One Good Turn Deserves Another

Media Identify Prigozhin Firms as Developers of Judicial Quarter in Petersburg
According to Kommersant, Firms Affiliated with Businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin and Concord Management and Consulting Are Project Subcontractors
Grigory Dubov
RBC
December 26, 2018

755458040463897Judicial district construction site in Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Stanislav Zaburdayev/TASS and RBC

Firms affiliated with businessman and restaurateur Yevgeny Prigozhin will build the judicial quarter in Petersburg, a project costing 35.7 billion rubles [approx. 455 million euros] that will include residential buildings for the Russian Supreme Court and Boris Eifman’s Dance Palace, report sources quoted by Kommersant newspaper familiar with the project, which has been designed by the Russian Presidential Property Management Department and construction industry insiders.

The sources say the subcontractor was selected in the summer of 2018 without tendering. The newspaper’s sources claim firms affiliated with Prigozhin have launched the process of awarding commercial tenders and have been requesting bids from major construction companies for the construction of individual buildings without advance payment. One of the Prigozhin-affiliated companies engaged in sending out bid and tender requests is Lizena, a firm founded in 2014.

In 2016, the Russian Presidential Property Management Department pledged it would build two office buildings for the Supreme Court and Judicial Department, the Dance Palance, and four residential buildings containing a total of 600 apartments within four years in Petersburg. Construction was supposed to have begun in 2017, and the opening of the facility was scheduled for 2020. In May 2017, the Presidential Property Management Department declared the project top secret and obliged future contractors to maintain secrecy.

judicial quarterThe future judicial quarter in Petersburg is currently a giant sandbox. Photo courtesy of Alexander Koryakov/Kommersant

Construction was not begun, however. In September 2018, the Presidential Property Management Department acknowledged the deadlines it had set would be missed. As Kommersant wrote, the department failed to spend the 22.3 billion rubles allocated on the project. The funds were reallocated for 2021, when completion of construction has been planned. As transpired in December, an advance payment in the amount of more then 9.2 billion rubles was postponed from 2018 to 2021; no advances are envisaged in 2019 and 2020. As of December 1, according to the Federal Targeted Investment Program, builders in Petersburg had started to dig foundation pits for the residential complex. There was no information about the Supreme Court’s residence and the Dance Palace.

In March, the US Department of Justice imposed sanctions against Prigozhin and his companies Concord Management and Consulting, and Concord Catering. In February, Prigozhin and twelve other Russian nationals, as well as a number of legal entities, were indicted for interfering in the 2016 US elections. Included in the indictment was Prigozhin’s Internet Research Agency, which was abolished [sic] in 2016. RBC’s sources identified the IRA as the “troll factory” that, according to the US Department of Justice, had tried to influence US voters since 2014. President Putin called the charges made against Prigozhin by US officials “laughable.”

prigozhinYevgeny Prigozhin. Photo courtesy of Mikhail Metzel/TASS and RBC

A number of media outlets have also identified Prigozhin as “Putin’s chef.”

At his press conference on December 20, Putin said, “All my chefs are officers of the Federal Protection Service (FSO). All of them are military men. I have no other chefs.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Media’s Russia Obsession?

trumputin

Let’s talk about the media’s so-called Russia obsession for a few minutes.

What is meant by this is that the mainstream press have devoted tons of coverage to the substantial allegations that the Kremlin mounted a massive operation, mostly via social media, to influence the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election and, further, that the campaign of the candidate who won the election actively colluded with the Kremlin, among other things, in order to discredit the candidate’s main opponent in the election. The press has also focused a lot on Robert Mueller’s special investigation of these allegations.

Is all of this press coverage sterling? No. Does the press get the story wrong sometimes? Yes.

But this has always been the case with the nominally free press in nominally democratic societies ever since the free press emerged in the eighteenth century in a few countries groping their way towards democracy. It always been biased, prone to mistakes, and otherwise wildly imperfect. And yet it has always been subject to intense scrutiny, at least in my lifetime—and the really infantile desire on the part of certain social and political forces that it be perfect—that is, perfectly biased and ventriloquizing only their viewpoints—although these same forces are rarely so critical of either themselves or other important social institutions.

In this case, the social and political forces that routinely complain about the media’s so-called Russia obsession seem to mean, in fact, that the mainstream press and the press in general should simply stop covering what is surely the story of the century: allegations that the world’s largest country massively intervened in a presidential election in the world’s most powerful country, and that the man who won the election and members of his campaign and transition team were in close contact with agents of the world’s largest country during the campaign and transition.

What kind of press would we have if they completely ignored this story?

We would have a press much like the press in the world’s largest country, which routinely ignores or severely undercovers really big stories—such as the country’s involvement in putting down a popular revolution in a third country whose people have never down anything bad to the people of the world’s largest country—or which engages in outright Goebbels-like propaganda nearly every day, leaving the really important stories to opposition liberal newspapers and online media outlets that are read and accessed by a tiny fraction of the country’s populace.

Finally, the mainstream media have not been obsessed with Russia itself, but with the alleged actions of the Kremlin, Russian secret services, and Russian internet trolls in connection with the 2016 US presidential election. Period.

There is a another Russia, populated by 143 million people, that had nothing whatsoever to do with the story of the century. They did nothing to skew the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election and, in the main, their lives, aspirations, and actions are roundly ignored by the so-called mainstream media in the west and Russia itself. They are roundly ignored by the so-called alternative media, too, for the simple reason that much of the alternative media in the west operate under the delusion that Putin is an “anti-imperialist.” By definitions, Russians who oppose his sagacious rule must be “puppets of the west.”

