the body, provided no details about how the president would go about creating the body or filling positions on it. TASS reported the following on the October 14th bill submitted by Putin:

The State Council will be headed by the Russian president. It will serve as an advisory body to the head of state. The State Council will include the Russian Prime Minister, the Federation Council [upper house of parliament] speaker, the State Duma [lower house of parliament speaker, the president’s chief of staff, and regional heads. Besides, representatives of political parties that have formed factions at the Russian State Duma, representatives of local governance bodies and others can be included on the Council if the president makes the corresponding decision.

The bill forbids people that have a foreign citizenship or a residence permit from forming part of the State Council, as well as those with accounts held at foreign banks.

In order to deal with the agenda of the council, the presidium of the State Council will be established. Its composition will be determined by the chairman. Besides, special commissions and working groups will be created in order to organize activity in specific spheres. Representatives of federal and regional government bodies, other state bodies, local governance bodies and organizations can form part of the commissions. Members of specific commissions do not have to form part of the State Council. The chairman and members of the State Council take part in its activity on a voluntary basis.

According to an analysis by Chatham House, the recent bill submitted by Putin would allow:

the president to achieve at least three things at once: further de-institutionalize governance structures to give him more flexibility and appointment powers; step back from day-to-day governance while still retaining control; and structure decision-making between his subordinates on national priorities across branches of power and layers of the federation.

These analysts point out that the State Council became particularly active around the National Projects program in 2018, an infrastructure development project critical to Putin’s plan to increase living standards and quality of life in Russia. Due to the pandemic, the National Project’s goals have been moderated.

The Chatham House analysts have a negative take on the changes which they see as potentially usurping the power of local mayors and officials.

On October 31st, Putin submitted another bill regarding the role of members of the upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, in which the Russian president would have the ability to appoint senators for life and for ex-presidents to apply for a senatorial seat within 3 months of leaving the office of the presidency. According to TASS:

The bill says that senators – representatives of the Russian Federation – are appointed for six years or for life by presidential decrees. The head of state can appoint no more than seven lifetime senators. The appointment of senators is a presidential prerogative, but not a duty, so the president can use it at any time.

Under the Russian Constitution, the citizens with outstanding merits in their state and public services to the country could be appointed lifetime members of the Federation Council. The submitted bill contains the same provision.

The requirements for former presidents are envisaged in a separate clause. A Russian president, who has ended their tenure after a presidential term has expired or in advance, will acquire the status of a senator since the moment of sending an application, with all the required documents attached, to the Federation Council. The application may be submitted once within three months after the president leaves office. Along with this, the president whose tenure has ended before the given bill is adopted may file this application within three months since the day the law enters into force.

Additionally, senators must be over the age of 30, have no residency abroad or citizenship outside of Russia, and have an “impeccable reputation.”

RT reported additional details on the makeup of the Federation Council pursuant to Putin’s proposed bill:

According to the draft law, “On the procedure for forming the Federation Council,” the body will include two representatives from each of the country’s 85 regions (one from the legislative and executive authorities), a former president of Russia after leaving his post, and no more than 30 representatives chosen by him or her, with up to seven appointed for life.

Last but not least in his package of bills, Putin proposed the granting of immunity to all former presidents, including for any crimes allegedly committed before taking office. RT reported last week:

According to the proposal, any former Russian head of state, as well as their family members, would not only be immune from prosecution, but they could not legally be arrested, imprisoned, searched, or interrogated. The law would also protect Dmitry Medvedev, the only other ex-president still alive.

If passed, the bill would stretch current presidential immunity back to before the person took office, meaning Putin could not be held responsible for anything before his first term in 2000. The protection would also apply to the time he served as prime minister, between 2008 and 2012…

….Under the current legislation, the ex-head of state cannot be held accountable for acts committed during their presidential term, but offenses committed outside of this timeframe are still prosecutable….

….The new law still leaves open the possibility of prosecution for more serious crimes, such as treason. For this to happen, charges would have to be confirmed by the country’s Supreme and Constitutional Courts, before being passed through the State Duma. The upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, would then vote on lifting the president’s immunity.

The day after Putin submitted that proposal, a British tabloid called The Sun, published a story asserting that Putin had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and would be leaving office in January. The story was picked up by other tabloids such as The Daily Mail.

When someone forwarded this story to me last Friday morning, my first thought was that anyone in a position to know accurately about any Putin health problem would not be leaking it to UK rag papers.

Turns out the story originated from Valery Solovey, a loony tune in Moscow who is notorious for his tall tales and lack of credibility, but nonetheless seems to get picked up by western “journalists.”

