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Normandy Four to Meet in Paris on December 9th; MSM: Americans Lack Interest in Impeachment Circus Because They’re Dumb and Apathetic

French President Macron in Paris/AP Photo/Michael Euler

After successful disengagement of forces in both major areas of the Donbas in recent weeks, French President Emmanuel Macron has announced he will be hosting Normandy Four talks with Germany, Ukraine and Russia on December 9th. According to the AP:

Macron’s office says that the meeting will allow implementation of the Minsk accords, the 2015 agreement sponsored by France and Germany that envisages broad autonomy for the separatist regions in eastern Ukraine and an amnesty for the rebels.

A couple of folks in the media have apparently had some criticism thrown their way for acknowledging what everyone has already figured out – that the impeachment hearings last week have been about as stimulating as a shot of Nyquil or a hit of Benadryl. Listening to career National Security State bureaucrats relay Brzezinski’s talking points from the grave on Russia and Ukraine and the provision of a lot of second and third-hand hearsay that would not be permitted in a court of law, it turns out, is rather boring.

But, of course, it’s not enough to be subjected to this snoozefest as we slug rotgut coffee in between two crappy service jobs and wondering how we’re going to pay our medical bills. Now the average American also has to be condescended to by the political class and their media mouthpieces with implications that we’re too thick to understand the finer points of corruption being discussed by our intellectual superiors in Congress. Translation: Us plebes aren’t sufficiently waving our pompoms for impeachment because we’re morons.

In one of her famous daily “radar” rants at The Hill’s morning show, Krystal Ball explains to the whine and cheese crowd that average Americans understand quite a bit – including how the Democratic Party establishment has no moral leg to stand on when it comes to taking on Republican malfeasance because they’re all up to their botox-enhanced foreheads in the muck, parlaying their political positions into money-making enterprises on a regular basis.

Does anyone think that Obama would be making millions of dollars giving speeches to billionaires on Wall Street if he’d tried to govern like FDR? Does anyone imagine that he’s chiding these billionaires that they should temper their greed or “quickly get over” their sense of entitlement so that average Americans could have a fighting chance at a better standard of living and a more peaceful and sustainable world? Of course not. He knows he wouldn’t be invited back for more lucrative speeches if he did. The most he’ll do is ask these billionaires during a mutual admiration society meeting to give him a “thank you” for what he did for them while in office. With unmitigated gall, he reserves his finger-wagging for the little people who are finally making some demands for justice by supporting candidates like Bernie Sanders after decades of de-industrialization, stagnant wages, skyrocketing housing and health care costs, and endless wars that waste money and lives.

Moreover, Ball points out that even some Democrats are admitting in private that these hearings are not moving the needle to get more people to support impeachment and Trump’s removal from office. It’s a foregone conclusion that the Senate will not vote to remove Trump. But 6-8 weeks of a Senate trial will take several Democratic primary candidates – e.g. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren – off the campaign trail during a crucial time. If one didn’t know better, it might look like Pelosi and the Dem Party leadership would rather have 4 more years of Trump than a left populist reformer like Sanders as president. And why not? They’d do just fine under a second Trump administration, just like they’re doing fine under the current one, getting to play the role of the loyal opposition for the cameras and laughing all the way to the bank, while not actually doing a damned thing to improve things for the rest of us.

Thank you, Hillary Clinton, for Helping Tulsi Surge; OSCE Confirms Successful Withdrawal of Forces Near DPR in Donbas

As many of you are likely aware, Hillary Clinton made some comments during a podcast interview a few weeks back suggesting that a female Democratic Party primary contender was being “groomed” by the evil Rooskies to run as a third party candidate, presumably to serve as a spoiler and split the vote. Clinton didn’t mention Tulsi Gabbard by name, but it was easy to figure out who she meant and all subsequent media coverage of Clinton’s comments ran with the assumption that it was Gabbard. Gabbard responded on Twitter with sharp criticism of Clinton’s record of “war-mongering” and dirty political tricks.

The controversy has helped put Gabbard on the media map as many have been sympathetic to Gabbard being targeted in such a defamatory way by the deeply disliked diva of the corporate wing of the Democratic Party. Earlier this week, lawyers for Gabbard’s campaign sent a letter to Hillary Clinton’s legal team demanding that Clinton publicly retract her baseless accusations against Gabbard, with the implied risk a defamation suit. It is unlikely that Gabbard would actually win such a suit given the fact that she is a public figure and the criteria for winning such a suit is more difficult to meet than for a person who is not in the public eye. But this keeps the controversy front and center for a bit longer.

And why not? The controversy – which Gabbard has expertly parlayed to her advantage by contrasting herself with the hated Hillary – has created a surge in support for Gabbard as reflected in a newly released poll showing Gabbard at 6% in New Hampshire – ahead of Andrew Yang and Kamala Harris who continues her death spiral in popularity. Gabbard has met the criteria for the debate coming up later this month and is on the cusp of qualifying for the December debate as well. This gives her more opportunities to make her case to the American public and to perhaps land a karate chop to another establishment/corporate toady candidate. Pete Buttigieg or Amy Krowbarjaw are on my wish list. Below is Rising‘s Krystal Ball giving a summary of Tulsi’s surge and how she might actually satisfy the search for that highly sought after, but elusive “most electable” candidate against Trump.

So, it would appear that Hillary’s strategy of trying to torpedo Gabbard’s candidacy has backfired in typical Wiley Coyote fashion. In fact, Clinton has a history of bad strategic moves that have come back to bite her hard in the butt (Pied Piper, anyone?). But she seems unable to learn from her failures. Rather than keeping her pie-hole shut for a while after this, she has continued on by either implying publicly that she knows who the Democratic nominee is likely to be or that it might even be her since she hasn’t ruled out running again.

From my perspective, Hillary Clinton has shown since her loss in 2016 that she has serious mental health issues as manifested by the obsession with her loss and refusing to take any responsibility for it, instead blaming it on a laundry list of excuses: sexism, James Comey, the Russians, the man in the moon. She is now doing psyops on the American public in a desperate attempt to stay relevant. This is the same woman who thought she had it so in the bag in 2016 that she could offer the American electorate nothing substantive, insult half of them as “deplorables,” and not bother campaigning in rust belt states that were important in terms of the electoral college. She also practically anointed Kamala Harris as her successor at the outset of the primary campaign by handing over her foreign policy and other contacts to her. How’s that judgment call working for you, Hillary? Why anyone would give Hillary’s opinions and prognostications – much less her chances of success in another presidential run – any credibility at this point is beyond me. The country would be better off ignoring her.


On November 13th, the OSCE reported the following developments in the Donbas:

On 12 November, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) received a letter from the armed formations in non-government-controlled areas of Donetsk region, notifying that they had completed the withdrawal of forces and hardware in the agreed disengagement area near Petrivske.

On 13 November, the SMM received two Notes Verbales from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, one notifying that the Ukrainian Armed Forces had completed the withdrawal of forces and hardware in the agreed disengagement area near Petrivske….

