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3 Western Media Myths About the Ukraine War

Myth #1:  Russia started it.

The European Union, led by Germany, tried to pressure Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich to sign an Association agreement.  Upon review of how the agreement would actually affect his country economically – already the poorest in Europe – including austerity measures,  renunciation of their significant trade with Russia and the supplanting of Ukraine’s native oligarchs, Yanukovich balked and opted to go with a Russian deal comprised of a $15 billion loan and reduced gas rates.  As it turns out, the West was not in fact offering Ukraine free trade or even visa-free travel but a self-serving deal that had little to no benefit to Ukraine.  Most people in Yanukovich’s place would have done the same.

Throughout the period of negotiating this association agreement, Russia requested three way talks to avert problems.  Of course, Russia wanted to protect its own economic and trade interests, but it also had an interest in preventing friction or instability on its border.  They were basically told by the West to drop dead.

Myth #2:  Yanukovich fled Ukraine due to a massive peaceful protest representing the majority sentiment in the country.

According to an independent investigation by Germany’s ARD TV into the events surrounding the ouster of the democratically elected president, specifically the violence on the Maidan, found that sniper shots, starting on February 20th, which resulted in almost 100 deaths came primarily from buildings controlled by the Maidan protesters.   A more in-depth forensic investigation was conducted by Ukrainian-Canadian academic Ivan Katchanovski, PhD.  His conclusions supported the ARD report.  This is all consistent with Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet’s account to then European High Commissioner Catherine Ashton in an intercepted phone call posted on February 26, 2014, wherein he stated that his sources, including Dr. Olga Bolgomets – who was an ardent supporter of the original Maidan protests – reported evidence that the snipers were Maidan protesters.  Paet also reported that members of the Ukrainian parliament had been beaten and threatened during the period in question.

Prior to the sniper violence and the ouster of Yanukovich, State Department official Victoria Nuland and US ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt were caught with their pants down in an intercepted phone call posted on February 6th wherein they are discussing how to “glue this thing” and who will be the best person to lead a post-Yanukovich Ukraine, declaring “Yats is the guy.” She also famously disparaged the EU’s less aggressive approach to engineering a zero-sum position for Ukraine with respect to its relations with the West and Russia.

Thus, there is overwhelming evidence, typically ignored by the western mainstream media, that Yanukovich’s ousting was actually the result of a violent and planned coup.

Myth #3:  The Donbas rebellion is a Russian contrivance with no indigenous support and no legitimate grievances.

American Russia scholar Nicolai Petro, who spent a year in Ukraine and was in country when the upheaval occurred, has cited sociological surveys of Donbas residents from March, April and May of 2014 in which the results show that majorities considered the Right Sector to be dangerous and influential and the Maidan protests to be illegal and representing “an armed overthrow of the government, organized by the opposition, with the assistance of the West.”

Independent video journalist Patrick Lancaster, who has been reporting from the Donbas since spring of 2014, stated that most of the fighters he has encountered on both sides are Ukrainian.

British Russia scholar Paul Robinson has estimated that 90% of the fighters in the Donbas are Ukrainian.  Furthermore, he states that the original rebellion constituted regular citizens who took control of local government buildings in response to the startling events coming out of post-coup Kiev where laws were introduced seeking to delegitimize the Russian language, neo-Nazis were given posts in the Interior and Education departments and many acts of violence were committed against members of the Communist Party and the Party of Regions.

When Robinson asked a Maidan protester why this political protest had led to a more violent and divisive result than the Orange Revolution in 2004, the protester admitted that this time they didn’t care what the Crimeans or the residents of the Donbas wanted.   So the divisiveness was not initiated by Russia or the ethnic Russian population of Ukraine, but by a portion of the Maidan protesters who basically believed a whole segment of their country should – to put it delicately – kiss off.

Although Russia has provided some arms and allowed Russian volunteers to cross the border freely, Robinson points out that Moscow has actually had a moderating influence on the rebels by facilitating the replacement of the original military leaders (Igor Strelkov and Alexander Borodai) that supported a quixotic quest for independence.    An independent Donbas that would be economically unviable and would provide no counterweight to a hostile and extremist government in Kiev is not in Moscow’s interests.

Review of Dying Unneeded: The Cultural Context of the Russian Mortality Crisis

Dying Unneeded: The Cultural Context of the Russian Mortality Crisis

Dying Unneeded:  The Cultural Context of the Russian Mortality Crisis

“I saw nothing barbarous about these people.  On the contrary their forms have something elegant and gentle which one does not find anywhere else….The character of this people is that they fear neither fatigue nor physical suffering; there is both patience and activity in this nation, gaiety and melancholy.  One sees the most striking contrasts united in them and this presages great things, for ordinarily it is only superior beings who possess opposing qualities; masses are, for the most part, gray.”

-Madame de Stael on her trip to Russia in 1812 (1)

 “Even for her people, Russia refuses to submit.  This is how she charms and this is how she frustrates.  She is never completely known and always retains her ability to surprise, in both pleasant and unpleasant ways.” (Parsons, p. 7)

Though I have read several books over the past year on Russia that have been tremendously informative, ethnographer Michelle Parsons’ Dying Unneeded has achieved something special.  Special in that it provides the reader with an empathetic window into Russian triumphs and struggles post-WWII, especially during the “shock therapy” period of the 1990s.

The book is deeply sad at times, but the reader does not walk away simply feeling sorry for Russians, something this proud people likely wouldn’t want.  In addition to the sadness, one also comes away with a glimpse of what gives the Russian people their character and resilience as well as their mystique.

Geography and history in the form of a harsh climate and constant invasions from all directions have created a people with great stamina and endurance.

It’s no surprise then that Russia has been a source of great literature.  In terms of historical experience and culture, it has all the necessary ingredients for great storytelling:  tragedy, struggle, paradox and a sense of the absurd (i.e. humor).  And most Russians, as cited in the interviews and surveys used for Parsons’ book, seem to be keenly aware of this.

The sense of the absurd involves getting things done within Russia’s still cumbersome bureaucracy and the use of connections, which outsiders often perceive as “corruption” but in actuality has a more complex cultural history.  A harsh bureaucracy to maintain order along with tribute paying and exploitation of connections goes back to the state system imposed by the Mongols in the 13th century.

As one of Parson’s Russian acquaintances stated:  “It is impossible for you Westerners to understand our lives…trying to understand us rationally.  Russian reality is based on absurdisms – economic, social, even scientific.  All our life is based on absurdity, impossibility.  Russian daily life is simply absurd and preposterous. “  (Parsons, p. 7)

Space, Order & Freedom in the Soviet Union & Post-Soviet Russia

The theme of paradox – which seems to underscore most people’s observations of Russia and its people, regardless of the time period – was reflected most in this book by the author’s elaboration of the historical and cultural relationship between space and order and its implications for social connection.

“Older Muscovites were often nostalgic for Soviet order because it ordered social connections.  People’s positions vis-à-vis the Soviet state influenced what people could give to other people – the ways they could be soulful and needed.  Work was the principle means by which Soviet citizens were ordered by the state.  At work, Russians had personal connections and access to resources and services. Someone in the Soviet bureaucracy could arrange permission to build a dacha.  A friendly butcher could set aside a good cut of meat.  A test proctor could help a student pass an entrance examination.  Collectively, people often circumvented the state, but they depended on the state to do that.  Order here refers to both the order of the state and the order of social relations because they are mutually constitutive.” (Parsons, p. 12)

Furthermore, the push back required to circumvent both the material and non-material limits of the state in order to get various needs met – utilizing those essential social connections – produced a sense of freedom.

“The paradox of space and order – the unbound and bound quality of social relations in Soviet society – resolves into the even higher-order concept of freedom.  For these elderly Muscovites, freedom was not always compromised by the Soviet state.  In some cases the constraint of the Soviet state heightened a sense of freedom.  As people using their connections, collectively pushed against the limits of the state, and as those limits bent back or gave way, they experienced a sense of freedom.”  (Parsons, p. 12)

It should be noted that this phenomena of pushing back against the system in small and various ways did not work under the brutality of the Stalin regime and it refers to Soviet life generally after Stalin’s death when the system relaxed in some ways.  Parsons goes on later to explain how the breakdown of this space-order-freedom framework in the 1990s led to social alienation as people seemed to drift off onto their own.  This alienation was exacerbated by the requirements of neoliberal capitalism.

