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West Attacks Russia with Piketty’s Overblown Claims About ‘Oligarch’ Wealth by Jon Hellevig

West Attacks Russia with Piketty’s Overblown Claims About ‘Oligarch’ Wealth

Blowing Thomas Piketty’s academic fraud, Awara’s new study debunks the myths about overreaching oligarch grip on the Russian economy and supposed extreme economic inequality in a global comparison

There is no love lost between the Russian people and the oligarchs. You just can’t erase from history the theft of the century when the 1990s oligarchs looted the country through sham privatizations staged by the liberal government. The press has done its best to imprint the memory of those years of robber capitalism on the Western public. It’s a scandalous memory all too easy to exploit and rehash for the purpose of vilifying Putin and “his cronies.” At the same time, everybody seems to have forgotten how the present ruling plutocrats of America made their capital a century earlier.

The United States has already slapped sanctions on influential Russian businessmen, which they refer to as oligarchs. They are supposedly punished for their proximity to the Russian president who is incriminated with imaginary charges of meddling in US elections, a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter in England, and other fabricated allegations. And echoing antisemitic racial slurs of Hitler’s Germany, now with the Russians as the villains, the UK parliament has launched a crusade against “dirty Russian money” of the Russian “super-rich kleptocrats.”


But, the real reasons to go after Russian “oligarchs” and the “super-rich” have nothing to do with a newfound sense of social justice or their supposed ties with the Russian president. (By the flawed logic of the accusers anybody who is rich in Russia must be connected with the president). This time around this image of malign Russian oligarchs is used by the West in a full-frontal attack on Russian capital and Russia’s industry as the United States is hysterically trying to find ways to contain the country. By attacking Russian business tycoons, in addition to the state corporations, the US strives to block out Russian industry from the West and the wider world.

New study demonstrates that talk about Russia’s economic inequality has been greatly exaggerated

Yet, the idea that the rich own a vastly disproportionate share of the Russian national wealth has been disproved in a recent study by the Moscow based https://www.awaragroup.com. The study takes aim at Thomas Piketty’s high-profile report about Russia’s economic inequality. The Awara report does not aim at deflecting from the problem of economic inequality in Russia as the authors merely want to put the problem in its right global proportion. Economic inequality is not any more “extreme” in Russia — as Piketty falsely claims — than in the major Western countries in general. In fact, the Awara study shows that it could be less.

The Awara report exposes the bias and reveals the multitude of methodological errors, distortions and misrepresentation of data, which have informed the Piketty report. After identifying the deficiencies, Awara adjusted the main findings to reflect the actual data. The corrected data shows that instead of owning more than 70% of the national wealth, the share of the top 10 percent of the population was 39% of private wealth and 32% of total national wealth.

Below charts demonstrates the differences in the Piketty study and the corrected data of Awara. Top chart from the Piketty report, bottom, Awara’s corrected findings.



Correspondingly, instead of earning 45–50% of national income as claimed by Piketty, the top 10% of Russians earned less than 30% of the income. The Piketty research team had said that their study expressly replaces the findings of earlier income inequality studies like that of the EBRD, which had allocated 30% of income to the Top 10% richest. After revealing the multitude of flaws in the Piketty study, Awara found it natural to return to those earlier findings. his also puts the wealth figures in perspective as it is obvious that the share of wealth must closely correlate with the share of income.

Western propaganda can’t decide if Russia is owned by oligarchs or by the state

A big contribution towards mitigating economic inequality is delivered by Russia’s substantial public property. But in his study Thomas Piketty has written off the value of Russia’s public wealth as if it did not play any role as an equality inducing factor. It is actually very strange when one set of Western propagandists claim that Russia’s state sector has totally taken over the economy comprising 70% of the total, and another (like Piketty) maintains that the super-rich owns 70% of Russia’s wealth. It seems to us that the propagandists better make up their mind.

The Awara study reports that experts conclude that the state sector makes up a much higher share of the Russian economy than it is the case in all Western countries. The estimates vary from 35% — 70%. The European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has estimated that the share of the public sector (state sector) of the total economy was 35% in 2009. Experts agree that the state sector share has grown since. The Russian competition authority, the Anti-Monopoly Committee, estimated in its annual report for 2015 that the state sector had grown to comprise 70% of the Russian economy.

Small business enterprise value exceeds that of the Russian billionaires

A remarkable finding in the Awara report is that the total value of small and medium businesses (including shadow business) at 35% of total business assets stands way higher than all of “oligarch” wealth, and even at the same level as the combined wealth of the top 10 percent (39%). (Hereby, it should be noted that there is overlap between the categories of small and medium business wealth and top 10 percent wealth).

The 35% share assigned to small and medium businesses (SMEs) is backed up by reference to a study done by the global consultancy EY together with the European Investment Bank, which assessed that SMEs cover 20–25% of Russia’s GDP, in addition to estimates of the size of the shadow economy. The Russia statistics authority (Rosstat) has the shadow economy at 10–14% whereas liberal economists assess it at 32%.

When everything else failed, Piketty conjured up Russian “offshore wealth”

When all the other methodological biases, misrepresentations and distortions failed to produce the screaming inequality — which the scholars undoubtedly had set out to prove — they resorted to adding, some supposed “offshore wealth” to the possessions of the top 10% of Russians. We have all heard about assets Russian “oligarchs” have abroad, like the Chelsea football club, villas and yachts, therefore this one would seem like a safe bet. When the figures don’t prove that the superrich in Russia are so much richer than the Western plutocracy, throw in their offshore wealth. What Piketty therefore did was to add offshore wealth to the tune of the equivalent of 75% of the GDP to the richest top 10%. And Voila! The Piketty figures show extreme inequality for Russia in comparison with other countries.

Not only is there no evidence on the amounts and distribution of such “offshore wealth,” but it also represents a major transgression of Piketty’s own method as such assets abroad have not been taken into consideration in the studies concerning any of the other countries that his research team has examined. After all, the Piketty studies are supposed to represent global comparisons of economic inequality — the comparison is the very point they make. Yet Piketty blatantly breaches his own method just to make Russia look bad. See, no such “offshore wealth” has been summed up to the wealth of the rich in any of the other countries studied.

Piketty’s colonial ideal model

Obviously, the offshore wealth (i.e. assets outside home country) of the capitalist classes of the major Western countries is vastly more (as a share of) than that of the Russian rich. Just think about the holdings of the Western transnational corporations around the world. But Piketty et co. don’t even want to consider the Western transnational capital, going so far as to totally exclude foreign owners as factors of inequality in a given country. In their colonial model foreign owners are a benign class, above criticism. With this kind of logic, Piketty runs into total absurdities. Praising the relative inequality of Eastern European countries, he puts the success down to their colonial economic model, as the Pikettys express it: “the fact the holders of top capital incomes tend to be foreigners rather than domestic residents contributes to lower top income shares in countries like the Czech Republic or Poland or Hungary (as compared to countries like Russia or Germany). I.e. foreign owned countries tend to have less domestic inequality (other things equal).”