…The second Note Verbale from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine and the above-mentioned letter from the armed formations also contained notifications of readiness to begin the removal of fortifications and other installations of military value from the disengagement area, together with baseline information and geographical co-ordinates of these fortifications, and other installations of military value.
These notifications were provided to the SMM in accordance with a timeline, endorsed by the Trilateral Contact Group on 1 October 2019, regulating activities in the disengagement areas concerning the withdrawal of forces and hardware, the removal of fortifications and demining.

The second Note Verbale and the letter also notified that the removal of fortifications and other installations of military value would begin in line with the agreed timeline.

Putin’s Remarks on Climate Change as Effects are Increasingly Seen in Russia and Youths Express Concern

Although it’s been very slow to emerge, there is increasing concern expressed in Russia about the environment, from pollution related to industry and unregulated landfills to climate change. The Russian government has finally been forced to recognize the problem – at least in terms of rhetoric, with 2017 having been officially declared “The Year of the Environment in Russia.”

This past September, Russia – the fourth biggest emitter of carbon in the world – finally ratified the Paris Climate Accord. However, Russia could remain within its commitments to the accord by increasing its current emissions because of the major drop that came after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. There has been talk for several years that Putin even supports the formation of a Green Party, though some wonder if it would just be another small rather ineffectual party with a green “flavor.”

Over the past year, Russia has experienced major storms, floods and wildfires on an unprecedented scale – of which the aftermath prompted a personal visit by Putin in which he scolded the poor emergency response by local officials. But there is much more damage happening that hasn’t received such a dramatic treatment by the media. A recent article from Asia Times reports:

The Kremlin has now been forced to acknowledge that Russia is being hit hardest by climate change. According to state agency Rosgydromet, global warming is taking place 2.5 times faster in Russia than on average in the rest of the world, because of its geographical position.

Some effects of climate change became evident this summer, when surging wildfires devastated millions of hectares of Siberian taiga and floods ravaged the Irkutsk region.

But these are minor developments compared to a far, far greater peril.

If temperatures continue rising, there will be catastrophic consequences for Russia’s permanently frozen landmass – a vast geographic region which makes up 60% of the country’s territory.

Melting of permafrost poses threats to “the structural stability and functional capacities” of key infrastructure, as pointed out in a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

According to separate estimates by the Russian Academy of Science, at current rates, the area covered by permafrost will shrink by a staggering 25% by 2080. That shrinkage threatens $250 billion worth of physical infrastructure, including energy pipelines, transportation networks and residences.

Additional reporting by Moscow correspondent Fred Weir for CSM revealed more concerns:

Arctic ice, receding at a record pace, revealed five new islands in the Russian far north this year that had been hidden under the ice sheets for all of recorded human history.

Russian scientists aboard a research ship near the northern coast of Siberia last week were amazed to discover a massive eruption of methane bubbles from the ocean floor. The huge clouds of the super-greenhouse gas suggest that the underlying permafrost is melting faster than anyone could have anticipated.

This all begs the question of whether any short-term benefits that Russia might gain from more comfortable temperatures in populated areas or the opening up of formerly unreachable resources might be seriously outweighed by the longer-term liabilities.

According to polls administered by the Russian government, over half of Russians think environmental problems are worsening and two-thirds don’t think the government is doing enough about it. More importantly, a recent Russian poll to ascertain the attitude of youths (aged 10 – 18, living in 52 Russian regions) toward several issues, showed that almost half were concerned about the environment and 90 percent thought that updated laws were needed to better protect the environment.

With this context in mind, I will share comments that Putin made at the recent Valdai conference with respect to climate change in response to a question about Russia’s ratification of the Paris accord and how to resolve the conflict between protection of the environment and economic imperatives:

Vladimir Putin: As for the uniformity of approaches and evaluations, we will probably never reach this. Indeed, experts in various fields who somehow try to answer the question about the causes of climate change do not give unambiguous answers to the causes of climate change.

There are different opinions, I have heard them. Some say there is some global change in space that affects the Earth, so from time to time huge changes like this take place on our planet. I sailed along the Lena River in our country and saw high banks with deposits containing the remains of obviously ancient tropical mammals, which lived in tropical seas. I am talking about the Lena River, its stretch north of the Arctic Circle. It means back then the climate there was like this. Well, were there any anthropogenic emissions at the time? Of course, not. You see, there is no answer.

Just the same, my position is that if the human race is responsible for climate change, even in the slightest degree, and this climate change has grave implications, and if we can do something to, at least, slow down this process and avoid its negative consequences, we must spare no effort. This is our position. Despite all disagreements, we will support the international efforts to combat climate change.

Indeed, we have practically ratified the Paris Agreement and are committed to implementing it. You said we hesitated or argued about it. There will always be room for doubt or disputes. But look at the obligations that we undertook and those undertaken by our partners. We are committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 70 or 75 percent by 2050.

By the way, the European Union has undertaken to cut the same type of gas emissions by 60 percent. We have approved a national environmental programme. It sets forth in detail what we must do and how we must do it complete with the deadlines. We have approved 12 federal programmes under the national project to work to change the situation regarding the environment. Gas emissions in 12 of the largest metropolises in our country, where they affect people’s lives and have a negative impact on the environment, must be reduced by 20 percent.

We have adopted a programme to deal with waste dumps – not only with primitive rubbish dumps but with hazardous waste as well. We have adopted a programme to extend protected nature areas by five million square kilometres. We have a whole set of measures that we are not just intending to carry out but we have already started to implement and they have already been made law in our country. So, we are determined to move, together with our partners, along this path that is laid down in the Paris Agreement.

As for the hydrocarbons, I think it was yesterday that I said the structure of the Russian energy sector is one of the world’s greenest. The nuclear power and hydropower industries in our country account for a third of the energy sector and gas accounts for 50 percent of the remaining two-thirds.

We have one of the greenest energy sectors in the world plus the capacity of our forests to absorb [waste carbon dioxide]. So, we understand the threats that everyone, including us, are exposed to. The warming rate in Russia exceeds that in the rest of the world by 2.5 percent. We are aware of this.

And one more thing: there are forests ablaze in one part of our country while close to it there is flooding and there is also drought and so on. We are well aware of this and we will do, jointly with the whole world, with the humankind, whatever it takes to preserve nature and the environment.

Withdrawal of Forces Completed Successfully at First Location in Donbas; Lavrov Says No Military Alliance with China is Forthcoming; Russian Government Says Time is Running Out to Renew START Treaty; Putin: NATO is Washington’s Foreign Policy “Tool”

The OSCE reported over the weekend that both the Kiev forces and the Donbas rebels have successfully completed the withdrawal of troops and weaponry from the line of contact at Zolote, near the LPR.

On 1 November, the SMM received a letter from the armed formations in non-government-controlled areas of Luhansk region, notifying that they had completed the withdrawal of forces and hardware in the agreed disengagement area near Zolote.