“The people we talked with were eloquent storytellers when asked about their lives and how things had changed in the early 1990s.  They were intent on answering the question, ‘What makes life worth living?’  And what made life worth living was a sense of being needed.” (p. 9)

Some Westerners eschew the idea that Russians have a distinct outlook that is more interested in a sense of meaning and other non-material pursuits – a soulfulness – as alluded to in an earlier quote about social connections and being needed.  Contrary to these naysayers, there does seem to be some merit to this cultural difference, but as with any group of humans it is hardly simple.  As evidenced by surveys Parsons cites, there is a deep cultural interest in a meaningful life and what that means in terms of their social relationships and the consequences of having those relationships torn asunder via the various upheavals of the 20th century, particularly the dissolution of Soviet society in the 1990s.  That dissolution produced a trauma that translated into millions of premature deaths, especially among Russian men who died from accelerated alcoholism, heart attacks, suicides and homicides.  Women were also affected by the mortality crisis but on a smaller scale as well as in a qualitatively different way.

“Men’s sense of neededness centered on being able to adequately provide – a possibility that narrowed substantially in the early 1990s.  Women’s sense of neededness was more diffuse and included, importantly, being able to hold their families together in times of hardship.  In this sense, the early 1990s meant that women were sometimes quite desperately needed.  They were undoubtedly burdened by this responsibility, but they may have also been preserved by it.”  (p. 11)

This is reminiscent of Viktor Frankl’s observation in his book Man’s Search for Meaning that his experience in Nazi concentration camps showed him that those who were able to survive in the horrendous physical and psychological conditions were not necessarily the most physically hardy or stubborn, but those who were able to provide something to their fellow prisoners – comfort, an extra piece of bread or just a dark sense of humor – and who were able to find some larger meaning in suffering, both their own and those around them.

Recent research in social psychology reveals the difference between a meaningful life and a happy one – the difference, in large part, being that meaning derives from what you are able to give and happiness from what you are able to receive.   (2)

It can be argued that without struggle, there is no opportunity for meaning.   This is not to celebrate or be tolerant of systems of gratuitous suffering, but to recognize that the complementary relationship between a sense of meaning and happiness requires both some degree of struggle as well as interdependence among people.

This is also not to suggest that Russians’ strong interest in a meaningful life, as reflected in their impressive tradition in the arts, philosophy and literature, means they are austere, ascetic or masochistic.   As Suzanne Massie, an academic expert on Russian history and culture, once noted with respect to the French conclusion that Russians “love to suffer”:

“Russians do not “love” to suffer, but through their history they have often had to suffer and to endure.  Their experience has bred in them a serene knowledge that there is a limit to what human beings can understand or change, and an acceptance of everything that life has to offer of both joy and tragedy.”   (1)

Among people they know and trust, Russians reportedly tend to be warm and effusive.  They also know how to enjoy the finer things when they have access to them as was demonstrated during the Czarist period when lavish dress and architecture abounded.  Even peasant attire and everyday items had elaborate and decorative designs as pre-Soviet Russian artisans and craftspeople were numerous and renowned.

Russian Social Connections and Social Morality

Along with the importance of a sense of meaning in life there is an interest in the separate but related issue of morality.  From the time of Kiev Rus in the 10th century, when Prince Vladimir chose the Orthodox religion, which has seen a resurgence in post-Soviet Russia, the Russians have put their own unique stamp on Christianity.  As Massie described in her 1980 book on Pre-Soviet Russia, Land of the Firebird:

“[A] calm acceptance of fate and the sympathy for human suffering are perhaps the greatest strengths of the Russian people and the most basic expression of Russian Christianity.”  (1)

Though the church was repressed during the Soviet era, morality as reflected in the value of social connections remained.   As Parsons writes:

“Social connections in Russia remain a way of living a moral life amid circumstances widely regarded as immoral…Russian social connections allow individuals to access a moral space beyond the self and beyond the mundane.  When middle-aged Muscovites lament a loss of sociality [from the Soviet period], they are commenting on a perceived loss of morality.” (Parsons, p. 18)

Parsons describes why one older Russian friend had refused to go into a trendy café in modern day capitalist Moscow, feeling out of place:

“Instead of a space where people’s interactions were framed by the political economy of socialism, the space’s interactions were framed by the political economy of capitalism.  In this way social inequality was written into a space in a way that clearly read social exclusion to older Muscovites, many of whom had never seen such lavish cafes with their trendy clientele and expensive coffee during most of their lifetimes.  These spaces were ‘no longer for everyone but for a certain type of people.’” (Parsons, p. 30)

One interviewee from Moscow, a music teacher, lamented the difference between Soviet times and the current times:  “We had no illusions.  But the human aspect of that time….Everything is sold now.  Before we would have been ashamed.”  (Parsons, p. 39)

Indeed, Moscow is wealthier, more bustling and diverse and also suffers from more inequality than any other part of Russia.  As epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett show in their pioneering work on inequality, The Spirit Level, the more social inequality (as reflected in income) there is within a society, the more social problems will flourish, including increased crime, health problems, mental illness, substance abuse and distrust.  Post-Soviet Russia has been no exception.

It is interesting to note throughout the book that none of the interviewees mention political democracy as a factor either way in discussing the good or bad of Soviet life versus post-Soviet life.  It is social security in the form of access to essential goods and the quality of social relationships (or lack thereof) that are most often mentioned.

Similarly, these are the factors that have a strong significant impact on mortality as Wilkinson and Pickett show with their metadata in The Spirit Level.    According to a November 2014 poll conducted by the Levada Center, 61% of Russians favored living in a society that strove for social equality rather than a society that strove for higher individual success.  (3)

This is not to say that political democracy has no appeal at all or that democracies can’t incorporate various mechanisms to decrease the inequalities inherent in capitalist market systems, such as the Scandinavian social democracies, but perhaps our assumptions about the prioritization of political democracy over social equality are confused.  Given the fact that humans are the most social creatures on the planet, it is logical that they are extremely sensitive to perceived social inequities.

  1. Massie, Suzanne. Land of the Firebird:  The Beauty of Old Russia.  Hearttree Press.


Review of “Vladimir Putin and Russian Statecraft” by Allen Lynch

Vladimir Putin and Russian Statecraft

This book is a great antidote to the Karen Dawisha/Frontline hysteria that’s been making the rounds.

If you want to know more of my thoughts on the Dawisha and Frontline issues, please see:

I use Lynch’s book, among other sources, to buttress some of my critique of Dawisha and the Frontline program, “Putin’s Way,” which violated several of Frontline’s own stated journalistic guidelines.

Lynch’s political biography of Putin is a sober and scholarly analysis of Putin the man, the current political conditions of the Russian Federation and the relationship between the two.

Lynch’s assessment of Putin is that, in addition to having conservative views on honor and loyalty, he is extremely intelligent and recognizes (and is even open to) many aspects of western democracy on an intellectual level; but Putin also has certain psychological facets to his personality that make him lean toward control, particularly in times of crisis.

I think this is a reasonable assessment. Putin is indeed preoccupied with stability. The disintegration of the Soviet Union and subsequent chaos that enveloped Russia during the 1990’s made an indelible impression on Putin, as it did on most Russians.

I also think it would be fair to say that most leaders would have some of those same tendencies if faced with the challenges that Russia has had in the past two decades, including a lone superpower overrun by neo-Wilsonian and neoconservative thinking that continues to move a hostile military alliance right up to Russia’s borders, funnels money to opposition figures that want to topple the Russian government – even going so far as having an ambassador (Michael McFaul) that actively supported the opposition in violation of diplomatic protocol, and an oligarchy inherited from the previous leadership – some of whom bristled at having any constraints placed on their behavior and continued to collude with hostile powers to cause trouble (Khodorkovsky and the late Berezovsky).