If all of this weren’t the case, I would have expected that one or more of these “Russia-obsessed” or “anti-Russian-obsessed” newspapers, magazines, TV channels or websites would have picked up and covered, for example, the shocking story of the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case aka the Network case, in which eleven young anarchists and antifascists have been accused of involvement in a “terrorist community” dubbed “the Network.”

Most of the accused men have told the same grisly tale of being abducted by FSB-KGB field agents, who took them to remote areas in minivans or to the basements of their headquarters and tortured them for hours, using tasers and bare electrical wires, and severe beatings, attempting to force them to memorize the “confessions” they would later make (or, in some cases, refuse to make) to FSB investigators, who would then petition the courts to send them to remand prisons, where all of them are still imprisoned to this day.

The allegations of torture have been confirmed by Russian civil rights activists and defense attorneys who spoke with some of the men soon after their arrests and, in a few cases, they were also confirmed by physicians who examined the men when their wounds were still fresh.

In any case, a small but growing group of very determined people, including the men’s parents, friends, reporters, human rights activists, and concerned citizens, have been working as hard as they can over the last year to bring the case to the attention of the wider Russian public, force prosecutors to investigate the allegations of torture by FSB officers, and otherwise prove that, as seems to be the case, the FSB conjured the entire tale of the “terrorist community” from whole cloth and then handpicked a dozen or so completely innocent young men to be the fallguys, trying to torture and pummel them into admitting their “guilt” although they were guilty of no crime at all.

You would think the “Russia-obsessed” corporate media would jump on a story like this, but except for one article in the New Yorker, the western corporate media have utterly ignored the story of the Network “terrorists,” despite the efforts of actual alternative media like openDemocracyRussia (oDR) and my own blog, the Russian Reader, to write about it any chance we can and translate Russian coverage of the case, as published in such as liberal, leftist and civil rights media outlets as Mediazona, OVD Info, and Novaya Gazeta.

The campaign to save the Network boys scored a minor victory the other day during a meeting of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, when several members of the council brought up the case and a similar case no less shocking, the New Greatness case, and forced President Putin to talk about them.

A KGB-FSB officer to the core, Putin pretended not to have heard of the cases, which both pivot on allegations of extreme entrapment, torture, and fabrication by other KGB-FSB officers.

Putin hemmed and hawed, lied and prevaricated, feigned that he couldn’t believe what he was hearing, etc., but he did promise to look into the cases and get to the bottom of them.

It’s entirely possible he won’t do that, but it’s just as possible he will make the cases quietly go away to avoid embarrasment.

Who knows.

What I do know, though, is that western mainstream and alternative media, all of them “obsessed” with Putin (but not Russia) in their own way, have shown no interest in this story and thousands of other similar and dissimilar but no less fascinating stories from the real Russia inhabited by most Russians.

There was a slight uptick in their interest in grassroots Russia during the 2011–2012 fair elections protests, but since that movement was roundly defeated, western press coverage has been firmly refocused on the beloved hated figure of the supreme leader, thus once again denying nearly all the other 143 million Russians of agency, their own opinions, and their own lives.

If you’re interested in the Network case and related stories, please check out the coverage on oDR and the Russian Reader. Outside of Russia, practically speaking, there has been no coverage of the case anywhere else, and most things you read on international anarchist and antifascist websites are reprints of the stories we have translated and published.

So, let’s put this canard about the media’s Russia obsession to rest, okay? It’s deeply offensive to ordinary smart Russians, whose numbers are much greater than you would be led to think by the mostly lazy coverage of the country in the western press, and just as offensive to the handful of non-Russians who care deeply about what goes on here. {TRR}

P.S. You can support the Network suspects and their families concretely by donating to a solidarity campaign organized by comrades in London on their behalf. Your support will help to offset their legal costs, organizing humanitarian support for the arrested and offering support to their relatives. The resources gathered have so far been distributed according to the financial circumstances of the respective families and the needs of the arrested. Further financial support is being distributed according to the choices made by those arrested throughout the investigation.

Cartoon courtesy of JA and Union Thugs 

Leonid Volkov: The Export Pozner

pozner-yale-1.jpgVladimir Pozner at Yale University on September 27, 2018. Photo by Peter Cunningham. Courtesy of YaleNews

Leonid Volkov
Facebook
September 28, 2018

Yale has an incredibly rich extracurricular life. Every evening is chockablock with special events, public lectures, round tables, debates, and so on. Many politicians and public figures consider it an honor to speak at Yale. Today, for example, the president of Ghana is going to be lecturing, and there is nothing exotic about it.

All these events fight for an audience. They are advertised in a variety of mailings, and the bulletin boards on campus are densely crammed with flyers.

I imagine the president of Ghana will be sad today. He was beaten this evening [September 27]. The prettiest flyers, which have been on the bulletin boards since mid-August, announced a lecture provocatively entitled “How the United States Created Vladimir Putin.”

I had never seen such a popular event here. It was standing room only. Audience members (students, professors, researchers, etc.) sat on the steps of the lecture hall and stood in the aisles. There were around three hundred people. And no, I could not resist my curiosity, either. I was really interested in how Channel One operated when it was exported.

On stage was the ageless Vladimir Pozner. Would that everyone looked like that at eighty-four! His speech and manners were flawless. His manner of interacting with the audience was impeccable. He joked when it was appropriate and answered questions quickly. He was a professional of the highest class.