On 2 November, the SMM received two Notes Verbales from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, notifying that the Ukrainian Armed Forces had completed the withdrawal of forces and hardware in the agreed disengagement area near Zolote.

Withdrawal of forces near the DPR in Petrovskoye are scheduled to begin today.

As analyst Tom Luongo has written, with the last approval permit having finally been granted by Denmark for Nordstream 2 to proceed, if significant progress can be made toward resolving the Donbas war, then a detente between Russia and Europe is likely to follow. This would mean a relaxation or even rescinding of the sanctions.

I agree with this assessment and believe that Washington is likely to find itself isolated within the next couple of years if it persists with its anti-Russia hysteria. If Jeremy Corbyn were to become Prime Minister of Britain, there is also a chance for decreased hostility from the UK, which will leave only Poland and the Baltic states as out-of-tune players in the “we can’t get beyond our animus toward Russia” band.

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In an interview last week with a Russian TV news channel, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that, while Russian-Chinese relations are the best they’ve ever been, neither country is contemplating the establishment of a formal military alliance.

It appears that the Russian government is prepared for Washington to not renew the New START Treaty, which expires in February of 2021. Since there is no active diplomatic work being done on behalf of a possible extension, it would be difficult to get the necessary logistics done in order to extend the treaty before the deadline. reports:

An expected replacement treaty would be what everyone was hoping for, but with no work active on it, there is no real chance of getting everything done, and indeed no sign that things will even start, with the US showing little interest in arms limitation talks.

Though Russian Foreign Ministry office’s Vladimir Leontyev says it might be possible to rush through a blanket extension of New START under existing terms, even that would take at least six months to implement, and is made even more complicated by President Trump wanting China to also be limited by any new deal.

In a recent interview conducted jointly by Al Arabiya, Sky News, and RT Arabic, Putin answered a question about how Russia will respond to NATO’s continual march toward Russia’s borders. Watch the 3 minute exchange below.

Ukraine & Donbas Rebels Both Begin Withdrawal from Contact Line; Iran and Russia Set to Utilize SWIFT-Free Alternative Payment System, China and India to Follow Suit; Russia Moves Up to 28th Place in World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Rankings

After Ukrainian president Zelensky confronted armed ultra-nationalist members of the notorious Azov battalion in the Donbas earlier this week for their obstruction of what was supposed to be a mutual withdrawal of forces from the contact line weeks ago, it has been confirmed by the OSCE that both sides have started the disengagement process near the Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR):

KYIV, 30 October 2019 – The Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine, Yaşar Halit Çevik, welcomed the beginning, yesterday, of the disengagement of forces and hardware from the Zolote disengagement area. 

Additional SMM patrols in the Zolote area, assisted by static cameras and unmanned aerial vehicles, on 29 October observed the launch of flares by the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the armed formations, signaling both sides’ readiness to disengage, and subsequently Ukrainian Armed Forces personnel and members of the armed formations exiting the disengagement area, together with their weapons.

This was the next step of the Steinmeier Formula agreed to weeks ago by both sides as overseen by the Trilateral Group (Russia, Ukraine, and OSCE). If the withdrawal is completed successfully, the groundwork will have been laid for a meeting of the Normandy Four (Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France) to negotiate implementation of the Minsk 2.0 Agreement of 2015. AP reports:

The heavy weapons disengagement in eastern Ukraine, which was delayed for weeks, is seen as the final hurdle before the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany can get together to discuss a peace settlement for the conflict that has claimed more than 13,000 lives since 2014.

Vladislav Surkov, an adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, told the Tass news agency that the pullback was “good news” and said the much-anticipated summit could take place if a weapons pullback in another location [in the DPR] goes ahead as well.

Representatives of Russia, Ukraine and the rebels met in the Belarusian capital Minsk on Tuesday to talk about further steps. OSCE representative Martin Sajdik, who mediated the so-called Contact Group talks, said after the meeting that the disengagement in another area near the village of Petrovske was discussed.

With respect to those talks in Minsk on Tuesday, the Russian news agency TASS reported that the representative of the LPR said the Kiev side had expressed a more cooperative tone:

“We can note that at least the tone of [Ukraine’s] envoy to the talks Leonid Kuchma was different today. He was much more understanding and practically talked openly about how Ukraine is interested in holding a summit in the Normandy format,” Miroshnik said.

He added that Kiev has high hopes for the Normandy summit. “Ukraine wants to discuss there, most likely, key issues of the special status and its inclusion in the constitution, as well as several other issues of Donbass settlement. That’s why Ukraine partially fulfilled the prerequisite in the form of the Steinmeier formula,” he noted.

Whether this actually translates into a meeting of the minds that yields a workable agreement that can be bring peace and stabilization to Eastern Ukraine remains to be seen. In the meantime, however, there was cautious optimism in Russia for this step forward as expressed in the news segment by Vesti News below. According to this report, the regular Ukrainian military had to trick the ultra-nationalist obstructionists near the contact line in order to proceed with the withdrawal:

Iran, which is now a member of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union, has announced that it will be conducting business with Russia using each country’s SWIFT-free alternative banking system. RT provided the following details:

Instead of SWIFT, a system that facilitates cross-border payments between 11,000 financial institutions in more than 200 countries worldwide, the two countries will use their own domestically developed financial messaging systems – Iran’s SEPAM and Russia’s SPFS.

“Using this system for trade and business exchanges between EAEU [Eurasian Economic Union] member states can help develop and expand trade exchanges between the member states as well,” [Iran’s central bank governor] Abdolnaser Hemmati said, as cited by Mehr News Agency on Tuesday.

Tehran is set to officially join the Russia-led free-trade zone, the EAEU, next month [October]. The document on Iran’s participation was ratified in June by the nation’s parliament (Majlis) and President Hassan Rouhani has already ordered that the free trade zone agreement be implemented.

In further reporting this week from RT, Russia, China and India will be setting up a cross-border alternative to SWIFT to facilitate business among the three BRICS countries:

Members of the BRICS trade bloc Russia, India, and China have decided to connect their financial messaging systems to bypass the SWIFT international money transfer network.

Russia’s financial messaging system SPFS will be linked with the Chinese cross-border interbank payment system CIPS. While India does not have a domestic financial messaging system yet, it plans to combine the Central Bank of Russia’s platform with a domestic service that is in development.

The new system is expected to work as a “gateway” model when messages on payments are transcoded in accordance with a certain financial system.

As Washington continues its pattern of weaponizing its economic power via sanctions and threats to cut countries it doesn’t like off from the SWIFT banking transfer system, there will continue to be push-back that eventually diminishes Washington’s influence.

The World Bank has just announced its annual Ease of Doing Business rankings. Russia is now ranked 28th, having moved up almost 100 spots in 7 years.

NATO Think Tank Atlantic Council’s Relationship with Burisma Gas Company; Journalist Describes Exhibit in Kiev Honoring Banderite War Criminals as Heroes – with Official Support by US Government; Russia’s Conservative Legacy

Most of you are familiar with the scandal involving former VP Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, taking a seat on a Ukrainian gas company called Burisma. Hunter had no experience in the fossil fuel sector or in Ukraine. But then fate smiled on Hunter at the rate of $50,000 a month when pop was assigned to oversee the administration of Ukraine by the Obama administration after the 2014 coup that was engineered to install an anti-Russian government.