The western media apparently has to come up with a sensationalist explanation as to why Putin has submitted legislation indicating intent for eventual transfer of power since their narrative has been that Putin doesn’t intend to ever leave.

No New START Deal Before Election; Putin Proposes Mutual Inspections for INF-Banned Missiles; Defense Dept. Allowed China Policy to be Hijacked by Defense Industry & Taiwan Hardliners

President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev meet for the first time to issue a joint statement announcing their pursuit of a new START treaty, at Winfield House in London, England, April 1, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Early last week, there had been some hope raised that some kind of extension – at least for one year to provide space for further negotiation on a longer extension – of the New START Treaty, which is set to expire in February.

On Tuesday the 27th, Russia’s Deputy FM Sergei Ryabkov stated that the two sides were not close to an agreement and that Russia had not yet heard back on its latest offers:

“We’ve met the U.S. halfway twice over the past few weeks. We haven’t received a proper response. Strictly speaking, the Americans have confirmed the position which they’ve worked out thus far, setting up extra conditions around the treaty’s extension and the idea of freezing, in favor of which the Russian Foreign Ministry spoke on the 20th [of October],” Ryabkov told reporters in Moscow.

“We’re continuing the dialogue, but the prospects for this dialogue are rather problematic, and I’d rather not make any predictions about the result of this dialogue right now. But we’re certainly not on the verge of any kind of agreement whatsoever, as of today,” he said.

As of the end of last week, it appears that no deal will be agreed before tomorrow’s election.

Putin had also offered to allow NATO inspections for deployment of INF-banned missiles on both sides in an effort to revive arms control measures that have been undermined by the U.S.’s decision to destroy the INF Treaty. As Antiwar.com reported on October 26th:

On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered mutual inspections of each other’s military bases to NATO to prevent the deployment of missiles banned under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty….

…Putin offered access to sites in Kaliningrad, where the US has accused Russia of deploying 9M729 missiles. The US claims Russia’s 9M729 missiles are a violation of the INF, one of the reasons Washington cited to withdraw from the treaty, but Moscow insists the 9M729’s are a lower range than banned under the INF.

Still, Putin says Russia has not deployed the 9M729 in Europe. He is asking for access to US and NATO sites in Europe in exchange for Kaliningrad. Since the US withdrew from the INF, Washington has abstained from deploying INF-banned missiles to Europe but is seeking to deploy such missiles in Asia to face China.

Former weapons inspector Scott Ritter explained what he thought Putin’s reasoning was in an analysis, also published on October 26th:

In a bold new proposal, Russian President Vladimir Putin has expanded on his existing offer of a moratorium on the deployment of intermediate-range nuclear forces on European soil by suggesting that Russia and the US/NATO engage in so-called “verification measures” (a euphemism for on-site inspections) “regarding the Aegis Ashore systems equipped with Mk 41 launchers at US and NATO bases in Europe and the 9M729 missiles at Russian military facilities in the Kaliningrad Region.”…

….For its part, Russia long maintained that [the Poland and Romania-based] Mk 41 Aegis Ashore system was a violation of the INF Treaty, as it was designed to launch both SM-3 surface-to-air missiles and Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missiles from aboard US naval warships. The US claims that the Mk 41 Aegis Ashore is only intended to be used in an anti-ballistic missile role. However, Russia claimed that the US in effect turned a permitted weapon (the seal-launched cruise missile) into a prohibited one (a ground-launched cruise missile, banned by the INF Treaty.) While the US denied that the Mk 41 Aegis Ashore had this capability, the fact that a Mk 41 was used to launch a Tomahawk cruise missile only weeks after the expiration of the INF Treaty underscored the validity of Russia’s claims….

….While the US has, to date, eschewed the redeployment of INF weapons to Europe, the presence of two Mk 41 Aegis Ashore sites on NATO soil (one in Romania, the other in Poland) have raised concerns in Russia that both could be secretly armed with cruise missiles, thereby putting Russia’s strategic nuclear deterrence at risk of a preemptive US nuclear first strike. 

Ritter points out that Washington, when leaving the treaty in 2019, cited the fact that China was not included as an additional reason for withdrawal along with Russia’s 9M729 missiles.

Here we find perhaps the most important part of Putin’s new proposal: “We are calling upon all parties concerned to explore ways of maintaining stability and preventing missile crises ‘in a world without the INF Treaty’ regarding the Asia-Pacific Region. We are open to joint work along these lines.” Putin appears to recognize the reality that there cannot be meaningful US-Russian nuclear arms control without factoring in China.

Later in the week, Washington’s lead arms control negotiator with Russia, Marshall Billingslea rejected this offer via his Twitter account. Furthermore, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien confirmed that the U.S. remains ready and willing to deploy intermediate range missiles in Europe if it believes them to be necessary to “deter Russia.”