So, in Piketty’s perverted logic it is good that foreign capitalists own everything, because that makes the natives more equal between themselves. But in case of Russia it is the other way around, because some nasty rich Russians own property in third countries, it makes Russia’s wealth distribution more inequal.

Why would you call the Russian rich “oligarchs” but those of the West “billionaires”?

Why does the media call the Russian rich “oligarchs” while their peers in the West are just “billionaires”? The reason is obvious, oligarch sounds nastier and therefore it must be reserved for the Russians. That’s what Piketty does, too, calling his report “From Soviets to Oligarchs,” thereby clearly flaunting his biases. This is precisely what drove him, to tarnish the Russian state by alleging it’s a country ruled by a vile oligarchy and Putin’s cronies.

The Awara study demonstrates that the true income and wealth figures on Russia — especially when considering Russia’s substantial state sector — does in no way qualify Russia as an oligarchy any more than any of the other major economic powers in the world. But even if that would not have been the case and Russia’s wealth distribution would be as Piketty mendaciously claims, then still there would be no reason to pick on Russia by calling it an oligarchy. An oligarchy is foremost a political concept signifying that real power in a given country rests with a small number of super-wealthy people termed oligarchs. But, the fact that a country would have a skewed division of wealth with a disproportionate share of billionaires would yet not mean that the country is an oligarchy in the true political meaning of the concept. And certainly, the Russia of today does not qualify as one. It has been widely acknowledged that since his ascendance to Russia’s presidency (2000) Vladimir Putin has effectively stripped the super-wealthy individuals from the political power they actually wielded in the 1990s. Throwing around that disparaging epithet, Piketty has completely omitted any analysis of the political aspect of supposed Russian oligarchy. This clearly demonstrates his ideologically bias to revile the Russian nation and to flag his politically motivated preconceived conclusions

Piketty relies on Forbes billionaire gossip

Apart from the trickery with “offshore wealth,” Piketty builds his case on “data” drawn from the Forbes’s billionaire gossip. Of course, the Forbes billionaire data is an interesting and entertaining source and certainly can serve to guide the reader in the direction of who are the billionaires of one or another country. However, it seems that the Forbes exercises considerable editorial discretion in its reporting exposing and exaggerating the wealth of some billionaires while choosing not to disclose that of certain other billionaires. In any case, it is not a scientific study. The methods of compiling the data are not explained and sufficient details of the composition of the alleged wealth is not disclosed. The validity of that data would then at best be dubious, even in a transparent study.

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

The Awara report is not only a criticism of the dubious studies of the Piketty team, but also more in general an attempt to reveal how scholars manipulate public opinion under the cover of statistical methods to advance their ideological or pecuniary objectives. In this regard, the Piketty studies excellently illustrate the old adage “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.” A perfect case of how authority combined with the persuasive power of numbers is employed to bolster false arguments.

Awara explains the glaring differences in its findings with gross methodological errors and skewed or even fabricated data in the Piketty study. When the transparent data sources failed to back up Piketty’s prejudices about Russia, he resorted to blatant distortions.

In general, the Piketty reports never demonstrate to what extent the scholars have relied on one or another set of source data, rather their method is like a recipe for a potpourri, throw in generous amounts of Forbes billionaire data, a bit of survey data, some homemade tax tabulations, and stir everything with a Pareto spatula. The scholars merely tell that they have relied on those sources to make the blend, but the share of emphasis on one or another set of source data is not given and the choices are not discussed. There are also no scientifically falsifiable computations, which would show how the various data sources would supposedly have been mathematically combined to yield the results that these scholars claim to be their science. This is in itself renders the Piketty reports invalid as academic science and relegates them merely to the level of personal opinions.

Their starting point is said to be earlier household income survey data, which then is “corrected,” as they claim, with income tax data on high-income individuals, supposedly drawn from the referenced fiscal data. But the fiscal data does not represent any “raw tabulations by income bracket” as the scholars wrongly maintain. Furthermore, that data source does not contain any data on “high-income-taxpayers income tax data,” as was further gratuitously claimed. The national accounts and wealth inequality data is then somehow applied to all that in order to — supposedly — “impute tax-exempt capital income.”

Obviously, there cannot possibly be any mathematical model that could achieve the feat of combining the multitude of those disparate and overstretching data sources. In reality, the Piketty scholars have by an artful manipulation of the sources picked and chosen what aspects of all that welter of data to refer to in order to verbally motivate their conclusions. All the references to statistical models serve only as smoke and mirrors designed to lend academic credibility to the resulting computations.
The Piketty study is a potpourri of sources without any falsifiable scientific method to combine them.

Propaganda for war

There is no doubt that the scandalous history of Russian “oligarch” wealth and contemporary urban legends about the malicious grip of oligarchs on Russia have initially informed the Piketty scholars in their quest to prove “extreme inequality” in Russia. More than that, I am inclined to see the Piketty report as one more installment in the Russia bashing propaganda in line with notorious propaganda hoaxes like Assad’s supposed chemical attacks, the Salisbury incidents, Russian Olympic doping scandal, invasion of the Ukraine etc. At the end of the day, the question is about propaganda for war, which we must expose.

The Piketty research team is financed by the European Union, needless to say.



Here is the link to the full Awara Study: The Case Against Thomas Piketty. Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics.


Countries compared on wealth distrion, Awara corrected data
 
 
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Will Russia-Israel ties suffer after downing of Il-20 military plane off Syrian coast?

Will Russia-Israel ties suffer after downing of Il-20 military plane off Syrian coast?

Will Russia-Israel ties suffer after downing of Il-20 military plane off Syrian coast?

Moscow and Tel Aviv had long enjoyed fairly good ties despite the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East, but they are now at risk as Russia blames Israel for the downing its warplane off Syrian coast and the crew's death.

Although the plane was technically shot down by a Syrian missile, Russia made it clear who it blames in the tragedy, saying that Israeli pilots used the Russian Il-20 as a cover.
 
Related: ‘You are to blame for downing of Il-20 and death of its crew,’ Russia tells Israel

The Middle East historically remained a place of bitter rivalries. Tension grew increasingly high after the Arab Spring brought more havoc to an already complex region, riddled with colliding interests and clashing ambitious of various actors, large and small. Nevertheless, Russia and Israel had always managed to keep good relations.

This year alone President Vladimir Putin met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu three times, and every time the media didn’t get much details from closed-door discussions. Through delicate behind-the-scenes diplomacy Moscow maintained a close, working relations with Israel. The fact that it’s one of US closest allies was never an issue for Moscow. Russia itself kept developing ties with Turkey and Iran, Israel’s arch-nemesis, while managing to address Israel’s concerns too.