Some of you may have also heard of the Atlantic Council – the politically powerful Washington think tank that pushes a Russophobic and pro-NATO line. Many establishment politicians have supported and received support from this bastion of militarist pseudo-intellectualism.

But most people don’t realize that the Atlantic Council has intimate ties with Burisma. As investigative journalist Max Blumenthal recently reported:

But behind the curtain, the Atlantic Council has initiated a lucrative relationship with a corruption-tainted Ukrainian gas company, the Burisma Group, that is worth as much as $250,000 a year. The partnership has paid for lavish conferences in Monaco and helped bring Burisma’s oligarchic founder out of the cold. 

This alliance has remained stable even as official Washington goes to war over allegations by President Donald Trump and his allies that former Vice President Joseph Biden fired a Ukrainian prosecutor to defend his son’s handsomely compensated position on Burisma’s board. 

As Biden parries Trump’s accusations, some of the former vice president’s most ardent defenders are emerging from the halls of the Atlantic Council, which featured Biden as a star speaker at its awards ceremonies over the years. These advocates include Michael Carpenter, Biden’s longtime foreign policy advisor and specialist on Ukraine, who has taken to the national media to support his embattled boss. 

Even as Burisma’s trail of influence-buying finds its way into front page headlines, the Atlantic Council’s partnership with the company is scarcely mentioned. Homing in on the partisan theater of “Ukrainegate” and tuning out the wider landscape of corruption, the Beltway press routinely runs quotes from Atlantic Council experts on the scandal without acknowledging their employer’s relationship with Hunter Biden’s former employer. 

Read the full article here.

Independent journalist Yasha Levine was in Kiev late last year and saw an exhibit in connection with World War II. At first glance, Levine thought some of the symbols looked dubious. When he got close enough to read the actual inscription, he saw that the monument – just a short distance away from Maidan Square – was glorifying members of the OUN/UPA who had collaborated with the Nazis during the war and took part in massacres of thousands of Jews and Poles. These war criminals were being heralded as heroes on behalf of Ukrainian independence.

From a distance, the exhibit looked unremarkable — one of those harmless national heritage displays you can find in any European historic city center. But as I got within reading distance, I saw that there was nothing harmless about it. The exhibit wasn’t just showcasing historical Ukrainian symbols, it was celebrating and promoting one of the bloodiest fascist movements in Eastern Europe: the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and its paramilitary offshoot, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (OUN/UPA) — groups that had played a central role in the genocide of over a million Ukrainian Jews during World War II.

These groups were notorious for their savagery. Their goal was to create a racially pure, fascist state that was free from Poles, Jews, and Russians. To achieve their aims, their leaders pledged allegiance to Adolf Hitler and received training from Nazi Germany. Many of their members had volunteered for the Ukrainian Waffen-SS division, joined Nazi auxiliary police battalions, and helped the Nazis administer occupied Ukraine. Aside from killing Jews, the OUN/UPA organized the slaughter entire Polish villages. Survivors of their atrocities told gut-wrenching tales. They cut babies from wombs, smashed children against walls in front of their mothers, hacked people to death with scythes, flayed their victims, and burned entire villages alive….

….Naturally, all this dark and bloody history was left out of the exhibit. Instead it spun a superficial revisionist tale, presenting Nazi collaborators and mass murderers as heroes and liberators. A big component of the whole thing was a series of agitprop woodcuts that glorified the struggle of OUN/UPA soldiers against both the Nazis and the Reds and pushed the fiction that these groups were not bent on genocide but were involved in liberating all the peoples of the Soviet Union from totalitarian oppression. They were multicultural! Tolerant!

I stood looking at the exhibit in shock.

This was more than just whitewashing. This was straight up Nazi collabo glorification and Holocaust revisionism — an extreme reinterpretation of Ukrainian history that has long been pushed by the country’s fascist movements and the influential Ukrainian nationalist diaspora in the United States and Canada.

But even more disturbing was who was included on the list of official sponsors of the exhibit: Radio Liberty.

For those who may not recall from the Cold War days, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty (now consolidated and known as RFE/RL) were U.S. government funded media targeting the Soviet/Russian population. Levine continues:

As leaned in for a closer look, I saw that it was produced by the Ukrainian government. Specifically: the Institute of National Memory, a state-funded organization closely linked to country’s top spy agency, the Security Service of Ukraine. What’s more: it had the backing of the United States. An info panel running along the bottom of one of the large displays proudly listed Radio Liberty — the U.S. government’s Ukrainian-language propaganda outlet — as a “media partner.”

Holocaust revisionism? Glorification of mass murderers and Nazi collaborators? Right out in the open in the center of Kiev? And endorsed by our very own government? What the hell was going on?

It’s not like the fascist and genocidal history of the OUN/UPA is open to interpretation. In the last decade, a huge body of amazing historical research has come out on the topic. Groups like the Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Simon Wiesenthal Center both consider the OUN/UPA to be being major players in the genocide of Jews in Ukraine and have consistently criticized Ukraine’s attempts to erase and deny this history.

So why is a major federal agency funded by Congress helping push this revisionist Nazi bile on the Ukrainian people?

Read the full article here.

Professor Paul Robinson has just written a book about the influence of Conservative philosophy in Russian culture and politics. That book is the inspiration for this episode of CrossTalk featuring Robinson, along with Russian journalist Dmitry Babich and analyst Alexander Mercouris. They discuss how conservative philosophers in Russia are more rich and complex than they have typically been depicted by western pundits who often don’t have any meaningful understanding of the subject.

Russian conservatism is in many ways different than American conservatism which has a strong libertarian influence in which rejection of state involvement is central. This is generally not the case with Russia, which has a tradition of a strong state. Russian conservative thinkers, ranging from Dostoevsky to Vladimir Solovyov and Ivan Ilyin, provided deep explorations of the concepts of freedom, social morality and the challenges of modernity.

Putin and Erdogan Make Progress in Meeting re Syria, While U.S. Angrily Tells Kurds Not to Deal with Assad or Russia

SOCHI, RUSSIA – OCTOBER 22, 2019: Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin give a joint news conference on Syria following their meeting in Sochi, Russia. Mikhail Metzel/TASS

After long and difficult talks on Tuesday in Sochi, Putin and Turkish president Erdogan reached an agreement (memorandum of understanding) with respect to the situation in northeast Syria that will require the Kurds to retreat approximately 20 miles back from the Turkish-Syrian border. Both leaders spoke at a press conference after the negotiations. According to the Kremlin website, Putin reiterated support for Turkey protecting its legitimate national security interests near its border, but that ultimately all countries had to respect Syria’s sovereignty as well as the rights of Kurds:

We share Turkey’s concerns about the growing threat of terrorism and ethnic and religious disputes in that region. We believe these disputes and separatist sentiments have been fueled artificially from the outside.