Investigative reporter Gareth Porter has just written an expose on how the Pentagon allowed the defense industry and Taiwan hardliners to overtake US foreign policy on China:

When the United States finalized a set of seven arms sales packages to Taiwan in August, including 66 upgraded F-16 fighter planes and longer-range air-to-ground missiles that could hit sensitive targets on mainland China, it shifted US policy sharply toward a much more aggressive stance on the geo-strategic island at the heart of military tensions between the United States and China.

Branded “Fortress Taiwan” by the Pentagon, the ambitious arms deal was the engineered by Randall Schriver, a veteran pro-Taiwan activist and anti-China hardliner whose think tank had been financed by America’s biggest arms contractors and by the Taiwan government itself.

Since assuming the post of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs in early 2018, Schriver has focused primarily on granting his major arms company patrons the vaunted arms deals they had sought for years.

Read the full article here.

The Best Anti-War Episodes of the Twilight Zone

Rod Serling On Writing

When I was growing up Halloween weekend meant the Twilight Zone marathon would be run on a local television station in the San Francisco Bay Area (channel 20). From Friday night to Sunday, 5 seasons worth of these thought-provoking sci-fi/horror/supernatural stories would run back-to-back. The brainchild of Rod Serling – who wrote the majority of episodes – Twilight Zone tackled the moral implications of many important issues in an interesting and creative way, from technology and space travel to conformity and freedom of choice to war.

Serling was a combat veteran of World War II in the Pacific theater. His experiences made him oppose war, which was reflected in some of the episodes he wrote. As he said in the video above where he discusses the art of writing, “I was traumatized into writing by war events.” (21:45). His daughter recently wrote of how Serling was not a dark and tortured soul as many assumed, but a fun person who loved humor and practical jokes. But his war experiences definitely had a strong influence on him and his decision to become a writer:

“He hadn’t set out to be a writer; he was going to teach physical education to kids because he liked working with kids, but as he said, the war put an end to that,” said Anne. “He was quite traumatized and broken after the war and his father died while he was overseas as well, so there was a lot of unresolved grief.

“When he came back he went to Antioch on the GI bill and he said he went there because his brother went there, but like with so many vets, there’s PTSD – which wasn’t even a term back then,” Anne shared. “It was shell shock. But he finally changed his major to language and literature, because he said he had to get it all out of his gut.”

Consequently, there were several episodes of the Twilight Zone that explore the issue of war. My personal three favorites follow.

The first is A Qualify of Mercy from Season 3. The episode opens in the Philippines in the closing days of WWII. A hard-nosed American lieutenant wants his platoon to pursue a frontal assault to take out a group of sick and starving Japanese soldiers who are holed up in a cave. His men, tired and war-weary, are inclined to bypass the cave since the Japanese inhabitants are not likely to be a threat. The lieutenant is hit with a different perspective when he drops his binoculars. After picking them up, he suddenly finds himself in a similar scenario but as an officer in the Japanese military who meets his counter-part on the other side.

Clip from “A Quality of Mercy”

The second episode, also from Season 3, is The Shelter. Several families, who all live on the same street, see their friendship torn apart when it is announced that a possible nuclear attack is imminent and only one family has a fallout shelter.

Collage of scenes from “The Shelter” – spoiler alert

The third episode is The Thirty Fathom Grave from Season 4. A sailor aboard a U.S. navy destroyer is haunted by the fate of men in a submarine that has been discovered sunken off the coast of Guadalcanal. Starring Simon Oakland and Mike Kellin who gives a gut-wrenching performance as the troubled sailor.

Intro to “The Thirty Fathom Grave”

Happy Halloween!

A Hot Mess of Innuendo: A Closer Look at Catherine Belton’s “Putin’s People”

By Natylie Baldwin, OpEd News, 10/27/20

Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West, is one of several anti-Russia books being turned out by the publishing industry in the U.S. during a presidential-election year. Given that it takes on average 18 months from submission of a completed manuscript by an author for a book to be available for sale to the public, it appears that these books are being expedited through the publishing pipeline.

Contrast that with what journalist Aaron Mate said recently on Twitter about his inquiry into the possibility of publishing a book based on his accurate Russiagate reporting:

It’s incredible to see book after book churn out the same discredited Russiagate hype. When I talked to an editor at a major publisher about doing a book — you know, based on actual facts — they told me their friends would be mad at them if they published it, so that was it.