What also has to be kept in mind is that Russia is trying to find its way in the midst of many challenges with no historical experience with democratic institutions prior to Gorbachev’s brief rule.

Contrary to Dawisha’s mishmash of unverified sources and discredited theories, Lynch describes Putin’s relative honesty when he was working as deputy mayor of St. Petersburg in the 90’s:

“For much of this time, given (mayor Anatoliy) Sobchak’s frequent and protracted absences and his preoccupation with national affairs, Putin assumed the functions of acting mayor. He supervised the drafting and implementation of countless international business deals and policy reforms. These transactions did not always go according to plan, and no doubt many profited handsomely from Putin’s admitted inexperience in these matters. During his attempt to establish municipal oversight over a series of casinos, for example, the city was cheated. In another case, the city was fleeced for $120 million for two shipments of cooking oil. Although during this period his mother bought a choice apartment at an exceptionally low price at a city auction, Putin didn’t seem to enrich himself personally. In the one specific public charge of corruption that was brought against him, Putin sued in court for slander and won….”

This assessment is confirmed by other sources as noted in my article on Dawisha and Frontline.

Lynch also details Putin’s career in the KGB and how his actual job, throughout most of it, was as a low-level analyst in Dresden. Disenchanted with the agency, Putin voluntarily quit the KGB in the early 1990’s, not long after passing up a potential promotion to “the headquarters of the KGB’s foreign intelligence operations,” opting to keep his family in St. Petersburg where they had secure housing, which would have been difficult to obtain in Moscow.

In the latter chapters, Lynch sums up that, contrary to the hysterical and propagandistic statements thrown around by many western politicians and pundits, Russia is not presently a dictatorship or an autocracy, but that the governance in that vast country is far more nuanced and complex:

“For all the impressive aura of authority surrounding his presidency, Putin was no dictator. Nor was his affinity for authoritarian rule similar to the unbridled totalitarianism of Soviet days. Substantial sectors of the economy remained in private hands, including scores of billions of dollars in liquid capital in private banks abroad. A considerable public forum existed for debate on public issues, though much more so in the press than on television. Furthermore, Russians had the right to travel abroad pretty much as they pleased; availability of funds, not political considerations, was their main constraint. Religious adherents of Russia’s historical religions of Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism were free to practice their faith more or less as they pleased. Putin’s Russia, measured by any Cold War standard, represented impressive progress from the Soviet period. (p. 88)

….In foreign affairs, Russia has no ideologically based conflicts with the outside world and has pursued a mainly pragmatic diplomacy, not always successful, aimed at maximizing Russian revenues and minimizing Russia’s enemies.” (p. 133)

In terms of the legal system, Lynch confirms what I’ve heard from other credible sources – that there is a dual track in some limited circumstances:

“In the overwhelming majority of the millions of legal cases that are handled in Russia each year, the outcomes are decided on the basis of codified law as interpreted by judges and without political pressure.  This situation changes, however, when the political and economic interests of the Kremlin are involved. ” (p. 84)

I do have a couple of quibbles with the book which prevented me from giving it 5 starts. The first is that it would have been useful for Lynch to have provided some analysis and discussion of two historical Russian figures that are known to be influential to Putin’s political thinking: Ivan Ilyn (1) and Pyotr Stolypin (2). Both were anti-Revolutionary reformers and/or political philosophers who were interested in advancing Russia toward a developed nation based on the rule of law via gradual and thoughtful reform.

I suspect the reason that this was not done was due to the tendency to view and judge both Putin and Russia through a Western lens with the implicit assumption that the way the West does things represents the supreme way of doing things, best summed up by Margaret Thatcher’s declaration that “There is no alternative (TINA).”

This attitude was even more prominent in Angus Roxburgh’s The Strongman: Vladimir Putin and the Struggle for Russia, in which Roxburgh’s Western bias at times bordered on the patronizing. However, he was more even-handed than many others and provided much valuable behind-the-scenes insight of Russia’s relations with the West from 2000 to 2012. I recommend that book, along with this one, for those interested in serious political biographies of Putin.

The other quibble with Lynch’s book was the occasional use of non-credible sources like Freedom House which gets 80% of its funding from the US government via the National Endowment for Democracy and, as I have written elsewhere, has a tendency to assess a country’s level of freedom, not based on consistent and objective criteria, but based on whether the country is an ally of the US and/or receptive to US corporate interests.

1)Ivan Ilyn:

2) Pyotr Stolypin:



Frontline Slings Mud at Putin

From Vladimir Putin

(image by theglobalpanorama)   DMCA


Karen Dawisha is not the most credible source on Russia or its president. Making a documentary program with no other academic or journalistic experts on Russia, government officials or business people is short sighted. Not performing due diligence as to the dubious claims she and the handful of others on Frontline make smacks of propaganda.

For full article, go to:

Note:  I have emailed a copy of the full article to Frontline.   Will update with any response I receive.

Should I Waste My Time Reading Karen Dawisha’s “Putin’s Kleptocracy”?

I have admittedly not yet read Karen Dawisha’s new book, Putin’s Kleptocracy; however, a few things about the author, including her own words written recently in attempts to plug the book, raise some red flags and make me wonder if it would be worth my time – or anyone’s – to read it.

On December 4th, Dawisha wrote a piece for the International edition of the New York Times called “Bad Mannered Russians in the West.” It essentially argues, as does her book presumably, that Russia is a hopelessly brutal and corrupt nation and that it really got this way under Putin’s leadership. It also accuses Putin himself of being very corrupt.


The first red flag I noticed was during a basic background search on Ms. Dawisha. A previous work of hers was touted by pathological Russia-hater Zbigniew Brzezinski in a review published at Foreign Affairs. If Zbig thinks Dawisha’s work, which focuses on Eastern European studies, is good, then this tells you something about Dawisha’s tone and attitude in her writing. Not one positive word will be uttered about any Russian government that attempts to be independent of Washington or Zbig’s Grand Imperial Strategy as outlined in his 1997 book, The Grand Chessboard.   And certainly, nothing remotely positive will be contemplated about Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the warped Brzezinski/Neocon/Mainstream Media world, if Putin were to pull an old lady who was about to get hit by a bus to safety, it would be spun as attempted murder by that sinister ex-KGB agent with the steely blue eyes. Any observation to the contrary would be met with “who are you going to be believe, us or your eyes?” And if one were to have the audacity to believe their own eyes, then they would simply be accused of being paid by the Kremlin or of being one of Putin’s many bedmates when he isn’t rolling in the hay with that famous Olympic gymnast during his numerous hours of free time. After all, it doesn’t take much time and energy to run that vast nation that bridges Europe and Asia.


But I digress…


There were indeed a few other causes for concern related to Ms. Dawisha’s overall credibility when I read her NYT piece. For example, in the fourth paragraph she states:


The market increasingly recognizes the risk of dealing with Russian companies, the largest of which is Gazprom. Despite having the world’s largest net profits, Gazprom was trading at one-third the stock market valuation of Exxon Mobil, due to what is widely regarded as rampant and Kremlin-directed corruption.


This allegation is particularly interesting when one considers that Transparency International’s most recent report states that Russian companies, Gazprom and Rosneft, scored higher than Exxon Mobil as well as Apple and Google, which are notorious for having poor scores. Furthermore, the report recognized a consistent upward trend in transparency and good corporate governance for the two Russian state-run fossil fuel companies.   Is Transparency International a tool of the Kremlin now, Ms. Dawisha?


In the seventh paragraph, the author says:


Mr. Putin has said he wants an end to corruption and bureaucratic bullying. If he is serious, this would be good news for Russia, as it might show that he is actually willing to lay down laws that everyone will have to abide by. But thus far he has only increased the power of the state at home, while treating the West like an a la carte menu – with public goods of his own choosing to be freely consumed. What he doesn’t understand, however, is that “the West” is a prix fixe menu: Its values and obligations must be consumed along with its pleasures.