…. Syria must be liberated from illegal foreign military presence. We believe that the only way to achieve strong and long-lasting stability in Syria is to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country. This is our principled position, and we have discussed it with the President of Turkey.

It is important that our Turkish partners share this approach. The Turks and the Syrians will have to protect peace on the border together, which would be impossible without mutually respectful cooperation between the two countries.

In addition to this, a broad dialogue between the Syrian government and the Kurds living in northeastern Syria must be launched. It is clear that all the rights and interests of the Kurds as an integral part of the multi-ethnic Syrian nation can only be fully considered and fulfilled via such an inclusive dialogue.

Putin also said that the return of Syrian refugees must be facilitated and stressed the importance that no actions by any party undermine the work of the constitutional committee which is set to begin its work at the end of the month:

We consider it necessary to continue helping Syrian refugees to return home, which will substantially alleviate the socioeconomic burden shouldered by the countries that agreed to take in Syrians. First and foremost this applies to the Republic of Turkey.

We urge the international community, primarily relevant UN agencies, to be more active in rendering humanitarian aid to all Syrians going home, without any discrimination, politicisation and preconditions….

…. Of course, during our talks with the President of Turkey, we discussed further steps to promote the peaceful political process in Syria, which the Syrians will conduct within the Constitutional Committee in cooperation with the United Nations.

The guarantors of the Astana format have meticulously worked on it for many years.

We believe the situation on the ground must not prevent the long-awaited launch of the committee in Geneva next week – October 29–30.

As reported by Russian news agency, Tass, Erdogan stated that Turkey and Russia would embark on joint patrols of the buffer zone Turkey has carved out with its recent military incursion into the northeast of Syria:

SOCHI, October 22. /TASS/. Turkey and Russia will carry out joint patrolling in northern Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday on the outcomes of the talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi.

“Within 150 hours, [Kurdish formations] the People’s Protection Units must leave the 30-kilometer zone. The countdown will begin tomorrow at 12:00 [local time, same as Moscow time — TASS]. After the 150 hours run out, Turkey and Russia will begin joint patrolling of the area to the east and to the west of the Peace Spring operation zone,” Erdogan said.

According to him, joint patrolling will be carried out on the Syrian territories 10 kilometers away from the Turkish border.

Meduza reported the following specific terms of the agreement, noting that “Erdogan’s claims were reduced to a stretch of land just 60 miles wide that contains only the two Kurdish cities Turkish armed forces managed to seize since the start of the operation against the Kurds.” :

  • Turkish troops will indefinitely retain control over the territory they managed to capture after October 9 (the agreement calls this “maintaining the status quo”).
  • Syrian border guards and Russian military police will occupy the rest of the border region, which will be off limits to Turkish troops, though Turkey will get the right to participate in joint patrols alongside Russian forces up to 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from the border.
  • The Kurdish armed formations that Erdogan considers to be terrorist groups must leave the entire border region within a week. The agreement says nothing about what happens next to these groups, but both Russia and Turkey committed to “fighting terrorist in all forms.”
  • The document doesn’t mention Kurdish autonomy, but it says all questions about Syria’s political structure will be determined later by a constitutional committee convened by Russia, Turkey, and Iran.
  • The agreement also doesn’t mention the resettlement of Turkey’s Syrian refugees in Kurdish territory, except for vague language about both parties making efforts to ensure that refugees return to Syria “safely and voluntarily.”

Other bilateral issues were discussed at the 6-hour-long conference between the two leaders, including defense cooperation involving the S-400 and continued trade in bilateral currencies. Again, according to Tass:

“The works on S-400 [missile systems] continues, Turkey is receiving supply procurements. Currently, bilateral defense industry cooperation will resolutely continue,” Erdogan stressed.

The Turkish president also announced that Ankara and Moscow “agreed to expand trading in national currencies.”

Putin later conferred with Syrian president Assad by telephone to inform him of the outcome of the meeting with Erdogan. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov briefed the media on the call and stated that beginning today, Syrian border guards will conduct joint patrols with the Russians near the Turkish-Syrian border for about a week before the Turks begin their joint patrols with the Russians in the smaller stretch over which they recently gained control :

According to Peskov, the Russian leader stressed that the main goal is to recover Syrian territorial integrity and to continue political regulation efforts, including the work related to the Syrian Constitutional Committee.

Assad supports the decisions taken on the outcomes of the talks, the Kremlin spokesman added. “President al-Assad thanked Vladimir Putin, expressed his full support for the results of the work and stated that he is ready to send Syrian border guards to the [Syrian-Turkish] border along with the Russian military police,” he said…

….Starting midday October 23, the Russian military police and Syrian border guards will arrive at the Syrian-Turkish border to monitor the withdrawal of Kurdish military formations to the depth of 30 km from the border. In 150 hours, Russia and Turkey will begin the joint patrolling of the area.

Just prior to the Putin-Erdogan meeting, it was reported that U.S. diplomats told the political leader of SDF – who was in Washington D.C. for urgent talks that became contentious- that they would “not allow” the Kurds to make a deal with Assad or the Russians. But since the Kurds are no longer getting protection from the U.S., it appears they will likely not be abiding by any dictums issued by Washington.

UN General Assembly: Lavrov Says West is Wasting its Time Trying to Undermine Russia’s Partnership with China; Putin Refers to Russia & China as “Allied Relationship”; Ukrainian President Reiterates That His Priority as President is to End Donbas War While U.S. State Dept. Approves $39M in Military Aid to Kiev

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly.

In a huge blow to the editorial board of the NYT, Russian FM Sergey Lavrov, in his speech to the UN General Assembly last month, said that the west’s attempts to undermine the partnership between Russia and China are a waste of time.

To reinforce the point, in his October 3 remarks at the Valdai conference, president Putin referred to Russia’s relationship with China as “an allied relationship in the full sense.” He also announced that Russia will be helping China create an early warning missile defense system:

Successes are there for everyone to see. First, we enjoy an unprecedentedly high level of trust and cooperation. This is an allied relationship in the full sense of a multifaceted strategic partnership. This is reflected in the economy.

We are increasing our trade at a fast pace. As you may be aware, last year it reached $108 billion, although we had only planned to reach this number two years from now. Now, we will start moving to the $200 billion mark.

The trade structure is diversifying. Of course, energy accounts for over 70 percent of our exports, but this is natural. We have the product, and China needs it. This does not mean that we do not engage in other industries or other areas of economic cooperation.

We have already built four units of the Tianwan Nuclear Power Plant (which is part of our high-tech cooperation) and are working on four more units. This involves a major, simply huge amount of work.

We are working on a wide-body long-range aircraft and a heavy-duty helicopter. This project will be completed, I have no doubt about it. We are actively cooperating in outer space, and expanding our ties in agriculture. We cannot even cover the needs of China in soybeans. They are ready to buy from us as much as we can produce, but we are not ready for it….