The traditional publishing industry in the U.S. is, in many ways, an extension of the corporate mainstream media. Consequently, it suffers from many of the same problems. Due to the decades-long trend of corporate consolidation, there are now only 5 major publishing companies and their myriad subsidiaries. Most of the editors who work at these publishing houses based in New York – as well as the agents who serve the industry – tend to know each other. Moreover, these publishing-industry professionals are culturally part of the educated professional class that gives credibility to what The New York Times and CNN report, regardless of how poor and sloppy that reporting has become over the past 20 years.

This is the context in which Catherine Belton, a former journalist for the Financial Times who was based in Moscow from 2007 to 2013, has had her book published in the U.S. by a subsidiary of MacMillan. She has also had extensive coverage of Putin’s People appear in major corporate-media outlets, including the New York Times, as well as glowing reviews by the mutual-admiration society of Russia-hawk writers like Anne Applebaum, Luke Harding, Edward Lucas, Peter Pomerantsev, et al. Applebaum in particular can always be counted on to use her platform to promote books that depict Putin as evil and Russia as the hopeless armpit of the world, such as she did in 2014 when she promoted the late Karen Dawisha’s poorly substantiated claims in Putin’s Kleptocracy.

A lot of the claims made by Dawisha are recycled in Belton’s book, but with an even more diabolical twist. Belton’s prologue provides a preview of the basic storyline of Putin’s People and her thesis is summed up in its final page:

Parts of the KGB, Putin among them, have embraced capitalism as a tool for getting even with the West. It was a process that began long before, in the years before the Soviet collapse. (p. 16)

Putin’s People is an attempt to weave all the strands of the anti-Russia propaganda narrative into a coherent whole: Putin is a corrupt autocrat who has created a kleptocracy. His main purpose, however, is not just to undermine or prevent the development of democracy in Russia. His purpose, according to Belton, is to destroy western democracy in the U.S. and Europe and he has been working continuously with his circle of KGB comrades from St. Petersburg to implement this nefarious project (“the KGB plot”) since the late days of the Cold War.

Putin has apparently done this because his KGB mentality is such an overwhelming and immutable feature of his psyche. Indeed Putin is portrayed throughout the book as a sinister automaton, making virtually every move based on furtherance of “the KGB plot” and his own personal enrichment. Nothing else in Putin’s life has influenced him outside of his KGB experience. His family’s tragic experience during WWII, his study of international law, his decades-long embrace of martial arts as both a philosophy and a sport, and the post-Soviet policies followed by the US-led west toward Russia are all either dismissed or non-existent in Belton’s depiction of Russia’s president and his governance.

Needless to say, to most people who have any real knowledge or on-the-ground experience with Russia, Belton’s thesis sounds far-fetched. Such a major claim about the world’s other nuclear superpower and its leadership should require major substantiation to back it up. Unfortunately, the book does not deliver.

Read full review here.

Putin’s Remarks at the Valdai Conference

Last week, Vladimir Putin gave a speech at the annual Valdai Conference (held virtually this year). Below I have reprinted the English translation of his remarks from the Kremlin’s website. He made some very interesting comments on several issues, which I have placed in bold. These include the appropriate role of the state in the Russian economy, civil society, the role of the United Nations and international institutions in general, and the environment.

In terms of the environment, it appears that Putin’s views have evolved, probably as a result of the natural disasters that have befallen Russia at a more rapid rate and with stronger force in recent years (forest fires, flooding, and ice melt) as well as the pandemic and its ramifications.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues, friends,

Participants of the 17th plenary meeting of the Valdai Club,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to welcome you all to our traditional annual meeting. We are meeting in an unusual format this time; we are videoconferencing. But I can see there are also people in the room. Not as many as usual of course, but nevertheless there are people present, and, apparently, you have had an in-person discussion, and I am delighted that you have.

We are certainly aware, we can see that the coronavirus epidemic has seriously affected public, business, and international affairs. More than that – it has affected everyone’s routine rhythm of life.

Almost all countries had to impose various restrictions, and large public gatherings have been largely cancelled. This year has been challenging for your Club as well. Most importantly, though, you continue to work. With the help of remote technology, you conduct heated and meaningful debates, discuss things, and bring in new experts who share their opinions and present interesting outside-the-box, sometimes even opposing, views on current developments. Such an exchange is, of course, very important and useful now that the world is facing so many challenges that need to be resolved.

Thus, we still have to understand how the epidemic affected and will continue to affect the present and future of humanity. As it confronts this dangerous threat, the international community is trying to take certain actions and to mobilize itself. Some things are already being done as collaborative efforts, but I want to note straight away that this is only a fraction of what needs to be done in the face of this formidable common challenge. These missed opportunities are also a subject for a candid international discussion.

