All posts by natyliesb

Leaked Documents Reveal George Soros’ Influence on Washington’s Ukraine Policy in 2014; U.S. Moves Nukes Out of Turkey; Russia’s Response to Accusations of Bombing Civilians in Syria

Russian Naval Base at Sevastopol, Crimea; photo by Natylie S. Baldwin
Russian Naval Base at Sevastopol, Crimea; photo by Natylie S. Baldwin

As reported in The Duran, recently leaked emails reveal that George Soros used his influence with many key players from Washington with respect to the Ukraine coup and its aftermath in 2014.

Soros has a history of using his network of NGO’s to foment instability in target countries in order to help pave the way for insertion of leaders who will be receptive to American corporate and geopolitical interests, while Soros often gets to profit as a carpetbagger afterwards.  The role of Soros and his network of NGO’s in the Ukraine crisis of 2013-2014 is discussed in my co-author’s half of Ukraine: Zbig’s Grand Chessboard & How the West Was Checkmated.

….More documents, in the massive 2,500 leaked tranche, show the immense power and control Soros had over Ukraine immediately following the illegal Maidan government overthrow.

Soros and his NGO executives held detailed and extensive meetings with just about every actor involved in the Maidan coup…from US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, to Ukraine’s Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Justice, Health, and Education.

The only person missing was Victoria Nuland, though we are sure those meeting minutes are waiting to see the light of day.

Plans to subvert and undermine Russian influence and cultural ties to Ukraine are a central focus of every conversation. US hard power, and EU soft power, is central towards bringing Ukraine into the neo-liberal model that Soros champions, while bringing Russia to its economic knees.

Soros NGO,  International Renaissance Foundation (IRF) plays a key role in the formation of the “New Ukraine”…the term Soros frequently uses when referring to his Ukraine project.

The leaked documents can be found here.


Military base at Deveselu, Romania (photo by Lockheed Martin)

(Military base at Deveselu, Romania (photo by Lockheed Martin))

EurActiv is reporting that, as a consequence of cratered relations between Washington and Ankara in the wake of the failed coup attempt which Erdogan blames on Washington, the U.S. is in the process of removing its 50 tactical nuclear weapons from the Incirlik base in Turkey to Romania.

EXCLUSIVE – Two independent sources have told that the U.S. has started transferring nuclear weapons stationed in Turkey to Romania, against the background of worsening relations between Washington and Ankara.

According to one of the sources, the transfer has been very challenging in technical and political terms. “It’s not easy to move 20+ nukes,” said the source, on conditions of anonymity.

According to a recent report by the Simson Center, since the Cold War, some 50 U.S. tactical nuclear weapons have been stationed at Turkey’s Incirlik air base, approximately 100 kilometres from the Syrian border.

During the failed coup in Turkey in July, Incirlik’s power was cut, and the Turkish government prohibited U.S. aircraft from flying in or out. Eventually, the base commander was arrested and implicated in the coup. Whether the U.S. could have maintained control of the weapons in the event of a protracted civil conflict in Turkey is an unanswerable question, the report says.

Another source told that the U.S.-Turkey relations had deteriorated so much following the coup that Washington no longer trusted Ankara to host the weapons. The American weapons are being moved to the Deveselu air base in Romania, the source said.

Deveselu, near the city of Caracal, is the new home of the U.S. missile shield, which has infuriated Russia.


Five year old Omar Daqneesh whose image went worldwide is shown following treatment by doctors in Aleppo (Twitter)

(Five year old Omar Daqneesh whose image went worldwide is shown following treatment by doctors in Aleppo (Twitter))

By now, many are aware of the reports of dead civilians allegedly resulting from Russian bombing runs in support of the Syrian government in the battle of Aleppo.

Russia’s Defense Ministry has announced an official denial of the charges:

Russia’s Defense Ministry has denied claims it carried out attacks on a civilian area in Aleppo’s Qaterji district. The claims were made by Western media after video and pictures of a wounded five-year-old boy from the area emerged online.

“The critical plight that the children from eastern Aleppo districts are in – unwillingly taken hostage by terrorists – is surely a tragedy,” said the official representative of the Russian Defense Ministry, Igor Konashenkov.

He criticized certain Western media for the “cynical use of this tragedy in anti-Russian propaganda material,” calling it a “moral crime.”

“We have repeatedly stressed that the Russian Air Force planes operating in Syria never work on targets within residential areas,” Konashenkov said.

“It is all the more relevant regarding al-Qaterji, mentioned by the Western media, as it is adjacent to the exit corridors for locals which were opened in the framework of the Russian humanitarian mission,” he added, as quoted in a Defense Ministry press release.

Russian monitoring groups have noted daily terrorist strikes in the area, conducted using makeshift artillery mounts. The terrorists, the Russian humanitarian mission says, “target roads, streets, and residential buildings in the close proximity of the humanitarian passages.”

“It is done to disrupt any attempts to receive medical and other kinds of aid for eastern Aleppo residents, who are basically terrorist hostages now.

“The nature of the debris shown by Western broadcasters during the operation to save [the wounded boy, Omran Daqneesh] demonstrates that there are intact windows in a building nearby, and this in turn shows that the strike, if it happened, was carried out not using aircraft ammunition but a mine or a gas cylinder, which are commonly used by terrorists,” Konashenkov also said.

This Syrian boy's image did not go viral because he was injured by the extremist forces fighting the Syrian government (image on Twitter)

(This Syrian boy’s image did not go viral because he was injured by the extremist forces fighting the Syrian government, according to New Cold’s news site (image on Twitter))

RTreports that the Russian Defense Ministry also announced that it is backing a proposal from the UN’s Syria envoy, Staffan de Mistura, calling for 48-hour ceasefires, during which the UN can deliver aid relief to civilians trapped in Aleppo.

As a means to broaden the scale of the humanitarian mission in Aleppo, the Russian Defense Ministry is ready to back the UN proposal to introduce the 48-hour pauses, which would allow the city’s population to be supplied with food and medication, and for vital infrastructure damaged by terrorist shelling to be restored, the ministry’s spokesman, Major General Igor Konashenkov, said.

A test-run of the 48-hour truces could be organized next week to see if relief can reach civilians safely.

“A more precise date and time will be determined after receiving information about the readiness of the convoys from the UN representatives and receiving confirmation of the security guarantees of their safe travel from our American partners,” Konashenkov said.

The Russian Ministry of Defense proposed that humanitarian aid be delivered to Aleppo by two separate routes to western and eastern parts of the city, as the eastern part of Aleppo is controlled by militia while the western part is controlled by government forces.

The first route will start from Gaziantep, Turkey, through a border checkpoint, and by the Castello road to the eastern part of Aleppo. The second one will use the road to the east of Aleppo which encircles the city to the Handarat area, and then by the Castello road to the western part of the city.

The Ministry of Defense added that Moscow is ready to discuss the issues concerning the safety of UN humanitarian convoys with Damascus and expects the same security guarantees from Washington regarding the so-called “moderate opposition” and other units.

The UN has welcomed Russia’s support of the decision to put hostilities in Aleppo on 48-hour pauses weekly to make sure humanitarian convoys reach their destinations, Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for the secretary-general, said on Thursday.

**For in-depth and contextual background on the war in Syria, I recommend the following articles:

  1.  Deconstructing the NATO Narrative on Syria by Eva Bartlett.  (Bartlett is an independent journalist who has been reporting in different parts of Syria throughout the war)
  2. Syria; Another Pipeline War by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. (This article appeared at The Ecologist in February of 2016)
  3. Pentagon Report Says West, Gulf States and Turkey Foresaw Emergence of ISIS by Nafeez Ahmed (This article was originally published at The Middle East Eye on May 29, 2015)
  4. The Red Line and the Rat Line by Seymour Hersh (This article was originally published in April of 2014 by Hersh, Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist, at the London Review of Books)

The Scoop on Putin’s New Chief of Staff; Are Russians Really Unhappy?; Engdahl Reports that Putin Has Finally Cast the Neoliberals Aside in Economic Policy

Alexander's Column at Palace Square, St. Petersburg, Russia; photo by Natylie S. Baldwin
Alexander’s Column at Palace Square, St. Petersburg, Russia; photo by Natylie S. Baldwin

As mentioned in a previous post, Putin’s long-time Chief of Staff, Sergei Ivanov, resigned recently and has been replaced by Anton Vaino.  Vaino is not well-known and Marina Obrazkova at Russia Direct had an article providing some background and information about him:

Last week Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed a new Chief of Staff of the Presidential Administration, Anton Vaino, who will also become a permanent member of Russia’s Security Council. The former head of the Presidential Administration, Sergei Ivanov, will now focus on questions of environmental protection, ecology and transport as a special presidential envoy.

….Until recently Vaino worked as a deputy head of the Kremlin’s Presidential Administration. The new Chief of Staff is 44 years old and is originally from Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. A graduate of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University), Vaino is fluent in English and Japanese. After graduation, he worked in the Russian embassy in Japan and, later, served in the Asia department of the Russia’s Foreign Ministry.

Vaino’s colleagues argue that he is a competent and reserved person. “Such traits as composure, friendliness, and discretion will merge well with his managerial style. He is hardworking and energetic. He is capable of setting goals of different scope and scale as well as controlling them. Vaino is a classic manager,” Dmitry Orlov, general director at the Agency of Political and Economic Communications, told Russia Direct

The new Chief of Staff has acquired his popularity quite quickly, the expert points out. “In terms of ratings, Vaino moved up quickly from the top 90 to the top 20, even though transitions in Russian politics are usually quite conservative,” he explains. “This is a sign that he has a serious position in the power structure and the president has a high assessment of his work.”

According to Orlov, the growth of Vaino’s influence has not surprised the expert community. His appointmentthoughdid.

Meanwhile, Pavel Salin, director of the Center for Political Studies at the Financial University under the Russian Government, argues that Ivanov, as a trusted member of the president’s inner circle, was a very strong political figure and had power to influence the decision-making process. In contrast, Vaino is just a technocrat, notwithstanding his knowledge of the Kremlin’s inner workings.

“It might be said that he is Putin’s former aide-de-camp. He was the head of protocol carrying out all technical functions and had access to the physical presence of the president 24/7,” the political analyst says. “Notwithstanding his invisibility, he is well aware of all intricacies of the Presidential Administration.”

Obrazkova’s sources reiterate the importance of this particular political role in the Kremlin:

The position of Chief of Staff of the Presidential Administration is one of the most influential ones in Russian politics. According to Orlov, this position is in the top five judging by overall importance. Officially, the head of this structure is the third most important person in the country.

“The head of the Presidential Administration is an important position – the third most significant role in Russia,” the political analyst says.

Salin agrees with this view but he adds that this position depends a lot on personality.

