Marrying the Mob

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On Facebook, I regularly push stories about Syria and, especially, Russia’s criminally disastrous involvement there. Unfortunately, it has had no visible effect on any of my Russian Facebook friends with one exception.

I should thank Allah for that many “converts.”

In international politics, marriages of convenience among dictators and wannabe dictators always lead to mayhem and unintended fallout for the innocent bystanders in their immediate vicinity.

Let us pretend, for the sake of argument, that Trump and his campaign really did not collude with Putin and other Russian government officials to sway the 2016 US presidential election.

Even if that were the case, Trump’s overweening admiration for Putin’s style of bad governance has still had catastrophic effects on the country he is supposed to be leading

For someone like me who is all too familiar with the bag of tricks known, maybe somewhat inaccurately, as Putinism, it has been obvious Trump wants to steer the US in a quasi-Putinist direction.

While the republic, its states, and the other branches of government can mount a mighty resistance by virtue of the power vested in them, Trump can still cause lots of damage as an “imperial” president, even if he is booted out of the White House two years from now.

Likewise, Russians can imagine there is a far cry between living in a country whose cities are besieged and bombed by the country’s dictator, and what Putin has been doing in Syria. What he has been doing, they might imagine, mostly stays in Syria, except for Russian servicemen killed in action there, whose names and numbers are kept secret from the Russian public.

In reality, it is clear that the Kremlin’s neo-imperialist turn in Ukraine, Syria, etc., has made the regime far more belligerent to dissidents, outliers, weirdos, “extremists,” and “terrorists” at home.

Over the last five years, more and more Russians have fallen prey to their homegrown police and security services either for what amount to thought crimes (e.g., reposting an anti-Putinist meme on the social network VK or organizing nonexistent “terrorist communities”) or what the Russian constitution does not recognize as a crime at all, such as practicing one’s religion (e.g., Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses do)

Putin has adopted an Assadist mindset, therefore. He, his cronies, and the ever-expanding Russian security services, whose mission is making the paranoia of their superiors come true by meeting quotas of harassed, interrogated, arrested, tortured, jailed and convicted “extremists” per quarter, have come to imagine the only way to avoid the mess in which Assad found himself is to hammer anyone in Russia who sticks their necks out too far, whether intentionally or not, that everyone else will get the clue dissent and even plain difference come with a heavy price tag and reduce theirs to an invisible minimum.

Things were not exactly peachy during the first years of the Putin regime, but they became a hell of a lot worse after the Kremlin invaded Ukraine and went flying off to Syria to save Assad’s bacon from the fire of popular revolution.

As long as Russia remains entrenched in those places, there can be no question of progress on the home front, especially when the vast majority of Russians pretend very hard not to know anything about Syria and their country’s involvement there, and have grown accustomed to the Ukrainian muddle, meaning they mostly avoid thinking about what has really been happening in Eastern Ukraine, too. {TRR}

Thanks to the fabulous Sheen Gleeson for the first link. Photo by the Russian Reader

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Postage Stamps and Gunpowder: Syria and the Russian Economy

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Postage Stamps and Gunpowder: How Important Is Syria to the Russian Economy?
The Kremlin has been trying—unconvincingly—to repackage its military campaign in this devastated country as a long-term investment project. 
Yevgeny Karasyuk
Republic
February 27, 2019

The economy was probably the last thing on the Kremlin’s mind when it decided to get involved in a civil war in the heart of the Arab world. But now that Russian military forces have been in the region for several years, the Kremlin has been increasingly trying to spin its support for Bashar Assad’s regime as a sound investment, a contribution to a prosperous trading future between the two countries.

Russia has claimed it is willing to export to Syria anything it can offer in addition to weapons, from wheat to know-how for preventing extremism on the internet. Along with Iran, the country has big plans for taking part in the postwar restoration of Syrian cities and Syrian industry, including the energy sector. Russia’s governors speak touchingly of their readiness to go to Damascus at the drop of a hat to negotiate with the Syrian government.

“When the talk turns to Syria, I immediately catch myself thinking I need these meetings,  I need to see those people again and again, and I need to be useful,” Natalya Komarova, head of the Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous District said at the Russian Investment Forum in Sochi two weeks ago.