From the onset of the pandemic in Russia, we have focused on preserving lives and ensuring safety of our people as our key values. This was an informed choice dictated by our culture and spiritual traditions, and our complex, sometimes dramatic, history. If we think back to the great demographic losses we suffered in the 20th century, we had no other choice but to fight for every person and the future of every Russian family.

So, we did our best to preserve the health and the lives of our people, to help parents and children, as well as senior citizens and those who lost their jobs, to maintain employment as much as possible, to minimise damage to the economy, to support millions of entrepreneurs who run small or family businesses.

Perhaps, like everyone else, you are closely following daily updates on the pandemic around the world. Unfortunately, the coronavirus has not retreated and still poses a major threat. Probably, this unsettling background intensifies the sense, like many people feel, that a whole new era is about to begin and that we are not just on the verge of dramatic changes, but an era of tectonic shifts in all areas of life.

We see the rapidly, exponential development of the processes that we have repeatedly discussed at the Valdai Club before. Thus, six years ago, in 2014, we spoke about this issue when we discussed the theme The World Order: New Rules or a Game Without Rules. So, what is happening now? Regrettably, the game without rules is becoming increasingly horrifying and sometimes seems to be a fait accompli.

The pandemic has reminded us of how fragile human life is. It was hard to imagine that in our technologically advanced 21st century, even in the most prosperous and wealthy countries people could find themselves defenceless in front of what would seem to be not such a fatal infection, and not such a horrible threat. But life has shown that not everything boils down to the level of medical science with some of its fantastic achievements. It transpired that the organisation and accessibility of the public healthcare system are no less, and probably much more important in this situation.

The values of mutual assistance, service and self-sacrifice proved to be most important. This also applies to the responsibility, composure and honesty of the authorities, their readiness to meet the demand of society and at the same time provide a clear-cut and well-substantiated explanation of the logic and consistency of the adopted measures so as not to allow fear to subdue and divide society but, on the contrary, to imbue it with confidence that together we will overcome all trials no matter how difficult they may be.

The struggle against the coronavirus threat has shown that only a viable state can act effectively in a crisis – contrary to the reasoning of those who claim that the role of the state in the global world is decreasing and that in the future it will be altogether replaced with some other forms of social organisation. Yes, this is possible. Everything may change in the distant future. Change is all around us, but today the role and importance of the state do matter.

We have always considered a strong state a basic condition for Russia’s development. And we have seen again that we were right by meticulously restoring and strengthening state institutions after their decline, and sometimes complete destruction in the 1990s.

Then, the question is: what is a strong state? What are its strengths? Definitely, not total control or harsh law enforcement. Not thwarted private initiative or civic engagement. Not even the might of its armed forces or its high defence potential. Although, I think you realise how important this particular component is for Russia, given its geography and the range of geopolitical challenges. And there is also our historical responsibility as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council to ensure global stability.

Nevertheless, I am confident that what makes a state strong, primarily, is the confidence its citizens have in it. That is the strength of a state. People are the source of power, we all know that. And this recipe doesn’t just involve going to the polling station and voting, it implies people’s willingness to delegate broad authority to their elected government, to see the state, its bodies, civil servants, as their representatives – those who are entrusted to make decisions, but who also bear full responsibility for the performance of their duties.

This kind of state can be set up any way you like. When I say “any way,” I mean that what you call your political system is immaterial. Each country has its own political culture, traditions, and its own vision of their development. Trying to blindly imitate someone else’s agenda is pointless and harmful. The main thing is for the state and society to be in harmony.

And of course, confidence is the most solid foundation for the creative work of the state and society. Only together will they be able to find an optimal balance of freedom and security guarantees.

Once again, in the most difficult moments of the pandemic, I felt pride and, to be honest, I am proud of Russia, of our citizens, of their willingness to have each other’s backs. And of course, first of all, I am proud of our doctors, nurses, and ambulance workers – everyone, without exception, on whom the national healthcare system relies.

I believe that civil society will play a key role in Russia’s future. So, we want the voice of our citizens to be decisive and to see constructive proposals and requests from different social forces get implemented.

This begs the question: how is this request for action being formed? Whose voice should the state be heeding? How does it know if it is really the voice of the people and not some behind-the-scenes messages or even someone’s vocal yelling that has nothing to do whatsoever with our people and that at times becomes hysterical?

Occasionally, someone is trying to substitute self-serving interests of a small social group or even external forces for a genuine public request.

Genuine democracy and civil society cannot be “imported.” I have said so many times. They cannot be a product of the activities of foreign “well-wishers,” even if they “want the best for us.” In theory, this is probably possible. But, frankly, I have not yet seen such a thing and do not believe much in it. We see how such imported democracy models function. They are nothing more than a shell or a front with nothing behind them, even a semblance of sovereignty. People in the countries where such schemes have been implemented were never asked for their opinion, and their respective leaders are mere vassals. As is known, the overlord decides everything for the vassal. To reiterate, only the citizens of a particular country can determine their public interest.