[These were Pozner’s talking points.]

  • Putin extended a helping hand after 9/11, but it was rejected.
  • The first proposal Putin made when he was elected to the presidency in 2000 was that Russia should join NATO. He was mortally offended by NATO’s rejection of his offer.
  • He fully voiced this resentment in his 2007 Munich speech, and the resentment was justified.
  • The western media have portrayed Putin in a negative light, all but comparing him with Hitler. This treatment has been wholly undeserved.
  • By offending and attacking Putin, they naturally angered him and made him what he is. The media are to blame for this (sic).

Did Russia meddle in the 2016 US presidential election?

[Pozner’s response was that] the Russian regime cheered for Trump, naturally, because Hillary Clinton had said so many bad things about Putin, but Pozner had seen no proof of meddling. Besides, had America not meddled in elections the world over?

And so it went.

Moreover, [the tone of the Pozner’s speech was captured] in the very first words [out of Pozner’s mouth].

“First of all, believe me when I say I am not representing anyone here. I speak here as an independent journalist, a breed that has nearly died off in Russia.”

Oh, while I was writing all this down, there was a question about Crimea. [Pozner’s response can be paraphrased as follows.]

Was international law violated? Yes, it was, but Sevastopol is a city populated by Russian naval officers and sailors. How could Russia have allowed the possibility of losing its naval base there and having it replaced by a NATO base, by the US Sixth Fleet? Should international law not be disregarded in such circumstances? Besides, Crimea has always been part of Russia.

Finally, [Pozner told his listeners, they] would understand better what had happened in Crimea if [they] imagined what would happen if a revolution occurred in Mexico (sic). In this case, would the US not want to deploy several army divisions on its southern border?

Yes, a new referendum should probably be held in Crimea, but [Pozner] was absolutely certain of the referendum’s outcome.

Argh!

Pozner equated Putin and Russia, of course, in all his remarks.

“It was clear the Russians had to respond in a certain way,” he would say in reference to actions taken by Putin.

In short, my friends, I was impressed. The export Pozner is nothing at all like the Pozner served up for domestic consumption in Russia. (I hope he is very well paid.)

But despite his best efforts, Pozner portrayed Putin as a rather pitiful man: insecure, petty, and vindictive. In this sense, of course, Pozner did not lie.

Leonid Volkov has been attacked on his own Facebook page by readers and Mr. Pozner himself on the latter’s website for his allegedly inaccurate portrait of Mr. Pozner’s appearance at Yale. Stories about the evening published on Yale University’s in-house organ YaleNews and the university’s student-run newpaper the Yale Daily News, however, substantially corroborate Mr. Volkov’s sketch of the event. His description of Pozner and his talk also jibe with my own sense of Mr. Pozner as a chameleon who skillfully tailors his messages to his audiences and the times. Or was it not Mr. Pozner who routinely appeared on my favorite news program, ABC’s Nightline, when I was a teenager in the early 1980s, to defend the moribund Soviet regime with a completely straight face? Read “In the Breast of Mother Russia Speaks a Kind and Loving Heart” for an account of a similiarly virtuoso agitprop performance by Mr. Pozner in the US nearly four years ago. {TRR}

Translated by the Russian Reader

Opinion Leaders Are Losers

The other day, I closed my Facebook accounts and pages, I hope for good.

Part of the reason I closed them was that a New York City writer whose books and opinions I admire greatly, and who has a huge following on Facebook, wrote a mean-spirited and divisive post on Facebook condemning “the Heartland,” meaning the middle part of the United States.

She labeled the place “heartless” and “dangerous” on the basis of her cursory perusal of an “interactive” map of the 2016 US presidential election results, published in the New York Times.

While the map she cited is certainly worth studying and full of surprises, I imagine the writer saw only red, literally and figuratively, and blew a fuse.

I doubted out loud, in the comments, whether the writer knew much about the “heartless, dangerous” Heartland. On the contrary, I know a great deal about it, since I was born and grew up there.

She did not respond to my petty, eminently ignorable objections nor did most of her thousands of self-satisfied, bien-pensant followers, certain that the “heartless, dangerous” (and completely imaginary) “Heartland” had irrevocably damaged their beautiful souls and beautiful lives in Clintonia.

But as reporter Issie Lapowsky and map expert Ken Field argue in an article published on July 26 by WIRED (“Is the US Leaning Red or Blue? It All Depends on Your Map”), there are maps, and then there are maps. For example, there is this map, devised by Mr. Field.

Dasymetric-Dot-Density-wKen Field, “Presidential election 2016: dasymetric dot density.” Courtesy of WIRED

To Field, there’s no such thing as a totally comprehensive map, but he says, “Some are more truthful than others.” The so-called dasymetric dot density map is one of them. The term “dasymetric” refers to a map that accounts for population density in a given area. Instead of filling an entire state or county with the color red or blue to indicate which party won, Field uses red and blue dots to represent every vote that was cast. On this particular map from 2016, there are roughly 135 million dots. Then, rather than distributing the dots evenly around a county, he distributes them proportionally according to where people actually live, based on the US government’s National Land Cover Database. That’s to avoid placing lots of dots in, say, the middle of a forest, and to account for dense population in cities.

Taken together, Field says, these methods offer a far more detailed illustration of voter turnout than, say, the map in Yingst’s tweet. That map uses different shades of red and blue to indicate whether candidates won by a wide or slim margin. But by completely coloring in all the counties, it gives counties where only a few hundred votes were cast the same visual weight as counties where hundreds of thousands of votes were cast. So, the map looks red. But on the dasymetric dot density map, it’s the blue that stands out, conveying the difference between the popular vote, which Clinton won, and the electoral college vote, which Trump won.