The expenses Russia has incurred during the Syrian campaign are shrouded in mystery. Analysts at IHS Jane’s calculated in October 2015 that Russia could have been spending as much as $4 million a day.  In July 2017, the opposition Yabloko Democratic Party published its estimate of the overall bill: as much as 140 billion rubles [approx. 1.87 billion euros], but this total did not include associated costs, including humanitarian aid. In 2017, according to RANEPA, 84% of Russia’s official total of disbursed humanitarian aid ($19.6 million) went to Syria. What kind of economic cooperation could justify such figures?

It would be pointless even to try and find an answer in recent trade trends between the two countries. Its volumes are negligible. During the first nine months of 2018, Syria’s share of Russia’s exports was 0.09%, while Syria accounted for 0.002% of imports to Russia during the same period. This has always been more or less the case.

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“Trends in Russia’s trade with Syria (in billions of US dollars).” The pale violet line indicates Russia’s exports to Syria, while the blue line indicates Russia’s imports from Syria. The data for 2018 is only for the first nine months of the year. Source: Russian Federal Customs Service. Diagram courtesy of Republic

The largest transaction in the history of the economic partnership between the two countries was Moscow’s cancellation of $9.8 billion dollars in debt, 73% of what Syria had owed the Soviet Union. At the end of the 2005 meeting at which this matter was decided, Bashar Assad and Vladimir Putin also spoke publicly of the idea of establishing a free trade zone. Subsequently forgotten, the undertaking was mere camouflage for the political bargain reached by the two men, which was and remains support for the Syrian dictator’s regime in exchange for the dubious dividends the Kremlin has received by increasing its influence in the region. It is believed Russian strategic bomber saved Assad, who had already been written off by the west. But explanations of what Russia has ultimately won for its efforts and what its economic strategy might look like have been more muddled and contradictory than before.

In an October 2018 interview with Euronews, Russian Foreign Secretary Sergei Lavrov avoided directly answering a question about joint economic projects. During his tenure as head of the Russian Export Center, Pyotr Fradkov (not to be confused with his father former PM Mikhail Fradkov, the current head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service or SVR) talked about Russia’s potential involvement in developing the “high-tech segments of Syria’s economy.” A month ago, however, the selfsame Russian Export Center placed Syria at the bottom of its ranking of 189 countries in terms of their favorability for foreign trade.

The Syrian economy, in turn, can currently offer Russia even less. Mainly, its exports boil down to fruit, but in such small and unstable quantities that they cannot seriously compete with deliveries from Turkey. Russia has been promised priority access to the development of natural resource deposits in Syria, which are teeming with oil, natural gas, and phosphates. But the smoldering war and the lack of security guarantees for investments have hampered implementing these plans.

Russian experts pin their hopes on the surviving remnants of industry in the government-controlled areas of Latakia, Tartus, and Damascus. Based on the fact that “the level of production that survived has enabled Assad to almost fully provide himself [sic] with food during five years of war,” Grigory Lukyanov, a political scientist at the Higher School of Economics has concluded the Syrian government “depends on a well-developed business community.”

Syria, however, seemed like a nightmare for investors well before the country was turned into an open wound. “Only a crazy person would go into Syria at his own behest,” Vedomosti quoted a source at a major company that was involved in negotiations with the Syrian government in the summer of 2012. Suffering from international sanctions, Syria proposed that Russian companies take part in construction of a thermoelectric power station in Aleppo. Four years later, one of Syria’s largest cities had been turned into ruins by heavy bombardment.

The Rothschilds [sic], who made fortunes on wars, thought the best time to invest was when blood was flowing in the streets. Their approach might seem to resemble the Kremlin’s strategy. But let’s not kid ourselves: unlike the famed financiers, President Putin is completely devoid of insight when it comes to the economic consequences of his military escapades. Business plans are not his strong suit.

Photo courtesy of Mikhail Klementyev/AP and the Washington Post. Translated by the Russian Reader

Life During Wartime

DSCN5429.jpgRussians at war

 1.
“There’s really no place for self-righteousness in war.”
—Lord Richards, BBC Radio 4, Today, 14 April 2018

Lord Richards said this by way of arguing everyone should give up, permit the butcher Assad to win his genocidal war, and “let the Syrian people [?] get down to the business of rebuilding their country.”