For Russia, Israel is not only an important, geopolitical partner with alleged nuclear capabilities, situated in the heart of the world’s most turbulent region. It’s also home of about 1.3 million expats from post-Soviet countries. This large diaspora plays a significant role for Russia when it tailors its approach to Tel Aviv.

Related: The Russian-“Israeli” “Crisis”: Climb-Down In Progress?

Even the war in Syria, where Israel - in hopes of curbing Iranian influence - supported and armed controversial anti-government militants, didn’t result in a serious crisis in relations with Russia.

Over the course of the conflict, the IDF had conducted numerous airstrikes against targets in Syria and even launched missiles at Syrian jets. Each attack was strongly condemned by both Syria and Russia who had been pointing out that any military incursion into the country without the government’s and UN’s approval is illegal.

Related: https://www.rt.com/news/438686-syria-russia-s200-il20/

But the raid on Latakia and the collateral damage in a form of a downed Russian military plane can inflict grave damage on the relations between the states. Israel stands firmly against the strengthening of the Turkish or Iranian grip in the region, so its recent actions may be an attempt to remind everyone that the Syrian crisis has other stakeholders involved. Especially, since just the day before the tragic incident with the Russia plane Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyp Erdogan reached a settlement on the situation around Idlib, the last militant stronghold beyond the control of the Syrian government.

Source: https://www.rt.com/news/438704-russia-israel-conflict-plane/
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[Video] Russia starts delivering S-300 anti-aircraft system to Syria despite Israel’s objection

Russia starts delivering S-300 anti-aircraft system to Syria despite Israel’s objection




A Russian soldier stands beside a Russian S-300 long range surface-to-air missile system in Kubinka, Russia, August 21, 2018. (Photo by Bloomberg)
A Russian soldier stands beside a Russian S-300 long range surface-to-air missile system in Kubinka, Russia, August 21, 2018. (Photo by Bloomberg)

A senior Israeli official has admitted that Russia's delivery of S-300 anti-aircraft missile defense systems to Damascus will pose a serious "challenge" to the regime.

Tensions have been rising between Moscow and Tel Aviv following the downing of a Russian warplane in Syria this month.

Related: [Video] 'Lavrov's patience tested one time too many': Russian FM blasts Western policy in UN speech

The official, whose name was not released in the Sunday report by the Times of Israel, said Tel Aviv was working on "different ways" to deal with Russia's recent move.

“The S-300 is a complex challenge for ... Israel. We are dealing with the [decision] in different ways, not necessarily by preventing shipment [of the anti-aircraft systems],” he said.

The official said Israel enjoyed the US support and reserved the right to protect itself, without elaboration.



"[Russian President Vladimir] Putin made a move, but it's a big playing field and he understands that," the official said.

Moscow vowed to bolster Syria’s air defense capabilities by sending modern S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to the Arab country within two weeks after the recent accidental downing of a Russian Il-20 reconnaissance aircraft.

The aircraft was shot down by Syrian air defenses while they were responding to a wave of Israeli airstrikes.

Russia's decision to provide Syria with the S-300 system infuriated Israel, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu describing it as “irresponsible.”

Related: Israeli Media in Total PANIC over Russian transfer of S-300 to Syria

Netanyahu told Putin in a phone conversation that Israel "will continue to do what it has to do to defend itself."

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday Russia has already started delivering the S-300 system to Syria as part of efforts to ensure the safety of Russian forces in the Arab country.

The Russian plane with 15 servicemen on board disappeared from radars on September 17 as four Israeli F-16 warplanes were attacking state institutions in Syria’s Latakia Province, which is home to Russia-run Hmeimim airbase.

Related: Russia Warns West Against New Strikes in Syria Under Far-Fetched Pretexts

Russia’s Defense Ministry held Israel responsible for the incident, saying the regime’s warplanes “created a dangerous situation” that led to the downing of the Russian aircraft by Syria’s S-200 missile defense system.

Israel frequently attacks military targets in Syria in what is considered as an attempt to prop up militant groups that have been suffering heavy defeats against Syrian government forces.

Source: https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2018/09/30/575638/Israel-Russia-Syria-missile
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[Video] Who Putin Is Not by Prof. Stephen F. Cohen

Falsely demonizing Russia’s leader has made the new Cold War even more dangerous.

Stephen F. Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at Princeton and NYU, and John Batchelor continue their (usually) weekly discussions of the new US-Russian Cold War. (Previous installments, now in their fifth year, are at TheNation.com.) This post is different. The conversation was based on Cohen’s article below, completed the day of the broadcast.





Putin is an evil man, and he is intent on evil deeds.”
—Senator John McCain
 
“[Putin] was a KGB agent. By definition, he doesn’t have a soul.”

 


“If this sounds familiar, it’s what Hitler did back in the 1930s.”

—2016 Democratic Presidential Nominee Hillary Clinton


The specter of an evil-doing Vladimir Putin has loomed over and undermined US thinking about Russia for at least a decade. Henry Kissinger deserves credit for having warned, perhaps alone among prominent American political figures, against this badly distorted image of Russia’s leader since 2000: “The demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy. It is an alibi for not having one.”

The specter of an evil-doing Vladimir Putin has loomed over and undermined US thinking about Russia for at least a decade. Henry Kissinger deserves credit for having warned, perhaps alone among prominent American political figures, against this badly distorted image of Russia’s leader since 2000: “The demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy. It is an alibi for not having one.”

Related: Driving out militants from Syria’s Idlib now top priority – Putin

But Kissinger was also wrong. Washington has made many policies strongly influenced by the demonizing of Putin—a personal vilification far exceeding any ever applied to Soviet Russia’s latter-day Communist leaders. Those policies spread from growing complaints in the early 2000s to US-Russian proxy wars in Georgia, Ukraine, Syria, and eventually even at home, in Russiagate allegations. Indeed, policy-makers adopted an earlier formulation by the late Senator John McCain as an integral part of a new and more dangerous Cold War: “Putin [is] an unreconstructed Russian imperialist and K.G.B. apparatchik…. His world is a brutish, cynical place…. We must prevent the darkness of Mr. Putin’s world from befalling more of humanity.”

Mainstream media outlets have played a major prosecutorial role in the demonization. Far from atypically, The Washington Post’s editorial-page editor wrote, “Putin likes to make the bodies bounce…. The rule-by-fear is Soviet, but this time there is no ideology—only a noxious mixture of personal aggrandizement, xenophobia, homophobia and primitive anti-Americanism.” Esteemed publications and writers now routinely degrade themselves by competing to denigrate “the flabbily muscled form” of the “small gray ghoul named Vladimir Putin.” There are hundreds of such examples, if not more, over many years. Vilifying Russia’s leader has become a canon in the orthodox US narrative of the new Cold War.