We, in Russia, went through a fairly long period where foreign funds were very much the main source for creating and financing non-governmental organisations. Of course, not all of them pursued self-serving or bad goals, or wanted to destabilise the situation in our country, interfere in our domestic affairs, or influence Russia’s domestic and, sometimes, foreign policy in their own interests. Of course not.

There were sincere enthusiasts among independent civic organisations (they do exist), to whom we are undoubtedly grateful. But even so, they mostly remained strangers and ultimately reflected the views and interests of their foreign trustees rather than the Russian citizens. In a word, they were a tool with all the ensuing consequences.

A strong, free and independent civil society is nationally oriented and sovereign by definition. It grows from the depth of people’s lives and can take different forms and directions. But it is a cultural phenomenon, a tradition of a particular country, not the product of some abstract “transnational mind” with other people’s interests behind it.

The duty of the state is to support public initiatives and open up new opportunities for them. This is exactly what we do. I consider this matter to be the most important for the government’s agenda in the coming decades – regardless of who exactly will hold positions in that government. This is the guarantee of Russia’s sovereign, progressive development, of genuine continuity in its forward movement, and of our ability to respond to global challenges.

Colleagues, you are well aware of the many acute problems and controversies that have accumulated in modern international affairs, even too many. Ever since the Cold War model of international relations, which was stable and predictable in its own way, began to change (I am not saying I miss it, I most certainly do not), the world has changed several times. Things in fact happened so quickly that those usually referred to as political elites simply did not have the time, or maybe a strong interest or ability to analyse what was really going on.

Some countries hastily ran to divide the cake, mostly to grab a bigger piece, to take advantage of the benefits the end of the cold confrontation brought. Others were frantically looking for ways to adapt to the changes at any cost. And some countries – recall our own sad experience, frankly – just fought for survival, to survive as a single country, and as a subject of global politics, too.

Meanwhile, time increasingly and insistently makes us question what lies ahead for humanity, what the new world order should be like, or at least a semblance of one, and whether we will take informed steps forward, coordinating our moves, or we will stumble blindly, each of us just relying on ourselves.

The recent report of the Valdai Club, your club, reads: “…in a fundamentally changed international setting, the institutions themselves have become an obstacle to building a system of relations corresponding to the new era rather than a guarantee of global stability and manageability.” The authors believe that we are in for a world where individual states or groups of states will act much more independently while traditional international organisations will lose their importance.

This is what I would like to say in this respect. Of course, it is clear what underlies this position. In effect, the post-war world order was established by three victorious countries: the Soviet Union, the United States and Great Britain. The role of Britain has changed since then; the Soviet Union no longer exists, while some try to dismiss Russia altogether.

Let me assure you, dear friends, that we are objectively assessing our potentialities: our intellectual, territorial, economic and military potential. I am referring to our current options, our overall potential. Consolidating this country and looking at what is happening in the world, in other countries I would like to tell those who are still waiting for Russia’s strength to gradually wane, the only thing we are worried about is catching a cold at your funeral.

As a head of state who works directly in an environment that you and your colleagues describe from a position of expertise, I cannot agree with the assumption that existing international structures must be completely rebuilt, if not dismissed as obsolete and altogether dismantled. On the contrary, it is important to preserve the basic mechanisms of maintaining international security, which have proved to be effective. This is the UN, the Security Council and the permanent members’ right to veto. I recently spoke about this at the anniversary UN General Assembly. As far as I know, this position – the preservation of the fundamentals of the international order established after World War II – enjoys broad support in the world.

However, I believe that the idea of adjusting the institutional arrangement of world politics is at least worthy of discussion, if only because the correlation of forces, potentialities and positions of states has seriously changed, as I said, especially in the past 30 to 40 years.

Indeed, like I said, the Soviet Union is no longer there. But there is Russia. In terms of its economic weight and political influence, China is moving quickly towards superpower status. Germany is moving in the same direction, and the Federal Republic of Germany has become an important player in international cooperation. At the same time, the roles of Great Britain and France in international affairs has undergone significant changes. The United States, which at some point absolutely dominated the international stage, can hardly claim exceptionality any longer. Generally speaking, does the United States need this exceptionalism? Of course, powerhouses such as Brazil, South Africa and some other countries have become much more influential.