We will continue to work together in outer space exploration and cooperate in the military-technical sphere. I am probably not revealing a big secret here, but it will transpire sooner or later anyway: we are now helping our Chinese partners create a missile attack warning system. This is very important and will drastically increase China’s defence capability. Only the United States and Russia have such a system now.

We are very closely and deeply involved in cultural cooperation. I will not list everything that goes with this now.

Region-to-region cooperation is at a very high level as well. I am not talking about joint infrastructure which is expanding, but the border provinces of China and the adjacent Russian regions in the Far East interact very well with each other. This is an entire complex, a set of interaction projects.

At the same time, and I want to emphasise this specifically, our friendship or joint work have never been used to oppose anyone. We always work in a positive manner and in each other’s interests.

Alexei Maslov, who is head of the School of Oriental Studies at Moscow’s School of Higher Economics, has even predicted that the two countries will sign a formal alliance treaty within the next year, possibly including an “Article 5-like” clause of mutual protection.

What Russians in general think about this growing partnership with China is interesting. According to some surveys, 69 percent of Russians view China in a positive light. But according to interviews conducted by two American academics with Russian and Chinese university students, there is more reticence.

Our research suggests the future elites of both countries, at least, are wary. In mid-2018 we conducted 21 focus groups of students-primarily undergraduates in their junior or senior years, but also a few graduate students-at the leading universities in Beijing and Moscow. We asked each to evaluate Russia, China and the U.S. as “great powers.” The students expressed disinterest, ambivalence or misgivings about Sino-Russian cooperation. Many believed China and Russia did not share sufficient values or interests to work together over the long term. We also found that most of the students in both countries saw much to respect or admire in the U.S….

Some Russian students also found China untrustworthy, in part because its regime is so authoritarian: “If we aren’t a democratic country in full measure, they are even more so,” one said. “That’s scary. You do not know what to expect from such a closed society.” A common worry was that in a partnership with China, Russia would be relegated to political, strategic and economic dependency. This could produce grievances and insecurities even worse than those associated with Russia’s relationship with the West, both in the past and the present….

Most Russian participants not only acknowledged American cultural and technological prowess but also respected the American political system. According to one student, “despite all the problems of the United States we’ve discussed, it all works, it all holds. And it’s been holding for a quite a long time.” For another student, “we deeply associate America with freedom.” The members of the focus groups also viewed the “American dream” as an authentic aspiration, not an anachronism or a legitimating narrative concocted by ruling elites.

Now some readers might be tempted to dismiss this as a couple of American academics (and journalists reporting on their work) finding what they wanted to find among Russian (and Chinese) students – they probably asked leading questions and/or cherry-picked the responses. And perhaps some bias did go on. But I’m actually not that shocked by this. When I spoke to Russians during my visits to the country, I often heard opinions of the U.S. as being some sort of land of milk and honey where the ideals expressed in the constitution permeated every American’s life. I had one woman in Krasnodar who worked with incarcerated youth express total disbelief when I told her that we, too, had organizations that worked with victims of the justice system, including those who were on death row and were innocent. It simply didn’t fit with her image of the United States.

I also got an opportunity to hear from high school students in both Krasnodar and St. Petersburg on my first trip. Many of them also had positive views of the U.S. – even if they thought our Russia policy was frustrating – and even continued to see the U.S. as aspirational in many respects. One youngster proudly recited the preamble to the U.S. constitution from memory.

Keep in mind these are the views of supposedly propagandized zombies who are forced to imbibe Kremlin-controlled media that constantly portrays America as the devil. Doesn’t really make sense, does it?

Perhaps the answer lies partially in the fact that everyday Russians probably derive their view of the U.S. more from our popular culture, which is very influential in Russia and has been since the end of the Cold War. In St. Petersburg, I saw billboards advertising the latest blockbuster American movie and a concert by American pop singers. In Krasnodar, I heard Russian rap on the radio and Anglo-American music piped into a pedestrian thoroughfare. In Crimea, I saw a giant billboard image of Marilyn Monroe outside of a roadside cafe.

In short, the U.S. still has phenomenal P.R. and a compelling story that it likes to tell everyone about itself, with lots of razzle-dazzle. I suppose it’s hard to resist.


Ukrainian president Zelensky has publicly reiterated that his “mission” as president is to settle the war in Donbas. As reported by the Russian news agency TASS on October 10th,

“My key goal is that I want to stop the war, I believe this is my mission,” Zelensky told reporters in Kiev.

Zelensky stated that he understood that some citizens living in the uncontrolled territories in Donbass could feel that they are Ukrainians, while some of them might not.

“If people in Donbass think that they are not Ukrainians, I cannot get into their brain. Those who feel that they are Ukrainians should know that we won’t leave them and we won’t abandon them,” Zelensky said.

The president stressed that these people should have a chance to “come back to Ukraine.”

According to reporting by the AP, he also accused his predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, of derailing the peace process, referring to Poroshenko’s leading role in recent protests after Zelensky approved the Steinmeier Formula for getting the Normany Four talks back on track.

KYIV, Ukraine – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy accused his predecessor on Thursday of fomenting protests to derail a peace process for the country’s separatist-held east and said talks with Russia were the only way to end the five-year war there.

Zelenskiy told reporters that Petro Poroshenko, the incumbent leader he defeated in April, was “pushing” people to oppose the withdrawal of heavy weaponry in eastern Ukraine, where fighting against Russia-backed separatists has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014.

“He is against the pullback and he thinks that he can spearhead another Maidan,” Zelenskiy said, referring to the square in the capital of Kyiv that was the site of 2013-2014 protests that ousted a pro-Russian government and eventually propelled Poroshenko into power.

“We want to end this war. I don’t think the previous government had quite the same desire,” Zelenskiy said.

Zelenskiy said he hoped his country’s people would back his efforts to end the conflict with the separatists.

Meanwhile, the State Department has approved the release of $39 million worth of military aid to Kiev, including 150 Javelin anti-tank missiles and 10 missile launchers.

This is in addition to the $400 million worth of military aid released on September 11th – after supposedly being held up by Trump in connection with his infamous July 25 phone call with the Ukrainian president.

What is the Real Status of Democracy in Russia? An Interview with Prof. Nicolai Petro

Professor Nicolai Petro

A couple of weeks ago, I conducted an email interview with Nicolai N. Petro, professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island, on the state of democracy in today’s Russia, after having read his eye-opening 2018 journal article, “Are We Reading Russia Right?” His full biography is below the interview.

1)  In your 2018 article, “Are We Reading Russia Right?” you attempt to correct some misconceptions many in the west have about the state of democracy in Russia.  You point out, for example, that Russia has a much more diverse media that includes anti-Putin reportage and opinion.  Can you explain for readers a bit more about Russia’s media landscape and what percentage of the media that state TV actually consists of and what the demographics are who consume state TV vs. other types of media?   

Those interested in the current Russian media landscape can turn to the latest Levada Center survey, which compares the situation in 2009 and 2019. A decade ago 94% of Russians got their news from television, today only 72% do. For Russians under 25 that figure is 42%. 