It’s hard to know where to even begin with this one.   First of all, being treated like an a la carte menu – with public goods of one’s own choosing to be freely consumed — sounds like an awful good description of how the West, particularly the US, viewed Russia’s resources during the 1990’s when Jeffrey Sachs and his cabal of neo-liberal carpetbaggers from the Harvard School of Economics colluded with a few Russian predators to plunder Russia’s assets, the proceeds of which were funneled out of Russia and into foreign banks by the new crop of oligarchs, while the Russian people were left with an inflation rate of 2500% at its height, loss of life savings, food deprivation and mass poverty. Millions of Russians simply did not survive the decade as alcoholism and violent crime skyrocketed.


While Russia is not yet Utopia, under Putin’s governance, the oligarchs were brought to heel, made to pay taxes and actually contribute something to Russia, there are budget surpluses, no IMF debt, low unemployment, massive investments in infrastructure, a poverty rate cut in half and wages that have quintupled. Is it any wonder that he is so popular among the Russian people?


One of the things Putin did in order to facilitate this set of reforms and improvements to the lives of many Russians was taking the fire sale sign down from Russia. The elites of the West, especially the US and Britain, have never forgiven him for this. No longer able to penetrate Russia at will, the western elites have bided their time, waiting to exact revenge and have their way once again with that beautiful resource-rich nation.


But in Dawisha’s NYT narrative, the horrible conditions of the 1990’s are not mentioned. I guess she’d like everyone to implicitly believe that the decade of Yeltsin’s rule represented a paragon of democracy with all Russians dancing and singing along to REM’s “Shiny Happy People.” And then Vladimir “Satan” Putin came along and installed the oligarch system himself, personally stole everything in sight and made all Russians cower in a dark corner, deprived of the profound political and cultural insights of Pussy Riot.


As for the assertion that Putin has done little to nothing about corruption, the author clearly doesn’t keep up with current Russian politics or is intentionally withholding pertinent facts. In the past year, an official portal or registry of all government inspections has been implemented where the public can look up all relevant details with respect to inspections on businesses.   If one is informed about the nature of corruption in Russia, they will know that 90% of corruption occurs at the local level and has a history all the way back to the Czarist era when local officials were paid tribute in exchange for getting things done. Time will tell how this policy works out.


As for Putin’s personal integrity, I admittedly don’t have access to his personal bank accounts, but a credible source has told me that, during a meeting with the then unknown bureaucrat named Vladimir Putin from whom she needed approval for a business development proposal in the early 1990’s, Putin made a lasting impression due to the fact that he was one of the few Russian bureaucrats that she’d encountered who did not ask for a bribe or any other kind of favor during the interaction. This fact was confirmed by many other people she came to know in St. Petersburg who had to register a business during his time there. If Putin wasn’t on the take while he was relatively poor and living in a small apartment with his wife, two daughters and mother, why would he be on the take now when he has a much higher salary?


The point here is that, just from the bits and pieces I’m getting about Dawisha’s work, I’m deeply skeptical of her claims. Much of what is offered as her strongest points are highly questionable. In a predictably glowing review of Dawisha’s book by none other than paid hack and Russophobe Anne Applebaum in the New York Review of Books, it is conceded in the 8th paragraph:


To tell this story, Dawisha uses many sources, including the evidence presented in several major court cases, a number of which fizzled out for political reasons; material collected by Russian and European investigative reporters, some of which has now vanished from the Web; and Russian legal journals, many of which are now out of print.


Well, gee, isn’t it convenient that this information is not available to be verified? Continuing on:


As noted, some of what she digs up has already been described elsewhere, not only in Masha Gessen’s emotive account of Putin’s rise to power, The Man Without a Face (2012), but also in Clifford Gaddy and Fiona Hill’s Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin (2013) and Peter Baker and Susan Glasser’s Kremlin Rising (2005).


Masha Gessen writes for the Moscow Times, and for any other outlet that will publish her drivel. Her stock in trade is her passionate hatred of Putin and anything that is not represented by the Liberals who don’t have much traction among the Russian population. I have written elsewhere about Peter Baker’s attitude toward Russia and Putin. So Dawisha’s work ultimately sounds like a lot of innuendo along with rehashed chaff that’s already been published.


It should also be noted that Dawisha’s book was ultimately dropped by its original British publisher due to concerns over libel laws. Considering the fact that Britain isn’t exactly fond of Putin and his government and has repeated – like a good little doggie – the worst of Washington’s unsubstantiated and reckless claims about the Ukraine crisis, why wouldn’t they just go ahead and publish it? Unless, of course, there were real concerns about the credibility of the claims?

*Update:  In late 2015, John Batchelor interviewed Ms. Dawisha on his radio program.  While airing her claims, Dawisha used so many qualifiers and weasel words as to render what she was saying completely meaningless.

Here are a few of my thoughts on the interview:

*Dawisha’s claim (approx. 5 minutes, 15 seconds):  Putin came to the attention of higher up KGB officials due to his performance.  This is contradicted by Allen Lynch’s political biography where he states that officials higher up in the KGB did not seem to be aware of Putin and characterized his time in E. Germany as being a mid-level analyst.  Dawisha: “I think he probably was involved in…” Probably?

*(approximately 7 minutes):  In the introduction of a photo from the book that supposedly shows Putin with a bunch of other intelligence and military people, it is noted to be 1989 — stating the anniversary of the establishment of the checka and the Soviet Union would fall that year.  The Soviet Union fell in 1991, not 1989 

*Dawisha claim (approx. 7 minutes, 40 seconds):   Putin recruited a high-ranking member of the Stasi to the KGB in the dying days of the East German government — Dawisha: “of course, we don’t have any proof of this…”  Enough said.
*(approx. 11 minutes):  What basis is there that Sobchak knew that hiring someone from the KGB was just the way that things were?  There is no evidence provided for her assertion that that is why Putn was hired by Sobchak.  Again, a very different story is told by Allen Lynch in his biography — I went into more detail about this in my critique of the Frontline program based on Dawisha‘s narrative.
*(approx 13 minutes):  Dawisha talks as though Putin was still in the KGB while he was working for Sobchak.  According to the Lynch book, Putin had voluntarily quit the KGB by this time and even gone public in a news segment about his KGB past so that no one would be able to use it as fodder for blackmail down the road.
*Dawisha claim (approx 24 minutes):  Putin’s wife never worked because she had to — in other words, they didn’t need money because Putin was getting wealthy off of his corruption; this is not the way they lived during that time as Putin’s wife stated that he was hardly ever home, they had hardly a stick of furniture or any extra money.  Dawisha never says where she is getting any of this information.
*(approx 25 minutes):  Dawisha cites the late oligarch Boris Berezovsky when discussing that Putin had played a “double game” and that he had in mind to take money away from the 90’s oligarchs and give it to his own — a British judge presiding over the lawsuit between Berezovsky and fellow Russian oligarch Abramovich, stated on the record that Berezovsky was a non-credible witness, that his testimony contradicted his written statements, that he was basically a liar and had an ax to grind.
*(approx 26-27 minutes):  Dawisha is still talking about the Moscow apartment bombings as a false flag with the FSB and implicitly Putin behind it to win a war and use the popularity to become president meme.  This was debunked long ago.  The Chechens had already invaded Dagestan and Putin did not need any sort of false flag operation to justify military action.  If memory serves me correctly, this allegation originated with Berezovsky and when pressed for evidence, he could provide none.  Again, I discussed this in more detail in my article critiquing the Frontline program.  I’m not sure why John Batchelor was being so gullible and not questioning any of this
For those interested in scholarly political biographies of Putin, I recommend:
1) Putin: Russia’s Choice by Richard Sakwa











The Strange Logic of Chelsea Handler

In the past month, comedienne Chelsea Handler – a supporter and friend of Hillary Clinton – engaged in a cheap publicity stunt by posting a photo of herself topless astride a horse in a spoof of Vladimir Putin.

Citing the “sexism” of Putin, Handler is admittedly pimping for her friend Hillary, whom Putin referred to as “weak” in an interview with French journalists earlier this year. Putin’s insult was downright mild compared to Hillary’s earlier comparisons of Putin to Hitler – a ludicrous and pernicious comment due to the fact that over 25 million Russians perished, including Putin’s older brother who fell ill and died during the siege of Leningrad, in beating back the real Hitler’s fighters in WWII.