Why do I bring this sad business up on a website dealing with “news and views from the other Russias”?

Over the last several years, I have been fighting a similarly invidious myth about Russia and Russians. To wit, Vladimir Putin is incredibly popular, as conclusively shown, allegedly, by dicey “public opinion polls” and rigged elections, and his “base” is in the “Russian heartlands,” which are, apparently, just as “heartless” and “dangerous” and stupid as the US “Heartland,” and similarly prone to throw their electoral weight behind a tyrant, unlike, we are meant to imagine, the smart sets in Russia’s two capitals, Moscow and Petersburg.

I have been at great pains to show a discursive apparatus I have dubbed the “pollocracy” produces the results that both Putin’s quasi-fascist supporters and faux-liberal detractors need to cling to their respective security blankets. In the case of the so-called liberals, the security blanket consists in the notion that the world’s largest country is largely inhabited by woefully ignorant yahoos who have laid waste to any chance at building a democracy in the Motherland. As viewed by their opponents, the fake “patriots” in Putin’s camp, the same heartland yahoos are the country’s “pious,” “conservative” core and the source of the Putin’s ruling elite’s self-produced mandate to rule the country till kingdom come and particularly badly.

Seventy percent of why I do this website is to show that Russia actually consists of lots of other Russians and lots of other Russias that belie the dodgy “findings” of pollsters and the lazy clichés reproduced ad nauseam by Russian and international reporters, “Russia experts” (nearly all of them resident somewhere other than Russia), politicos, and spin doctors to prove a self-serving conclusion they arrived at long ago without bothering to find out whether it was true or not.

It’s not true. Just as it is emphatically not true the US “Heartland” is “heartless” and “dangerous.” Or maybe it and its mythical Russian counterpart, the “Russian heartlands,” are heartless and dangerous part of the time, but not all of the time and everywhere and on the part of every single woman, child, man, dog, and cat who live there. Nor, vice versa, are the alleged oases of high intellect and liberalism where pollsters, reporters, and opinion leaders (such as the well-known New York writer who, railing and trembling like the Prophet Jeremiah, condemned the place where I was born and grew up to the fires of hell) congregate, cities like New York, Los Angeles, Moscow, and Petersburg, utterly free of meanness, menace, vice, crime, bad governance, popular indifference, ignorance, and support for tyrants.

What does this have to do with abandoning Facebook? First, I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to produce a quasi blog there that would complement and promote this website. Since I am nobody, however, more or less nobody was interested in what I wrote.

They did, however, hang on every word written by people like the New York writer, who, having achieved a modicum of fame, felt no compunction about compounding a rank prejudice about a huge part of her own country and all the people who live there.

So, I have found Facebook an incredibly dispiriting place to try get out my word, a word very few of my so-called friends, real and virtual, wanted to hear, much more wanted to share and spread with their own friends.

Second, the continuing crackdown on bloggers and social media users in Russia has meant that fewer and fewer Russians are willing to write anything interesting on Facebook and its Russian ripoff, VK. Judging by my own real friends, more and more of them have either been observing total radio silence or retreating into the little cubbyholes known as Telegram channels, where they are invisible and inaudible to all the world except their own clique. Since one important feature on this website has been translations of the pithy, thought-provoking things Russian activists and just plain Russians have posted publicly on Facebook and other social media, I was left staring at a once-overflowing well going drier by the minute.

Third, WordPress gives its bloggers some crude but decent tools to see where their readers are finding out about their blogs and blog posts. Over the last two years, as my readership here as continued to climb, the share of those readers who were turned onto my website or particular posts through Facebook has shrunk, meaning that my own friends, real and virtual, have been less likely to share my posts with their friends than complete strangers have been to look up Russia-related topics on the internet and find their way here.

So, rather than continue to pine for support from actually hostile liberal and leftist opinion leaders whose only interest in my Facebook posts and blog posts was to scavenge them for news and ideas they would instantly pass off as their own thoughts and finds without crediting me, I have decided to live without them in order to more fully embrace you, my anonymous, ever more numerous, faithful readers.

In any case, this website will continue to be promoted on Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, and Ello, as before, so it is not as if I am doing a disappearing act. I just wanted to stop pretending I had friends in places where I did not have them. {TRR}

 

Vladislav Inozemtsev: Russia Has Stopped Making Sense

DSCN5158The west would do as well to try and engage these inebriated young Russians in meaningful dialogue as their erratic, spiteful government.

Vladislav Inozemtsev
Sanctions Forever
Snob
March 30, 2018

The recent simultaneous expulsion of 139 Russian diplomats from 24 countries is an extraordinary event, especially if you consider it was undertaken not in response to provocations against these countries themselves, but as a token of solidarity with Great Britain, which has accused Russia of attempting to murder the former intelligence agent Sergei Skripal on English soil with a chemical weapon.

The current fad is to describe what is happening as a new cold war. I noted long ago that Russia’s changed attitude to the world fit this definition well. However, events might have gone even farther or, to be more precise, in a different direction.

The west was extremely concerned about what happened in Ukraine in 2014–2015. Along with Putin’s speeches in Munich and Bucharest in 2007 and 2008, the five-day war in Georgia, Moscow’s attempts to strengthen its authority in the former Soviet Union and cultivate friendships with certain Central European leaders, Russia’s aggressive actions jibed well with previous views. The responses proposed seemed clear as well: containment, aid to allies, competition and rivalry on the global periphery. Putin was routinely described as someone who understood only zero-sum games. One side’s loss was always a win for the other side.