Indeed, by far not all international organisations are effectively carrying out their missions and tasks. Called to be impartial arbiters, they often act based on ideological prejudices, fall under the strong influence of other states, and become tools in their hands. Juggling procedures, manipulating prerogatives and authority, biased approaches, especially when it comes to conflicts involving rival powers or groups of states, have unfortunately become common practice.

The fact that authoritative international organisations following in the wake of someone’s selfish interests are drawn into politicised campaigns against specific leaders and countries is saddening. This approach does nothing but discredit these institutions, and leads them towards decline and exacerbates the world order crisis.

On the other hand, there are positive developments when a group of interested states joins forces to resolve specific issues, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which for almost 20 years now has been contributing to the settlement of territorial disputes and strengthening stability in Central Eurasia, and is shaping a unique spirit of partnership in this part of the world.

Or, for example, the Astana format, which was instrumental in taking the political and diplomatic process regarding Syria out of a deep impasse. The same goes for OPEC Plus which is an effective, albeit very complex, tool for stabilising global oil markets.

In a fragmented world, this approach is often more productive. But what matters here is that, along with resolving specific problems, this approach can also breathe new life into multilateral diplomacy. This is important. But it is also obvious that we cannot do without a common, universal framework for international affairs. Whatever interest groups, associations, or ad-hoc alliances we form now or in the future – we cannot do without a common framework.

Multilateralism should be understood not as total inclusivity, but as the need to involve the parties that are truly interested in solving a problem. And of course, when outside forces crudely and shamelessly intervene in a process that affects a group of actors perfectly capable of agreeing among themselves – nothing good can come of that. And they do this solely for the purpose of flaunting their ambition, power and influence. They do it to put a stake in the ground, to outplay everyone, but not to make a positive contribution or help resolve the situation.

Again, even amid the current fragmentation of international affairs, there are challenges that require more than just the combined capacity of a few states, even very influential ones. Problems of this magnitude, which do exist, require global attention.

International stability, security, fighting terrorism and solving urgent regional conflicts are certainly among them; as are promoting global economic development, combatting poverty, and expanding cooperation in healthcare. That last one is especially relevant today.

I spoke in detail about these challenges at the UN General Assembly last month. Meeting them will require working together in a long-term, systematic way.

However, there are considerations of a more general nature that affect literally everyone, and I would like to discuss them in more detail.

Many of us read The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry when we were children and remember what the main character said: “It’s a question of discipline. When you’ve finished washing and dressing each morning, you must tend your planet. … It’s very tedious work, but very easy.”

I am sure that we must keep doing this “tedious work” if we want to preserve our common home for future generations. We must tend our planet.

The subject of environmental protection has long become a fixture on the global agenda. But I would address it more broadly to discuss also an important task of abandoning the practice of unrestrained and unlimited consumption – overconsumption – in favour of judicious and reasonable sufficiency, when you do not live just for today but also think about tomorrow.

We often say that nature is extremely vulnerable to human activity. Especially when the use of natural resources is growing to a global dimension. However, humanity is not safe from natural disasters, many of which are the result of anthropogenic interference. By the way, some scientists believe that the recent outbreaks of dangerous diseases are a response to this interference. This is why it is so important to develop harmonious relations between Man and Nature.

Tensions have reached a critical point. We can see this in climate change. This problem calls for practical action and much more attention on our part. It has long stopped being the domain of abstract scientific interests but now concerns nearly every inhabitant of the planet Earth. The polar ice caps and permafrost are melting because of global warming. According to expert estimates, the speed and scale of this process will be increasing in the next few decades.

It is a huge challenge to the world, to the whole of humanity, including to us, to Russia, where permafrost occupies 65 percent of our national territory. Such changes can do irreparable damage to biological diversity, have an extremely adverse effect on the economy and infrastructure and pose a direct threat to people.

You may be aware that this is very important to us. It affects pipeline systems, residential districts built on permafrost, and so on. If as much as 25 percent of the near-surface layers of permafrost, which is about three or four metres, melt by 2100, we will feel the effect very strongly. Moreover, the problem could snowball into a crisis very quickly. A kind of chain reaction is possible, because permafrost melting will stimulate methane emissions, which can produce a greenhouse effect that will be 28 times (sic!) larger than in the case of carbon dioxide. In other words, the temperature will continue rising on the planet, permafrost will continue melting, and methane emissions will further increase. The situation will spiral. Do we want the Earth to become like Venus, a hot, dry and lifeless planet? I would like to remind you that the Earth has an average surface temperature of 14°C while on Venus it’s 462°C.

Another subject, completely different. I would like to say a few words on a different subject. Let us not forget that there are no longer just geographical continents on Earth. An almost endless digital space is taking shape on the planet, and people are mastering it with increasing speed every year.