As with all institutions, the demonization of Putin has its own history. When he first appeared on the world scene as Boris Yeltsin’s anointed successor, in 1999–2000, Putin was welcomed by leading representatives of the US political-media establishment. The New York Times’ chief Moscow correspondent and other verifiers reported that Russia’s new leader had an “emotional commitment to building a strong democracy.” Two years later, President George W. Bush lauded his summit with Putin and “the beginning of a very constructive relationship.”

Related: Syria Conflict: Results Of Meeting Between Rouhani, Erdogan, Putin In Teheran

But the Putin-friendly narrative soon gave away to unrelenting Putin-bashing. In 2004, Times columnist Nicholas Kristof inadvertently explained why, at least partially. Kristof complained bitterly of having been “suckered by Mr. Putin. He is not a sober version of Boris Yeltsin.” By 2006, a Wall Street Journal editor, expressing the establishment’s revised opinion, declared it “time we start thinking of Vladimir Putin’s Russia as an enemy of the United States.” The rest, as they say, is history.

Who has Putin really been during his many years in power? We may have to leave this large, complex question to future historians, when materials for full biographical study—memoirs, archive documents, and others—are available. Even so, it may surprise readers to know that Russia’s own historians, policy intellectuals, and journalists already argue publicly and differ considerably as to the “pluses and minuses” of Putin’s leadership. (My own evaluation is somewhere in the middle.)
In America and elsewhere in the West, however, only purported “minuses” reckon in the extreme vilifying, or anti-cult, of Putin. Many are substantially uninformed, based on highly selective or unverified sources, and motivated by political grievances, including those of several Yeltsin-era oligarchs and their agents in the West.

By identifying and examining, however briefly, the primary “minuses” that underpin the demonization of Putin, we can understand at least who he is not:

§ Putin is not the man who, after coming to power in 2000, “de-democratized” a Russian democracy established by President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s and restored a system akin to Soviet “totalitarianism.” Democratization began and developed in Soviet Russia under the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, in the years from 1987 to 1991.

Yeltsin repeatedly dealt that historic Russian experiment grievous, possibly fatal, blows. Among his other acts, by using tanks, in October 1993, to destroy Russia’s freely elected parliament and with it the entire constitutional order that had made Yeltsin president. By waging two bloody wars against the tiny breakaway province of Chechnya. By enabling a small group of Kremlin-connected oligarchs to plunder Russia’s richest assets and abet the plunging of some two-thirds of its people into poverty and misery, including the once- large and professionalized Soviet middle classes. By rigging his own reelection in 1996. And by enacting a “super-presidential” constitution, at the expense of the legislature and judiciary but to his successor’s benefit. Putin may have furthered this de-democratization of the Yeltsin 1990s, but he did not initiate it.

Related: [Video] Live - Vladimir Putin, Hungarian Prime Minister Orban Hold Joint Press Conference

§ Nor did Putin then make himself a tsar or Soviet-like “autocrat,” which means a despot with absolute power to turn his will into policy. The last Kremlin leader with that kind of power was Stalin, who died in 1953, and with him his 20-year mass terror. Due to the increasing bureaucratic routinization of the political-administrative system, each successive Soviet leader had less personal power than his predecessor. Putin may have more, but if he really was a “cold-blooded, ruthless” autocrat—“the worst dictator on the planet”—tens of thousands of protesters would not have repeatedly appeared in Moscow streets, sometimes officially sanctioned. Or their protests (and selective arrests) been shown on state television.


Political scientists generally agree that Putin has been a “soft authoritarian” leader governing a system that has authoritarian and democratic components inherited from the past. They disagree as to how to specify, define, and balance these elements, but most would also generally agree with a brief Facebook post, on September 7, 2018, by the eminent diplomat-scholar Jack Matlock: “Putin…is not the absolute dictator some have pictured him. His power seems to be based on balancing various patronage networks, some of which are still criminal. (In the 1990s, most were, and nobody was controlling them.) Therefore he cannot admit publicly that [criminal acts] happened without his approval since this would indicate that he is not completely in charge.”

§ Putin is not a Kremlin leader who “reveres Stalin” and whose “Russia is a gangster shadow of Stalin’s Soviet Union.” These assertions are so far-fetched and uninformed about Stalin’s terror-ridden regime, Putin, and Russia today, they barely warrant comment. Stalin’s Russia was often as close to unfreedom as imaginable. In today’s Russia, apart from varying political liberties, most citizens are freer to live, study, work, write, speak, and travel than they have ever been. (When vocational demonizers like David Kramer allege an “appalling human rights situation in Putin’s Russia,” they should be asked: compared to when in Russian history, or elsewhere in the world today?)

Putin clearly understands that millions of Russians have and often express pro-Stalin sentiments. Nonetheless, his role in these still-ongoing controversies over the despot’s historical reputation has been, in one unprecedented way, that of an anti-Stalinist leader. Briefly illustrated, if Putin reveres the memory of Stalin, why did his personal support finally make possible two memorials (the excellent State Museum of the History of the Gulag and the highly evocative “Wall of Grief”) to the tyrant’s millions of victims, both in central Moscow? The latter memorial monument was first proposed by then–Kremlin leader Nikita Khrushchev, in 1961. It was not built under any of his successors—until Putin, in 2017.

Related: Putin Someone is harvesting Russian bio samples for obscure purposes

§ Nor did Putin create post–Soviet Russia’s “kleptocratic economic system,” with its oligarchic and other widespread corruption. This too took shape under Yeltsin during the Kremlin’s shock-therapy “privatization” schemes of the 1990s, when the “swindlers and thieves” still denounced by today’s opposition actually emerged.

Putin has adopted a number of “anti-corruption” policies over the years. How successful they have been is the subject of legitimate debate. As are how much power he has had to rein in fully both Yeltsin’s oligarchs and his own, and how sincere he has been. But branding Putin “a kleptocrat” also lacks context and is little more than barely informed demonizing.

A recent scholarly book finds, for example, that while they may be “corrupt,” Putin “and the liberal technocratic economic team on which he relies have also skillfully managed Russia’s economic fortunes.” A former IMF director goes further, concluding that Putin’s current economic team does not “tolerate corruption” and that “Russia now ranks 35th out of 190 in the World Bank’s Doing Business ratings. It was at 124 in 2010.”

Viewed in human terms, when Putin came to power in 2000, some 75 percent of Russians were living in poverty. Most had lost even modest legacies of the Soviet era—their life savings; medical and other social benefits; real wages; pensions; occupations; and for men, life expectancy, which had fallen well below the age of 60. In only a few years, the “kleptocrat” Putin had mobilized enough wealth to undo and reverse those human catastrophes and put billions of dollars in rainy-day funds that buffered the nation in different hard times ahead. We judge this historic achievement as we might, but it is why many Russians still call Putin “Vladimir the Savior.”

