Russia in 2017

Written by  //  September 3, 2017  //  Russia, U.S.  //  2 Comments

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vladimir-putin-2  Photograph: Alexei Druzhinin/AP

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. (6 March 2017)

3 September
Russia Opens First Criminal Case Involving Bitcoin
(Forbes) The Russian government has a balancing act to do: they want to show that crypto-currencies will not be tolerated as a money laundering unit, on one hand, while on the other hand want to show they are rolling out the welcome mat for bitcoin and similar technologies. It’s the latter, or risk losing out on major, global, life changing opportunities going forward.
According to Ministry of Internal Affairs press officer, Irina Volk, the three defendants illegally cashed the millions in bitcoin and are being brought up on charges of “Illegal Banking”. The exchange came to light after investigators found an unusual amount of activity in bank accounts stemming from 300 bank cards and sim cards used to store the digital currency. The money was being shifted into different accounts owned by family members, prosecutors believe.
In the past, Russian courts have blocked bitcoin-exchanges and websites where people could transfer it into rubles, but they never brought anyone up on criminal charges for doing so. Russia surely has a problem with money laundering and where authorities believe it can crack down on activities, it will. Bitcoin, and Russia’s No. 2 crypto-currency, Ether, are new ways for Russians to avoid taxes and hide cash from ill-gotten gains.

12 June
Across Russia, Protesters Heed Navalny’s Anti-Kremlin Rallying Cry
(NYT) The police detained the architect of the national protests, the Kremlin critic Aleksei A. Navalny, as he emerged from his apartment building to attend a rally that he had forced into the center of Moscow. There were scattered reports of hundreds of detentions elsewhere, too.
The protests were the broadest antigovernment outpouring in Russia in years, with people in more cities heeding Mr. Navalny’s call than his last series of demonstrations in March.

29 May
Lengthy and fascinating analysis of the relationship between Putin, Arkady Rotenberg and the new Russian oligarchy
As Clifford Gaddy, an economist who studies Putin’s economic strategy, put it, “His vision of the country’s entire economy is ‘Russia, Inc.,’ where he personally works as the executive director” and the owners of nominally private firms are “mere divisional managers, operational managers of the big, real corporation.”

Putin’s Shadow Cabinet and the Bridge to Crimea
Why the Russian President’s childhood judo partner is leading the country’s most ambitious construction project.
(The New Yorker) Crimea, … [is] connected to Ukraine by a narrow isthmus to the north but is separated from Russia by a stretch of water called the Kerch Strait. Ukraine, to which Crimea had belonged, viewed Russia’s occupation as illegal, and had sealed off access to the peninsula, closing the single road to commercial traffic and shutting down the rail lines.
In response, Putin convened a council of engineers, construction experts, and government officials to look at options for connecting Crimea to the Russian mainland. They considered more than ninety possibilities, including an undersea tunnel, before deciding to build a bridge.
… the bridge would span nearly twelve miles, making it the longest in the country, and would cost more than three billion dollars. When completed, it would symbolically cement Russia’s control over the territory and demonstrate the country’s reëmergence as a geopolitical power willing to challenge the post-Cold War order.
The bridge would be a demanding and technically complex project. … in January, 2015, the Russian government announced that Arkady Rotenberg, a sixty-three-year-old magnate with interests in construction, banking, transportation, and energy, would direct the project. In retrospect, the choice was obvious, almost inevitable.

17 May
A reminder that there is not much new under the sun
Vladislav Inozemtsev: Russia’s Cold War Habit
(Project Syndicate) The adversarial relationship between Russia and the West began over a century before the Cold War. Back in the 1820s, Russia emerged not only as the principal victor in the Napoleonic wars, but also as the most conservative – or, more accurately, reactionary – force in Europe. Under Czars Alexander I and Nicholas I, it stood ready to counter any sign of a renewal of the “revolutionary plague” infecting the continent’s monarchies.
By 1830, the rift between the “Holy Alliance” countries (Russia, Prussia, and Austria) and the rest of Europe was deep. And, when Russia suppressed two “color” revolutions – the Polish revolt of 1830-1831 and the Hungarian revolution of 1848-1849 – it became even deeper. Both interventions incited a massive surge in anti-Russian sentiment across the continent.
What most people think of as the Cold War began nearly a century later, after World War II, when the Soviet Union, seeking to expand its sphere of influence, installed communist governments from Poland to Bulgaria. In 1946, it began to destabilize Greece, and at the Council of Foreign Ministers, established under the 1945 Potsdam Agreement, the Kremlin demanded control over Tripolitania in North Africa – a demand that Western leaders rejected. The next year, the Soviet Union prevented its satellite states from participating in the Marshall Plan, aimed at restoring Europe’s economy after the war. Joseph Stalin subsequently imposed a blockade on West Berlin, in a failed effort to enforce compliance with that decision.
The Cold War brought the Soviet Union and the US to the brink of war over Korea in the 1950s and Cuba in 1962. But, as in the nineteenth century, the confrontation was mostly about control of Europe, exemplified in the Soviet interventions in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. … The war in Afghanistan in the 1980s finally exhausted the Soviet Union’s military and economic potential, impelling it to abandon its satellites in Europe and finally to collapse.
Today’s cold war has much in common with the two previous confrontations. For one thing, as was the case in the 1820s and late 1940s, Russia is aggressively rejecting Western values and opposing the US. Though no one is threatening to attack Russia, anti-Western hysteria is being used once again to divert attention from domestic economic challenges and consolidate support for the country’s leader.