He was immediately followed on the air by a bloke named Frank Gardner, who made the ludicrous claim it was the Russian “intervention” “that prevented Islamic State and the other jihadists from taking Damascus.”

Mr. Gardner was immediately followed on the air by yet another bloke, an MP of some sort, who was just as defeatist, but somehow, unaccountably, thought the “people responsible” for war crimes in Syria “would be held to account.”

Mr. Gardner and the MP was followed by an American teenage girl, apparently a  former member of the Obama administration, who absolved the second coming of MLK, Jr., of all responsibility for the bloodbath.

As if this were not bad enough, the teenage American girl was immediately followed on the air by Sebastian Gorka. Oddly enough, his comments were the most reasonable.

They were immediately followed on the air by the ridiculously ubiquitous Anne Applebaum and another bloke with a posh accent (David Stevenson), who didn’t “want to see an all-out war.”

This entire clown circus was preceded by a nice little chat with a “former” Russian general, whose only purpose was to tell the radio audience, “If you so much as scratch one of our buys, you’ll have all-out war.” (I am paraphrasing.)

All of this was camouflaged by an alleged concern for the “people of Syria,” and yet not a single actual Syrian voice was heard all morning.

What disgusting white freaks.

DSCN5424Russians at war

2.
Predictably, various so-called leftists on my Facebook news feed are in high dudgeon today over the milquetoast missile strikes on a few Syrian military facilities carried out overnight by France, Britain, and the US.

These very same people, some of whom are Russian nationals, have had absolutely nothing to say about Russia’s critical intervention in Syria on the side of the country’s war criminal dictator Bashar Assad for the last two and a half years.

How does that work? Russia gets a free pass because it is . . . what? Building socialism in Syria? On the right side of the conflict? Has been suffering so much since the collapse of the Soviet Union that it has the right to bomb whole cities into rubble and occupy neighboring countries without provocation?

No, Russia gets a free pass, especially from Russian leftists, because 99.9999% of the Russian populace knows quite well that their own homegrown dictator, Vladimir Putin, has certain pet projects that are off limits to criticism and protest.

Destroying Syria is one of those pet projects.

So, they are simply too scared to criticize Russia’s absolutely criminal actions against Syrian citizens in Syria, i.e., against people who have never, so far as I know, harmed any Russians at all, especially not in Russia itself.

Hence, when the so-called west makes a feeble, almost laughable gesture to oppose the Assadist-Putinist-Iranian-Hezbollah massacre in Syria, these Russian and Russophile leftists awake from their usual slumber, happily quoting Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn and other great advocates of “peace in our time.”

It never occurs to any of them, apparently, that this is an absolutely demoralizing, pointless, and impossible stance on the matter. They are leftists who unconditionally support fascists and imperialists, and who support other, world-famous leftists who unconditionally support fascists and imperialists. They are thus leading the international leftist movement down the garden path either to utter destruction or utter irrelevance.

Sanders and Corbyn are dangerous clowns. If you don’t get that, you might not be as politically savvy or as leftist as you imagined you were.

At least, if you feel strongly about the issue, make your own arguments as to why it is okay for Putin, Assad, Iran, and the Hezbollah to slaughter Syrians at will, while it is a crime against humanity to toss a few missiles once a year at a few Syrian military bases and chemical warfare production facilities that were given a week’s notice and thus had happily been evacuated long before the missiles actually struck them.

But, no, amazingly enough, pro-Assadist and pro-Putinist leftists almost never make their own arguments, instead cowering behind the drivel spouted by the likes of Corbyn, Sanders, and Tariq Ali.

DSCN5422.jpgRussians at war

3.
Why would any “progressive” or “anti-authoritarian” leftist in their right mind refuse solidarity to the nine Penza and Petersburg antifacists caught up in an insane frame-up, engineered by the folks at Vladimir Putin’s old stomping grounds, the Russian Federal Security Service (the FSB, formerly known as the KGB), who have accused them of being members of a wholly fictional “terrorist community,” codenamed The Network, and charged them accordingly?

I ask this seemingly nonsensical question because, as I was thinking about the kneejerk reaction of various “anti-imperialists,” Russian leftists, and Russophile leftists to last night’s missile strikes in Syria, it suddenly occurred to me this same mob of righteous Marxists has been as nearly as quiet about the so-called Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case as it has been about the Kremlin’s war against Syrian civilians and anti-Assad forces in Syria.