§ Which brings us to the most sinister allegation against him: Putin, trained as “a KGB thug,” regularly orders the killing of inconvenient journalists and personal enemies, like a “mafia-state boss.” This should be the easiest demonizing axiom to dismiss, because there is no actual evidence, or barely any logic, to support it. And yet, it is ubiquitous. Times editorial writers and columnists—and far from them alone—characterize Putin as a “thug” and his policies as “thuggery” so often—sometimes doubling down on “autocratic thug”—that the practice may be specified in some internal manual. Little wonder so many politicians also routinely practice it, as did recently Senator Ben Sasse: “We should tell the American people and tell the world that we know that Vladimir Putin is a thug. He’s a former KGB agent who’s a murderer. ”




Few, if any, modern-day world leaders have been so slurred, or so regularly. Nor does Sasse actually “know” any of this. He and the others imbibe it from reams of influential media accounts that fully indict Putin while burying a nullifying “but” regarding actual evidence. Thus another Times columnist: “I realize that this evidence is only circumstantial and well short of proof. But it’s one of many suspicious patterns.” This, too, is a journalistic “pattern” when Putin is involved.

Leaving aside other world leaders with minor or major previous careers in intelligence services, Putin’s years as a KGB intelligence officer in then–East Germany were clearly formative. Many years later, at age 65, he still speaks of them with pride. Whatever else that experience contributed, it made Putin a Europeanized Russian, a fluent German speaker, and a political leader with a remarkable, demonstrated capacity for retaining and coolly analyzing a very wide range of information. (Read or watch a few of his long interviews.) Not a bad leadership trait in very fraught times.

Moreover, no serious biographer would treat only one period in a subject’s long public career as definitive, as Putin demonizers do. Why not instead the period after he left the KGB in 1991, when he served as deputy to the mayor of St. Petersburg, then considered one of the two or three most democratic leaders in Russia? Or the years immediately following in Moscow, where he saw firsthand the full extent of Yeltsin-era corruption? Or his subsequent years, while still relatively young, as president?

As for being a “murderer” of journalists and other “enemies,” the list has grown to scores of Russians who died, at home or abroad, by foul or natural causes—all reflexively attributed to Putin. Our hallowed tradition is that the burden of proof is on the accusers. Putin’s accusers have produced none, only assumptions, innuendoes, and mistranslated statements by Putin about the fate of “traitors.” The two cases that firmly established this defamatory practice were those of the investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot to death in Moscow in 2006, and Alexander Litvinenko, a shadowy one-time KGB defector with ties to aggrieved Yeltsin-era oligarchs, who died of radiation poisoning in London, also in 2006.

Related: 'Best military & diplomatic solution': Putin, Erdogan talks end with deal averting Idlib crisis

Not a shred of actual proof points to Putin in either case. The editor of Politkovskaya’s paper, the devoutly independent Novaya Gazeta, still believes her assassination was ordered by Chechen officials, whose human-rights abuses she was investigating. Regarding Litvinenko, despite frenzied media claims and a kangaroo-like “hearing” suggesting that Putin was “probably” responsible, there is still no conclusive proof even as to whether Litvinenko’s poisoning was intentional or accidental. The same paucity of evidence applies to many subsequent cases, notably the shooting of the opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, “in [distant] view of the Kremlin,” in 2015.

About Russian journalists, there is, however, a significant, overlooked statistic. According to the American Committee to Protect Journalists, as of 2012, 77 had been murdered—41 during the Yeltsin years, 36 under Putin. By 2018, the total was 82—41 under Yeltsin, the same under Putin. This strongly suggests that the still–partially corrupt post-Soviet economic system, not Yeltsin or Putin personally, led to the killing of so many journalists after 1991, most of them investigative reporters. The former wife of one journalist thought to have been poisoned concludes as much: “Many Western analysts place the responsibility for these crimes on Putin. But the cause is more likely the system of mutual responsibility and the culture of impunity that began to form before Putin, in the late 1990s.”
§ More recently, there is yet another allegation: Putin is a fascist and white supremacist. The accusation is made mostly, it seems, by people wishing to deflect attention from the role being played by neo-Nazis in US-backed Ukraine. Putin no doubt regards it as a blood slur, and even on the surface it is, to be exceedingly charitable, entirely uninformed. How else to explain Senator Ron Wyden’s solemn warnings, at a hearing on November 1, 2017, about “the current fascist leadership of Russia”? A young scholar recently dismantled a senior Yale professor’s nearly inexplicable propounding of this thesis. My own approach is compatible, though different.

Whatever Putin’s failings, the “fascist” allegation is absurd. Nothing in his statements over nearly 20 years in power are akin to fascism, whose core belief is a cult of blood based on the asserted superiority of one ethnicity over all others. As head of a vast multiethnic state—embracing scores of diverse groups with a broad range of skin colors—such utterances or related acts by Putin would be inconceivable, if not political suicide. This is why he endlessly appeals for harmony in “our entire multi-ethnic nation” with its “multi-ethnic culture,” as he did once again in his re-inauguration speech in 2018.

Russia has, of course, fascist-white supremacist thinkers and activists, though many have been imprisoned. But a mass fascist movement is scarcely feasible in a country where so many millions died in the war against Nazi Germany, a war that directly affected Putin and clearly left a formative mark on him. Though he was born after the war, his mother and father barely survived near-fatal wounds and disease, his older brother died in the long German siege of Leningrad, and several of his uncles perished. Only people who never endured such an experience, or are unable to imagine it, can conjure up a fascist Putin.

There is another, easily understood, indicative fact. Not a trace of anti-Semitism is evident in Putin. Little noted here but widely reported both in Russia and in Israel, life for Russian Jews is better under Putin than it has ever been in that country’s long history.

§ Finally, at least for now, there is the ramifying demonization allegation that, as a foreign-policy leader, Putin has been exceedingly “aggressive” abroad. At best, this is an “in-the-eye-of-the-beholder” assertion, and half-blind. At worst, it justifies what even a German foreign minister characterized as the West’s “warmongering” against Russia.

In the three cases widely given as examples of Putin’s “aggression,” the evidence, long cited by myself and many others, points to US-led instigations, primarily in the process of expanding the NATO military alliance since the late 1990s from Germany to Russia’s borders today. The proxy US-Russian war in Georgia in 2008 was initiated by the US-backed president of that country, who had been encouraged to aspire to NATO membership. The 2014 crisis and subsequent proxy war in Ukraine resulted from the long-standing effort to bring that country, despite large regions’ shared civilization with Russia, into NATO. And Putin’s 2015 military intervention in Syria was done on a valid premise: either it would be Syrian President Assad in Damascus or the terrorist Islamic State—and on President Barack Obama’s refusal to join Russia in an anti-ISIS alliance. As a result of this history, Putin is often seen in Russia as a belatedly reactive leader abroad, not as a sufficiently “aggressive” one.