More and more Russians turn to the internet for news. For Russians 35 and older it is their primary source for news. The total audience for independent media (“those that regularly publish points of view distinct from the official”) is estimated to be around 35%, but in major Russian cities it is closer to half the population.    

The Levada Center’s list of independent media sources includes only the major commercial newspapers, Russian online news sites, Gazeta,ru,, RBK, Echo of Moscow, and foreign news sites that broadcast in Russian, like, BBC, Radio Liberty, and Euronews. Given the widespread, cheap access to the internet in Russia, however, this list de facto knows no bounds.  

Young people, both in Russia and abroad, ask about censorship and where to get reliable information. Here is how Vladimir Posner, the patriarch of Russian television journalists, answered this question recently. Posner, who has his own talk show on Russian television, is consistently rated among Russia’s most trusted journalists:

“. . . you say, ‘where should we get information? ” You have a million options, you can read any foreign newspaper, for a few pennies. Subscribe to the New York Times and read what they write, read what they write in Le Monde, read what they write in “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” and compare. Be active.

. . . You say there is censorship on television? How to put this … on Soviet television there was censorship. There was an organization called Glavlit. You came into a room with your text, and some old fogey sat there and you left your text with them. If they put a stamp on, it meant you could broadcast. No stamp, no broadcast. That is censorship. Now we have [editorial] control. That is not censorship. Today they might say “that’s not quite what we had in mind.” What can you do? You can’t always get what you want. I can compare. I know what was then and where we are today. And I’m just happy that today I can work, because then I was forced to resign.”

2)  Another misconception people have about Russia is the state of the justice system.  Your article, along with Professor Katherine Hendley’s book Everyday Law in Russia, gives a more complete – and different – picture of the state of the justice system in Russia than many Americans often hear about from our establishment media and politicians.  Both you and Hendley also go into many of the significant reforms that have been implemented under Putin’s leadership.  Can you give readers a few examples of reforms under Putin and what the effect has been for Russia?   

Putin can rightly be called the father of the modern Russian legal system. The principles of modern criminal justice were introduced under his watch into Russia. These include habeus corpus, a juvenile justice system, trial by jury, bailiffs, and justices of the peace. And that was just during his first term (for details see my article “The Great Transformation.”)      

During Putin’s second term courts struck down compensation limits for government negligence, strengthened the rights of defendants to exculpatory evidence, provided clearer guidelines on secrecy, and ruled that compensation must be paid to persons arrested without merit. Closed judicial proceedings and pretrial detention centers have been all but eliminated, privacy protections for individuals expanded, and 24,000 free legal aid centers created.

It is a clear sign of growing public confidence in the judicial system that the number of persons turning to courts for redress of civil grievances has gone from one million in 1998, to six million in 2004, to ten million in 2012, to more than 17 million in 2016. Conventional wisdom in the West questions the independence of the Russian judiciary, but if one measures independence by the number of times that courts rule against the government and in favor of private plaintiffs in civil cases, then over the past ten years, Russian courts have been independent more than 70% of the time. 

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of these legal reforms is that, in the face of terrorism and secession, not only has Russia created a modern European legal system, it has systematically and deliberately enhanced its more humane components.   Since Putin introduced the new code of criminal procedures, acquittal rates by judges have more than doubled, and are now comparable to those of the United States. Acquittal rates in jury trials are three times higher which, since their expansion nationwide, has resulted in roughly a quarter of those indicted being acquitted.  As a result of the liberalization of the penal code, the number of inmates in penal institutions has fallen to less than half a million. Alas, we see the opposite trend in some other countries. Two decades ago per capita incarceration rates for the United States and Russia were nearly identical; today America’s rate is more than twice that of Russia.

3)  Some critics of Putin state that he was more of a reformer during his first two terms as president and has moved away from that since his return to the presidency in 2012.  Do you agree with that assessment?  If so, what do you think may explain the change?

I think Russian society has changed, and Putin along with it. In his 1999 pre-inaugural manifesto, “Russia at the Turn of the Millenium,” Putin said that Russians are accustomed to paternalism, and presumably needed a firmer hand than Yeltsin could provide. But with many of his reforms having now taken root, much less direct intervention is needed; fine tuning suffices. Over time, therefore, we have seen a dramatic extension of local self-government, with the creation of 27,000 administratively independent municipalities, and the restoration of direct gubernatorial elections. There has also been a notable shift in the response of officials to public protests. While not perfect, the law now affords considerable civil protections to those detained.

In just the past few months the convictions of Ivan Golunov and Yuri Dmitriev have been overturned, Pavel Ustinov’s sentence has been reduced on appeal, and Alexei Menyailo and the other suspects detained in the recent unsanctioned Moscow marches have all been released. The major take-away from all this should be that the system of checks and balances works!

4)  Earlier this year, a few laws were passed that limit media freedom. One involves the distribution of foreign print media.  Two others involve the punishment of the deliberate dissemination of untrue information and the public expression of disrespect of the state or society.  Can you explain how these laws would actually work and the reasoning behind them?  Does this represent a regression by the Putin government?  

Both of these laws, Federal Law № 28-ФЗ and Federal Law № 30-ФЗ, are Russian versions of laws that, in other countries, prohibit, in the first case, disinformation; and, in the second case, lese majeste. 

In the case of fake news (Law No. 28), a site can be blocked if it “threatens to endanger the life and health of citizens, if it disturbs the peace, or creates impediments to the work of strategically important infrastructure.” This determination is made by Roskomnadzor, Russia’s telecommunications oversight agency, at the request of the State Procurator. The wording of the law suggests that the intent is to prevent panic and false information being spread in the event of a disaster. Like all laws, it can be abused, but I suspect that Russian courts will uphold its main thrust, on national security grounds.

In the case of lese majeste, a site can be blocked for “obvious” reference to society, the state, state symbols, the constitution, or state authorities “in an indecent manner.” Again, at the request of the State Procurator, Roskomnadzor must preliminarily block the site, pending a review by a court.

There has been considerable public criticism of these laws. The head of the Russian president’s Human Rights Commission has vowed to seek a legal review. Fortunately, the procedure for this has been in place for more than a decade, ever since the controversies that surrounded the potential designation of certain NGOS as foreign agents, and seems to work well. The number of NGOs required to register as foreign agents has fallen each year, and currently constitutes just 0.39% of all registered NGOs. Given that it is going to be well nigh impossible to implement the lese majeste law without also violating a large number of other Russian laws, I expect the matter will be reviewed sooner, rather than later. I do not favor such laws, but I have faith that the Russian legal system will ultimately find the proper balance in this matter, as it has in others.

5)  This past summer there were protests in Moscow resulting from some candidates who weren’t allowed to run for the Moscow City Council.  These protests received a lot of attention in western media.  What were these protests actually about and are they representative of a larger trend of serious dissatisfaction among Russians with the political system?  Why did the Kremlin choose to crack down on these protests?  Wouldn’t it have been wiser to just let these candidates run and then fade into oblivion as many of them often do?  

