Russia in 2017
Russia: The Conspiracy Trap
By Masha Gessen
(New York Review of Books) More likely, the Russia allegations will not bring down Trump. He may sacrifice more of his people, as he sacrificed Flynn, as further leaks discredit them. Various investigations may drag on for months, drowning out other, far more urgent issues. In the end, Congressional Republicans will likely conclude that their constituents don’t care enough about Trump’s Russian ties to warrant trying to impeach the Republican president. Meanwhile, while Russia continues to dominate the front pages, Trump will continue waging war on immigrants, cutting funding for everything that’s not the military, assembling his cabinet of deplorables—with six Democrats voting to confirm Ben Carson for Housing, for example, and ten to confirm Rick Perry for Energy. According to the Trump plan, each of these seems intent on destroying the agency he or she is chosen to run—to carry out what Steve Bannon calls the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” As for Sessions, in his first speech as attorney general he promised to cut back civil rights enforcement and he has already abandoned a Justice Department case against a discriminatory Texas voter ID law. But it was his Russia lie that grabbed the big headlines. (6 March 2017)
Anti-Putin opposition leader Alexei Navalny, protesters detained at Moscow rally
Police arrest more than 130 people during anti-corruption protests in Russia.
(Politico Eu.) The show of force by anti-corruption protesters came after Navalny’s foundation published a video accusing Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of having acquired a number of mansions and yachts through illicit means. In the video, which has been viewed nearly 12 million times, Medvedev is accused of having used charities and NGOs to collect large bribes, which were then allegedly used to buy acquire the assets.
‘Revolution? What Revolution?’ Russia Asks 100 Years Later
(NYT) The Kremlin plans to sit out the centenary of the Russian Revolution.
Never mind that the upheavals of 1917 transformed the country and the world, abruptly ending the long rule of the czars, ushering in the Communist era and spawning an ideological confrontation with the West that still resonates.
There will be no national holiday on Sunday, March 12, the date generally recognized as the start of the uprising. Nor will there even be a government-issued official interpretation, like the one mandating that World War II was a “Great Victory.”
The official reason proffered for ignoring the event is that Russia remains too divided over the consequences of that fateful year.
The more likely explanation, some Kremlin officials, historians and other analysts say, is that President Vladimir V. Putin loathes the very idea of revolution, not to mention the thought of Russians dancing in the streets to celebrate the overthrow of any ruler. Moreover, 1917 smudges the Kremlin’s version of Russian history as a long, unified march to greatness, meant to instill a sense of national pride and purpose.
THE RETURN OF THE CZAR
One hundred years after the Russian Revolution, an emboldened Putin regime is embracing its czarist past. Could 1917 happen again?
By Allen Abel
(Maclean’s) St. Petersburg, whose paradisiacal pastel facades often hide musty decay within, is one of Europe’s greatest treasuries of art and architecture. And now, what began here a century ago—the abdication and murder of a God-empowered czar and the slaughter of his children; the red-flagged overthrow of the czar’s overthrowers; decades of civil war and a century of siege, invasion, repression, disintegration and upheaval—is returning to haunt the living and the consecrated dead.
It has been precisely 100 years since Nicholas II, czar of all the Russias, abdicated from the throne that his ancestors had held for three centuries, his palaces surrounded by citizens crying “There is no bread!” Condemned in Soviet textbooks as “Nicholas the Bloody,” a bumbler whose personal command of Russian troops in the First World War caused the senseless death of millions, the last czar has been revivified by the regime of Vladimir Putin as a nationalist paragon, and canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church as a martyr, passion-bearer, saint, a symbol of unity and love of the Russian folk.
Fifty years ago, the Communist behemoth swelled with statal optimism, even as the market shelves lay bare. At Expo 67 in Montreal, the USSR’s soaring, glass-walled pavilion boasted of how the Soviet state was exploiting the resources of land, sea and sky “in the name of man, for the good of man.”
Fifty years later, National Geographic calls the state of the Russian soul “a hapless search for a uniting idea.” In place of Nicholas the Bloody, the Russian nation has repeatedly chosen Vladimir the Barebreasted—seizer of enclaves, annihilator of opponents, hacker of emails, hater of Hillary, fan (real or feigned) of U.S. President Donald Trump. If you’ve got the rubles, there is no shortage of bread. Or Bentleys.
Ukranian businessman with links to Donald Trump and Russia dies in unexplained circumstances
Alex Oronov, who had family ties to President’s lawyer, reportedly organised meeting aimed at helping give Russian President control of Crimea
The ultimate guide to Donald Trump’s Russia connections
(Quartz) As the investigations pile up, we’ve put together a compendium of Trump and his advisers’ ties with Russia. We will update the list as warranted (and please let us know if we’ve missed anything).