Embedded in the “aggressive Putin” axiom are two others. One is that Putin is a neo-Soviet leader who seeks to restore the Soviet Union at the expense of Russia’s neighbors. He is obsessively misquoted as having said, in 2005, “The collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century,” apparently ranking it above two World Wars. What he actually said was “a major geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century,” as it was for most Russians.
Though often critical of the Soviet system and its two formative leaders, Lenin and Stalin, Putin, like most of his generation, naturally remains in part a Soviet person. But what he said in 2010 reflects his real perspective and that of very many other Russians: “Those who do not regret the collapse of the Soviet Union have no heart, and those that do regret it have no brain.”

The other fallacious sub-axiom is that Putin has always been “anti-Western,” specifically “anti-American,” has “always viewed the United States” with “smoldering suspicions.” A simple reading of his years in power tells us otherwise. A Westernized Russian, Putin came to the presidency in 2000 in the still-prevailing tradition of Gorbachev and Yeltsin—in hope of a “strategic friendship and partnership” with the United States. Hence his abundant assistance, following 9/11, to the American war in Afghanistan. Hence, until he believed Russia would not be treated as an equal and NATO had encroached too close, his full partnership in the US-European clubs of major leaders.

Given all that has happened during the past nearly two decades—particularly what Putin and other Russian leaders perceive to have happened—it would be remarkable if his views of the West, especially America, had not changed. As he remarked in 2018, “We all change.” A few years earlier, Putin remarkably admitted that initially he had “illusions” about foreign policy, without specifying which. Perhaps he meant this, spoken at the end of 2017: “Our most serious mistake in relations with the West is that we trusted you too much. And your mistake is that you took that trust as weakness and abused it.”

If my refutation of the axioms of Putin demonization is valid, where does that leave us? Certainly, not with an apologia for Putin, but with the question, “Who is Putin?” Russians like to say, “Let history judge,” but given the perils of the new Cold War, we cannot wait. We can at least begin with a few historical truths. In 2000, a young and little-experienced man became the leader of a vast state that had precipitously disintegrated, or “collapsed,” twice in the 20th century—in 1917 and again in 1991—with disastrous consequences for its people. And in both instances, it had lost its “sovereignty” and thus its security in fundamental ways.

These have been recurring themes in Putin’s words and deeds. They are where to begin an understanding. No one can doubt that he is already the most consequential “statesman” of the 21st century, though the word is rarely, if ever, applied to him in the United States. And what does “consequential” mean? Even without the pseudo-minuses spelled out above, a balanced evaluation will include valid ones.

For example, at home, was it necessary to so strengthen and expand the Kremlin’s “vertical” throughout the rest of the country in order to pull Russia back together? Should not the historic experiment with democracy have been given equal priority? Abroad, were there not alternatives to annexing Crimea, even given the perceived threats? And did Putin’s leadership really do nothing to reawaken fears in small East European countries victimized for centuries by Russia? These are only a few questions that might yield minuses alongside Putin’s deserved pluses.

Whatever the approach, whoever undertakes a balanced evaluation should do so, to paraphrase Spinoza, not in order to demonize, not to mock, not to hate, but to understand.

Source: https://www.thenation.com/article/who-putin-is-not/
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RUSSIA SURPASSES CHINA IN GOLD HOLDINGS


The Central Bank of Russia reported purchasing 8.5 million troy ounces of gold in January-November 2018. With its 67.6 million ounces of gold Russia is now the world's fifth largest holder behind the US, Germany, France and Italy.
China dropped to sixth place as it reported an increase in gold reserves just once in more than two years – to 59.6 million ounces in December 2018 from 59.2 million ounces in October 2016.
Industry sources told Reuters that Western sanctions against Russia lifted the country’s gold buying to record highs in 2018. One of the reasons Russia's Central Bank was betting on the yellow metal was because it could not be frozen or blacklisted, sources explained.
“It seems that there is an aim to diversify from American assets,” said a source in one of Russia’s gold producers, referring to the Central Bank's holdings.
While purchases of the precious metal by Russia jumped last year the country continued getting rid of US Treasury securities.
Earlier this month, Russia’s Central Bank reported that it cut the share of the US dollar in the country’s foreign reserves to a historic low, transferring nearly $100 billion into the euro, the Japanese yen and the Chinese yuan. The step came as a part of a broader state policy on eliminating reliance on the greenback.
According to sources, the Central Bank has been purchasing a significant portion of Russia's domestic gold production, which is also rising.
The world's third largest gold producer, Russia boosted its 2017 gold output by six percent. Data from Russia's Finance Ministry showed the country produced 8.5 million ounces (265 tons of gold) in January-October 2018. The Russian gold mining sector has nearly doubled its volume of extraction over the last two decades.
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NATO Ready to Continue Dialogue on INF Treaty With Russia

Earlier in the day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that he did not rule out the possibility that the issue of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty would be addressed at the upcoming talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Donald Trump.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said after the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) meeting in Brussels on Wednesday that the alliance was ready to continue a dialogue on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia.

"Allies and Russia… shared views on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty," NATO said in a statement following the NRC meeting.




READ MORE: NATO, Russia 'Will Likely' Discuss INF Treaty Amid Bloc's War Games in Europe

In addition, Stoltenberg noted that all allies agreed that the INF treaty has been crucial to Euro-Atlantic security.

"We all agree that the INF Treaty has been crucial to Euro-Atlantic security… Allies urge Russia again… to ensure full compliance with the INF Treaty without delay. While we stand ready to continue dialogue on this issue with Russia, as an Alliance we are also committed to take effective measures to continue to ensure the safety and security of all Allies," Stoltenberg said.

Russia, on its part, said that INF treaty is important as a factor in maintaining European and global stability, Permanent Mission to NATO noted.  
 The NATO-Russia Council, which brings together the 29 Allies and Russia, met in Brussels on Wednesday to exchange views on a wide range of topics, including issues related to military activities, reciprocal transparency and risk reduction; the situation in and around Ukraine;

Afghanistan; and hybrid challenges. According to the statement released by NATO press service, NATO and Russia provided briefings on major exercises "in the spirit of transparency."