“The role of Chief of Staff as well as the role of any presidential body, is highly dependent on the loyalty of its leader. Another factor is the president’s vision for the given institution: whether he wants to see it strong or weak, independent or simply technical,” he said.


Gilhard Verjoen, a new writer on Russia issues over at The Duran,  discusses his experience with a phenomena that many of us independent Russia analysts (who have done in-depth research with an open mind and even visited the country we’re commenting on) know all too well:  the major disconnect between the real Russia and the Russia that is portrayed in western mainstream media.

Just as in any other country some people in Russia like their President and some people don’t.  However when the Western media continually bad mouths a country (Russia), there is always an agenda behind it. In every country where Washington wanted a regime change, they demonised its leader in order to get public support to intervene and come to the rescue of its poor population that suffers under this demon of a leader. Now they are doing the same with Russia.

Truth however is, Yes Putin is not an Angel nor a knight in shining armour, but he has paid off all the debt the country owed and he turned the economy round and built up its military again.

One of the most common ways to interpret a country’s well being is to look at its GDP. Russia’s GDP speaks for itself.  However I went further and looked at findings of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), which states on its website, that 69% of people in Russia are employed compared to 65% of OECD countries. In OECD countries 13% of employees work extremely long hours, compared to 0.2% in Russia.

Yes in Russia, the average disposable income per household is at $19,292, lower than the $25,908 of the OECD countries, but when people were asked how satisfied they are with life (out of 10), the Russian average was 6 – very close to the OECD average of 6.6. In the OECD countries, 75% of people have secondary education, whilst in Russia it is 94%. The list goes on and on. All the detail can be found here.

So just where do the Western media get their sources that Russians are not happy or are suffering under Putin?

Most of the cross-section of Russians I spoke to on my trip last October, were reasonably content with their lives.  I will add the caveat that I visited major cities and, therefore, cannot speak to how Russians living in the hinterlands may feel about their lives – at least, not from personally talking to them.


Independent journalist and academic, F. William Engdahl, reports at New Eastern Outlook that Putin has finally sidelined the neoliberals, led by Alexei Kudrin, and given a green light to the “statists,” led by Sergei Glazyev.

After more than two years of worsening economic growth and an economy struggling with 10.5% central bank interest rates that make new credit to spur growth virtually impossible, Russian President Vladimir Putin has finally broken an internal factional standoff. On July 25 he mandated that an economic group called the Stolypin Club prepare their proposals to spur growth revival to be presented to the government by the Fourth Quarter of this year. In doing so, Putin has rejected two influential liberal or neo-liberal economic factions that had brought Russia into a politically and economically dangerous recession with their liberal Western free market ideology. This is a major development, one I had been expecting since I had the possibility to exchange views this June in St. Petersburg at the annual St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.

With very little fanfare, Russian press a few days ago carried a note that could have a most profound positive significance for the future of the Russian domestic economy. The online Russian blog, Katheon, carried the following short notice: “Russian President Vladimir Putin instructed (the Stolypin economist group–w.e.) to finalize the report of the Stolypin Club and on its basis to prepare a new program of economic development, alternative to Kudrin’s economic plan. The program itself should be given to the Bureau of Economic Council in the IV quarter of 2016.”

….In the current situation of severe Western economic and financial sanctions against Russia the flows of such private investment into the economy as the Kudrin camp advocates are rare, to put it gently. Cutting what is a very minimal budget deficit only increases unemployment and worsens the situation. President Putin has clearly realized that that neo-liberal “experiment” has failed. More likely, is that he was forced to let economic reality unfold under the domination of the liberals to the point it was clear to all internal factions that another road was urgently needed. Russia, like every country, has opposing vested interests and now clearly the neo-liberal bested interests are sufficiently discredited by the poor performance of the Kudrin group that the President is able to move decisively. In either case, the development around the Stolypin Group is very positive for Russia.

In convening the new meeting of the Economic Council Presidium on May 25, after a hiatus of two years, President Putin, noting that the group deliberately consisted of opposing views, at that time stated, “I propose today that we start with the growth sources for Russia’s economy over the next decade…The current dynamic shows us that the reserves and resources that served as driving forces for our economy at the start of the 2000’s no longer produce the effects they used to. I have said in the past, and want to stress this point again now, economic growth does not get underway again all on its own. If we do not find new growth sources, we will see GDP growth of around zero, and then our possibilities in the social sector, national defense and security, and in other areas, will be considerably lower than what is needed for us to really develop the country and make progress. “

Now just two months later, Putin obviously has decided. He clearly has an eye as well to Russia’s next presidential elections in March 2018. In doing so he has selected the one group of the three on the Economic Council that believes that the state has a positive role to play in development of the national economy.

The Stolypin group in many ways harkens back to the genius behind the German “economic miracle” after 1871, whose ideas created the most impressive economic growth from backwardness in all Europe within just over three decades. The only other countries to come near to that German economic achievement were the United States after 1865, and the Peoples’ Republic of China after 1979, with the Deng Xiaoping “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.” The national economic development model is based on the work of the now-all-but-unknown 19th Century German national economist, Friederich List, the developer of the basic model of national economic development.

….The group is in essence followers of what the great almost-forgotten 19th Century German economist, Friedrich List, would call “national economy” strategies. List’s national economy historical-based approach was in direct counter-position to the then-dominant British Adam Smith free trade school.

List’s views were increasingly integrated into the German Reich economic strategy beginning under the Zollverein or German Customs Union in 1834, that unified one German internal domestic market. It created the basis by the 1870’s for the most colossal emergence of Germany as an economic rival exceeding Great Britain in every area by 1914.

….A broad indication of the kind of proposals the Stolypin group will propose to revive substantial economic growth in Russia and deal with major basic infrastructure deficits that greatly hinder productive enterprise came in a series of proposals Glazyev made in September 2015 to the Russian Security Council, a key advisory body to the President.

There, Glazyev proposed a five-year ‘road map’ to Russia’s economic sovereignty and long-term growth. It was aimed toward building up the country’s immunity to external shocks and foreign influence, and ultimately, toward bringing Russia out of the periphery and into the core of the global economic system. Goals included raising industrial output by 30-35 percent over a five year period, creating a socially-oriented ‘knowledge economy’ via the transfer of substantial economic resources to education, health care and the social sphere, the creation of instruments aimed at increasing savings as a percent of GDP, and other initiatives, including a transition to a sovereign monetary policy.

However, Dmitry Dokuchaev at Russia Direct has taken a much more tepid view of what has actually been decided upon in terms of the economic policies of the liberals vs. the statists:

For now, the competing strategies have not been written yet, and public discussions on them have not started. True, this May, the two concepts were discussed during the meeting of the Presidential Presidium of the Economic Council, but only behind closed doors. Nevertheless, over the last couple of months, the two sides have made a sufficient number of statements and allowed some “leaks” that can provide the basis on which to judge the content of future programs.

In December 2015, representatives of the Stolypin Club issued a report, which, apparently, will form the basis of their strategy. In it, they outline how to boost the economic growth in the country. They proposed to increase investments, pumping up the economy with state money from the budget, and by having the Central Bank issue 1.5 trillion rubles. Simultaneously with that, they expressed the idea of cancelling the “free floating” ruble (i.e., the pure market determination of its exchange rate), by having the exchange rate set by the Central Bank, while at the same time limiting speculative assaults against the national currency.

At the second stage, they plan to bring the tax system into line with the standards used in developed countries. In particular, this calls for the return of the unified social tax (UST) that was canceled in 2010, as well as the reduction of the tax burden on businesses from the current 49 percent, to an average 41 percent level. Also outlined were such measures as “soft” currency regulation, as well as reforms to land laws, the judicial system and certain aspects of the old age pensions program.

A different concept was proposed by the Center for Strategic Studies, headed by Kudrin. In his opinion,investments should come from the private sector, but the state needs to create favorable conditions for this – by ensuring macroeconomic stability, low inflation and reduced budget deficits. This also means carrying out reforms, as well as ending the new “cold war” with the West, reducing geopolitical tensions and seeking foreign investments.

In addition, Kudrin does not believe that economic growth is being hampered by a lack of money, which allegedly the country needs to print. Corporate bank accounts currently have accumulated savings of 14 trillion rubles, which is sufficient for the investment needs of the country for one year. However, according to Kudrin, in the current circumstances, business simply prefers not to invest these funds, but keep them in reserve for the proverbial “rainy day.”

Commodity companies have also acquired a stockpile of money, which they are not planning to invest. This money is sitting in bank accounts, earning very good returns due to high interest rates, argues Titov of the Stolypin Club. The demand for cheap money is huge – if one were to announce the availability of loans at below market rates, lineups would form from the Kremlin to the Garden Ring Road, he insists.

Titov refers to the economic program of his rival Kudrin as the “lazy economy.” According to him, Kudrin’s plan, which involves inflation targeting and following a tight fiscal policy, does not imply active actions – one just needs to wait for the economy to adapt to external conditions. For their part, Kudrin and his supporters are convinced that the active stimulation of the economy, through the use of the printing press and the issuance of cheap loans, as proposed by the Stolypin Club, will, in the end, only lead to the acceleration of inflation and ruble volatility.

….With his program, Kudrin is forcing the head of state to make a tough choice – either ambitious political goals and economic stagnation, or modest political goals and moderate economic growth. The ex-finance minister’s concept is strong, in that it will preserve the financial reserves of the government and the Central Bank, which, in turn, ensure the security of the state.

However, Putin is unlikely to look favorably on Kudrin’s defeatist position, which involves talk about backwardness and a lack of faith in a positive future, as well as conviction that Russia cannot rely on four-percent GDP growth in the coming years.

The same applies when it comes to improving relations with the West: Putin has already clearly stated that Russia will not sell its sovereignty. Nevertheless, many experts believe that, in the end, priority will be given to Kudrin’s program. After all, Putin, over the years of his reign, has shown himself as a statist in the political sense, but at the same time, he has always favored liberal approaches when it came to the economy.

I don’t totally agree that Putin has always had a cut-and-dried preference for neoliberal economic policy.  In my assessment, he has had a more discerning approach, believing in trade and markets but not to the extent of selling out control of its economic resources to foreign investors or completely lopsided trade agreements, and also stating publicly that Russia is a welfare state.  I think Putin tends to lean more toward the economic model of the Scandinavian countries (circa the 1970’s and 1980’s) as a long-term goal.

This will, no doubt, be an interesting story to follow in the coming months.