However, since the mid 2010s, the circumstances have changed dramatically, although it was hard to notice it immediately. Russia’s meddling in the US presidential election (no matter whether it impacted the outcome or not), its flirtation with European ultra-righwingers, its open support of war criminals like Assad, and the state terror unleashed against opponents of the regime and people whom Putin and his retinue have deemed “traitors” are all indications not only of the fact that the Kremlin has ceased to play by any rules whatsoever. More important, Moscow has seemingly ceased to take its own good into account when it makes certain moves.

What did the Kremlin gain by sullying the 2016 US presidential election? If we speak of Russia per se, nothing was gained whatsoever. Whoever had won the election without our meddling, the relations between our countries would certainly not be worse than they are now. The only consequences have been a supercharging of American politics and aggravation of internecine battles within the Washington establishment. What has Moscow gained by financing and supporting anti-European forces? Apparently, a similar destabilization. It is telltale that if this destabilization does become a reality, Russia will gain nothing from it. The EU will not crumble, but it will become less functional, and pro-European forces will only find it is easier to prove their argument that the countries of Europe must rally less for some particular purpose and more against a particular enemy. Even if pro-Putin forces achieve local victories here and there, it will not alter the overall picture. The greater part of Europe will become increasingly anti-Russian. What has Putin gained by murdering, apparently, over a dozen of his personal enemies in the UK, people who had long ago been stripped of any opportunity to harm Russia? He has turned our country into an international outcast, which no one wants.

The west’s reaction, as exemplified by the expulsion of Russian diplomats, points to a new reality, consisting primarily in the fact that Russia has finally stopped making sense to the world, nor should it surprise anyone. It really is unclear what Putin wants right now. Does he want to become dictator of his own country, wiping out even the semblance of democracy? The west would not prevent him from doing this in any way. Does he want to resurrect the Soviet Union? Go crazy, only it is far from a fact the khans and beys of Central Asia want the same thing, given that Moscow has so far not been terribly successful at achieving genuine integration with these countries. (Ukraine is a special case, but even here it would make more sense to negotiate with the Ukrainian people, not with Brussels and Washington.) Does he want to launder the money stolen in Russia in Europe and various offshore companies? I have not heard anything in the news about Russian funds and property being seized by foreign authorities. Since Russia has stopped making sense, the west has sent signals and hints Putin should settle down. They do not necessarily want him to become less anti-western, only more rational. They want him come down to earth and engage in lawlessness, if possible, only at home.

The Kremlin has feigned it cannot make sense of these signals. It prefers to act in keeping with the tactic of symmetrical response. However, what was normal during the real Cold War strikes observers as abnormal nowadays. In the 1970s, members of the Central Committee did not own villas in the south of France and did not stash their money in banks registered in Luxembourg and Delaware. Soviet enterprises were not owned by companies up to their necks in debt in the west. By hook or by crook, Soviet home industry supplied the populace with nearly all the bare necessities, and what it could not supply was obtained from the Soviet Union’s Eastern European satellities. Everything has changed since then. Russia is much more vulnerable to European economic sanctions than US nuclear missiles.

Symmetrical responses were productive when the parties were motivated by clearly defined interests. When one side is motivated by garden-variety resentment, such responses are counterproductive. Moscow assumes its bluff has been called, although the west’s signal contains a different message: there is nothing to discuss with the Kremlin. Moreover, the process no longer seems like fun to anyone. Given the circumstances, what is the point of having embassies in hostile countries that outnumber the diplomatic missions of their most trusted friends?

As for the parallels that suggest themselves when we contemplate the Kremlin’s latest steps, they do not resemble the actions of Khrushchev and Brezhnev. They are more reminiscent of the Stalin era’s experiments. The Soviet secret services eliminated the revolution’s enemies abroad, while the Kremlin categorically demanded the German communists not form a coalition with the Social Democrats in the face of the Nazi threat.  The Kremlin imagined maximum destablization of the democratic countries would cause them to collapse and help establish the universal reign of the proletariat. History, however, proved this policy was erroneous. No one suffered more from the collapse of the Weimar Republic than the Soviet Union. If European integration fails, Russia is not likely to benefit, either. Were we not thrilled about the Brexit vote not so long ago? Did we not believe a more independent Great Britain would deal a blow to the Eurocrats? The only problem is that for now it is rather more obvious the UK’s increased independence has strengthened its resolve to deal with Moscow, while Europe (and not only Europe) has been inclined to support the supposed renegade.

Summing up, I can only repeat my longstanding assumption that the sanctions against Russia are virtually permanent. Instead of contemplating events in a rational manner, weighing the pros and cons, and taking decisions aimed at reducing tension, Russia has continued to engage in provocations, lies, and dodges. (In Soviet times, the Party’s leaders had the good sense to maintain dialogue with the west on economic and other issues even at the height of the arms race.) The west finds it difficult to respond with force, nor does anyone want to respond with force, so the tokens of growing contempt will keep manifesting themselves over and over again. Russia should be ready for this. Or it should begin to change, although, apparently, it is pointless to expect this.

Thanks to Alexander Morozov for the heads-up. Translation and photo by the Russian Reader

What Is Their Point?

6f987ab74c72f0c50b19b05ea775bc4033c57706A Tribe Called Quest. Photo courtesy of Spotify

First, a musical prelude, by the world’s best hip hop group of all time, A Tribe Called Quest.