But in supporting Clinton, Handler is also giving her support to all the death and destruction that Clinton’s policies have contributed to in Iraq (Hillary still defends her vote for this illegal war based on lies), Libya (Hillary was caught on camera gloating at the news of Qaddafi’s torture and murder by rebel forces – another war that was based on lies according to the Belfer Center) among other unapologetically militarist policies.

Furthermore, when it comes to hurling accusations of sexism, perhaps it would do Ms. Handler well to actually inform herself of the country that the leader she is criticizing presides over and the conditions for women in that country.  As two examples, women hold more management positions in Russia than in any other nation — far more than any western nation;  they also receive 78 weeks of paid family leave.  Meanwhile, in the US, women get zip.

At the end of the day in Ms. Handler’s bizarre and ill-informed world, Putin riding shirtless on a horse and casting aspersions upon her hawkish chum is more offensive than the death, torture, maiming, terror and destabilization that Hillary Clinton’s policies have actually wrought on hundreds of thousands of mostly innocent people.

I think this tells us all we need to know about Ms. Handler.







The Words of an “Imperialist”?

For years, the western corporate media has engaged in a propaganda campaign to poison people’s minds about who Vladimir Putin is, what he says and what he does.   For example, the often trotted out quote about the fall of the Soviet Union representing the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century is a deliberate misquote.   If one reads the English transcript of his “state of the union” speech in 2005 (available at, one can see for oneself that what he actually said and what Western media and politicians claim he said are night and day.

While conducting research on a book about the Ukraine crisis, I have read countless speeches and interview transcripts of Putin in their entirety and can honestly say that the level of distortion and misinformation leveled against him in the West is breathtaking.

When I began this research, I did not have a solid opinion either way about Putin, other than heightened curiosity after his diplomatic judo in helping to prevent the illegal “shock and awe” of another sovereign nation, this time against Syria, by the American juggernaut.

My conclusion about Putin’s thinking after reviewing and analyzing his words and actions, included in my manuscript, was the following:

For any intellectually honest and independent analyst who has studied Putin’s words and actions over the course of years, it is apparent that he is attempting to gradually and methodically raise the standard of living for the Russian people. It is also apparent that he views stability, both within Russia and in the outside world that Russia must co-exist in, as crucial and that the most reliable way to achieve and maintain stability is through a multi-polar world, international law with a strengthened UN as the arbiter, and more equitable development.

Putin’s most recent speech at the annual Valdai gathering in Sochi, hailed by many independent analysts and commentators (by independent I mean those without an axe to grind and not being paid to tow some party line), including Mikhail Gorbachev, as his best speech ever, has only confirmed my own analysis.

Here is a link to the transcript of his speech followed by the Q&A afterward, which was also quite good, provided by The Vineyard of the Saker blog — a very informative independent blog that I recommend taking a cruise around:


The Power of Impossible Ideas: How One Woman Helped Changed US-Soviet/Russian Relations

(Disclosure: I have become well-acquainted with the author over the past several months as a result of my research of the Russia/Ukraine crisis. – Natylie)


“Everyone asks how and why, I, a non-academic, ordinary American woman, mother of four children have ended up working at the US-Russia interface. It seems to others like an unimaginable career path.   I agree. I had no previous interest in Russia and never could have guessed that I would spend a quarter of a century immersed in Russia’s transition from communism to a market economy. The personal answer is rather straight forward. My children were near leaving the nest in the late ‘70s—and the larger outside world, particularly, the nuclear arms race, began impinging on my reality.


By autumn of 1979, the world felt full of foreboding. Information and talk about nuclear weapons and targets was omnipresent. Political campaigns were driven by the US-USSR relationship and the threat of nuclear war. Perhaps it had been so previously, but it had not registered with me until that time. All of a sudden it was in my face every time I switched on the TV or picked up a newspaper. I worried daily about my own children’s futures. Would they get a chance to have families and careers of their own? If not, this wasn’t acceptable to me. Something had to be done.” (p. 2)


This story of a middle-aged mother and nurse, motivated to take matters into her own hands by her concern about possible nuclear war, captures the anxiety that people who were old enough to be aware experienced during the early 1980’s when the Cold War had reached heights not seen since the early 60’s, with hostile rhetoric and dangerous posturing on both sides, backed up with 50,000 nuclear weapons pointed at each other – enough to destroy the planet 10 times over.


Tennison wrote a letter to President Reagan after he’d stated that 20 million American deaths would be acceptable in a nuclear war – just one of many ludicrous claims being bandied about by politicians and their pet media pundits during that time period, which included the suggestion that Americans could easily survive a nuclear blast by hiding in a hole in the ground with a door placed over it and three feet of dirt. In her letter, she told the president not to consider her and her four children as one of the 20 million “acceptable” deaths. In response she received a terse reply letting her know that her letter had been “turned over to the State Department.”


Along with a group of other concerned citizens she’d networked with, Tennsion brainstormed how they could facilitate constructive change between the two countries as their own governments seemed clueless at best and reckless at worst. Together they decided it was time to “meet the enemy” and figure out for themselves how to build bridges.


Along the way, Tennsion details some of her strange encounters with various American spooks, including the CIA agent she happened to meet, seemingly by chance, through her job who unexpectedly expressed respect for the Soviet people’s resilience and acknowledged their historical suffering. He also had his own interesting take on the recent Korean airliner shot down by the Soviets right before her group was scheduled to go on their maiden voyage, making the undertaking all the more urgent as public condemnation and recriminations heated up.


Then there were the two female FBI agents she had to check in with after each trip to the Soviet Union and how one seemed to take a genuine interest in Tennison’s experiences with the Soviet people and began asking intelligent, open-minded questions…until she mysteriously disappeared from the FBI payroll.


Tennison admits that in the early days, she had no formal study of Russian/Soviet culture or history, which in a strange way, probably helped her to go in with fewer pre-conceived ideas. She let her experiences with the Soviet people she met on the streets – where her and other groupmembers handed out 3×5 cards introducing themselves and their purpose along with a phone number to reach them if they were interested – to guide her thinking.


“We increasingly found quality in the people—those we first chanced to run into in the streets or parks. They were intelligent and warm hearted, modest and surprisingly cultured. They were a magnet for us. We couldn’t understand how to connect the decaying society at large with these fascinating and deeply philosophical human beings who were trapped within it. They accepted much that we couldn’t have accepted—they had more patience, more endurance, and more willingness to hunt down what they needed for daily life than we could have mustered. And obviously they didn’t need nearly as many consumer goods as Americans were accustomed to. But it was their intellect that so took us by surprise, their love of languages even though they never expected to be able to travel, and their respect and enjoyment of the classical arts.


They had devised so many small ways to squeeze enjoyment out of their limited lives, and so many means to get around the system in which they lived. It seemed defeating the system in small ways or getting around it was accomplishment and pleasure in itself. ” (p. 77)


Some of the fruits of her and her colleagues work in the 1980’s included the launching of a travel program for Soviets to visit the US – a groundbreaking achievement since average Soviets were rarely if ever allowed to travel abroad at that point, the establishment of AA programs in the Soviet Union to address the scourge of alcoholism, and a business training program in which English speaking Soviets who were budding entrepreneurs were allowed to spend several weeks with small business owners in America to learn the basics of how to run a business from the ground up. The “graduates” of this program often went on to build successful businesses in Russia.


It is uncanny how Tennison and her colleagues often seemed to have fate on their side as logistical obstacles that got in their way would often be resolved in a timely fashion by the fortuitous appearance of someone who could help them out. Of course, these obstacles often took the form of money to finance a program that was needed to fill a newly realized gap or opportunity. Various philanthropists provided the funding, with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak being the most famous.


It is admitted that the programs of Gorbachev in the mid-to-late 1980’s often facilitated the opening needed to make Tennison’s programs work. However, she makes an interesting observation about the overall effect of all the rapid changes that took place during this time, which laid the groundwork for the tragic shellshock of the 1990’s, the effects of which the Russians are still trying to gradually overcome.