The protests were about the failure of opposition candidates to be registered. Not having been able to obtain the minimum number of local signatures (3%), some candidates deemed the signature requirement unfair and demanded that they be registered anyway. Election Commission head, Ella Pamfilova, expressed her sympathy for their plight, but pointed out that the law cannot be altered post facto. The proper procedure, she said, is to appeal for changes before the election process begins.

As for the detentions that took place, I am sympathetic to the view that law enforcement agencies should not selectively choose which laws to enforce and which to ignore. The old Roman dictum, “dura lex, sed lex” applies. Temperance and mercy are the appropriate function of the courts which, as I have already suggested, seem to be applying it liberally. One cannot expect government in a democracy not to commit mistakes; merely, that it take steps to correct these mistakes quickly, so that they do not create even more problems. Comparing Russia’s handling of its public protests to France and Hong Kong suggests to me that Russian authorities understand this, and that Russian society can now accommodate such manifestations without any serious threat to the regime.

6)  In the early years of his presidency, Putin had the regional governors removed.  This was heavily criticized in the west.  I’ve been told by some who are very knowledgeable about Russia that this was because those regional governors were extremely corrupt and an obstacle to constructive reform in the country.  What is your opinion of how Putin dealt with that situation?  Has the result been overall positive or negative?  What do you think the prospects are for local or regional self-governance in Russia in the near to medium term?  

The system has evolved. From 2005 to 2011, governors were appointed by local legislative (representative) bodies, subject to the veto of the president’s office. In 2012, the direct election of governors in regions was restored.   

There is no perfect model for local government. In many European countries (France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland) governors are considered extensions of the national government, and simply appointed. There are advantages and disadvantages to both direct election and direct appointment, which is why I feel that the choice should be left to each country.

7)  In his book Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives, Professor Stephen F. Cohen provides the following definition of reform:  “change that betters people’s lives, usually by expanding their political freedom, economic freedom, or both.  Nor is it revolution or total transformation of an existing order but normally piecemeal, gradualist improvements within a system’s broad historical, institutional, and cultural dimensions.”  He also specifies that reform does not have to be rapid or complete to qualify as genuine reform.  By this definition, do you think that Putin will likely be seen as a reformer by future historians of Russia?  

Reform can be a good thing or a bad thing. The best reformers, the ones praised by history, seem to know instinctively when to slow down reforms, and when to speed them up.

The reforms that Putin implemented in his first two terms caused enormous upheaval in Russian society, but also resulted in nine straight years of booming economic growth and budget surpluses. Even positive results, however, come with a social cost—intragenerational tensions, inflation, and corruption, to name a few.  It is important to always bear in mind that reforms are for the well-being of people, not people for the well-being of reforms. Every sustainable economic and social transition recognizes this, and therefore pauses periodically to allow people to adapt to and accept social changes. Only many years hence will it be apparent whether a given administration was able to achieve the proper balance between the two, since “by their fruits will they be known.” (Matthew 7:16).

8)  You suggest in your article that we in the west have trouble conceptualizing that democracy could exist in Russia – that we seem to think Russia is uniquely incapable of democracy.  We seem to not know how to talk about the possibility of democracy in Russia, even when it exists to some degree.  Can you expound on that idea?  

What we say about Russia, and other countries, is a reflection of what we already know to be true. Since Western cultural assumptions about Russia cannot envision it as a democracy, evidence of democratic behavior becomes invisible. For Western observers, this has the added benefit of reinforcing the familiar cultural assumptions about Russia that they grew up with.

I have a different perspective because I was raised within the culture of the Russian emigration, and came to this country as an adult. My efforts to expose my professors to a wider variety of interpretations of Russian political culture began in college, and eventually led to my first book The Rebirth of Russian Democracy (Harvard, 1995).

But passive acceptance of the mainstream narrative is only part of the reason for the West’s persistent hostility toward Russia. Another is the unstated assumption that a truly democratic Russia (if one could imagine such a thing) would have to abandon its distinctive cultural characteristics. To the extent that it retains such distinctions, in religion, social norms, and historical interpretation, it must ipso facto not be a democracy. The problem here, of course, is that “democracy” then becomes merely an aspect of Western culture, rather than an objectively definable phenomenon. De facto this makes “democracy” almost inaccessible to any culture that the West labels as “non-Western,” bringing us back to the argument made earlier about what we already know to be true.  

9)  What do you think needs to happen for U.S.-Russia relations to improve?  

As previously isolated parts of the globe become accessible, our perceptions about them change. At first, this can actually heighten fear and revulsion of the strangeness of other cultures, but over time, as larger and more diverse segments of society are exposed to each other, it tends to erode barriers.

I would therefore amend the popular social science dictum that democracies do not go to war with each other, to—countries that have extensive commercial and social contacts with each other, makes war between them unimaginable. While I am far from believing that such contacts alone will bring about world peace, they certainly seem to have made recourse to all-out war among major powers a rare occurrence. As a result, let me conclude on this optimistic note: if we civilizations can survive long enough, then time does indeed heal all wounds.

Nicolai N. Petro is professor of political science at the University of Rhode Island.  His books include, Crafting Democracy (Cornell, 2004), The Rebirth of Russian Democracy (Harvard, 1995), and Russian Foreign Policy co-authored with Alvin Z. Rubinstein (Longman, 1997).  As a Council on Foreign Relations fellow, he served as special assistant for policy toward the Soviet Union in the U.S. Department of State from 1989 to 1990. He has received two Fulbright awards (one to Russia and one to Ukraine), as well as fellowships from the Foreign Policy Research Institute, the National Council for Eurasian and East European Research, the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies in Washington, D.C., and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.  His writings about Russia and Ukraine have appeared frequently on the web sites of the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, The Nation, and The National Interest.

Some Interesting Sources on Kurds and Turkey in Syria

Apologies for the blog post that went out yesterday with a video that had been taken down. I had scheduled the post several days in advance. I will try embedding the video again – it has been reportedly re-released on YouTube – in a future blog post. In the meantime, I though I’d share a few interesting sources that go into the context of the whole Kurds/Turkey/Syria issue going on right now. I don’t have time at the moment to do a deep dive and write up my own analysis and commentary, but you may find these items useful in trying to understand this situation, which is more complicated than the corporate news and many politicians are portraying.

First we have two in-depth videos by political analyst Kim Iversen. As many regular readers have probably deduced by now, she is one of my favorites as she likes to do in-depth research on timely issues and then reports back and provides analysis on them via YouTube videos. She is, of course, heavy on foreign policy. I find her to be thorough and fair-minded in her analyses. She is pretty consistently non-interventionist as well. She tends to repeat herself a little bit, but I don’t find that too bothersome.

What did Washington actually promise the Kurds and what did Washington actually promise Turkey? Who is being betrayed?

Below is a just published article by retired weapons inspector, Scott Ritter, providing his own experience with and knowledge about the Kurds in the region.

Why the Syrian Kurds Aren’t Necessarily Our Friends