Crimea Update; Russian Bombers Take Off from Iran into Syria; Putin’s Chief of Staff Resigns

Courtyard where famous photo of Stalin, Churchill and FDR was shot in 1945 at the Yalta Conference
Courtyard where famous photo of Stalin, Churchill and FDR was shot in 1945 at the Yalta Conference; photo by Natylie S. Baldwin

As an update to the last post in connection with the provocations from Ukraine into Crimea, analyst Alexander Mercouris has noted that Western governments have provided little to no public support to the Kiev government on this issue:

In the event the most surprising fact about the Crimean incident is that there have not even been the ritual statements from Western governments of support for Ukraine that I expected.  On the contrary Western governments have publicly said virtually nothing about the incident.  A meeting of the UN Security Council did take place on Thursday to discuss the incident, but the meeting took place in closed session so scarcely anything is known about it.  By contrast the calls for restraint I said would be made by the West to Ukraine in private are being made in public as well.

Meanwhile Ukrainian attempts to drum up international support have met with only a tepid response.  US Vice President Biden did speak on Friday to Ukrainian President Poroshenko.  However the White House press release on the conversation significantly fails to support the Ukrainian account of the Crimean incident.  Instead, whilst making ritual references to US support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, it says that

“The Vice President urged President Poroshenko to do his part to avoid escalating tensions. The Vice President noted that we have urged the Russian side to do the same.”

Not only does this comment fail to back Ukraine’s account of the incident, but it puts Ukraine on the same level as Russia, implying that Ukraine needs to heed calls for “restraint” as much as Russia.  That would certainly not be what the US would be saying if it were publicly blaming Russia for the incident.

….The lack of support for Ukraine over this incident is partly explained by the fact that the Russian account of it is (as I have said previously) undoubtedly true.  Not only do all the known facts confirm as much, but Ukrainian explanations – that the shooting incident was the result of drunk Russian soldiers shooting at each other, and that Yevgeny Panov (the alleged Ukrainian leader of the spy ring) was supposedly abducted by the Russian secret service from Ukraine and smuggled to Crimea in order to give the Russian account verisimilitude – is just too fantastic for anyone to take seriously.  The Kremlin’s website shows that no Western leaders have called Putin to discuss or rather scold him over the incident.  The absurdity of Ukraine’s explanations probably means they are too embarrassed to do so.

Western governments have not however in the past hesitated to back Ukrainian accounts of incidents however preposterous those accounts might be.  The failure in this case therefore has to be taken as further evidence of Western “Ukraine fatigue” and disenchantment with the Maidan regime.

Consistent with this assessment are the public comments from Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier in which he admonished both sides to refrain from escalation.  UPI reports the following:

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Monday said Germany is concerned about the security situation in Crimea, adding that Russia and Ukraine “must refrain from anything that may lead to a further deterioration of the situation.”

Steinmeier met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg to discuss Moscow’s evidence about an attack the Kremlin accuses the Ukrainian government of carrying out in which two Russian servicemembers were killed. Ukraine denies the attack took place.

“The main thing is that the situation doesn’t get out of control,” Steinmeier said. “We call on everyone to de-escalate.”

A personal contact in Yalta had the following to say when asked how things were going this past week in this scenic city in Crimea:

People go to the beach, thousands of holiday makers enjoy their time, we do feel very secure and protected.  Thousands of Russians are flying into Crimea right now for summer holidays and security measures are pretty high everywhere. So we feel no danger.  This is the view from inside.
A still image, taken from video footage released by the Russian Defence Ministry on 16 August 2016, shows a Russian Tupolev Tu-22M3 long-range bomber based in Iran dropping bombs on an unknown location in Syria
(A Russian defence ministry video showed a Tupolev Tu-22M3 dropping bombs over Syria;
For the first time, Russian bombers took off for their runs over Syria from an air base in Iran.   The Washington Post underscored the diplomatic and geopolitical significance in their report earlier today:

Russian bombers flying from an Iranian air base struck rebel targets across Syria on Tuesday, Russian and Iranian officials said, dramatically underscoring the two countries’ growing military ties and highlighting Russia’s ambitions for greater influence in a turbulent Middle East.

….Iran has long banned foreign militaries from establishing bases on its soil. But the raids on Tuesday appeared to signal a budding alliance that would expand Russia’s military footprint in the region.

Iran and Russia “enjoy strategic cooperation in the fight against terrorism in Syria, and share their facilities and capacities to this end,” Iran’s National Security Council chief, Ali Samkhani, said Tuesday, according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).

 ….Russian intervention marked a turning point in the fate of the Assad regime, which had been losing ground to rebel forces. Outside the government-held side of Aleppo earlier this year, roadside billboards featured Russian President Vladimir Putin and Assad. In Damascus, keychains and mugs with the Russian leader’s picture were on sale in the city’s markets.

But until now, Russia’s long-range bombers, which require longer airstrips, had to be launched from Russian territory more than 1,200 miles away. Now, those same bombers need to fly only about 400 miles from Iran to Syria, Iran’s Fars News Agency reported Tuesday. The shorter distance will allow Russia to intensify its air campaign against rebel-held areas.

This follows the decision by Russia to go ahead and make the Khmeimim air base in Syria a permanent one, creating a presence in the Mediterranean.  More details and context with respect to this move are provided at The Duran:

Following negotiations between the Syrian government and Russia an agreement dating to 2015 has now been ratified by Russia turning the Russian air base at Khmeimim in Syria into a permanent base.  In other words Russia will retain the base at Khmeimim beyond the conclusion of the Syrian conflict, and its presence there has just been made permanent.

That the Syrian government has wanted to grant the base to Russia on a permanent basis has been known for some time.  From the Syrian point of view the Russian base not only guarantees Russia’s support for the present Syrian government but also provides Syria with a measure of protection it has never had before from Israeli air incursions. These have been a continuous reality for decades with Syria lacking the capability to prevent them.  The Russians do have that capability and the Syrians will be hoping that because of the presence of the base they will now use it to protect Syria from Israeli air incursions.  As it happens reports suggest that the number of Israeli incursions of Syrian airspace have fallen off significantly since the Russian Aerospace Forces deployed to Syria last autumn, with the Israelis now careful to keep the Russians informed of their flights.

Whilst the Syrian government is known to have been keen to grant Russia a permanent base, the Russians have up to now been less sure.  Establishing a permanent foreign base in Syria is for the Russians a major departure from their former policy given the Russian military’s overwhelming focus on defending Russian territory rather than projecting Russian military power far beyond Russia’s borders.

….The military reality is that since 1943 it is the US Navy which together with its naval allies (primarily Britain and France) has been the overwhelmingly dominant military power in the Mediterranean.  Since the Second World War the Mediterranean has been in military terms an American lake.

The base at Khmeimin however is different from anything that has existed before.  Not only does it already host a formidable strike force of aircraft roughly equivalent to that of a US Navy carrier strike group, but it is heavily defended by formidable air defence assets including S400, BUK and Pantsir anti aircraft missiles, and contains a host of radar, electronic warfare and command facilities.  It is also defended by a formidable force of Russian ground troops, said to be of battalion strength.  Moreover there is talk the base is going to be significantly expanded to make it capable of hosting much heavier strike aircraft, possibly TU22M3s.  Khmeimim also forms part of what is becoming a very powerful complex of Russian military bases and facilities in Syria, which obviously include the Tartus naval facility (which may also now be expanded) and a top secret Russian listening post which has long been rumoured to exist somewhere in Latakia province.

In aggregate this is a base complex of a sort the Russians have never had in the Mediterranean before, and one that has now been made permanent.


(Pictured (left-right): Sergei Ivanov, the former head of Russia’s presidential administration, and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: RIA Novosti)

And, in a surprise move, Putin accepted the resignation of his chief of staff and long-time friend, Sergei Ivanov.   Russia Direct has an article that gives a good run down on the relationship between Putin and Ivanov, beginning in the 1970’s when both worked for the KGB in St. Petersburg (then known as Leningrad).   However, I disagree with the conclusion expressed by the author that this move represents Putin simply trying to consolidate more power around himself.  And the author is wrong to suggest that Putin has unlimited power in Russia.  He does not and, again, anyone who studies contemporary Russia and Putin carefully knows this is not true. Putin is the one who makes the ultimate decisions on most things but he has various interests that he must consider and balance when making those decisions.   He has also had problems in the past with those lower down the bureaucratic chain not enforcing his decisions.

Alexander Mercouris provides a different perspective on the possible reasons for the shake-up:

Officially Ivanov asked to be dismissed himself having supposedly asked Putin to be appointed for just a four year term when he was first appointed, which has now run out.  Officially Ivanov has also proposed his successor – Anton Vaino  – who was previously his deputy.

It could be that all this is true.  However Ivanov is being transferred from one of the important positions in the government to one of the least important – Special Representative on Environment and Transport Issues – which is a major downgrade.  It is difficult to see in all this anything other than a major demotion.

There may be a possible hint in Putin’s comment as to the real reason for this step.  He is reported to have said to Vaino (Ivanov’s successor) that he would “like to see as little bureaucracy as possible and a more hands-on approach to solving everyday problems faced by the Executive Office, as well as in the key areas of economic development and social issues.”  There have been constant rumours going back to Ivanov’s time as Defence Minister that he is not a good manager, and in these words there may be a hint that this is the real reason he has just been removed from a post where management skills are essential.

A Joint Defense Plan Between Turkey & Russia or a Big Letdown?; Update on Conditions in Donbass; Ukrainian Provocateurs Try to Cross into Crimea; 10 Ways Russia Surprised This Expatriate


(Erdogan’s TASS interview, August, 2016;

There are conflicting reports about what came out of the much-ballyhooed meeting between Putin and Erdogan in St. Petersburg earlier this week.  The Turkish news outlet, Anadolu Agency, reported that the two nations would be establishing a joint defense mechanism, as well as increased cooperation in the economic sphere:

Turkey and Russia will establish a joint military, intelligence and diplomacy mechanism, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Wednesday.

Speaking at Anadolu Agency’s Editors’ Desk, Cavusoglu said the previous day’s meeting between Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin had paved the way for closer ties following a nine-month freeze after the shooting down of a Russian warplane.

“The officials will go to St. Petersburg tonight,” Cavusoglu said. “Our delegation will consist of foreign ministry [personnel], the Turkish Armed Forces, along with our intelligence chief.”

Cavusoglu said meetings will be held at ministerial level.

Erdogan’s trip to Russia and the revival of ties between Russia and Turkey have sparked concern that the NATO member is turning increasingly to the East as it feels rebuffed by the West over a host of issues such as EU membership and the West’s tepid response to the defeated July 15 coup.

Questioned about increased cooperation between the Turkish and Russian defense industries in the context of Turkey’s NATO role, Cavusoglu said Ankara had already established defense sector cooperation with non-NATO countries, including missile development.

“Turkey wanted to cooperate with NATO members up to this point,” the minister said. “But the results we got did not satisfy us. Therefore, it is natural to look for other options. But we don’t see this as a move against NATO.”