Why should that be? What is the connection between these seemingly unrelated events?

The answer is simple. If you pay too much attention to the Penza-Petersburg case and its gory details, you will realize all too quickly that Russia is ruled by a fascist clique of power-hungry ex-KGB lunatics who have somehow persuaded themselves that their greed, corruption, and ultraviolence are a supreme form of patriotism, not an utter degradation of any reasonable notion of governance, justice, and balanced international relations.

Thus, leftists who only get exercised over Syria when the so-called west makes a tiny, milquetoast, one-off gesture of resistance to the Putinist-Assadist-Iranian-Hezbollah killing machine are reluctant to talk too much about the horrifying Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case and many other similar cases that never make the headlines around the world, since they would reveal too palpably and obviously the natural affinities between Assad and Putin, two dyed-in-the-wool fascists who believe all resistance and opposition to their perpetual regimes is illegitimate, “extremist,” “terrorism,” etc.

If you are an “anti-authoritarian” or “progressive” leftist, however, it will not do to admit you stand for the same things as Putin and Assad cherish, so you just gloss over their crimes before and during the Syrian revolution, and hope no one will notice what violent criminal thugs they have been from day one, and how their violence and thuggery have only been spreading like wildfireacross their own countries and all around the world ever since they came to power.

DSCN5326.jpgRussians at war

4.
God forbid the Russian people should rise up against their own dictator, Vladimir Putin, and the Chinese, Iranians and Hezbollah, say, rushed to help the Russian dictator put down the uprising. Not only would it be extremely humiliating were Chinese warplanes to bomb ancient Russian cities such as Pskov and Vladimir, were terrorists from Hezbollah and Iranian fundamentalists to murder innocent Russian children, women and men, but the whole world would remember how once upon a time not so long ago the Russians themselves helped the bloody dictator Bashar Assad gut and slaughter a grassroots revolution in Syria. Everyone would thus turn their backs—unfairly—on the Russians fighting to the death for their freedom and remain silent until their dictator, ably assisted by the Chinese, Iranian and Hezbollah killers, would force one half of the Russian populace to take flight to other countries, while killing and enslaving the other half. // TRR

Photos by the Russian Reader

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Never Think of It, Never Speak of It

DSCN4763“Enigma.” Photo by the Russian Reader

“In the last two weeks, one thousand and forty-two people, including about a hundred and fifty-six children, have been killed in eastern Ghouta, in what human-rights groups fear is a final, all-out offensive to retake one of the few remaining rebel-held enclaves in the country. Bombings by Syrian and Russian planes have been indiscriminate, killing civilians, levelling homes, and destroying medical facilities. Bashar al-Assad’s regime—with the full support of Vladimir Putin and the Russian military—have flouted calls for a complete ceasefire.”
Rozina Ali, ‘It’s Raining Rockets’: Deadly New Syrian-Russian Assault Kills Hundreds in Eastern Ghouta, New Yorker, March 8, 2018

What I really don’t understand is why there isn’t an enterprising Russian or group of Russians who would set up a WordPress blog or a special page on Facebook or VK where they could post translations of foreign press articles about the war in Syria like the article quoted, above. If the Russian media either wants to ignore what is happening there or constantly lie about it, that does not mean the war should be of no interest to Russians opposed to dropping Russian bombs on non-Russia men, women, children, residential buildings, and hospitals that have never done any harm to any Russian men, women, children, residential buildings, and hospitals, and that never thought of doing them any harm.

At this point, I really just don’t get it. The collective silence in Russia when it comes to the Kremlin’s and the Russian military’s crimes in Syria is on the verge of the pathological.

There is not much to be said for the efficacy and vociferousness of antiwar movements in the US, UK, Australia, and the other countries that sent soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan, but it certainly cannot be said that there have not been a relatively large number of people in those same countries engaged either in some kind of peacemaking or awareness raising about what trouble their leaders and armies have caused there and the enormities they have committed.

It’s practically a cottage industry, for what it’s worth.

In Russia, on the contrary, it is as if Syria exists literally in a parallel universe with no connection whatsoever to Russians and their daily lives.