Check The Rhime
Back in the days on the boulevard of Linden,
We used to kick routines and presence was fittin’
It was I the Abstract
And me the five footer
I kicks the mad style so step off the frankfurter
Yo, Phife, you remember that routine
That we used to make spiffy like Mister Clean?
Um um, a tidbit, um, a smidgen
I don’t get the message so you gots to run the pigeon
You on point, Phife?
All the time, Tip
You on point, Phife?
All the time, Tip
You on point Phife?
All the time, Tip
Well, then grab the microphone and let your words rip
Now here’s a funky introduction of how nice I am
Tell your mother, tell your father, send a telegram
I’m like an Energizer ’cause, you see, I last long
My crew is never ever wack because we stand strong
Now if you say my style is wack that’s where you’re dead wrong
I slayed that body in El Segundo then push it along
You’d be a fool to reply that Phife is not the man
Cause you know and I know that you know who I am
A special shot of peace goes out to all my pals, you see
And a middle finger goes for all you punk MC’s
Cause I love it when you wack MC’s despise me
They get vexed, I roll next, can’t none contest me
I’m just a fly MC who’s five foot three and very brave
On job remaining, no I’m chaining cause I misbehave
I come correct in full effect have all my hoes in check
And before I get the butt the jim must be erect
You see, my aura’s positive I don’t promote no junk
See, I’m far from a bully and I ain’t a punk
Extremity in rhythm, yeah that’s what you heard
So just clean out your ears and just check the word
Check the rhyme y’all
Check it out
Check it out
Check the rhyme y’all
Play tapes y’all
Check the rhyme y’all
Check the rhyme y’all
Check it out
Check it out
Back in days on the boulevard of Linden
We used to kick routines and the presence was fittin’
It was I the Phifer
And me, the abstract
The rhymes were so rumpin’ that the brothers rode the ‘zack
Yo, Tip, you recall when we used to rock
Those fly routines on your cousin’s block
Um, let me see, damn I can’t remember
I receive the message and you will play the sender
You on point, Tip?
All the time, Phife
You on point, Tip?
Yeah, all the time, Phife
You on point, Tip?
Yo, all the time, Phife
So play the resurrector and give the dead some life
Okay, if knowledge is the key then just show me the lock
Got the scrawny legs but I move just like Lou Brock
With speed I’m agile plus I’m worth your while
One hundred percent intelligent black child
My optic presentation sizzles the retina
How far must I go to gain respect? Um
Well, it’s kind of simple, just remain your own
Or you’ll be crazy sad and alone
Industry rule number four thousand and eighty
Record company people are shady
So kids watch your back ’cause I think they smoke crack
I don’t doubt it, look at how they act
Off to better things like a hip-hop forum
Pass me the rock and I’ll storm with the crew and
proper. What you say Hammer? Proper.
Rap is not pop, if you call it that then stop
NC, y’all check the rhyme y’all
SC, y’all check it out y’all
Virginia, check the rhyme y’all
Check it out, out
In London, check the rhyme, y’all
______________________________________________

The Tribe were always on point, although Phife, sadly, died in March 2016.

I am happy to say I saw the group perform at a club in Seattle in 1991 or 1992, and it was the most positive, funkiest show I have ever seen anywhere.

______________________________________________

Meanwhile, the unhappy, far-flung, unfunky human shards of the collapsing new building once known as the Soviet Union are almost never on point, because the ones among them who clearly think they are the smartest, cleverest, and most cosmopolitan have been in semi-permanent national self-defense mode after it transpired the Kremlin tried its flat-out best to intervene in the 2016 US presidential election.

Two cases in point are ace reporters Julia Ioffe and Masha Gessen,* who seem to go back and forth all over the place on the “Russia question,” depending on the venue and the day. Here, they are, today, in full “Russophile” mode.

on point

Here is the interview itself, broadcast earlier today on NPR.

“The bottom line is that Americans elected Trump,” claims Gessen in the interview.*

No, the bottom line is that reporters like Masha Gessen and Julia Ioffe, for whatever reason, want to control the public discourse on Russia in the US, so they have to reach over and over again for the bag of tricks, perfected in their worst incarnations by pseudo-intellectual mags like the New Republic and Atlantic Monthly in the nineties, that counter-intuitive reporting gets you, the reporter, the most attention, even if your counter-intuitive argument is utterly worthless when examined on the merits.

I could see no point whatsoever to NPR’s interview with Ms. Gessen and Mr. Chen, just as I can see no point flapping one’s lips about Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election until Robert Mueller’s investigation has been completed.

It is not at all a straighforward question of dual loyalties or having been “flipped,” of course, but the genuine discomfort many Russians and Russian émigrés feel about the dire direction Russia has taken under Vladimir Putin. At the same time, parts of the Russian national and Russian émigré chattering class feel so utterly flummoxed by the way events have been unfolding in the last four or five years that they have gone, almost reflexively, into heavy spin mode while also trying to install themselves, in the west, as the go-to people when it comes to all matters Russian.

It would probably surprise NPR’s listeners to learn that Ms. Gessen, for example, did not exactly “flee” Russia, but chose to leave because she felt her non-traditional family would be safer in the US, where she emigrated with her own birth family when she was fourteen. She had every right and reason to do this, and if I were in her position I might have done the same thing.