Referring to the Nov. 24 downing of a Russian warplane over the Turkey-Syria border by the Turkish Air Force, Cavusoglu explained that the Turkish pilots involved in the incident had been arrested on suspicion of being involved in the coup bid.

However, a far less rosy characterization of the substantive results of the meeting was reported by John Helmer, the longest-serving western journalist in Moscow.  According to Helmer, Erdogan essentially put the kibosh on any meaningful geo-strategic shift toward Russia during a pre-meeting interview with Russia’s TASS News Agency:

Just before Erdogan’s arrival in St. Petrersburg, he and the Kremlin agreed to stage a television interview in which Erdogan mixed several metaphors to ingratiate himself with the Russian audience. The meeting with Putin,  Erdogan claimed, is “a new landmark in bilateral relations, a clean slate from which to start anew.” Erdogan referred to the Russian president as his “dear friend Vladimir” every four minutes of the interview. Read the Tass version in English.



Erdogan did more than apologize for the shooting-down of the Russian Su-24 fighter-bomber last November. He admitted the aircraft was in Syrian airspace, not Turkish, when it was attacked. “The culprits in what happened in Syrian territory have been detained and brought to justice already. The investigation is continuing. In fact, I conveyed that in my message [to President Putin].  As for the pilots, I ordered a probe into the circumstances that occurred beyond the bounds of our customary rules of response. You also know that the man who caused the Russian pilot’s death, who killed the Russian pilot, is now in custody. He is standing trial. I would like to emphasize that.”


….[However,] Erdogan’s responses on the real agenda were as far apart as ever.  He put a stop to press hints that he is suspending his campaign to overthrow the Syrian president, Bashar Al-Assad. “We don’t want Syria’s disintegration, but the departure of Bashar Assad who is guilty for the deaths of 600,000 people. This is the condition for preventing this scenario. Syria’s unity cannot be kept with Assad. And we cannot support a murderer who has committed acts of state terror.”


He denied any role in the financing , oil trade,  weapons and other supplies for ISIS forces in Syria and Iraq.  He repeated Turkish backing for the Crimean tatars fighting Moscow with support from Kiev and Washington.


On the future of the Gazprom projects and the Akkuyu reactor, he offered more talks, no commitments. Vegetables and fruit weren’t mentioned.  As for tourism, Erdogan declared that no tourist had been killed in last month’s military putsch, and that “currently the beaches are safe.”


The Tass interviewer, deputy director-general of the news agency Mikhail Gusman,  carefully avoided mentioning the Chechens, the Straits, NATO, Cyprus, Crimea, or the Azeri-Armenia war.


“Erdogan used the Tass interview to take off the table what the Russians had been hoping might be a breakthrough,” a Moscow observer noted. “He used Tass to out-manoeuvre Putin – it’s clear from the St. Petersburg record Putin wasn’t happy. Putin is the big loser from the Turkish hype – and the Russian propaganda organs, especially the English language ones, are also covering up.”

….The official record of the delegation talks, which started at 1 in the afternoon, and ended after three hours, reported no discussion and no agreement on a single Russian political or security priority.    The presidential press conference revealed that despite declarations of best intentions, nothing of importance to either side was agreed. The Russian Foreign Ministry has reported nothing on Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s meeting with his counterpart…hours after it concluded.

Read the full article here.


OSCE observers document shelling of town of Stakhanov, Lugansk republic, in early August 2016

(OSCE observers document shelling of town of Stakhanov, Lugansk republic, in early August 2016;

Irina Burya of the DONi News Agency, an independent Finnish media project that reports on the ground in the Donbass, states, from DPR sources, that the Kiev regime has fired over 4,000 rounds of ammunition into the Donbass territory in the space of a week, 75% of which was from heavy weapons.   Furthermore, it is reported that the Ukrainian military is building up heavy weapons on the front and Neo-Nazi militias are beefing up their presence as well:

At the same time, Kiev continues to strengthen its group with weapons and personnel in all three directions of the front. According to the DPR intelligence, tanks, 122 and 152mm howitzers, motorized artillery systems and MLRS (‘Grad’ multimple launch rocket systems) are being delivered to the Ukrainian units on the forefront in dozens. In addition, over the past week at the Donetsk segment of the front arrived about 200 radicals of the «Right Sector».

The observers of the Organisation for Security and Cooperaton in Europe (OSCE) mission also noted in their weekly report the absence of 60 tanks, 50 152mm howitzers, 24 122mm motorized artillery systems, 17 100mm anti-tank cannons and over 10 Grad MLRS at sites of Ukrainian weapons storage.

Residents of Mariupol, the largest Kiev-controlled city in the south of Donbass, informed that on the outskirts of the city, the Ukrainian military were hastily building new defenses. The local residents were surprised by the fact that these defenses were not located in the direction of the DPR but that of Ukraine. It appears that Kiev does not intend to defend the city in case of a counter-offensive of the DPR army, but seeks only to prevent its further advance after the liberation of Mariupol.

In the Lugansk segment of the front, the international observers documented the absence of 27 Ukrainian tanks, 14 152mm howitzers and 10 Grads from their storage areas. The LPR intelligence reported the arrival at Ukrainian position sof 45 tanks, 10 MLRS «Grad» and about 50 Chechen mercenaries.

In addition, LPR intelligence sources on the ground informed that the Ukrainian military were mining banks of the Seversky Donets River, which forms the contact line, and continued to seize areas of the buffer zone.

In one of the Kiev-controlled Kiev localities of the Lugansk region, the Ukrainian military seized a local clinic. Locals, who are now banned from entering it, explain this by increases in the number of non-combat losses in units of the Ukrainian army.

However, on the whole, the situation in the Lugansk segment of the front was all this time considerably calmer than in the Donetsk Republic. According to the LPR People’s Militia, over the past week, the Ukrainian side opened fire on the territory of the Republic about 900 times, including about 100 rounds from the heavy artillery.

….Last week, the head of the UN monitoring mission on human rights in Ukraine arrived in Donetsk . She visited places where Ukrainian prisoners of war are held and had an opportunity to talk with them personally. After her inspection, she said that she did not have any claims to the conditions of their detention.

At the same time, a delegation of the UN Commission on Human Rights in Ukraine was not allowed in places of political prisoners detention, after which it left the country in protest.

Last month, international observers from Germany, Finland and Serbia came to monitor the opening of the election primaries in the DPR. After spending several days in Donetsk, they made an official statement about having heard the nightly bombardments of the city from the Ukrainian side and seen their devastating effects.


The FSB has reportedly stopped two attempts by Ukrainians to cross into Crimea to cause trouble, resulting in armed clashes and two deaths.  Euronews reports the following:

The country’s FSB security service says there have been at least two armed clashes recently on the border between Crimea and Ukraine.

It also says it has dismantled a spy network inside the annexed peninsula.

The FSB says it thinks Ukrainian special forces had been planning attacks targeting critical infrastructure.

An FSB employee and a Russian soldier were killed in the clashes at the weekend, according to officials.

The FSB says it tackled one group of what it describes as Ukrainian “saboteurs” in the early hours of Sunday, smashing what it says was a Ukrainian “spy network”.

Ukrainian and Russian nationals were arrested.

Twenty homemade explosive devices, ammunition, mines, grenades and weapons normally used by Ukrainian special forces were recovered, the FSBsaid, adding that there were more incidents late on Sunday and early on Monday.

“Ukrainian special forces units tried to break through two more times with groups of saboteur-terrorists but were thwarted by FSB units and other forces,” a statement said.

“The aim of this subversive activity and terrorist acts was to destabilise the socio-political situation in the region ahead of preparations and the holding of elections,” the FSB said in a statement.

….A spokesman for Ukrainian military intelligence has dismissed the claims as “false information”.

Kyiv has denied Russia’s claim of attempted armed incursion into Crimea.

The Ukrainian Defence Ministry said in a statement that the FSB’s assertions look like an attempt to justify “acts of aggression” and the redeployment of military units to Crimea.

“Representatives of the Russian special services are trying to divert the attention of the local population and the international community from criminal acts to transform the peninsula into an isolated military base,” it said.



(One of the many beautifully artistic metro stations in Moscow;


Neyla Miller, an American expatriate living in Moscow, writes of her impressions of Russia as she nears the one-year anniversary of her stay:

Next month will be the one-year anniversary of decision to make Moscow my new home. Though Moscow, like any major city around the globe, does not speak for the heart of its country… it does provide a rough summation of its various cultures and peoples – only highlighting what is Russian. I was lucky to have been fairly well traveled prior to my arrival, easing any culture shock. Eleven months into our relationship, I’ve noticed it’s the only city that hasn’t let me down by this marker.

Cleanliness – It’s clean, very clean

A few days prior to leaving for Moscow, I was taking a walk through New York City with an acquaintance I had recently been put in touch with by a friend, whose family lives in Moscow. He is a young Russian and who just arrived in NYC to continue his studies. While snaking our way from Union Square to Little Italy, I could see him assessing the amounts of garbage on the streets and sidewalks. He politely commented it was dirtier than he imagined. This caught me by surprise, as I thought most movies set in NYC capture it quite honestly.

Read the full article here.


Just Because You’re an Expert on the Stalin Era Doesn’t Necessarily Mean You’re an Expert on Putin or Contemporary Russia


Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, March 2, 2016. REUTERS/Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik/Kremlin


James Harris actually sounds like a very credible authority on the Stalin era of the Soviet Union in his July 28th article for The Conversation.  His insights about it, which comprise the first 80% of the piece,  are interesting and motivated me to put his book in my Amazon cart.  But in the home stretch, he trots out the same old tired – and mostly discredited – tropes about Putin and Russia, trying to somehow generalize out from Stalin to Putin.  And that’s when I started to sigh, shake my head and curse under my breath at my computer screen.

Harris jumps from the recalcitrant attitude and crimes of the KGB in 1954 to Putin having been employed by the agency from the 1970’s to approximately 1991.  No context or detail is provided about the nature of Putin’s actual job at the KGB, just innuendo that Putin, by virtue of having worked for the agency, is a really scary dude and somehow comparable to Stalin:

The Soviet political police, renamed the KGB in 1954, never recognised the monstrous crimes that they had contributed to under Stalin’s direction. They perceived themselves as heroes of the story, brilliantly anticipating and intercepting the evil deeds of the regime’s enemies.

Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, rose from the ranks of the KGB in the 1970s. He was trained in its methods and steeped in its mentality. While one should not leap to the conclusion that he is a prisoner of his early career, the echoes of KGB (and Stalin’s) thinking are present in the messages delivered relentlessly by the state-controlled media.

The population is told that the US and EU want to reduce Russia to the status of a third-rate power, to take control over her resources and subvert her values. Putin does not propose officially to rehabilitate the figure of Stalin, but he does little to challenge the public presentation of his predecessor as someone who made Russia a great power, and who stood up to the West.