Never think of it, never speak of it. TRR

If Wishes Were Horses

DSCN4101There is a good chance this ordinary young Russian woman will be middle-aged by the time Putin finally leaves office. Photo by the Russian Reader

“Syria is a shocking, baffling mess. For ordinary Russians, it is a waste of men and money. For a watching world, appalled by scenes of relentless brutality and cruelty in Ghouta, Aleppo, and a thousand other towns and cities, it is Putin’s mess. It’s up to him to fix it.

[…]

“Putin faces a presidential election on 18 March. If Russia were a functioning democracy, not a corrupt oligarchy, he could be out on his ear.”

I want to make one tiny correction to Simon Tisdall’s otherwise fine, correct sentiments, as published on February 25 in the Guardian. Syria means absolutely nothing to “ordinary Russians.” To be more precise, there is absolutely no empirical evidence whatsoever it means anything to them at all.

If it does mean anything, however, it may not mean what Mr. Tisdall would want it to mean, as evidenced by the 30,000 people who turned out in Voronezh on February 8 for Russian fighter pilot Roman Filippov’s funeral.

Except for singular voices like Igor Yakovenko’s, which I have linked to, above, Russian society and its famed intelligentsia have been ear-shatteringly silent about the Kremlin’s predations on behalf of the Syrian butcher Bashar Assad since they kicked off in September 2015. Although there were fairly large demonstrations, especially in Moscow, to protest the Kremlin’s criminal adventures in Ukraine, there has not been a single notable mass protest in Russia against the Kremlin’s war against ordinary, absolutely innocent Syrians.

The only protest against the Syrian massacre in Russia I know of was a picket that occurred somewhere in Moscow during the last two years, witnessed by almostno one, and attended by almost no one. A reader of my Facebook news feed told me he had heard about it or perhaps even attended it himself. He wrote about it to me by way of saying there were, in fact, protests in Russia against the Kremlin’s Syrian horrorshow.

Try not to laugh or cry after you have read the previous paragraph.

We should thus conclude that most “ordinary Russians” do not care a whit about ordinary Syrians and their hellish ordeal. Or they have bought hook, line, and sinker the Kremlin’s stinky lie that it has been targeting only “terrorist groups” in Syria. It’s one or the other. There isn’t a third option, as “ordinary Russians” like to say.

You should know, however, that the Kremlin enacts this same stinky lie (about “combating terrorists”) on the home front, yet only a few more “ordinary Russians” get worked up about it.

So, the problem is not just Putin and Syria, although were there ever an international tribunal on war crimes in Syria, he and his immediate Kremlin underlings and Russia’s top generals would be the only Russians legally liable to prosecution. Just as collective punishment is outlawed by international law, there really is no such thing as collective guilt.

It is equally true, however, that the vast majority of Russia’s 144 million people have been letting Putin and his satraps do as they please for the last eighteen years without so much as a peep.

You can put this down to state propaganda, the Soviet legacy or whatever you like, but it is a frightening, unmovable fact.

For now, the perennially hopeful would counter me, saying that someday, perhaps soon, things will change.

I would like to count myself among their number, but on March 18 Putin will have himself installed as Russia’s president for life de facto.

Why is this? Because Putin knows that, at this dreadful point in Russia’s history, even if he once again, after his new term as president runs out in 2024, handpicked a successor from his inner circle of loyalists to sub for him as president for six years, so he could reinstall himself as president in 2030, just as he once handpicked Dmitry Medvedev to do the same prestidigation act in 2008, that person probably would have to denounce him and his personality cult sheerly for reasons of political expediency, that is, if the “substitute” president wanted a freer hand in shaping his own administration for good or for ill, much as the Stalinist loyalist Krushchev did after Stalin’s death.

After twenty-four years of Putinism, the country would want the “substitute” president to denounce Putin and all his ways as fiercely as a drunkard wants a drink.