It is nonsense, however, to say she “fled” because she was “persecuted” personally. The nonsensicality of this claim would be apparent only to people like me and my Russian reporter friend Sergey, who watched as Ms. Gessen “fled” Russia over the course of two or three years, generating an endless series of interviews and op-ed pieces about her “escape” as she was slowly packing her bags or whatever she was doing during her seemingly endless, slow-motion “flight to freedom.”

When you witness a journalist working so hard to make themselves the story, you start wondering what matters most to them—the truth out there in the world that needs to be investigated and reported or keeping the limelight fixed firmly on themselves.

I also happen to know that Ms. Gessen makes frequent trips to Russia on business. What sort of persecution-and-flight story is this, when you can fly back and forth between your “safe haven” and the “country you fled” at will, whenever you like, with no untoward consequences to your health and safety?

In fact, under Putin’s reign, there have been plenty of Russians who really have been persecuted in the most unambiguous sense of the word and have had to flee the country or face certain imprisonment, for example, Dmitry Buchenkov, the final defendant in the horrendous (and horrendously underreported) Bolotnaya Square case and its accompanying show trials.

Because both Ms. Ioffe and Ms. Gessen are terrific reporters and writers when they want to be, I wish they would spend more time telling us about the real Russia of unsung heroes like Dmitry Buchenkov, Yuri Dmitriev, Valery Brinikh, and the Penza and Petersburg antifascists tortured by the FSB on the fabricated pretense they belonged to a “terrorist” organization, and much less time making what really amounts to a half-assed quasi-defense of a very bad game (the Kremlin’s meddling in the internal affairs of countries the world over), seemingly only just to keep their charming mugs in front of the TV cameras and radio station microphones as much as possible.

Especially in the last instance, Ms. Gessen and Ms. Ioffe could use the mighty media soapboxes they have at their disposal to help eight innocent young men put through hell on earth so the FSB can tighten its grip on Russian grassroots society. But they don’t, probably because they have never even heard of the case, despite being the foremost go-to reporters on Russia in the US. TRR

* I have posted in the recent past about instances when Ms. Ioffe’s and Ms. Gessen’s alleged total omniscience regarding the Motherland has been seriously lacking. See “Does Vladimir Putin Have a Niece?” (11 November 2017), and “Ace Reporter Julia Ioffe Joins the Russian World” (5 October 2017).

** After I posted this last night, I thought about what Ms. Gessen’s reaction would be if, during a similar non-obligatory discussion on NPR (whose presenters, almost without exception, have no clue how to interview anyone, because their idea of interviewing involves lobbing slow softballs for their guests to slam out of the park) someone had said, “The bottom line is that Russians voted for Putin.”

It is easy to imagine how she would react, because she writes at length in her latest book, The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, about the 2011–2012 fair elections movement in Russia, sparked by a widespread (and accurate) perception amongst Russians that the December 2011 parliamentary and regional elections and the March 2012 presidential election had been anything but free and fair, to wit:

Even though the protesters belonged to different age groups, Putin had now been in power long enough that a majority of them had spent all or most of their adult lives in the era of supposed “stability.” Some of them had expected the Putin era to be like the Soviet past they remembered or imagined, the object of national nostalgia. According to these memories, that time was slow, predictable, and essentially unchanging. But in Putin’s era of “stability,” things refused to stay the same. The markets crashed because Putin said or did something. Innocent, randomly chosen people went to prison just because the government had declared a witch hunt against pedophiles. The spectacle of the Putin-Medvedev handoff and the experience of the farcical election served as reminders of how powerless Russian citizens were to affect any aspect of life. The protests were an attempt to renegotiate, to reclaim a little bit of space from the ever-expanding party-state— and it so happened that the party was the one of crooks and thieves. (Gessen, Masha. The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition, p. 349)

Yet, in the US, the “bottom line” is that “Americans” “elected Trump.” In point of fact, Mr. Trump was elected by the Electoral College. The popular vote was won handily by Hillary Clinton, who garned 48.2% of all votes counted, as opposed to 46.1% for Mr. Trump.

In the world’s third-largest country by population, that translates into 2,868,691 voters whose clearly voiced preference for Mrs. Clinton was utterly negated, as it were. Since Mr. Trump’s Electoral College victory came down to razor-tight wins in a few key districts in a few key states, any extraneous or criminal factor that could have pushed voters in his direction has to be thoroughly investigated. This would have to be the case even had Mr. Trump won the popular vote. Given that the election campaign, the election, and its aftermath have been unprecedented in US history in such a myriad of ways, it stands to reason that Americans would be more than a little curious about what happened and why.

In Russia, where, as some “Russia experts” would say (although I would not say it myself), Mr. Putin is so popular he could win an election without cheating, Ms. Gessen thinks people have every right to protest the machinations of “crooks and thieves.” In her adopted country, the US, however, she thinks people should calm down, shut up, and accept the “bottom line” that they did this to themselves.

I doubt very much that Ms. Gessen, judging by her numerous books and articles on the subjects, would argue that Russians did Putin to themselves, although to someone like me who has been on the ground in Russia during most of his eighteen-year-reign, that does indeed seem partly to be the case.

Enough Already?

DSCN1392
“Veterans of the Secret Services,” marquee in central Petersburg, 12 November 2017. Photo by the Russian Reader

Enough already?

For months, President Vladimir V. Putin has predictably denied accusations of Russian interference in last year’s American election, denouncing them as fake news fueled by Russophobic hysteria. More surprising, some of Mr. Putin’s biggest foes in Russia, notably pro-Western liberals who look to the United States as an exemplar of democratic values and journalistic excellence, are now joining a chorus of protest over America’s fixation with Moscow’s meddling in its political affairs. “Enough already!” Leonid M. Volkov, chief of staff for the anti-corruption campaigner and opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny, wrote in a recent anguished post on Facebook. “What is happening with ‘the investigation into Russian interference,’ is not just a disgrace but a collective eclipse of the mind.”