“They relished the relaxing of structures, opening up to foreigners, and being able to write the truth of what they felt to the newspapers….[But] my sense looking back is that this was too much change too quickly—too much catharsis for one generation to bear. And yet as the decade ended, the Soviets were careening toward yet another set of traumas in the 1990s that would exhaust their remaining coping mechanisms.


Their society was rapidly moving into profound political, economic, social and psychological chaos. Gorbachev unleased glasnost and perestroika (voicing and restructuring) but hadn’t factored in the degree of destabilization that both would bring about.” (p. 78)


During Tennison’s trips to the Soviet Union she also visited important formal “tourist” sites. One that stood out was a trip to Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) where she visited the mass graves (186 pits) in which were buried about 500,000 Russians, including many who starved or froze to death during the nearly 3-year siege of Leningrad when the Nazis surrounded the city. Over 26 million Soviets perished and a good portion of their country was utterly destroyed during WWII. The experience of the visit was all the more jarring due to the fact that the sacrifices and suffering of the Soviets and their crucial role in defeating Hitler was hardly acknowledged in the West at that point.


JFK was one of the few to break this taboo in his June 1963 speech at American University at which time he was pursuing a negotiated end of the Cold War with Soviet Premier Khrushchev behind the scenes and was telegraphing a conciliatory message to the Soviets, which was warmly received throughout the USSR when Soviet authorities relaxed their normal jamming of Western broadcasts to allow Kennedy’s speech to be heard uncensored. (See my review of JFK and the Unspeakable by James Douglass)


The Lost Decade


The 1990’s saw a growing need for aid as Yeltsin ushered in an era of banditry under the guise of privatization that was overseen by American economic advisors. This period saw the disintegration of law and order along with the breakdown of institutions that provided essential products and services.


Tennison and her organization (which changed its name to the Center for Citizen Initiatives or CCI) marshaled money and other resources to help Russians in their network obtain food and other necessities, but also put in place programs to help Russians feed themselves via donation of seeds and education on sustainable urban gardening, rural agricultural revitalization, and vocational and entrepreneurial training for Russians to start small to medium sized businesses.


Rotary clubs throughout the US played a supportive logistical role in these US-Russia exchanges and programs. Meanwhile, funding was provided by private philanthropic entities as well as USAID and other government agencies. At one point, Tennison and her colleagues even found themselves advising US cabinet members on conditions in Russia and introducing key members of Congress to actual Russian individuals who were participants in their programs.


An Unusual Bureaucrat


One encounter Tennison had in 1991 that left an impression was with a bureaucrat in St. Petersburg who needed to evaluate one of CCI’s project proposals for approval.


“Entering the former palace through a small side door, Volodya Shestakov (friend and translator) and I found ourselves in a tiny unimpressive room. Behind the desk, sat a trim and seemingly reserved man of about forty years. After impersonal greetings, he began to ask specific questions: What was our proposal? Why? How would it work? Who would it benefit? Where would the money come from? Each additional question was related directly to the last answer given. Not accustomed to pragmatic questions from such people, I became aware of this bureaucrat’s impersonal focus.


By this time, I’d had my fill of Soviet public officials. They always had personal agendas….they wanted a trip to America, a trip for one of their relatives or friends “to see what you are describing in person.” Or they wanted to subsume CCI projects hoping to get some tangible benefits for themselves or their relatives….


After an hour of grilling, the information gathering was over. Everything that could have been known about our project had been questioned. Indications were that he was interested in our proposal. Now was the “traditional” time for him to assess what he could “get” for giving his official permission. He patiently explained that what we proposed was a really good idea but that, at that time, it wasn’t within legal boundaries. That was all.


I remember walking out the door and onto the sidewalk saying to Volodya, “At least we have been heard by one ex-Soviet bureaucrat who didn’t ask us for anything. ” (pp. 87-89)


At the time of Tennison’s observation to her Russian translator and friend, she had no way of knowing who this “non-descript” bureaucrat would go on to become, only that the business card he handed her bore the name of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.


At the time of Putin’s election as president of the Russian Federation in 2000, many of CCI’s alumni in St. Petersburg told Tennison that they had voted for Putin because he hadn’t charged them anything to register their businesses – a rarity among local-level bureaucrats throughout Russia.

Indeed corruption is still mostly a problem among local officials (90% of all corruption is estimated to be at the local level) throughout Russia as opposed to large institutions or the Russian people in general. Part of the reason it persists is due to the strong historical roots of getting essential things done via “connections” and the prestige associated with it rather than the rule of law as a foundation. This was the case in Czarist Russia as tributes were typically paid in the form of goods or money to officials as part of the feudalist system, which was gradually dismantled in the rest of Europe but persisted in Russia. Due to Russia’s sprawling geographic size and lack of a developed transportation system, interaction with the outside world and the attendant exposure to new ideas was hindered through the 19th century. Moreover, Russians’ relationship with governmental authority – their social contract, so to speak – had never been that of a citizen with rights or sovereignty but as subjects that were granted varying but limited amounts of social protection and decision-making within small local communities. (See also Deena Stryker’s review of the Russian Tradition by Tibor Szamuely at


This arrangement of deference to authority and reliance on “connections” to obtain necessities continued under the Soviet system with deference to authority demanded in exchange for security, stability and a degree of social protections. There was a class of people, for example, who played a role in procuring items of necessity in the Soviet Union, along with local Communist Party managers who lorded over their respective regions.


By the turn of the century, elite Communist Party bureaucrats (aka nomenklatura) had colluded with Western economic advisers in schemes to enrich themselves by taking possession of valuable state assets at fire sale prices and moving their ill-gotten wealth into off-shore accounts.


Along with this powerful class of oligarchs that came to control the Kremlin were the 89 regional governors throughout the Russian Federation who ruled their respective fiefdoms, enriching themselves through massive bribery. Lower on the food chain were local officials who earned paltry salaries and bilked new entrepreneurs for bribes in exchange for signing off on official documents as well as contriving inspections on charges of flimsy or non-existent violations, requiring the payment of additional bribes for clearance. (This is why the recently developed open electronic database containing the relevant details of all business inspections in Russia – as reported by TASS News Agency on October 8th – has potential significance in the fight against corruption. Time will tell.)


Tackling these systemic problems effectively without getting assassinated or overthrown in the process was a tall order for Putin in 2000, despite his ties to an intelligence community that had experienced its own internal divisions in the post-Soviet era.


In a late 2000 conversation with Oleg Plaxin, an aide to Putin’s economic advisor, Andrei Illarionov, Tennison was able to get an inkling of just what Putin was up against.


“This was my first glimpse into the tenseness of the Kremlin clans Putin inherited from Yeltsin. With no constituency, no political party to support him, no power to take out the clans, Putin was all alone – and from what became clear, the Kremlin environment, for the most part, was a den of self-serving vipers.


Later I asked Oleg Plaxin whom President Putin goes to for counsel. He looked at me in complete shock at the question and answered, “He can’t confide in anyone! If he did, it would be highly dangerous. They could betray him.” I was stunned considering what it would be like to try to take hold of an out-of-control country like Russia, to try to figure out a workable strategy in isolation, and to not trust anyone around you – how could any human being survive or govern in such an environment?


It became increasingly obvious to me why Putin began bringing St. Petersburg people to Moscow – they were dependable friends with whom he had gone to school and university, those whom he trusted during his early KGB years – in addition to those he worked closely with in St. Petersburg’s municipal offices, like Dmitri Medvedev.


World media called these new Putin appointees, the St. Petersburg “Chekists” [a pejorative for Soviet-era secret police].”   (p. 136)


Once Putin started to develop a governing system, he did begin to take gradual steps to counter corruption. After telling the oligarchs they had to start paying taxes and stay out of politics if they wanted to keep their spoils, he appointed a Russian entrepreneur named Alyona Nikolaeva as director of a government affiliated organization that began to explore approaches to the problem. Nikolaeva got the appointment after storming into Putin’s office in early 2001 demanding that his government do something about the bribery by local officials that was threatening her livelihood and that of others like her.