It is just too bad it does not have the will or the means to dismantle the Putinist tyranny now. The consequences of six more years of Putinism for Russia and the world will be dreadful. TRR

Igor Yakovenko: The Anthropology of Death

741071a6-33e3-49e8-a47b-c5324a07c8ebThe funeral of Roman Filippov, a Russian fighter pilot whose plane was shot down in Syria on February 3, 2018. Filippov was buried in Voronezh on February 8. This photo was posted on the Russian Defense Ministry’s Facebook page. Courtesy of Delovoi Peterburg

Igor Yakovenko’s Blog
The Anthropology of Death
February 13, 2018

On the TV program Evening with Vladimir Solovyov, Russian MP Vyacheslav Nikonov suggested honoring Roman Filippov, the SU-25 pilot who was killed in Syria on February 3, with a minute of silence, the American expert [sic] Gregory Vinnikov retorted, “He quit his hut and went to fight for the land of Syria.”

This provoked Nikonov and Solovyov’s other guests to try and kick Vinnikov out of the studio. Ultimately, they were joined by Solovyov himself, who told the studio and home audience that there is a “respect for death” in Russia, and so Vinnikov had to leave.

When Dmitry Gudkov was still an MP, he tried twice, in February 2015 and February 2016, to ask his fellow MPs to honor the memory of Boris Nemtsov, assassinated a few steps away from the Kremlin, with a minute of silence. The MPs refused both times. The degree to which death is respected in Putinist Russia depends on the dead person’s political stance.

In recent years, the Putin regime has murdered over ten thousand Ukrainian citizens, and, in cahoots with the Assad regime and its accomplices, has murdered several hundred thousand Syrian citizens. No one on Solovyov’s program or in the Russian State Duma has ever proposed honoring these victims of Putinist fascism. The degree to which death is respected in Putinist Russia depends on ethnicity and nationality. The death of “one of our boys” is deserving of respect, while the death of a stranger or outsider is not.

Roman Filippov was a fighter pilot. He flew an attack aircraft in the skies of a foreign country. His objective was to “destroy ground targets,” which included killing people on the ground. We do not know how many Syrians were killed by Filippov, but he was an enemy of the Syrian people. When he was dying, Filippov cried out, “For the boys!” Neither Syria nor its people have attacked Russia. Filippov and his military buddies (“the boys”) attacked Syria and its people on Putin’s orders. The Syrians have been fighting a war at home against invaders (Russians, Iranians, Turks) and the puppet dictator Assad.

Putin awarded the title of Hero of Russia to Filippov, who was made an invader by his grace and was killed as an invader in a foreign country. Tens of thousands of people attended Filippov’s funeral in Voronezh. The media say the figure was thirty thousand. Judging by the photographs and videos from the scene, this is no exaggeration. I don’t agree with those who claim all those people were forced to attend. Many of them clearly believed a hero who had perished defending the Motherland was being buried. Television has a firm grip on them.

A few days after Filippov’s funeral, a number of Russian nationals, employees of the Wagner Group, a private military contractor, were killed in a clash with the US-led coalition. These are the selfsame Russian servicemen whom Putin has camouflaged as “mercenaries.” It is more convenient if he can lie and say Russia has no troops there. It is not known for certain how many Russian soldiers were killed during the incident. Some sources have claimed that six hundred were killed, while other sources have reported it was two hundred. RIA Novosti News Agency reported that one Russian was killed, and he was a member of Eduard Limonov’s The Other Russia party to boot. Meaning that since he used to be in the opposition, we need not feel sorry for him.

Just like Filippov, these people died because Putin dispatched them to Syria. They were just as much invaders as Filippov. However, their “heroism” has for some reason been passed over in silence. The likelihood any of them will be awarded the title Hero of Russia is nill. They will be shipped home and buried in the ground quietly and anonymously. I can guarantee no one on Solovyov’s program will suggest honoring their memory. In Putinist Russia, the only “respectable” death is a death acknowledged by the authorities and confirmed on television.

The Putin regime has a flagrantly necrophiliac tendency. Even under Stalin, there was nothing like this savoring of death and pride in the fact that more Russians perished in the Second World War than anyone else. Nowadays, this corpse rattling has become the the country’s principal moral lynchpin.