What the so-called Russian liberals, quoted in this New York Times article about how the continuing “fever” provoked by alleged Russian involvement in the 2018 US presidential election has been harming their mostly nonexistent cause by making Putin seem more powerful and craftier than he actually is, forget is that the United States is a democratic republic, all its obvious faults notwithstanding, not a kleptocratic tyranny, where the high crimes and misdemeanors imputed to the Kleptocrat in Chief and his cronies are never investigated, except by Alexei Navalny and the occasional journalist, and then only halfheartedly, because there is no division of powers in Putinist Russia and thus no independent judiciary, prosecutors or police investigators, not to mention the absence of an independent legislative branch.

So, the Ozero Dacha Co-op is free to run the country like a mafia gang running northern New Jersey.

In the US, on the contrary, the legislative branch and the judiciary, along with the relevant law enforcement authorities and intelligence agencies, are simply obliged, because they, too, have sworn to uphold and protect the Constitution, to pursue any and all evidence that the Trump campaign and now the Trump administration has had extensive ties with Russian officials, and that the Kremlin additionally attempted to influence the outcome of the election via active measures including the massive manipulation of social networks. They must pursue all this to the bloody end, however long it takes and however much it costs.

To do otherwise would be a dereliction of duty on the part of the sworn high officials who are charged with protecting the Constitution, even if that means protecting it from Don Trump and Vladimir Putin, whom Russian liberals have literally no plan or intention of ever seeing out the door, for his crimes or his wildly incompetent governance.

In the process, our often hysterical and uneven press, as well as everyone and his mother, posting on those selfsame social networks, will have much to say about the whole kit and kaboodle, and much of it will be wrong, worthless, and crazy.

Plus, the whole mess will inevitably be politicized to the hilt, another thing that upsets certain Russians, whose Soviet upbringing and post-Soviet survivalism has made them loathe the hugger-mugger of politics, which is always a hugger-mugger when it’s real, not an epiphenomenon of all-Russian TV brainwashing sessions, whose aftereffects are measured in real time by fake pollsters.

Messy is how it works when you can’t be sent down to Mordovia for reposting the “wrong” thing on VK, as you can be in Russia.

If anything, this little collective five minutes of hate, on the part of so-called Russian liberals whose professions of love and respect for the US sound suspect when encapsulated this way, have only reinforced what I’ve thought for a long time.

There are healthy Russians, and plenty of them, who are more concerned with their families, jobs, hobbies, neighbors, and politics in their own country and neighborhood, etc., but the so-called Russian elites and the so-called Russian intelligentsia are obsessed with the US in a way that most Americans (believe me, I’ve been around the big block several times and have noticed very little interest in Russia among the vast majority of my American acquaintances, friends, relatives, coworkers, etc.) are not and never have been, except, perhaps, during the Red Scare, but I wasn’t there to witness it, and I suspect it was more of an elite phenomenon than a grassroots thing.

The Russian most obsessed with the US is, of course, Vladimir Putin. He’s so obsessed that he persuaded himself that the 2011–2012 popular protests against his regime were personally engineered, launched, and steered by Hillary Clinton and the US State Department.

So, given the chance to get back at his number one enemy in the US, he did what he could.

This doesn’t necessarily mean his influence won the election for Trump or was even crucial. But throwing up our hands and saying it ultimately doesn’t matter would be irresponsible. We have to know or at least find out as much as we can about what really was done and by whom, and if we have evidence that high officials committed crimes in connection with this alleged conspiracy, they must be prosecuted, tried and, if found guilty, punished.

There is also the matter of less powerful Russians than Putin, folks like the ones quoted in the article, who can discuss US politics until they are blue in the face (I’ve been around that big block, too, many times, and have witnessed this “political self-displacement” on many occasions). Part of the reason for this is that (or so such people think) there is no politics to discuss in Russia. Or no reason to discuss Russian politics. Or every reason not to discuss Russian politics because doing it too loudly and publicly might get you in trouble.

But the Russian talking classes have to have something to talk about, so they talk about the fake moral panics the regime tosses them like bones to dogs every couple of weeks—and US politics and culture, such as “high-quality” TV series on Netflix and such.

They talk about the US so much you would be forgiven for thinking that many of them are certain, often to the point of arrogance, that they know more about the US and everything American than Americans themselves.

What they do less and less often is discuss their own country, partly because they have all but reconciled themselves to the “fact,” without putting up a fight (the only possible exception among the folks quoted in the article is Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s righthand man) that Putin will essentially re-elect himself to a fourth term as president in March 2018, and so on till kingdom comes.

Putin can pull off that trick in the world’s largest country, and yet, argue other Russian liberals, we’re supposed to imagine he is utterly powerless at the same time?

This article is a bill of goods, and we don’t have to buy it. I would love to find out why Andrew Higgins was moved to write it, and why so many talkative, opinionated Russians think they bear no responsibility for letting their “powerless” president do whatever he pleases whenever he pleases.

Maybe they should work harder on that for a few years and forget about the US and its signal failings. Let the real Americans handle those, however muckily and gracessly they go about it. It’s their country, after all.

I’m certain such a live-and-let-live approach to the US would make Russian grassroots and liberal politics more exciting and productive. TRR