The council was established on May 28, 2002 and was effectively suspended by the alliance in 2014-2016 over the situation in Ukraine. The latest NATO-Russia Council meeting was held in late May at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

Source: https://sputniknews.com/world/201810311069397982-nato-russia-inf-treaty-cooperation/?fbclid=IwAR2vBB6Wqzap1_27RCI0AKNMm5KTg-i_Wpl5kPomKv3DYvfNdVmteYL1vBE
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‘US would be history if Russia nukes Yellowstone volcano with mega-bombs’ – expert

FILE PHOTO: A nuclear explosion in Mururoa atoll. © AFP / 

Russia must develop the capability to destroy the US in a single swift blow if it wants to persuade the Americans to end the nuclear arms race and return to the negotiating table, military expert Konstantin Sivkov said.
In order to curb the aggression from the West, Moscow shouldn’t compete with Washington in number of nukes, Sibkov wrote in a new article. The president of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems believes that an “asymmetrical response” would work much better for Russia, as it is able to produce nuclear weapons with a yield of more than 100 megatons.

 
via GIPHY

If “areas with critically dangerous geophysical conditions in the US (like the Yellowstone Supervolcano or the San Andreas Fault)” are targeted by those warheads, “such an attack guarantees the destruction of the US as a state and the entire transnational elite,” he said.

The production of around 40 or 50 such mega-warheads for ICBMs or extra-long-range torpedoes would make sure that at least a few of them reach their target no matter how a nuclear conflict between the US and Russia develops, the expert said.

Such scenario “again makes a large-scale nuclear war irrational and reduces the chances of its breakout to zero,” Sivakov said.


via GIPHY

The possession of such weapons by Russia is what would finally make Washington start talking to Moscow and give up on its sanctions policy towards Russia, the expert said.

On Monday, US President Donald Trump warned Russia and China that Washington intends to build up its nuclear arsenal until “people come to their senses.”

Trump reiterated his commitment to unilaterally abandon the landmark Intermediate Nuclear Forces in Europe (INF) treaty, saying that “Russia has not adhered to the agreement,” neither in form or in spirit.




Moscow decried the US plans, saying that an American withdrawal from the INF would “make the world more dangerous.”

The Russian presidential press-secretary, Dmitry Peskov, said that Trump’s words were “a de facto declaration of intent to launch an arms race,” adding that Russia would act to protect its national interests in view of statements like this.

In recent years, Moscow and Washington have repeatedly accused each other of violating the 1988 INF deal. While the US has alleged that Russia has developed missiles prohibited by the treaty, Russia insists that the American anti-missile systems deployed in Eastern Europe can actually be used to launch intermediate-range cruise missiles.






Source: https://www.rt.com/russia/442147-us-russia-nuclear-yellowstone-inf/?fbclid=IwAR3rW_sdK3-jyyAVA-7eVzp2u9brln8_ug4AtzYmD1JQJ75d9bNPE3KsJF8
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Mr. Lucas, Don’t Take Your Readers for Fools! by Prof. Vladimir Golstein

Mr. Lucas, Don’t Take Your Readers for Fools! by Prof. Vladimir Golstein


So Edward Lucas, the columnist at The Times, the long time contributor to the notoriously Russophobic Economist and the author of 2008 The New Cold War: Putin’s Russia and the Threat to the West, where he fully exhibits his own paranoia about the dangers of Putin’s Russia, has came up with a new theological and cultural diagnosis. Paranoia is the religion of Putin’s Russia. Not communism, not capitalism, not Orthodoxy, not atheism. Just plain old paranoia.

Why, and how? Argument number #1 is that RT has put him on the list of ten top Russophobes. Lucas’ complaint: the list is haphazard and flimsy. Fine, any list is haphazard and flimsy – it just points to some people or organizations that like to come up with ridiculous charges and accusations, not dissimilar from his own “academic” investigations. So what? Having never produced anything academic himself, Mr. Lucas can’t expect any academic study from RT, can he?


Argument #2. Mr. Lucas had found an academic study to his liking — Ilya Yablokov’s Fortress Russia — that discovered that Russian conspiracy theorists, who were on the margins in the 1990s have come to the forefront in the current situation. Yablokov has studied Russian TV and found its style paranoid. Yablokov’s conclusion: the US is a paranoid Empire to be sure, but mainstream TV does not usually cater to it, as opposed to the mainstream Russian TV. Maybe, even though CNN and Fox would surely provide serious competition.

Without any desire to defend the rather combative style of Russian TV talk shows where guests clash, fight, and play the roles assigned to them by the hosts, I am certain that these shows do address real foreign policy concerns. Any detached observer looking at the map and seeing NATO bases all around Russia is bound to ask questions. Any detached observer listening to Western news and hearing the endless bacchanalia of Russia this, Russia that, is bound to get nervous. Any detached observer, having witnessed endless the West’s bombing campaigns, wars, invasions, regime changes, mass migrations and destruction, is bound to get a bit edgy about western intentions. And it would not be paranoia. It would be plain common sense.

Creating Russophobia: From the Great Religious Schism to Anti-Putin Hysteria

And what about Russian history? Hasn’t the country been invaded again and again throughout its history? The latest invasion, that of Nazi Germany, is still remembered by all Russians, since one can hardly find a family that did not lose someone in that awful war. Last time Germans and Ukrainians got together, my relatives were brutally murdered in Kiev, mowed downed – along with thousands others in Babi Yar. So even living in the United States, I do get nervous when Ukrainians, helped by their European admirers, burn people in Odessa. Genetic memory is a stubborn thing, you know. So can you really blame Russians for getting a bit anxious about the events in Ukraine, Mr. Lucas, or as the happy denizen of the murderous British Empire, that one that killed, burned, shot, and starved others, you can’t imagine what fears of prosecution are actually all about?

Wait a minute, says Mr. Lucas. “German Unification, EU and NATO enlargement, Ukrainian independence”: These recent events on the borders of Russia — are haphazard. There never was a master plan. Well, if it looks like a duck, and acts like a duck, it has to be a duck. In fact, there are rarely master plans for anything, unless we are talking about Hillary’s campaign to justify her spectacular loss of 2016 presidential campaign. What we’re witnessing, however, is the plain old confluence of interests and appetites that results in wars, sanctions and invasions. Just read some basic history, Mr. Lucas, before you present yourself as the heroic conspiracy theories slayer.


Argument # 3. Russians do a lot of mischief to themselves: corruption, bribes, oligarchs. That’s for sure. But so what? Russian corruption is bad, and one hopes that Russians will get rid of it. But it does not mean there are no countries that want to invade and loot the place, and squeeze away local oligarchs. Even paranoid people have enemies, as the maxim goes. There’s plenty to steal in Russia. Do you think, Mr. Lucas, that western oligarchs want to leave it all to Russians? Don’t underestimate your own sponsors. They don’t like it.