Not all corpses can be rattled, however. The Putin regime differs in this sense from Hitler’s Germany and other fascist regimes, which divided people into superior and inferior races. The Putin regime also endows ethnic Russians with special qualities: a particular spirituality and other manifestations of an extra chromosome. Even amongst ethnic Russians, however, the regime has constantly differentiated. Suddenly, the descendants of Siege of Leningrad survivors were discovered to have special genes. However, these genes were not discovered in all descendants, but only amongst Putin and the members of his retinue. It now transpires the regime has a rating for Russian nationals who have perished in a foreign country, defining which of the dead deserves to be remembered, and which deserves to be forgotten.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Shilling for the Kremlin: Chris Hedges, Noam Chomsky, and The Rolling Stones Sell Their Souls to Putinism

This is a five-storey, eight-alarm nightmare.

It turns out Chris Hedges has a regular program on RT. On his program on the Kremlin’s propaganda channnel, he interviewed Noam Chomsky. The interview was dubbed into Russian and posted on YouTube on August 11.

Nikolai Starikov, “bestselling author,” conspiracy theory freak, and wacko Russian nationalist has highlighted this little act of treachery on his blog under the headline  “Conversation with an American Intellectual.”

How dumb do you have to be to work for RT? How dumb do you have to be to let RT interview you at length?

Do either of these formerly respectable people realize they are shilling for the Kremlin and stoking the infernal imagination of an utter creep like Starikov?

What in God’s name is going on in this world?

Red-brown alliance indeed.

Screenshot from Facebook

 

Meanwhile, the geriatric perennial musical rebels known as The Rolling Stones have done an advertisment for VTB24, a wholly owned subsidiary of VTB Bank, whose main shareholder is the Russian Government.

The ad’s copy reads, “Mastercard. Priceless cities. Win a trip to a concert by the legendary Rolling Stones. VTB24.”

The list of VTB Bank’s other shareholders makes for fun reading:

The main shareholder of VTB is the Russian Government, which owns 60.9% of the lender through its Federal Agency for State Property Management. The remaining shares are split between holders of its Global Depository Receipts and minority shareholders, both individuals and companies.

In February 2011, the Government floated an additional 10% minus two shares of VTB Bank. The private investors, who paid a total of 95.7 billion rubles ($3.1 billion) for the assets, included the investment funds Generali, TPG Capital, China Investment Corp, a sovereign wealth fund responsible for managing China’s foreign exchange reserves, and companies affiliated with businessman Suleiman Kerimov.

In May 2013 VTB completed a secondary public offering (SPO), issuing 2.5 trillion new additional shares by public subscription. All the shares have been placed on Moscow’s primary stock exchange. The government has not participated in the SPO so its stake in the bank decreased to 60.9% after the subscription has been closed. The bank has raised 102.5 billion rubles worth of additional capital. Three sovereign wealth funds Norway’s Norges Bank Investment Management, Qatar Holding LLC and the State Oil Fund of the Republic of Azerbaijan (SOFAZ) and commercial bank China Construction Bank became the largest investors during the SPO after purchasing more than half of the additional share issue.

Source: Wikipedia

In October 2015, VTB chair and president Andrey Kostin went on CNBC to talk Syria, geopolitics, and the need to lift sanctions against Russia as quickly as possible.

It’s no wonder that Kostin was concerned about these issues, because VTB have been accused of acting as banker for the Assad regime. Curiously, WikiLeaks is alleged to have removed evidence of the relationship between VTB and the Assad regime from a 2012 trove of hacked emails.

Even worse, VTB have been on the US and EU sanctions list, imposed over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, since September 2014. As a wholly owned subsidary of VTB, VTB24 should be subject to the same sanctions, as explained in a press release issued by the US Department of the Treasury on December 22, 2015, namely,

“Today, OFAC also identified a number of subsidiaries of VTB Bank, Sberbank, and Rostec as being owned 50 percent or more by their respective parent entities.  The two banks and one defense company were previously sanctioned pursuant to E.O. 13662 in September 2014.  The subsidiaries identified today were already subject to the same financing restrictions as their respective parent entities per OFAC’s Revised Guidance on Entities Owned by Persons Whose Property and Interests in Property Are Blocked (“50 percent rule guidance”), which can be found here.  These identifications will help the public more effectively comply with the sanctions on VTB Bank, Sberbank, and Rostec.”

According to a May 22, 2014, article in the Guardian, The Rolling Stones are music’s “biggest business.” Where is this business registered?* Is it exempt from the sanctions imposed by the US and the EU on VTB Bank and its wholly owned subsidiary, VTB24?