Today we better understand the exaggerated fears that sparked the paroxysm of state violence that was the Great Terror. But in Russia, the echoes of those same fears prevent an open discussion of Stalin’s crimes, and serve to reinforce Putin’s authoritarianism.

In his early years at the KGB, Putin worked in counter-espionage and later served for several years in Dresden as a mid-level analyst.  He was not an assassin or torturer, and he turned down a promotion to the headquarters of the KGB’s foreign intelligence operations division in Moscow upon his return to the Soviet Union, finally resigning from the agency to work for the liberal reform mayor of St. Petersburg, Anatoly Sobchak, eventually serving as his trusted deputy.

While I have no doubt that Putin’s time in the KGB was influential for him, I tend to think it is overblown and obscures other major influences on Putin.  Everyone has heard of his KGB past ad nauseum.  However, how many people know that Putin is a lawyer whose expertise is in international law?  How many people know that Putin did considerable work toward a PhD in the realm of economics?  How many people know that Putin is highly skilled in judo, took it up as a child, and has stated in an interview that judo is not just a sport, but a philosophy?

I think it’s also a philosophy in a way, and I think it’s a philosophy that teaches one to treat one’s partner with respect. And I engage in this sport with pleasure and try to have regular practices still.

Might that comment warrant some significance in analyzing Putin’s mindset?  Is it possible that Putin might be somewhat of an intellectual with all of that education in law and economics?

Can we entertain the possibility that maybe Putin is a much more nuanced and complicated leader who has been doing his best to revive a sprawling country that was virtually a failed state in 2000 – in a leadership position that he didn’t ask for and didn’t want when Yeltsin approached him as his successor?

No, it’s all about the KGB all the time and the implication that he’s Stalin Jr.  This, despite the fact that Russia is a transitional society with elements of both democracy and authoritarianism and Putin, aside from Gorbachev and Medvedev, is the least authoritarian leader Russia has ever had in its 1,000 year history of authoritarian rule.

This is not to say that Putin has no faults or has never made any mistakes.  I don’t believe that Putin is the second coming, like a few people I’ve encountered seem to think.  But as far as matching Stalin’s viciousness, there is no actual evidence supporting claims that Putin puts out hits on anyone who looks at him funny, be they journalists or political opponents.  These are simply unsubstantiated claims that are repeated in the western media until they are taken as fact.  In the race to lock up as many of one’s own citizens as possible, Russia lags behind both the U.S. (#1) and China (#2).  Putin has even nixed popular requests to bring back the death penalty.

Does this really sound like someone who makes decisions based on What Would Stalin Do?  On the contrary, Uncle Joe would surely view Putin – presiding over no state executions or gulags and minimal overt censorship – as a total weenie.

As far as the claim that Putin does little to challenge a positive image of Stalin, perhaps Harris didn’t get the memo about Putin approving a monument that is currently being erected in Moscow to honor the victims of Stalin’s repressions (indeed all of the victims of political repression throughout Russian history).  Guess he never heard of the petition that the locals of Volgograd presented to Putin a couple of years back requesting that the name of their city be permanently changed back to Stalingrad.  Putin demurred.

As for the “alleged mistreatment” by the West that Harris implies is a myth that Russia invokes just to be a whiner, one would have to forget about Putin’s first term in office in which he made quite an effort to work with the West, despite the fact that the West had tried to ruthlessly exploit Russia in the 1990’s, before he was forced to realize that his attempts at cooperation got him no reciprocity with respect to Russia’s interests.  And as we all know, NATO is really just a merry club of democratic nations, flirting with Russia on its borders. Russia, like some coy maiden, is just pretending not to like it.

Perhaps Harris just couldn’t be bothered with these irrelevant details.  It might spoil that propaganda narrative we’re constantly being bludgeoned with – a propaganda narrative that serves neither the Russian people nor the American people in the long run.

It’s much the same from Stephen Kotkin, author of the acclaimed “Stalin” – a multi-volume biography of the demon from Georgia.  Volume I comes in at just under a thousand pages.  As with Harris, I have no doubt as to Kotkin’s encyclopedic knowledge of Stalin and his grand insights into the man and the era. But in a December 2014 interview with Strobe Talbot – an American exceptionalist and advocate of NATO expansion during the Bill Clinton administration – Kotkin veers off the same cliff toward the end of his interview.

But, in the end, you have a tragic history that’s very difficult to assimilate, but there were things that Stalin did that Putin cannot overcome.  And then there are behaviors that we see with Stalin that Putin is trying to learn from.  Putin is not a figure on the level of Stalin.  There is no figure in world history with fewer exceptions that are on the level of Stalin in terms of how long they ruled and what happened under their rule.

Kotkin does not elaborate on what exactly “Putin cannot overcome” with respect to the Stalin era history or what behaviors of Stalin that “Putin is trying to learn from.”  The comment obscures more than it clarifies.  Of course, Talbot jumps on the Putin tie-in by asking Kotkin the following semi-incoherent question:

This thing with the comparison and the contrast between Putinism and Stalinism, it seems to me, on the basis of what you’ve just said, that the most salient difference between the two isms is that Stalinism was based on the glorification of ethnic pluralism and subsuming all nationalisms into an internationalist ideology; whereas, Putin has substituted for that international ideology, Russian chauvinism with its companion piece, irredentism.  First of all, is that a fair characterization?  And as you extrapolate from that looking forward, do you see a danger for Russia?

To which Kotkin provides a truly bizarre answer:

One of the reasons Putin is very different from Gorbachev — there are many different reasons, okay, not just one reason. But one of the reasons is because Gorbachev was in charge of a multiethnic state, the Soviet Union, for which integration into larger structures could make sense. The country is 50-something percent ethnic Russian under Gorbachev. Now, today’s Russia is more than 80 percent ethnic Russian. It is a very Russian national state in composition. And so the idea of managing a multinational empire is not as salient as it was under Gorbachev. Instead, you’re dealing with a Russian national — something like this we have with Serbia and Yugoslavia. In some ways, Yugoslavia was an attempt to contain Serbia nationalism. And in some ways, the Soviet Union was a container of Russian nationalism. But here’s the thing that’s similar though. For all those differences, those are very, very important. And when you go down the Russian nationalist path, when you are conjuring a Russian national story, when you are playing to the Russian national crowd as Putin is doing, we’re not sure where this is going.

First of all, the question was to compare and contrast Putin with Stalin, not Gorbachev.  Since Kotkin says “Gorbachev” three times, it is not likely that he simply misspoke and said “Gorbachev” when he meant to say “Stalin.”  So, one has to ask:  why would Kotkin choose to shift the discussion from a comparison of Putin with Stalin to Putin with Gorbachev.

My guess is that Kotkin is aware that on some level he is expected to say that Putin is an authoritarian baddie with no redeeming qualities and, to some extent, he knows he must play to that expectation if he wants to be invited back to discuss his work at such prestigious venues as the Brookings Institution.   After all, mainstream western news networks and pundits are not busting down Prof. Stephen F. Cohen’s door with requests for interviews and presentations. Cohen is a preeminent expert on 20th and 21st century Russia, but he refuses to go against the evidence and say that Putin is Stalin, so he is persona non grata for most of the western mainstream media.

Kotkin must also must know that Putin is simply nowhere in the same league as Stalin and to discuss Putin’s governance and temperament in any honest detail would undermine the Putin is Stalin innuendo, so he shifted to comparing Putin to the most liberal and least authoritarian leader in Russia’s history, Gorbachev.*

From what I can ascertain at this point, there are complicated feelings about Stalin in Russia.  It is largely recognized, for example, that if Stalin had not brutally modernized the Soviet Union, the Nazis would probably have been able to overrun them.  For better or worse, Stalin is associated with being the strong leader that got them through WWII and beat back the Nazis.  I don’t think most Russians deny his brutality as many have family members who were victims of his rule in some way.  Putin acknowledges Stalin’s leadership in WWII, but has also publicly acknowledged Stalin’s brutality and condemned it on more than one occasion.  Bottom line:  it’s complicated.

For an enlightening discussion on the complicated legacy of Stalin in contemporary Russia, listen to John Batchelor’s May 31, 2016 interview with Professor Cohen (approx. 40 minutes).

*I’m open to correction or clarification on what Kotkin was really thinking during this peculiar exchange


Leader of LPR in Donbass Injured in Bomb Attack; How Breedlove Used a Network of NATO Hawks for His War-Mongering Propaganda on Ukraine; Russia Invites NATO Officials for Talks Aimed at De-Escalation

Igor Plotnitsky (Valeriy Melnikov, Sputnik)

(Igor Plotnitsky (Valeriy Melnikov, Sputnik))

I received a special email report yesterday from the OSCE about a bombing that damaged the car carrying LPR leader Igor Plotnitsky. But in the typical fashion of the OSCE’s email reports from the Donbass, it was vague on details.   In subsequent hours, RT and The Duran have done more in-depth reporting.

RT reports:

The head of the Lugansk People’s Republic, Igor Plotnitsky, has been injured after an explosion rocked his car on the morning of August 6. It is reported he is undergoing surgery due to the injuries he received.

The incident took place in the city of Lugansk, the capital of LPR, the headquarters of the LPR People’s Militia told RIA Novosti. Two other people were injured.

It is not clear at present whether the blast occurred inside the car or near the vehicle.

“Plotnitsky is in a grave condition and is undergoing an operation,” a source told Interfax.

The explosion also reportedly damaged the facades of nearby buildings and shattered surrounding windows. Police have cordoned off the area where the explosion took place.

….Plotnitsky received shrapnel wounds, which caused damage to his liver and his spleen, a hospital source told Interfax.

An advisor to the head of the Security Service of Ukraine Yury Tandit told the 112 Ukrainechannel that Plotnitsky was deliberately targeted, adding that the LPR leader was in serious condition. “My sources report that an assassination attempt has been carried out,” he said.

A source in LPR General Prosecutor’s Office told Interfax that saboteurs could be behind the attack.

Viktor Poplavsky, an expert from Russia’s Defence Ministry, told the news portal that he believed more than a kilo of explosives were used to create the bomb. “If the bomb was planted in the car or under the car, there would have been practically no chance of survival,” he said, adding that the explosive device might have been placed somewhere near Plotnitsky’s car.

Alexander Mercouris, over at The Duran, has provided some more context of what might be behind the attack, including in-fighting within the LPR:

Whilst there is a strong possibility that the assassination attempt was the work of the Ukrainian secret service the SBU, it is by no means impossible that it is the result of factional infighting within the Lugansk People’s Republic.