Furthermore, oligarchs and corruption are rampart in Great Britain and US, and still these countries are running on paranoia and arming themselves to the teeth. And what about Poland, the Baltic States, Ukraine – the countries that do indeed thrive on paranoia? But their paranoia fits western narratives, so it’s “our kind of paranoia.” As opposed to Russian paranoia, which is obviously a wrong kind of paranoia. What about the paranoia of the trigger-happy Israel, which manifests itself in endless violence and military excursions against its neighbours? So Israel has Judaism for religion, Poles have Catholicism, but Russians have Paranoia. A strange doctrine, and new.


 And then, Lucas totally reverses himself, and says – that the west should not stoke Russia’s siege mentality by a military build up on its borders and endless provocations. Finally! Lucas dares to rise to the occasion and criticize the West … but we rapidly learn why. This righteous indignation is provoked by Trump’s and Bolton’s proposal to withdraw from the INF treaty. But even this criticism is turned on its head. This new arms race is bad, because it will help Russia to “crack down, lash out and make it look more important than it is.”

In other words, NATO countries should not place their war-heads in Roumania or Poland, they should not claim that they could actually win a nuclear war (something that only American theoreticians, including former Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter, do) – they should not do any of those things because these actions will make Russians think that they are more important than they are. That would be a really dangerous case of paranoia. Much more dangerous than the destruction of life on earth as we know it.


But Lucas does not stop there; playing the role of Candide must be way too enjoyable. He claims that compiling the list of “Russophobes” is a “childish bad habit” – never mind the Magnitsky list, nor plenty of other lists compiled by the State Department, the Mueller investigation, social media police and numerous other western outlets, whose endless lists still can’t satisfy the lust for more and more sanctions against more and more individuals. Those lists are the sign of profound maturity, no doubt.
And in a true demagogic fashion, Lucas concludes: we’ve been paying too much attention to “nasty but grand Russians.” We should celebrate Russia’s “colossal contribution to world culture.” Oh, so Russia is important after all. How refreshing. Let’s wipe Russia off the map with nukes, and then enjoy Russian ballet at Covent Garden or Russian novels in their BBC adaptations.

Source: https://off-guardian.org/2018/10/25/mr-lucas-dont-take-your-readers-for-fools/?fbclid=IwAR0_JZK9AWAo587C45e5vKgiCS1lITZYsWv1ZcvrKPRCCLvhbD9kXzWTgos

Related: Guy Mettan’s Book on Russophobia Is a “Must Read” for Any Person Interested in Russia 
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Israel’s Failed Attempt to Start WWIII Is the Beginning of the End in Syria

 

There is one thing that Israel fears more than anything else in Syria. The loss of its ability to fly its F-16’s with impunity and hit whatever targets it wants claiming defensive measures to stop Iran, their existential enemy.

Israel finally admitted to carrying out over 200 such missions over the past 18 months, only a few of which ever made any kind of international media, recently.

And with the sneak attack on Latakia which involved using a Russian IL-20 ELINT war plane as radar cover Israel has now not only raised the stakes to an unacceptable level, it has also ensured that this may be the last such aerial assault it will ever be able to carry out.
The setup is pretty clear. Israel and France coordinated an attack on multiple targets within Syria without US involvement but with absolute US knowledge of the operation to provoke Russia into going off half-cocked by attacking the inconsequential French frigate which assisted Israel’s air attack.


That would constitute an attack on a NATO member state and require a response from NATO, thereby getting the exact escalation needed to continue the war in Syria indefinitely and touch off WWIII.

This neatly bypasses any objections to a wider conflict by President Trump who would have to respond militarily to a Russian attack on a NATO ally. It also would reassert NATO’s necessity in the public dialogue, further marginalizing Trump’s attacks on it and any perceived drive of his for peace.

That this took place within the 60 days window of the mid-term elections should also not be discounted.


This attack took place just hours after Presidents Erdogan and Putin negotiated a ‘peaceful’ settlement for Idlib province by declaring a De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) 15-20 kilometers wide which everyone, including Erdogan’s pets Jabhat al-Nusra would have to abide by.
Peace was breaking out in Syria and Israel and the war-hawks in D.C. weren’t standing for that.

By conducting this attack like this Israel and the NATO crowd figured it would be a win/win for them.

If Russia strikes back at France, then NATO invokes Article 5 and they get their wider war.
If Russia doesn’t strike back Putin loses face within Russia, his popularity drops 5 points and John Bolton begins salivating at the prospect of regime change in Russia. Yes, they are that insane.

It was a neat piece of geopolitical maneuvering, almost judo-like. Russia and Syria looked to be on the verge of victory, extending themselves in a major conflict that would result in months of bad press. We were expecting a possible false-flag chemical weapons attack, cries of humanitarian crisis and all the rest of the tired virtue-signaling we can expect by US ‘diplomatic’ officials that has been all too common even under Trump.

What we got was the opposite, a carefully-crafted assault on Russian military forces wherein Russia’s vaunted air-defense systems would be blamed for its own people’s deaths and a mistaken counter-attack that justifies the “Putin is a Vile War-Monger” narrative to justify a US invasion of Syria which has been held in amber since 2013 and Putin’s skillful defusing that situation via diplomatic means.

For once, this almost looked like a well-thought out plan. Not the usual ham-fisted crudities we’ve been treated to over the last few years. But, here’s the rub.
It didn’t work.

By naming names and immediately not responding militarily during the ‘fog of war’ Russia and Putin again prove to be more skilled at this than their adversaries.

Because none of what I just outlined will come to pass. And France, Israel and the US will be the ones to lose face here. And with Israel betraying Putin’s forbearance after April’s air strikes on Damascus, he will have no choice but to upgrade Syria’s air defense systems from S-200’s to S-300’s and possibly S-400’s.


This is Israel’s worst nightmare. A situation where any aerial assault on targets within Syria would be suicide missions, puncturing the myth of the Israeli air force’s superiority and shifting the delicate balance of power in Syria decidedly against them.

This is why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu worked Putin so hard over the last two years. But, this incident wipes that slate clean. This was a cynical betrayal of Putin’s trust and patience. And Israel will now pay the price for their miscalculation.

Giving Syria S-300’s does not avenge the fifteen dead Russian soldiers. Putin will have to respond to that in a more concrete way to appease the hardliners in his government and at home. His patience and seeming passivity are being pushed to their limit politically. This is, after all, a side benefit to all of this for the neoconservative and globalist hawks in D.C., Europe and Tel Aviv.

But, the real loss here for Israel will be Russia instituting a no-fly zone over western Syria. Any less response from Putin will be seized upon by and the situation will escalate from here. So, Putin has to deploy S-300’s here. And once that happens, the real solution to Syria begins in earnest.

Because at that point it will be the US’s move to flat-out invade without provocation, now that a solution is in place in Syria between Russia and a NATO member, Turkey.

The only good news in all of this is that US forces were not involved. This still tells me that Trump and Mattis are still in charge of their chain of command and that other forces are conspiring to drag them into a conflict no one in their right minds wants.


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