I ask these questions to the wind, the Holy Spirit, and the inhabitants of other, distant galaxies, because I very much doubt that any of these niceties would bother the morally unimpeachable preacher Chris Hedges, the world’s greatest anti-imperialist Noam Chomsky, and those fun-loving seventy-year-old lads from London, just as long as they get paid on time and paid a lot.

Frankly, I doubt that this bothers you very much, dear readers, although in a nutshell it says a lot about how our fallen world actually works. TRR

* UPDATE. The Rolling Stones apparently pay their taxes in the Netherlands, which is not only an EU country in good standing, but a country that lost many of its nationals when the Russian army decided to blow Flight MH17 out of the sky over Donbass on July 17, 2014, one of the actions that triggered western sanctions against Russian companies and individuals connected to the regime in the first place.

But The Rolling Stones have bigger fish to fry.

What two of the other three Rolling Stones apparently learned, including Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts, was that Mr. Richards’s near-death experience meant that it was time to think about their heirs. For that, the aging rockers turned to a reclusive Dutch accountant, Johannes Favie, whose company, Promogroup, has helped them minimize their tax bills for more than 30 years. (The fourth Rolling Stone, Ron Wood, handles his finances apart from Promogroup.)

And so, last August, according to details disclosed in documents maintained by the Handelsregister, the trade registry of the Netherlands, Promogroup helped the three performers set up a pair of private Dutch foundations that will allow them to transfer assets tax-free to heirs when they die. Other Dutch shelters that Promogroup has arranged for the three have already paid off handsomely; over the last 20 years, according to Dutch documents, the three musicians have paid just $7.2 million in taxes on earnings of $450 million that they have channeled through Amsterdam — a tax rate of about 1.5 percent, well below the British rate of 40 percent. (Lynnley Browning, “The Netherlands, the New Tax Shelter Hot Spot,” New York Times, February 4, 2007)

It’s hard to believable that a little over three years have passed since Russia downed Flight MH17 and what, all is forgiven and forgotten? Now the exemplary Dutch taxpapers Keith, Mick, and Charlie can promote a Russian bank that, I repeat, is still on the US-EU sanctions list, put in place after Russia’s violent actions against a neighboring sovereign country that threatened it in no way whatsoever? And how did the passengers on Flight MH17, over half of them Dutch nationals, threaten Russia?

P.S. In case you thought I was dreaming or had somehow photoshopped the Stones/VTB24 advert, it popped up again on my Facebook news feed this morning (September 9) as a “suggested post,” albeit with more details, namely:

suggested post-stones

The copy reads:

Win a trip to the Rolling Stones concert in Paris!
https://goo.gl/JBP379
Pay for purchases with the World Mastercard Black Edition card from VTB24 before September 15 and, perhaps, it will be you who makes it to the concert by the legendary rock musicians. The winner of the promotion will receive two tickets for special places in the group’s own box and the right to skip the queue, a meeting with members of The Rolling Stones, a keepsake photo, and a gift from the group.

The link leads to a page on VTB24’s own website, promoting its World Mastercard Black Edition Privilege Card and providing a few more details about the promotion, including the fact that you are eligible to win only if you spend 50,000 rubles [approx. 725 euros according to exchange rates on September 9, 2017] or more in purchases using the card between August 1 and September 15.

According to the Rambler news website, the average monthly salary in Moscow during the second quarter of 2017 was 49,900 rubles.

On April 21, 2017, popular Petersburg news website Fontanka.ru, citing Rosstat as its source, published a brief item stating the average monthly salary in Petersburg in February 2017 was 51,024 rubles [sic].

I won’t bother citing average monthly salaries in Russia’s eighty-one other regions. They would be higher only in the handful of regions where oil and gas is produced, and much lower in most regions that do not produce oil and gas. Most people in those regions live in what would be regarded as abject poverty in the west.

So, even in the so-called two capitals of Moscow and Petersburg, the actually nonexistent average inhabitant would have to blow an entire month’s wages buying things with a card she probably cannot afford to have in the first place in order to have a slim chance to win the promotion and see The Rolling Stones in Paris.

This still begs the question of whether The Rolling Stones, a highly profitable company that, at least until 2007 (see above), paid its bare minimum of taxes in the Netherlands, can do business with a Russian bank on the US-EU sanctions list.