10 May
Russia sweet-talks AIIB as Oreshkin vents fury at EBRD loan ban
(Global Markets) Although EBRD’s decision not to lift its ban on new loans to Russia was expected, the country’s reaction was not: its economy minister attacked the bank as a tool of foreign policy and claimed that its finances did not deserve a triple-A rating.

11 April
(WaPost World View) The idea of coaxing Russia away from Iran is “certainly not going to go anywhere now,” said Alex Vatanka, an Iran expert at the Middle East Institute in Washington. Indeed, he said, “the opposite result has been achieved.”
In many respects, Iran and Russia aren’t natural allies. There’s much that divides them, not least hundreds of years of historical rivalry. Both countries are energy exporters vying for similar markets. Both governments harbor larger ambitions of geopolitical dominance in the Middle East. And, of course, there are always going to be limits to any alliance between the Islamic republic and a Russian leadership partially animated by a brand of Christian nationalism.
“Russia is hardly interested in Iran’s so-called Axis of Resistance, which stretches from Iran to Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria and essentially consists of Shia forces,” noted Mohsen Milani in Foreign Affairs last year. “Given its ambition to become a great power in the Middle East, it cannot alienate the Sunni countries. Nor is Russia interested in antagonizing Israel. In fact, relations between Israel and Russia are exceptionally friendly.”
But Russia and Iran need each other in Syria to buttress Assad. “The glue is their common enmity toward the United States” and Washington’s imperatives in the region, Vatanka said.
“At the moment, it is going to be difficult to drive a wedge between Russia and Iran,” wrote Anna Borshchevskaya of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in February. “Too many interests hold them together.” And after the events of the past few days, those bonds seem even harder to unwind.

4 April
St Petersburg bomb suspect identified as 22-year-old born in Kyrgyzstan
Russian investigators say Akbarzhon Jalilov detonated bomb that killed 14 on metro carriage and left DNA on second device
Central Asia link to St Petersburg bomb is worrying sign for Kremlin
Repressive policies of Kyrgyzstan and other former-Soviet central Asian republics have led to radicalisation of some Muslims there.
Russia: The ghost of a terrorised past
The latest bombing in St Petersburg comes after two decades of terrorist attacks in Russia.
By Leonid Ragozin, freelance journalist based in Moscow.
(Al Jazeera) Putin could have gone into history as Russia’s most successful leader in two centuries, but he chose to stay in power and preside over an economic recession that was caused by an oil price slump in 2014 and the country’s international isolation over its intervention in Ukraine.
The last thing he needed in those circumstances was another terror attack in a large urban centre. But it happened in his native city, and on the day of his visit. There is hardly a way for him now to pull the old trick of consolidating in the face of perceived adversity – the way he did in 1999 or when he seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. The best he can do is to mitigate the negative PR impact and pray there are no new calamities in store.

Russia’s Aftermath: The death toll is up to 14 in yesterday’s explosion on a St. Petersburg metro, and the attacker, a suicide bomber, has been identified. Here’s what we know so far. Russia faced a similar attack in 2010, and has been struck by terrorists several times since then; the frequency of the attacks has seemingly diminished their impact. Attacks on Russia may only increase in the future: While Monday’s attack still hasn’t been claimed by a terrorist group, the country’s military involvements in the Middle East are almost certainly making enemies.