We begin with Trump’s cabinet picks and current or former advisors. Next we move onto Trump’s own business and personal connections with Russia, followed by the specific speculation that has arisen since Trump’s ascendance to the US presidency.
Common wisdom on Russia is not wise
(Ceasefire) Christopher Westdal has the distinction of being the only Canadian diplomat to have served both as Canada’s Ambassador to Ukraine (1996-98) and Russia (2003-06). Below is a slightly edited version of his remarks as spoken to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Commons of Canada.
Vladimir Putin is no choirboy; no great power leader ever is. The President of Russia is many other things: a patriot, a patriarch – Tsar Lite, say, formidably intelligent, informed and articulate, pragmatic above all, a proven leader tough enough to run the vast Federation, ruthless if need be in serving its interests – and genuinely popular. Putin is also, proudly, a spy – and deception is an essential tool of espionage. So, of course, those “little green men” were Russian – but, of course, Moscow won’t say so. As Putin explained at a Munich Security Conference, “We’re all adults here.”
But still, I find the current narrative about Russia’s role in the world overblown, full of exaggeration about Russia’s record, motives and capabilities, while blind to its obvious economic, demographic and security vulnerabilities and its necessarily defensive strategic posture.
Jeremy Kinsman comments:
His testimony was straight, a lot straighter than members were used to no doubt.
There’s a lot of hysteria over Russia – which is not the USSR re-invented. (Nor imperial Russia.) What is Russia? A mess of grievances, hubris, delusions, and some justified national pride. As someone wrote these last days, we maybe made a condescending error in identifying Russia as a state in stumbling transition toward what we assumed is the natural human social condition, a democracy. For most Russians (I regret to admit), it’s not a transition – they like where they are. It’s hard today to persuade them the US is the city on the hill.
Their intentions for the neighbourhood? Their sense THEY are under pressure from NATO, etc., is real. They push back. They are disrupters.
If I were Estonian I’d be nervous, but Russia has no intention of testing NATO art 5 by invading. They will test Estonian resolve, though, on their treatment of Russians. Ukraine was sui generis. Did Russia start the war with Sakashvili? I think Cheney did, to tell the truth.
The Trump factor is more than odd. His campaign question “Wouldn’t it be nice if we got along with the Russians?” Was a seductive one, and reasonable, but totally superficial.
Putin’s behavior is explainable but very risky. He’s gone too far on interfering in the election. He didn’t swing it and couldn’t have expected to. His motive seems to stem from his obsessive need to expose US hypocrisy. He believes the US tried to change regime in Kiev (because he never takes reformers’ ideals at face-value, having none to speak of, and in any case he knows that Ukrainian reformers’ anti-corruption positions are equally an indictment of his own regime.) See my post yesterday in a discussion on FaceBook.
(Quartz) US president Donald Trump continues to be dogged by concerns about his connections to Russia and suggestions that several of his advisers were in contact with the Kremlin during his election campaign.
As pressure mounts, Trump reportedly hires the best US expert on Putin’s psyche
(Quartz) Amid intensifying demands for action to combat an offensive by Moscow against the West, US president Donald Trump has reportedly appointed a paramount expert on Russian president Vladimir Putin as his chief Russia adviser.
Fiona Hill, a dual US-UK citizen and the co-author of a seminal psychoanalysis of the Russian leader called Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin, is to serve as Trump’s Russia adviser on the National Security Council, reports Foreign Policy.
Hill, who runs the Europe program at the Brookings Institution, did not respond to a request for comment; nor did Brookings. But Hill formerly served as the Russia expert for the National Intelligence Council, the coordinating body for the 17 US intelligence agencies.
If he has indeed chosen Hill, Trump will at least in part inoculate himself from suspicions that he is too cozy with Putin. A mile-a-minute dispenser of minutiae on Russia and much of the former Soviet Union, Hill and her co-author, Russia economic expert Clifford Gaddy, may know Putin as well or better than anyone in the US.
Kremlin says it disagrees with Trump’s assessment of Iran
(Reuters) The Kremlin said on Monday it did not agree with U.S. President Donald Trump’s assessment of Iran as “the number one terrorist state” and a Russian diplomat said any U.S. attempt to reopen an Iran nuclear deal would inflame tensions in the Middle East.
Trump and Vladimir Putin, his Russian counterpart, have made clear they want to try to mend U.S.-Russia ties, which have slid to a post-Cold War low in recent years. But starkly different approaches to Iran, as set out by a raft of top Russian officials on Monday, could complicate any rapprochement.
Their comments also suggest that a policy idea Trump and his aides are reported to be considering — to try to drive a wedge between Moscow and Tehran — may be a non-starter.
New flap erupts over Trump comparing U.S. ‘killers’ to Putin minions
(LA Times) Once again, President Trump’s professed admiration for his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin is causing headaches for fellow Republicans and drawing fire from Democrats – but this time, with a twist.
When Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly observed while interviewing Trump that Putin is “a killer,” the president retorted: “You think our country is so innocent?”
Vice President Mike Pence, asked in several talk-show appearances about the president’s seeming comparison of officially sanctioned extrajudicial killings in Russia with unspecified U.S. actions, said Trump had merely intended to stress his own desire to re-engage the Kremlin.
Amy Knight: Putin’s Intelligence Crisis
(NYRB) Amid the political and diplomatic chaos in the US since Donald Trump assumed the presidency, Russian leadership has been experiencing its own turmoil, until recently kept under wraps, but now emerging into the open. To be sure, Russian President Vladimir Putin is still firmly in power, as evidenced by his hour-long conversation last Saturday with Trump and by Putin’s high ratings in opinion polls (which far surpass Trump’s). Yet we have now learned that, since the US election, there has been an unprecedented, and perhaps still continuing shakeup of top officials in Putin’s main security agency, the FSB, and that a top former intelligence official in Putin’s entourage died recently in suspicious circumstances.
Recent reports in the Russian press have connected the upheaval at the FSB to Kremlin-sponsored hacking of the US electoral process, and with the now infamous dossier about Donald Trump’s ties with Russian government officials compiled by former British MI6 operative Christopher Steele. (See Jeremy Kinsman comment below)
Trump and Putin discuss ‘partnership’ on issues including Ukraine, Kremlin says
Cooperation in Ukraine would represent stark turn in US policy toward conflict, as Trump makes additional calls to Angela Merkel and other world leaders
A day of whirlwind diplomacy for Donald Trump on Saturday, including calls to five world leaders such as the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, was overshadowed by a global backlash against his ban on refugees.
The “congratulatory call” with Putin lasted an hour, the White House said in a short statement, and ranged from discussion of “mutual cooperation” to defeat the terror group Isis to negotiating an end to the Syrian civil war.
“The positive call was a significant start to improving the relationship between the United States and Russia that is in need of repair,” the White House said.
In the Kremlin’s more detailed account, Trump and Putin discussed “partnership” on a wide range of international issues, including wars in the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran’s nuclear programme, the Korean peninsula and the simmering war in Ukraine.
Russia: US should be involved in Syria peace talks
(Middle East Monitor) Russia has agreed for the United States to be involved in the Syrian peace talks planned for 23 January in Astana, though notably only after US President Barack Obama has left office.
The news was confirmed by Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu who said: “The United States should be definitely invited, and that is what we agreed with Russia.”
Cavusoglu was speaking to journalists in Geneva yesterday after an international conference to thrash out a deal on Cyprus’ reunification.
Moscow and Ankara last month brokered a fragile Syrian ceasefire, but without the involvement of Washington.
The truce – which does not include Daesh or Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham (JFS), formerly known as the Al-Nusra Front – has brought a reduction in hostilities to large parts of the country.
The leaked Trump-Russia dossier rings frighteningly true
By Andrei Soldatov
There is factual confusion in this document but its depiction of the Kremlin’s tactics is sound
(The Guardian) Unverifiable sensational details aside, the Trump dossier is a good reflection of how things are run in the Kremlin – the mess at the level of decision-making and increasingly the outsourcing of operations, combined with methods borrowed from the KGB and the secret services of the lawless 1990s. That is not the picture projected by the Kremlin externally – namely, that the Russian government is an effective bureaucracy, strategic in foreign policy planning and ruthless in execution. And that, whatever the truth of Putin’s connections with Trump, makes it all pretty scary.
Russia: ‘Trump dossier as absurd as the Queen hiring people while shopping’
Moscow continues to ridicule allegations in leaked dossier that it had gathered compromising material on Donald Trump
Russia says US troops arriving in Poland pose threat to its security
Early deployment of biggest American force in Europe since cold war may be attempt to lock Trump into strategy
The Kremlin has hit out at the biggest deployment of US troops in Europe since the end of the cold war, branding the arrival of troops and tanks in Poland as a threat to Russia’s national security.
The deployment, intended to counter what Nato portrays as Russian aggression in eastern Europe, will see US troops permanently stationed along Russia’s western border for the first time.
The move was billed as an attempt to reassure eastern European states who have been calling for the permanent deployment of US troops in the belief that Russia would be less likely to encroach on territory where US troops are present.
Russia waging information war against Sweden, study finds
Swedish Institute of International Affairs accuses Russia of using fake news and false documents to influence opinion
Russia says has begun reducing forces in Syria
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the ceasefire in late December and said Russia would pull back some of its forces in Syria, where its military intervention has turned the tide in favour of President Bashar al-Assad.
The head of the Russian General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, said that had begun on Friday with the Russian naval fleet led by the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier beginning its withdrawal from the east Mediterranean.