The restrictions forced by the coronavirus have only encouraged the development of remote e-technology. Today, communications based on the internet have become a universal asset. It is necessary to see that this infrastructure and all cyberspace operates without fail and securely.

Thus, remote, distance work is not just a forced precaution during a pandemic. This will become a new form of organising labour, employment, social cooperation and simply human communication. These changes are inevitable with the development of technological progress. This recent turn of events has merely precipitated these processes. Everyone appreciates the opportunities and conveniences provided by new technology.

But, of course, there is a reverse side as well – a growing threat to all digital systems. Yes, cyberspace is a fundamentally new environment where, basically, universally recognised rules have never existed. Technology has simply moved ahead of legislation and thus, judicial oversight. At the same time, this is a very specific area where the issue of trust is particularly urgent.

I think that at this point we must return to our historical experience. What do I mean? Let me recall that the established notion of “confidence-building measures” existed during the Cold War. It applied to relations between the USSR and the US, and between the Warsaw Pact and NATO, that is, military-political relations.

That said, let me emphasise that now, competition is usually “hybrid” in character. It concerns all areas, including those that are just taking shape. This is why it is necessary to build confidence in many areas.

In this sense, cyberspace can serve as a venue for testing these measures, like at one time, arms control paved the way for higher trust in the world as a whole.

Obviously, it is very difficult to draft a required “package of measures” in this area, cyberspace. However, it is necessary to start on it. This must be done now.

As you may be aware, Russia is actively promoting bilateral and multilateral cyber security agreements. We submitted two draft conventions on this subject at the UN and established a corresponding open-ended working group.

Recently, I proposed starting a comprehensive discussion of international cybersecurity issues with the United States. We are aware that politicians in the United States have other things to focus on now because of the election campaign. However, we hope that the next administration, whatever it may be, will respond to our invitation to start a discussion of this subject just like other items on the Russia-US agenda such as global security, the future of the strategic arms reduction treaty and a number of other issues.

As you are aware, many important matters have reached the point that they require candid talks, and we are ready for a constructive discussion on an equal footing.

Of course, the times when all important international matters were discussed and resolved by essentially just Moscow and Washington are long gone, lost to the ages. However, we see the establishment of a bilateral dialogue, in this case on cyber security, as an important step towards a much broader discussion involving many other countries and organisations. Should the United States choose not to take part in this work, which would be regrettable, we will still be willing to work with all interested partners, which I hope will not be lacking.

I would like to point out another important aspect. We live in an era of palpable international shocks and crises. Of course, we are used to them, especially the generations which lived during the Cold War, let alone World War II, for whom it is not just a memory, but a part of their lives.

It is interesting that humanity has reached a very high level of technological and socioeconomic development, while at the same time facing the loss or erosion of moral values and reference points, a sense that existence no longer has meaning and, if you will, that the mission of humankind on planet Earth has been lost.

This crisis cannot be settled through diplomatic negotiations or even a large international conference. It calls for revising our priorities and rethinking our goals. And everyone must begin at home, every individual, community and state, and only then work toward a global configuration.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which we have all been dealing with this year, can serve as a point of departure for such a transformation. We will have to reassess our priorities anyway. Trust me, we really will have to do it, sooner or later. All of us are aware of this. Therefore, I fully agree with those who say that it would be better to start this process now.

I mentioned history and the older generations who went through all the trials of last century for a reason. Everything we are discussing today will soon become the responsibility of young people. Young people will have to deal with all of the problems which I mentioned and you discussed today. Speaking about Russia, its young citizens, who are still growing up and gaining experience, will have to do this as soon as in the 21st century. They are the ones who will have to confront new and probably even more difficult challenges.

They have their own views on the past, present and future. But I believe that our people will always retain their best qualities: patriotism, fortitude, creativity, hard work, team spirit and the capacity to surprise the world by finding solutions to the most difficult and even seemingly insoluble problems.

Friends, colleagues,

I touched on a wide range of different issues today. Of course, I would like to believe that despite all the current difficulties the international community will be able to join forces to combat not imaginary but very real problems, and that we will eventually succeed. After all, it is within our power to stop being egoistical, greedy, mindless and wasteful consumers. Some may wonder if this is utopia, a pipe dream.

To be sure, it is easy to wonder if this is even possible considering what some individuals are doing and saying. However, I believe in reason and mutual understanding, or at least I strongly hope that they will prevail. We just need to open our eyes, look around us and see that the land, air and water are our common inheritance from above, and we must learn to cherish them, just as we must cherish every human life, which is precious. This is the only way forward in this complicated and beautiful world. I do not want to see the mistakes of the past repeated.

Thank you very much.