Whereas the political situation in the neighbouring Donetsk People’s Republic has stabilised with its leader Alexander Zakharchenko apparently both effective and popular, the same has not been true of the Lugansk People’s Republic where Igor Plotnitsky is a controversial figure and where there has been a string of unsolved murders going back to the early part of last year.

The most notorious of these murders was the one in May last year when the popular militia leader Alexey Mozgovoy was killed in a roadside ambush.  Mozgovoy was a known critic of Plotnitsky’s and was opposed to the Minsk II peace process, which Plotnitsky, Zakharchenko and Russia have all backed.  Inevitably Plotnitsky was accused by some of Mozgovoy’s murder, though evidence for that is slight.  Others blame the Ukrainian SBU.  The Ukrainians, for their part, predictably blame Mozgovoy’s murder on Russia’s military intelligence agency the GRU.

The continued instability in the Lugansk People’s Republic must be causing the Russian authorities serious concern.  Whatever their long term aims for Ukraine, the Russians need the two people’s republics to be politically stable if the Minsk II process to which they are committed is to have any chance of success. Almost certainly, in the aftermath of the assassination attempt there will be concerned discussions underway in Moscow about what can be done to stabilise the situation in the Lugansk People’s Republic. It is not impossible that the Russian authorities will take a hand in the investigation of the assassination attempt.

I will keep up with this story and post any substantive updates I find.

A couple of weeks back, I posted a link and excerpt regarding The Intercept‘s report that former NATO commander General Philip Breedlove’s personal emails had been hacked, including some exchanges with other hawkish academics and military leaders, such as retired General Wesley Clark, that revealed Breedlove’s active attempts to undermine president Obama’s relatively tempered approach to dealing with the Ukraine crisis by using mendacious public claims in order to escalate the crisis in support of the coup government in Kiev.

Der Spiegel has now published a more thorough investigative report with respect to those hacked emails.

The newly leaked emails reveal a clandestine network of Western agitators around the NATO military chief, whose presence fueled the conflict in Ukraine. Many allies found in Breedlove’s alarmist public statements about alleged large Russian troop movements cause for concern early on. Earlier this year, the general was assuring the world that US European Command was “deterring Russia now and preparing to fight and win if necessary.”

The emails document for the first time the questionable sources from whom Breedlove was getting his information. He had exaggerated Russian activities in eastern Ukraine with the overt goal of delivering weapons to Kiev.

The general and his likeminded colleagues perceived US President Barack Obama, the commander-in-chief of all American forces, as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel as obstacles. Obama and Merkel were being “politically naive & counter-productive” in their calls for de-escalation, according to Phillip Karber, a central figure in Breedlove’s network who was feeding information from Ukraine to the general.

“I think POTUS sees us as a threat that must be minimized,… ie do not get me into a war????” Breedlove wrote in one email, using the acronym for the president of the United States. How could Obama be persuaded to be more “engaged” in the conflict in Ukraine — read: deliver weapons — Breedlove had asked former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Breedlove sought counsel from some very prominent people, his emails show. Among them were Wesley Clark, Breedlove’s predecessor at NATO, Victoria Nuland, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs at the State Department, and Geoffrey Pyatt, the US ambassador to Kiev.

One name that kept popping up was Phillip Karber, an adjunct assistant professor at Georgetown University in Washington DC and president of the Potomac Foundation, a conservative think tank founded by the former defense contractor BDM. By its own account, the foundation has helped eastern European countries prepare their accession into NATO. Now the Ukrainian parliament and the government in Kiev were asking Karber for help.

Regular readers here need no introduction to Victoria Nuland and Wesley Clark , two dangerous warmongers.  Both the Der Spiegel and Intercept articles go into more about Phillip Karber and I encourage readers to follow the links to both articles and read them in their entirety.

Meanwhile, Russia has invited officials from NATO for discussions toward the goal of de-escalating tensions between the two.

RT reports:

Russia has proposed to NATO a “positive program” for developing relations, aimed at decreasing tensions between Moscow and the US-led military bloc, Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said.

“NATO’s military experts have been invited to Moscow in September for consultations concerning military and political situation in Europe,” Antonov said in a statement to the media.

Russia is ready for a constructive dialogue with NATO despite differences in approach to the reasons and consequences of the decisions made at the bloc’s summit in Warsaw in July, Antonov stressed.

During the gathering in the Polish capital, NATO member states labeled Moscow “a source of instability” and ordered an increased military presence near Russian borders.

The decisions made at the summit have been thoroughly analyzed by Russian experts, Antonov said.

One of the issues to be discussed in September is military flights over the Baltic Sea.

According to Antonov, Russia is “considering the option of performing military flights over the Baltic only with ID transponders on,” but only if NATO does the same.

NATO’s military attaches have been informed of Moscow’s offer to review the earlier existing military programs in the format of Russia-NATO Council, Antonov said.

He noted that the renewal of the Cooperative Airspace initiative between NATO and Russia would be especially useful in the current situation.

Antonov said NATO states’ military attaches will also be invited as observers to Russian Army’s Kavkaz-2016 drills, which are planned for September.

“Russia’s Defense Ministry proposed to start exchanging assessments at a military level regarding the terrorist threat, primarily to counter the spread of IS [Islamic State, formerly ISIS/ISIL] and other terrorist organizations,” he said.

“Russia is also ready for cooperation to avoid incidents at sea and in the air, based on bilateral agreements and consultations with the defense ministries of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Sweden and Finland to address mutual concerns over military activities in the border areas,” Antonov said.


Review & Analysis of “The Donbas Rift” by Serhiy Kudelia

(Map of Ukraine and surrounding areas;

The Donbas Rift

By Serhiy Kudelia, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Baylor University

Russian Politics and Law (journal), Volume 54, No, 1, 2016


Professor Kudelia’s in-depth report on the evolution of the Donbas rebellion in the winter of 2013-2014 in Ukraine generally follows the basic outline set out in my previous writings about the nature of the Ukraine conflict.  However, it also provides some additional facts and nuance.

One valuable point that Kudelia underscores is that the oligarchs of the Donbas region of southeastern Ukraine “hedged their bets” by trying to deal with both the coup government in Kiev and its representatives as well as the rebels in Donbas.  This was a contributing factor in how the Donbas rebels were able to establish their power, increasingly independent of Kiev’s governance.

After the Euromaidan victory, the Party of Regions’ [Yanukovich’s party] public statements were limited to demands that greater power be given to local authorities and that the rights of Russian-speaking people be protected. However, the sudden departure of Yanukovych and his supporters led the party to disintegrate into several factions associated with large business groups (e.g., Rinat Akhmetov, Dmitry Firtash, and Alexander Efremov). Each of these groups had its own interests in the Donbas; some were more insistent than others, and made tacit alliances with separatist leaders.

Another fact elaborated on is the role played by members of the security forces who lived in Donbas, many of whom had worked security on the Maidan, and considered the new Kiev government to have risen to power in a violent coup, in supporting the rebels:

If initially the majority of these groups were composed of activists of local pro-Russian organizations and “Cossacks,” by March they were joined by sympathizers that included former Afghan veterans and recently active Ukrainian law enforcement officers. Alexander Khodakovsky, future commander of the militia battalion Vostok, headed the Donetsk SBU special unit Alfa and took part in the storming of the Trade Union House, which was the headquarters of Euromaidan. His example was followed by many from the ranks of the Donetsk and Luhansk Berkut, who underwent more than one rotation at the Maidan- some were afraid of being prosecuted by of the new government, others were out for revenge. Local militias were being joined by former anti-Maidan activists, who returned from Kyiv with new experiences of violent struggle. As a result, a partisan core that would become the epicenter of the military phase of the confrontation began to form in the Donbas.

….Leaders of some Donbas cities assisted in organizing regular meetings under Soviet and Russian flags. Later these urban leaders helped to organize the May 11 referendum. These meetings and the “people’s guards” were financed by local businesses operating under the protection of bosses from the Party of Regions…. At the same time, the heads of local police departments and SBU offices (who were part of the patronage network of the Party of Regions) did not obstruct the development of the separatist movement. In fact, the majority of law enforcement authorities ceased to function, and seizures of law enforcement agencies were committed with their sanction or direct assistance. For example, during the storming of the Luhansk SBU, the police refused to protect the building, while the head of Internal Affairs insisted on the need to release the detained separatist leaders.11 According to Alexander Petrulevich, the former head of the Luhansk SBU, most police officers in the region came out of [working on the] Maidan “with resentment and bruised psyches, plus they were all threatened with criminal prosecution.”

Kudelia states that there were numerous “miscalculations” by the Kiev regime that created conditions conducive to rebels consolidating their local power.  Furthermore, Russia reacted to facts on the ground to support its own perceived interests but was not the cause.

Russia exploited these developments, but did not play a determining role in them….Kremlin and Russian agents did not act in a vacuum.  The space for these events was largely created by events inside Ukraine, which were not only outside the direct control of Moscow, but often ran counter to the interests of the Russian leadership.

The events referenced above include the hijacking of the Maidan movement by the ultra-nationalist forces who utilized violence, beginning on February 18, 2014, with the march down Institutskaya Street in Kiev, which was initially billed as a “peaceful offensive” on the Rada (parliament); the inability or unwillingness of the rest of the Maidan movement to keep the protests peaceful; the rejection by those same violent extremists of the agreement negotiated by Poland, Germany and France with the Yanukovich government that called for early elections and a devolution of power; and, the subsequent violence against the rebels by the new government of Kiev.

Kudelia states that the new Kiev government did make an attempt to negotiate with the rebels.  However, one is left to wonder how seriously this was supposed to be taken by the rebels when one of the two men that Kiev sent for this purpose was Neo-Nazi activist Andrey Parubiy, who participated in the violence of the Maidan (The other was deputy prime minister, Vitaly Yarema).  This attempt at negotiation occurred only after the Donbas cities of Donetsk and Luhansk had successfully held a referendum calling for self-determination.  This was viewed as a bargaining chip to gain as much “home rule,” as Professor Stephen F. Cohen calls it, as possible.

Interestingly, Kudelia does not go into any detail about the violence of February 20th to the 22nd that directly led to the ousting of Yanukovich – the sniper attacks on the Maidan that killed nearly 100 people, both protesters and police.  The most thorough forensic investigation of the sniper attacks to date, has been the work of Dr. Ivan Katchanovski, a professor of Political Studies at the University of Ottawa.

Kudelia also explains that the Kiev government’s initial strategy of focusing its “Anti-Terrorist Operation” (ATO) on the city of Slavyansk also provided space for the development of what would become the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic.

Kudelia also reinforces what academic specialist Nicolai Petro, who was in Ukraine at the time of the upheaval in 2013-2014, pointed out:  that majorities of Donbas residents polled in April 2014 saw the new Kiev government as illegitimate and believed the Neo-Nazi Right Sector was a powerful and threatening organization.  These views, presumably along with reports of proposals in the Rada threatening the Russian language and anti-Maidan protesters being beaten and harassed on their return to southeast Ukraine and Crimea, culminated in the creation of local “paramilitary organizations” in the Donbas, similar to the ones formed in Crimea in order to defend their respective populations.