3 April
St Petersburg metro explosion kills 11 in Russia
(BBC) Eleven people have been killed and 45 injured in an explosion between two underground stations in St Petersburg.
An attack in Russia: St Petersburg suffers
(The Economist) The pictures made the carnage horribly clear: a metro carriage with its doors blown off and bloodied bodies strewn across the platform. Russian authorities soon confirmed what many had suspected—that this afternoon’s explosion, which killed at least ten and left more than 50 wounded, was being treated as an act of terrorism. Although the country is in shock, its citizens are no strangers to terrorism, writes our Russia correspondent

31 March
Jeremy Kinsman: Meet Alexei Navalny, Russia’s political underdog with bite
Navalny may not be able to beat Putin in next year’s presidential election, but he is inspiring a new kind of thinking in Russia.
(Open Canada) Putin may not be losing sleep now because Navalny’s growing popularity makes him a threat for the presidency in 2018. But the president may have tremors of worry at 3 a.m. about all those kids who aren’t buying the contrived and staged official narrative.
The odds are not huge that there will be political changes in Russia in the next few years. But the odds are pretty good that as younger Russians move up, they won’t buy any longer the condition of political infantilism to which they have been assigned by Citizen Putin.

26 March
Anti-corruption demonstrations sweep across Russia
The protests show opposition leader Alexei Navalny remains a force
(The Economist) VLADIMIR PUTIN won his first presidential election on March 26th 2000. Exactly 17 years later, tens of thousands of Russians across the country came out to protest the corruption that has come to define his tenure. The demonstrations, the most significant challenge to Mr Putin’s regime since 2012, began on Russia’s Pacific coast, where hundreds marched through Vladivostok. … Mr Navalny’s selection of Mr Medvedev as a target was a strategic calculation. Mr Putin remains popular, and even Russians who dislike him would hesitate to protest against him directly. Mr Medvedev is widely disliked and seen as weak. Many Russians hold him responsible for the weak economy. Over the past three years, as the oil-price collapse and Western sanctions tipped Russia’s economy from stagnation into recession, consumers have been hit hard. Though GDP growth has turned a corner and is projected to return to positive territory again this year, retail sales continue to fall and inequality is growing. Nonetheless, the protests were not restricted to Mr Medvedev; they were a statement of general dissatisfaction with the system.
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.

10 March
‘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.

8 March
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.

6 March
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

4 March
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.

3 March
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.

2 March
(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.

6 February
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.

3 February
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)

28 January
trump-makes-phone-callsTrump 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.

13 January
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.

12 January
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.

11 January
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

6 January
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.

2 Comments on "Russia in 2017"

  1. Diana Thebaud Nicholson February 8, 2017 at 6:36 pm · Reply

    Re Amy Knight: Putin’s Intelligence Crisis
    A former Canadian Ambassador to Russia comments: “Amy Knight made a life writing earnestly about the Soviet-era KGB. She hasn’t changed technique or assumption because she hasn’t ever accepted there has been any change in Russia. This story is full of holes and unknowns, propped up by cherry-picked journalistic quotes from here and there with nary a fact to go on except that three or four Russian state and specifically cyber-security managers have been jailed. The fact is we have no idea why: it’s surely not that they leaked the Russian strategy of upending the US election to US officials. It may be that their activities to hack and frame were reckless enough to enable the damaging charges against Russia to gain credence – in other words, like Thomas a Becket’s killers, they went too far. The Christopher Steele “dossier” is a case-study of a report by a consultant trying like hell to keep the contract going. We’ve all seen them. … Putin plays hardball. His motives are rooted in psychological grievance that seems now to be core part of the Russian public mentality. He is a disrupter. There need to be costs. But he is rational and tactical, not strategic, and it is unlikely he will over-reach by tempting NATO Art 5, for example.
    As Amy notes, he is also – because he gets the Russian zeitgeist – highly popular, as is Xi Jinping. Both of them – especially Xi – have worked their way up by being tested again and again, and have emerged at the top by merit according to the lights of their less than democratic systems. For them, to see US democracy produce a leader of such utterly inadequate experience and capacity doubles down their disgust with democracy. Putin’s purpose is not to undermine US democracy but to point out how it undermines itself. He’s not wrong in his derisive view of the US election’s implications, but not being a democrat he has no idea of the capacity of a democracy to revive and reform. That is what has to happen in the US. It may be happening. Russia isn’t relevant to that.”

  2. Diana Thebaud Nicholson March 5, 2017 at 4:04 pm · Reply

    There’s a lot of hysteria over Russia – which is not the USSR re-invented. (Nor Christian 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. J.K.

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