Conferences were subsequently held on the topic which some CCI alumni participated in. Attendees had a meeting with Putin representatives more than once, including one in 2004 with his economic advisor, Andrei Illarionov, in which they provided the results of their research and brainstorming on the issue – summarized in reports that were passed on to Putin who began using some of their points in addresses to the nation and parliament.


Media Distortions & Demonization


The onslaught of negative western media coverage, distortion and demonization of Russia and Putin began in earnest from 2003-2004 after Russia refused to participate in the Iraq war. Tennison had started to realize that what was often said in the Western media about Russia and Putin did not correspond to what she was seeing on the ground in Russia or hearing from the cross-section of Russians she dealt with.


She noted that much of what passed for reporting on Russia was largely opinion – often unfounded, distorted or unbalanced – being repeated ad nauseum until it was considered fact. She encountered journalists covering Russia who spent short stints in Moscow and asked loaded questions designed to elicit responses that fit into a pre-conceived negative framework. And when journalists did attempt to provide balanced or positive coverage of Russia or Putin’s policies, they often didn’t get accepted for publication by the journalist’s editors. One journalist even admitted to Tennison that her editors told her they wanted more pieces like those about Khodorkovsky whom the Western press had characterized as a “political dissident” and victim of an autocratic Putin.


However, the majority of Russians, including the small to medium business owners who busted their tails to create their enterprises, viewed Khodorkovsky as an arrogant predator who made himself billions through pilfering Russian assets. He then refused to give anything back via taxes and resented Putin’s moderate attempts to rein in him and his ilk – a class of oligarchs that had literally bought Yeltsin by 1996.   In short, Khodorkovsky represented the worst of Yeltsin’s decade of chaos and mass impoverishment for Russians.


Another point of contention that the U.S. used to heap criticism on Russia was legislation regulating foreign NGO’s that was first passed in 2006.


One of the most notorious types of NGO’s that the law was designed to target was the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the plethora of other NGO’s that NED supported in Russia, among other countries. Despite its innocuous sounding name, NED is funded by the US Congress and was established in the early 1980’s in response to congressional hearings, exemplified by the Church Committee, that exposed the CIA’s covert efforts to destabilize and overthrow foreign governments that were anathema to the US political elite. Rather than cease these unpopular – and often violent and illegal – covert operations, they were simply transferred to another organization that obscured these nefarious activities under the guise of building civil society and democracy. (See Trojan Horse: National Endowment for Democracy by William Blum at Even government officials who helped draft the legislation creating NED have admitted that NED now does much of what the CIA used to do in this arena.


Tennison’s comments on the context of this legislation follow:


“In 1938 the United States found it necessary to restrict foreigners whose intentions were to sway public opinion and policy in America. The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) was Congress’ response to the large number of German propaganda agents who were active in pre-World War II America. Our FARA legislation was updated as recently as 1995.


Like the United States, Russia is undeniably interested in limiting foreign influence in its domestic politics. Although their fears are discounted by the West, Putin and many Russians harbor deep concern that foreign and domestic NGOs may be fomenting a “color revolution” in Russia, as they suspect happened recently in the new states of Ukraine and Georgia.


The Kremlin is further challenged by Russia’s wealthy exiled oligarchs who have funneled a great deal of money to Russia’s NGOs in order to destabilize the Putin government. To date (2006), laws like FARA don’t exist in Russia.


In most countries, NGOs rely primarily on philanthropy from their own citizens; hence, their activities reflect the will of their own people. This is not so in Russia. Foreign and oligarch support in Russia has led to NGOs’ pursuing objectives contrary to those of the average Russian citizen and to the stability of the fragile new government. This wouldn’t go down well in any country.


To align NGO activities with citizens’ interests, the Putin administration needs to legislate tax incentives to encourage Russian support for NGOs, thereby creating a base for in-country private donations, not foreign or oligarch funding.


Russia’s not-for-profit sector is in serious need of regulation. It still hasn’t developed the legal underpinnings to assure transparency of expenditures, operations or funder information—all of which are crucial for societal trust and civil society development.


Russia is inching toward a democratic society, but it isn’t close yet. The country’s long history and harsh conditioning cannot be radically transformed in two short decades. Pushing Russian society and the Putin government faster than they can go at this juncture will incur consequences that serve neither Russia nor the West. Lecturing Russia to move farther and faster than they can will only backfire on us—and them. ” (pp. 198-199)


In sum, Tennison’s insights from working on the ground throughout Russia’s 11 time zones for over 30 years makes her a treasure that should be more wisely utilized by US policy makers and the media.


Now in her 70’s, she continues to visit Russia 3-4 times a year, having developed a deep respect and affection for that vast and fascinating land. On one of her future trips, I intend to join her and see it for myself.




Brzezinski’s Mad Imperial Strategy

“I once asked my colleague, (Zbigniew) Brzezinski, that if everyone was allied with us, who were we organized against? My question surprised him, because I think that Brzezinski remains caught up in Cold War strategy even after the demise of the Soviet Union. In Cold War thinking it was important to have the upper hand or else be at risk of being eliminated as a player. The importance of prevailing became all consuming, and this consuming drive survived the Soviet collapse. Prevailing over others is the only foreign policy that Washington knows.”

Paul Craig Roberts


Brzezinski was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1928 but his paternal family reportedly originated from Galicia, which was once considered eastern Poland but is now part of Ukraine.   His father was a Polish diplomat who served in Germany from 1931 to 1935 and then served in the Soviet Union from 1936 to 1938 in the midst of Stalin’s Great Purge.   He was stationed in Canada when both Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Poland in 1939.  Poland was later placed in the Soviet sphere of influence at the conclusion of WWII; hence, the Brzezinski family remained in Canada.


Brzezinski earned a Master’s Degree from McGill University in Montreal with a focus on the Soviet Union, followed by a PhD at Harvard with a focus on the Russian Revolution, and the leadership of Lenin and Stalin.  He became an academic at Harvard and then Columbia University where he taught and mentored Madeleine Albright.   He served as an advisor to the Kennedy presidential campaign and later supported Johnson.  He was a member of the State Department’s Council of Policy Planning from 1966 – 1968, then worked on Hubert Humphrey’s presidential campaign in 1968.  In 1973, he helped establish the Trilateral Commission with David Rockefeller.  Based on ideas Brzezinski spelled out in an article he published in Foreign Affairs in 1970, the Trilateral Commission was to be the organizational foundation of a club of developed nations that included Europe, Japan and the U.S. to balance world power away from the Soviet Union and China.  The club held annual meetings that included the elites of Europe, Japan, and the U.S., along with bigwigs in world trade, international banking and the establishment media.


Throughout the Cold War, Brzezinski supported a policy of engagement with Eastern Europe, including dissidents, believing that divisions within Eastern Europe would destabilize the Soviet Union and hasten its breakup along national lines.  He gave little to no support for any rapprochement with the Soviet Union and opposed Charles De Gaulle’s vision of a Eurasian project of “Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals.”


Brzezinski’s highest position of power was as National Security Advisor in the Carter administration.  Touted as the Democratic Party’s counterpoint to Henry Kissinger (and implicitly Kissinger’s détente approach toward the USSR), his aggressive anti-Russian views often clashed with those of Carter’s Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, who was in the realist camp and opposed Brzezinski’s desire to strengthen ties to China while keeping the Soviet Union at a distance.  He and others in the administration argued that such “triangulation” could lead to dangerous and unnecessary perceptions of aggression toward the Soviet Union.


During his tenure, Brzezinski was the architect of the plan to goad the Soviet Union into its own “Vietnam” quagmire by arming and supporting Islamic mujahedeen against the Soviet-backed government in Afghanistan.  The plan, with the assistance of the Pakistan intelligence service, was put into place toward the end of Carter’s presidency and in 1979, the Soviet Union, in fact, responded as Brzezinski had hoped, embarking on a decade-long war in the nation that is not called the “graveyard of empires” for nothing.