He also states that the rebellion originally called for federalization, with only a minority calling for an independent Novorossiya.  These calls would understandably increase later on, after months of  Kiev’s ATO against the Donbas, which included shelling civilian neighborhoods and unleashing vicious Neo-Nazi battalions to compensate for the lack of stomach many Ukrainian Army recruits had for attacking their fellow Ukrainians.

Rallies in support of federalizing Ukraine were held in most major cities in the Southeast. However, the Donbas was the only region where Kyiv was unable to regain control and prevent the outbreak of an armed movement to join Donetsk and Luhansk regions to Russia. This was facilitated by three factors.  First, the Donbas was significantly different from other regions in terms of its politics and its level of integration into the Ukrainian state. In contrast to all other regions, the majority has traditionally supported the unification of Ukraine with Russia (66 percent) and regretted the collapse of the Soviet Union (61 percent).7 In April 2014, after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, almost two-thirds of the region’s residents continued to express a positive attitude toward Russian president Vladimir Putin, while in other regions the level of support was no higher than 20 percent. With the exception of Crimea, the Donbas was the only territory where a majority (57 percent in 2013) stated that it would not support the independence of Ukraine in the case of a second referendum (i.e., the 1991 referendum, when nearly 84 percent voted in favor of independence).8 While before the revolution few people supported separatism (8 percent in 2012), recognition of the the Ukrainian government was conditional. This is evidenced by the prevalence among Donbas residents of a regional identity-in contrast to other Ukrainian regions, Donbas residents primarily identify themselves with their city or region, rather than with the state as a whole.

It is recognized that the historical ethnic ties of Donbas to Russia – since the 19th century, much of the area had been populated by Russian settlers after coal mining was established –  fueled its having the highest “animosity toward Ukrainian nationalists,” who are stridently, even violently, anti-Russian.  This made the Donbas population particularly sensitive to news reports from Russia of the actions taking place during and after the Maidan protests.

Kudelia’s analysis reinforces what I and other analysts have argued for some time: 1) there was broad and authentic native support for the Donbas rebellion, and 2) an independent Donbas would not be in the Kremlin’s interests as it would remove the block of the population of Ukraine that would serve as a counterweight to anti-Russian sentiment, right-wing extremism and NATO membership.  Moreover, it is unlikely that Russia would want to have to deal with an economically non-viable state on its border or to expend the resources necessary to bring the Donbas into Russia – not to mention the further aggravation it would create in Russia’s relations with the west.

In short, the coup government in Kiev seriously miscalculated the depth of resistance they would be facing in the Donbas and thousands of people have paid a horrible price.  Russia has provided military, political and diplomatic support to ensure the rebels are not defeated or wiped out by Kiev, but are granted sufficient autonomy within the Ukrainian state as is reflected in the Minsk Agreement. Russia did not create the problem, nor is there any evidence that Russia desires or supports actual separatism, which would not be in their interests.  In fact, their actions point in a different direction as is reflected in its facilitating the replacement of Igor Strelkov and Alexander Borodai, who advocated the Novorossiya project of an independent Donbas, perhaps eventually united with Russia, with leaders more amenable to negotiation with Kiev.

Director of U.S. National Intelligence: Identity of DNC Email Server Hacker Not Established Yet

Kremlin Wall, Red Square, Moscow; photo by Natylie S. Baldwin
Kremlin Wall, Red Square, Moscow; photo by Natylie S. Baldwin

As reported at The Duran, James Clapper, Director of U.S. National Intelligence, has publicly acknowledged that the identity of the hacker of the DNC’s email server has not been definitively established and even expressed surprise at the hyperbolic characterization of the story by the press:

Clapper did not say Russia was behind the leak.  Though he did not clear Russia, he says US intelligence has not yet established the identity of the hacker.   He says that there was nothing especially difficult or complex about the hack, meaning that any of many parties could have done it.  He has pointed out that both the US and Russia routinely hack each other, and that they have been engaged in this sort of thing ever since the start of the Cold War, and that only “the tools have changed”.  He says he is “taken aback” by all the “hyperventilation” that has surrounded the story.

This reiterates some of the main points made by Glenn Greenwald in an interview last week with CNN:

This is all effectively serving as a classic and convenient means of misdirection, distracting attention away from the content of the hacked emails which cast a dark shadow on the Democratic Party’s antics during the primary.  And using the well-established bogeyman Putin, to boot.

The editors of The Nation have expressed concern at the McCarthyist era style of smearing at work in this manner of deflecting attention away from the real scandal implied in the emails:

Let us recall that McCarthyism impugned the loyalty of American citizens by accusing them of allegiance to the Soviet Union. This political defamation—often a joint undertaking of Congress and the media—suppressed democratic debate over alternative policies and ideas, and in the process destroyed lives by stigmatizing those whose views were deemed insufficiently loyal to Cold War–era orthodoxies. The overall effect was to poison, chill, and censor the political discourse of the nation.

….While Trump himself has hardly been damaged by today’s revival of McCarthyism, the same cannot be said for our national debate. Over the past month alone, establishment voices like Franklin Foer, Paul Krugman, Jeffrey Goldberg, Josh Marshall, and Jonathan Chait, among others, have Kremlin-baited Trump in lieu of reasoned argument and factual critique. On July 21, The Atlantic’s Goldberg informed readers that “The Republican nominee for president, Donald J. Trump, has chosen this week to unmask himself as a de facto agent of Russian President Vladimir Putin.” Krugman followed this up on July 22 by asking in The New York Times: “If elected, would Donald Trump be Vladimir Putin’s man in the White House?” Krugman then answered his own baseless question: “Mr. Trump would, in office, actually follow a pro-Putin foreign policy, at the expense of America’s allies and her own self-interest.”

….This neo-McCarthyism now threatens to derail a vital debate over the substance of the 20,000-plus e-mails, made public by WikiLeaks on July 22, that reveal the purportedly neutral Democratic National Committee’s derision and contempt for Senator Bernie Sanders’s campaign—as well as several aborted attempts to tip the scales against him. While the FBI has launched an investigation, as of press time, nobody has conclusively proven who hacked into the DNC’s network, much less demonstrated what their motives were. But that didn’t stop Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook from appearing on CNN on July 24 to allege that Russia was behind the hack. “Sources are saying the Russians are releasing these e-mails for the purpose of actually helping Donald Trump,” said Mook. To no one’s great surprise, he neglected to tell CNN who his sources were. Nevertheless, liberal-media elites have joined with the Clinton campaign in promoting the narrative of a devious Russian cyber-attack, which Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting’s Adam Johnson correctly points out “is being used to outweigh the damning substance of the leak itself.”

Pre-Soviet Philosophical Thought & Contemporary Russia – Part I of III

Church on Spilt Blood, St. Petersburg, Russia; Photo by Natylie S. Baldwin, 2015
Church on Spilt Blood, St. Petersburg, Russia; Photo by Natylie S. Baldwin, 2015


Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, much has been written about “the Russian idea.”  Subsumed under this term are the very issues – moral, religious, and national/cultural – that [Dmitrii] Merezhkoskii treated in the works we have discussed.  In a replay of the fin de siecle, Russians are again discussing how to make Christianity relevant to life in this world, Christian attitudes toward sex, Christian art, and the proper relation of church and state.  They are trying to define a postcommunist Russian identity and to find the organizing principles by which they can reconstruct their world.

(page 143, Merezhkovskii’s Readings of Tolstoi by Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal)

Russian Thought After Communism: The Recovery of a Philosophical Heritage is a book of essays by various contributors (edited by James P. Scanlan), published in 1994, elaborating on the work and thought of several Russian philosophers of the pre-Soviet era and how this heritage is influencing the post-Soviet era. Rosenthal’s essay is about Dmitrii Merezhkovskii, who was a philosopher, playright, historical novelist and literary critic.  He was active in the years just prior to and during Russia’s revolutions of the early 20th century and focused much of his attention on the thought and work of the great Russian literary writers, namely Fyodor Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy.  However, the focus over the years would center on Tolstoy to the point of near obsession, representing a complex – often contradictory – assessment of whether Tolstoy was a prophetic saint or a nihilistic hypocrite.

Around 1900, he published a study and contrast of the two preeminent novelists, Tolstoi and Dostoyevskii, LIfe and Art.  A Study.  With a deep interest in morality and Christianity, Merezhkovskii believed that literature – which, at its best, can serve as a vehicle for exploring important moral and philosophical issues in all of their complexity and nuance – should be a guiding force in the inevitable choice between good and evil.  He was correct that Russians were about to face a momentous choice of paths to follow in the form of reform versus communist revolution.  Merezhkovskii believed that communism, particularly the Bolshevik manifestation, was the equivalent of evil, largely due to its atheism and repression of religion and spirituality.

Merezhkovskii’s apocalyptic Christianity was said to be a reaction to Nietzsche’s “God is dead” nihilism with Jesus serving in Merezhkovskii’s mind as the countervailing “Superman” who would return to earth offering a “Third Testament” that would reconcile paganism with Christianity and the spiritual with the earthly life.

In this study, Merezhkovskii held Dostoyevsky in high regard and “deconstructed” Tolstoy as having a “slave morality” and conducted a lengthy contrast between Tolstoy and the poet Pushkin, whom Merezhkovksii lionized, stating that where Pushkin represented harmony, successful integration of artist and intellectual, and reconciliation of the cultured man and the proud Russian, Tolstoy represented “rupture,” emotional and spiritual dearth, and advocacy of an “abstract cosmopolitanism” that rejected Russian patriotism.

He criticized Tolstoy’s characters for being passive contemplators and victims rather than heroes with a sense of agency.  He also expressed disdain for what he saw as Tolstoy’s “rational Christianity” lacking any sense of the mystical, mysterious or experiential, and attributed these shortcomings to a profound fear of death on Tolstoy’s part.  This fear, Merezhkovskii claimed, prompted him to view man’s relationship to God as “the criminal sentenced to death, and God is the executioner.” (p. 128)

Merezhkovskii also felt Tolstoy did not have a proper appreciation of the cause and effect patterns of history, stating “his Christianity did not grow from Russian or west European soil but fell from the heavens already prepared.” (p. 129)

Merezhkovskii’s views of Tolstoy would evolve over the years with Tolstoy’s excommunication by the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in 1901.  By 1905, Merezhkovskii’s religious and political views had changed in a way that made them compatible with a re-examination of Tolstoy.  Advocating “religious revolution,” Merezhkovskii now recast Tolstoy as “a prophet of Christian anarchism” but criticized his rejection of the 1905 revolution (which decreased the Czar’s rule from that of an autocrat, at least on paper), and Dostoyevsky was now “a prophet of the Russian Revolution” but open to criticism for his theocracy. (p. 131)

As disillusionment with the 1905 revolution in the areas of society and culture set in, Merezhkovskii saw Tolstoy’s doctrinaire moralism no longer with disdain but with qualified acceptance.