When the French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur interviewed Brzezinski in 1998, he admittedthat while he was national security advisor, he played a major role in setting the Afghanistan trap for the Soviet Union to get bogged down in a war.  He also reiterated that he had no regrets about the policy, underscoring the fact that he does indeed see the nations and peoples of the world as pieces on a strategic game board with no regard for the resulting death of thousands, demolition of a country or blowback toward his own adopted country.  A pertinent excerpt of the exchange follows:


Le Nouvel Observateur:  Former CIA director, Robert Gates, says in his memoirs:  the American secret services assisted Afghan mujahedeen six months before the Soviet invasion.  By that time, you were President Carter’s advisor and you played a key role on this.  Do you confirm it?


Brzezinski:  Yes.  According to the official version of the story, the CIA began to assist mujahedeen in the year 1980, that is, after the invasion of the Soviet army against Afghanistan on December 24, 1979.  But the truth that remained secret until today is quite different:  it was on July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed his first order on the secret assistance to Kabul’s pro-Soviet regime opponents.  That day I wrote a memorandum to the President in which I told him that that assistance would cause the Soviet intervention (…) we did not force the Russian intervention, we just, conscientiously, increased the intervention possibilities.


NO:  When the Soviets justified their intervention by affirming they were fighting against a secret American interference nobody believed them, though they were telling the truth.  Don’t you regret it?


B:  Regret what?  That secret operation was an excellent idea.  Its objective was to lead the Russian to the Afghan trap, and you want me to regret it?  The very same day the Soviets crossed the Afghan border I wrote the following to President Carter:  “This is our chance to give Russia its Viet Nam.”


NO:  Aren’t you sorry either for favoring Islamic fundamentalism and providing weapons and consultancies to future terrorists?

B: What is the most important thing when you look at world history, the Taliban or the fall of the Soviet empire?  Some excited Islamists or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?


It is clear from the opening pages of The Grand Chessboard that Brzezinski is obsessed with imperialism and cannot conceive of a world that is not organized under empire – whether it is the competing regional empires of old or the rise of one global empire as reflected by the U.S. after the Soviet Union’s exit from the world stage.  He even repeats the common historical fallacy that “hegemony is as old as mankind.” If he had even a cursory familiarity with anthropology or pre-recorded history, he would know that throughout the vast majority of humanity’s experience, mankind lived in small, relatively egalitarian units of hunter-gatherers.  Empire and its attendant effects, such as hegemony, hierarchical social structure, and war only emerged around 10 – 13,000 years ago, roughly coinciding with the widespread adoption of agricultural settlement.


Brzezinski’s Eurasian thesis appears to have been inspired by Nicholas Spykman’s Eurasian Rimland concept which was, in turn, built upon Halford Makinder’s Heartland Theory, first formulated in 1904.  Spykman’s Rimland emphasized the geostrategic importance of the densely populated coastal perimeter surrounding the Heartland of Eurasia.  Spykman justified focus on the Rimland instead of the Heartland by arguing that the Rimland contained the majority of the world’s people, a large swathe of its resources and an industrial base.  Additionally, it served as an entryway to the seas, situated as a buffer zone between the Heartland (source of land power) and sea power.  These two theories, like Brzezinski’s Grand Chessboard are widely acknowledged to represent an imperialistic offensive posture dressed up as a defense strategy.


In The Grand Chessboard, Brzezinski reiterates the factors cited by Spykman and Makinder:

About 75 percent of the world’s people live in Eurasia, and most of the world’s physical wealth is there as well, both in its enterprises and underneath its soil.  Eurasia accounts for about 60 percent of the world’s GNP and about three-fourths of the world’s known energy resources.  (Grand Chessboard, p. 31)


He speaks throughout the book with a sense of entitlement on behalf of the U.S. that the American empire should never cede control of these resources to those living near them who may strangely assume a claim to benefit from them.


He emphasizes the following two steps to achieve his imperialist objective of preserving world domination by the U.S.:


1)  Identify states in Eurasia that have the power to shift the international distribution of power or to be catalysts for doing so; and,

2)  Formulate specific U.S. policies to offset, co-opt and/or control the above as to preserve and promote vital U.S. interests.

Brzezinski goes on to explain the role of Ukraine as a “pivot” state – in other words, a state that, if it remains under Russia’s sphere of influence, allows Russia to project power into the rest of Eurasia due its sea port, major resources and its role as a geographic defensive buffer – an important psychological factor for a nation that has been invaded from the west numerous times in its history.


It is clear that Brzezinski’s psyche is frozen in another era when his fellow Poles were under subjugation from the Soviet Union and his views are driven by an irrational antipathy toward Russia – irrational in the sense that it persists, despite what Russia actually is or does.


Flash forward to November of 2013 when the crisis in Ukraine started in earnest.  With a negotiated end to the Cold War, a dissolved USSR, a Russian Federation that was firmly on the road toward an evolving version of capitalism, expanded economic ties with the EU and cordial relations with Latin America and a lot of the developing world, Russia and most everyone else had moved on from the idea of Russia as big bad bogeyman.  But not an assortment of Russophobes in Washington, like Brzezinski, and those they influence.


Brzezinski influenced both Kerry and Obama, having served as a foreign policy advisor, along with his son, Mark Brzezinski, to the 2004 Kerry presidential campaign and then for the Obama 2008 campaign.  Although, it is difficult to determine if Brzezinski still plays an active role as advisor to Obama, it is interesting to observe how hawks among both major political parties took their cue from Brzezinski when he compared Putin to Hitler in a March 3, 2014 op-ed for the Washington Post. (Brzezinski, WaPo, 3/3/14).  Within the next two days, Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Marco Rubio all repeated this absurd claim (Ernesto, Global Research – Brzezinski Mapped Out).  It can, therefore, be deduced that Brzezinski still wields considerable influence among the Washington elite.


He has also gone on numerous media outlets and given speeches this year advancing a false narrative that the crisis in Ukraine was due to Putin’s aggression.  In actuality, it started with a western-backed coup that toppled a democratically elected leader who rejected a European Association agreement that, as it turns out, would have forced austerity measures on a country that was already one of the poorest in Europe as well as threatened the holdings of native oligarchs by opening up Ukraine’s wealth and assets to Western corporations.  The agreement also contained language that would have laid the groundwork for NATO membership.   In reality, Putin’s maneuvering has been in reaction to this crisis on his border.


Brzezinski’s talking points echo what he said on media outlets about the war between Russia and Georgia in 2008 – most of which turned out to be bologna.  He didn’t even identify the aggressors in the conflict correctly.  Either he is woefully misinformed (not very plausible) or he was lying on behalf of his anti-Russia agenda both then and now.


This kind of anachronistic and narrow thinking, based on the unresolved emotional wounds of one small segment of the American population who are émigrés or descended from émigrés of former Soviet bloc countries, along with a preoccupation with imperialism, is dangerous if it overtakes U.S. foreign policy, which it appears to have done considering Brzezinski’s influence in Washington and the current Ukraine crisis, which was fomented to goad Putin into a war and weaken Russia – a plan that, based on Brzezinski’s past antics, seems to have his strategic fingerprints all over it.


Additional Resources:


  1.  “Why War is Inevitable” by Paul Craig Roberts at
  2. “The Outrageous Strategy to Destroy Russia” by Arthur Lepic,

  1. Fry, Douglas, The Human Potential for Peace:  An Anthropological Challenge to Assumptions About War and Violence.  Oxford University Press, 2000. 
  2. Zaemroaya, Mahdi Darius.  The Globalization of NATO.  Clarity Press, Inc., 2012. pp. 270-271


Our “Enemies” in Ukraine Speak – Documentary of Southeast Ukraine

This is an amateur documentary film regarding the events taking place in southeast Ukraine, covering mostly July of 2014.   It is important for Americans to inform themselves about what their government is supporting in their name and with their tax money.   Due to the current western media blackout with respect to the slaughter of civilians in southeastern Ukraine by the Kiev government, it is important to seek out independent attempts to provide documentary evidence.

Thank you to Eric Zuesse of OpEd News for bringing this documentary to my attention.

WARNING:  this documentary video contains some graphic images of dead bodies in the aftermath of shelling.