A common theme in Russian philosophy of the 19th and early 20th century involved trying to reconcile difference forces and influences.  To some extent, these are universal concerns for most cultures at various points in their development, but for Russia, it is perhaps even more so due to the nation’s particular geography, climate and history.  The country is vast, situated between the West (represented by Europe) and the East (represented by Asia), multiethnic and multiconfessional, with a history filled with foreign invasions, natural disasters, and social upheaval that creates a yearning for security and stability.

After 70 years of relative cultural and philosophical stagnation under the Soviet system, Russians find they are grappling with many of the same issues that their pre-Soviet thinkers did with respect to religion, culture and the nature of the state.  Consequently, they have been getting reacquainted with these thinkers over the past 25 years.  Much has been made among the usual western pundits who have little depth of understanding when it comes to Russia, yet sally forth onto the pages of western newspapers and magazines anyway, about Vladimir Putin’s assignment of the works of 3 pre-Soviet Russian philosophers to be read by all the regional governors during the 2014 Winter holiday.  Those 3 philosophers were Vladimir Solovyev, Nikolai Berdyaev, and Ivan Ilyin.  This book includes essays dealing with all 3 of those philosophers and, due to their contemporary relevance to Russian political thought, the remainder of this review will focus on them.

Vladimir Solovyev

Solovyev has been categorized as one of the early Slavophiles, along with Ivan Kirveevskii, Alexei Khomiakov, and Nicolai Fedorov who were considered trailblazers of Russian philosophy in general.  The basic elements that underpinned early Slavophile philosophy included being pioneers of a philosophy that was unique and original to Russia, fitting with its culture and experience.

Pre-Slavophile Russian philosophers are typically ignored or dismissed by the Slavophiles, according to Scanlan, as being too heavily influenced by external intellectual forces.

Scanlan cites Russian philosophy expert,  Zinaida Smirnova, in pointing out that Slavophiles accepted some “bourgeoisie tendencies” like free speech and free hired labor, but opposed bourgeoisie views of absolute private property ownership, condemned individualist orientation and alienation, and advocated social ties based on custom rather than contract, law or constitutionalism. (p. 38)

To some degree, these preferences can still be seen in contemporary Russia in which surveys reflect majorities supporting socioeconomic equality over individual success and a nuanced but prominent role for religion in society compared to the more strident secularism and relativist values of the West.

As Andrey Shirin, assistant professor of divinity at the John Leland Center for Theological Studies, recently explained:

Of course, by and large, Russians appreciate the newfound individual freedoms and opportunities afforded by the influence of Western values.  Nevertheless, to many in Russia these individual callings can find a sense of completion only in a larger communal context.

As a consequence of these values, Slavophiles revered the Russian village commune as a model institution rooted in an authentic collectivist tradition – appropriate to Russia at the time as the rural Russian village life was not yet perceived to be tainted by money, capitalism and industrialization.

Slavophiles also believed in sobornost or the universal, mystical nature of the Orthodox Church – often rejecting or struggling to reconcile with “rationalist” approaches to theology.

However, in the case of Solovyev’s Slavophilism, it appears to be more complicated.  He acknowledged the intuitive as well as the rational. He was friends with Dostoyevsky but had disagreements over Orthodoxy since Solovyev was an advocate of ecumenism and healing the schism between Orthodoxy and Catholicism.  Furthermore, he is credited with influencing Nicolai Berdyaev, Rudolf Steiner and the Russian Symbolists, among others.  He admired the Greek goddess Sophia who he characterized as the “merciful unifying feminine wisdom of God.”  Solovyev was adept at integrating several spiritual strands, such as Greek philosophy, Buddhism, Kabbalah, and Christian Gnosticism.

His view of sobornost was that it was an organic and spontaneous order through integration.  He believed that all bodies of knowledge and disciplines of thought could be reconciled through logic, reason and fusing all concepts into a single system.

Solovyev’s debates with his Slavophile contemporary, Fedorov, highlight his views on the nature of spirituality and integration – believing that humans needed to recognize that they were a part of nature and seeking to elevate spiritual development within the world as opposed to Fedorov’s inclination toward wanting to control nature via technological fixes such as cloning and conquering death through the literal resurrection of the dead.

As one of the book’s essayists, George M. Young, Jr., points out, the debates between Solovyev and Fedorov reflect issues and questions that are just as relevant today:

What happens if technology outpaces morality?  Should we permit some people to enjoy extreme longevity, even approach immortality, while others die after a “natural” span of years?  Can a democratic society undertake a task as grandiose as the resurrection of the dead, or must there be a benevolent autocrat to set and keep us on the long project?  What is the point of space exploration when so many problems exist on earth?

….How much control should man attempt to exert over nature?  How do we alter one part of an ecological system to our benefit without altering other parts to our detriment?  If we insist on individual freedom, what are the alternatives to a pornocratic, parricidal culture? (p. 70)

Young elaborates further on the philosphical differences between Solovyev and Fedorov and their implications:

Our technological progress has made Fedorov’s thought more plausible.  On the other hand, with Solovyev, the lack of spiritual advancement over the last century may be one reason for the renewed interest in his thought that we find in today’s Russia.  Solovyev offers practical steps for precisely the kind of spiritual development that has been missing in the cage of Soviet Marxist thought. (p. 69)

It is interesting to note that, of all the early Slavophile philosophers, Putin chose the one who was the least strident and most open to the synthesis of differing values and viewpoints.

Moreover, Solovyev is generally considered by both Russians and western academics as one of Russia’s greatest philosophers ever, despite the fallacious denigration heaped upon him by the likes of David Brooks, Mark Galeotti and Maria Snegovaya after learning of the Russian philosophers that Putin had assigned the regional governors to read.  The articles by these writers reveal them to be either tendentious or lacking any substantive understanding of the philosophers they are criticizing.

As Paul Grenier writes in his insightful article, “Distorting Putin’s Favorite Philosophers”:

Up until these articles in March-April of 2014, I do not recall reading a single negative assessment of either of these Russian thinkers [Solovyev or Nicolai Berdyaev], at least not among Western specialists, nor a single one accusing them of being hostile to the West, nor a single one suggesting that they are friendly to Russian chauvinism or nationalism.

Grenier goes on to describe Solovyev’s ideas and how they contradict the characterization presented by Brooks, et al.:

How can Solovyev be described as a “nationalist” when his magnum opus, The Justification of the Good (the book which Putin is said to have urged his governors to read), states precisely the opposite?  It is hard to imagine a more absolute condemnation of national exceptionalism than that contained in Solovyev’s definitive work of ethics:

“It must be one of the other.  Either we must renounce Christianity and monotheism in general, according to which ‘there is none good but one, that is, God,’ and recognize our nation as such to be the highest good that is, put it in the place of God – or we must admit that a people becomes good not in virtue of the simple fact of its particular nationality, but only in so far as it conforms to and participates in the absolute good.”

This same anti-nationalist theme runs through Solovyev’s entire corpus.  He argued bitterly against the Slavophile nationalists of his day.

The spiritual aspects of pre-Soviet Russian Slavophile philosophers and the revival of the Orthodox Church may appeal to a general human spiritual need, particularly in the aftermath of the chaos, trauma and social dislocation of the 1990’s, as well as the need for social cohesion.

Putin appears to grasp this on some level as is evidenced by his Address to the Federal Assembly in 2012 in which he lamented a shortage of empathy and solidarity in Russian society:

Colleagues, today, in our cities and villages, we are seeing the results of what has been happening in our nation, in society, in schools, in the media, and in our heads for the past fifteen to twenty years. And this is understandable. That was the time when we discarded all ideological slogans of the previous era. But unfortunately, many moral guides have been lost too. We ended up throwing out the baby with the bath water. Today, this is often manifested in people’s indifference to public affairs, willingness to tolerate corruption, brazen greed, manifestations of extremism and offensive behaviour. And all of this occasionally takes an ugly, aggressive, provocative form; I’ll go even further and say that it creates long-term threats to the society, security and even integrity of Russia.

It is painful for me to say this, but I must say it. Today, Russian society suffers from apparent deficit of spiritual values such as charity, empathy, compassion, support and mutual assistance. A deficit of things that have always, throughout our entire history, made us stronger and more powerful; these are the things we have always been proud of.

Putin appears to be in touch with the average Russian view of this as recent surveys of Russian opinion indicate that Russians believe in separation of church and state but believe that the church should have influence over social and cultural life.   Also, revealed is that most Russians identify as Orthodox Christian, but do not necessarily attend services, reflecting a desire for a spiritual and cultural anchor but not necessarily a shrill or fundamentalist form of religiosity.

Part II will cover the part of the book pertaining to Nicolai Berdyaev. 



How Russian Journalists Have Fared Under Putin “The Autocrat” vs. Yeltsin “The Democrat”

From Vladimir Putin - Caricature

(Vladimir Putin – Caricature
(image by DonkeyHotey)
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Pursuant to figures from the Committee to Protect Journalists, murders of journalists in Russia have actually decreased under Putin’s era of governance compared to Yeltsin’s era of governance in the 1990’s.

According to the research of Anatoly Karlin over at Unz Review*:

Moreover, according to figures from the Committee to Protect Journalists – hardly a bastion of Putin apologists – journalist murders have plummeted in Russia under the reign of the Dark Lord of the Kremlin relative to the “free” and “democratic” 1990s when the US was best buddies with Russia, or at least the oligarchs pillaging it, and for that matter whacking any journalists who dared report on their activities.

Literally MORE Russian journalists were murdered for their reporting under 8 years of Yeltsin than 15 years under Putin. (emphasis in original)

During the Yeltsin era, American mainstream media outlets didn’t seem particularly concerned about the plight of Russian journalists, even though it was worse.  They were too busy singing Yeltsin’s praises and characterizing him as a democrat, despite the fact that he had the Parliament building bombed and ordered Russian troops to fire on protesters during a constitutional crisis in 1993, resulting in around 1500 casualties.

Putin, whatever his faults, has never done anything remotely like this.

I will leave it to the reader to ponder the implications of this paradox.

(*Note:  I don’t necessarily agree with everything Karlin says in his article and I certainly don’t endorse Trump; however, Karlin succinctly stated the problem about the hypocrisy inherent in the way that the American corporate media characterizes Putin vs. Yeltsin on this issue, and he provided links to primary sources)