Friday, May 18, 2018

Russia Slaps US, Europe with Counter-Sanctions

I'm reposting this article by Paul Goncharoff, an American businessman who has lived and worked in Russia for decades, first published by

The good book tells us “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. Then it follows that Washington and its co-sanctioning colleagues among EU and NATO countries must surely be purer than freshly fallen virgin snow, and free to pelt Russia with all the stones they wish, including the first one.

One of Russia's Latest Electric Locomotives
In the beginning, the west’s trade punishments took the form of travel bans and asset freezes, then they were  strengthened to restrict borrowing and access to U.S. technology (for Russian government-controlled companies) and made it very difficult if not impossible for some of Russia’s businesses to trade with the United States. Given the current western political climate some Russian companies fully expect to be hit with still more rounds of sanctions. In the words of one Moscow CEO who commented on Washington’s position, “When poorly thought through ideas becomes standardized, the inertia of bad policies persists and keeps growing with a mind of its own”.

This past January saw the U.S. Treasury Department naming several Russian businesspersons in a so-called “oligarchs’ list”. It would seem that any Russian who makes it onto the Forbes list is an “Oligarch”, deeply steeped in the miasma of imputed corruption, and not just a successful businessperson with achievements in a challenging environment.

Since then Washington has called for additional sanctions, probably just to keep in practice with this fashionable “diplomatic tool” that is all the rage these past several political seasons.

Back then President Putin had some comments; “It is, of course, an unfriendly act. It will complicate the difficult situation Russian-American relations are already in, and of course harm international relations as a whole.”
He went on to say it was “stupid” to lump Russia together with North Korea and Iran, while at the same time asking Moscow to help broker a peace deal on the Korean peninsula, or help destroy ISIS. Nonetheless, he said he wanted to improve ties with the United States and would refrain from any immediate retaliation.

He concluded by saying; “I will not hide it, we are ready to take retaliatory steps, serious ones, which would have reduced our relations to zero, but for now, we will refrain from these steps. But we will carefully watch how the situation develops.”

The situation and pressures have only ratcheted up with increased tempo since this winter. May 17th the Russian Parliament (State Duma) adopted in its second reading a draft law on counter-sanctions to those imposed by the US and other foreign states “that commit unfriendly acts against the Russian Federation”.

The third reading of the draft law on counter-sanctions will take place next week and its subsequent final adoption is expected on May 22.

In the current proposed bill, six points have been selected which have allowed influence by the United States and other foreign states in the internal affairs of the Russian Federation. Measures are being considered on how best to address these areas of activity:
  1. Stop or suspend international cooperation with unfriendly foreign states, as well as organizations directly or indirectly under the jurisdiction or influence of unfriendly countries.
  2. Impose a ban or restrict the import of products or raw materials by organizations that are under the direct or indirect jurisdiction of unfriendly foreign states.
  3. Impose a ban or restrict the export of products or raw materials by organizations that are under the direct or indirect jurisdiction of unfriendly foreign states.
  4. Prohibit or restrict organizations under the direct or indirect jurisdiction of unfriendly foreign states to participate in state public procurements.
  5. Prohibit or restrict organizations under the direct or indirect jurisdiction of unfriendly foreign states to participate in privatization.
  6. The president of the Russian Federation has the right to take “other measures” as he sees fit.

One of the sticking points was if an entity’s “foreign participation” were directly or indirectly more than 25% controlled by American or other unfriendly foreign interests then they would be banned from international cooperation, participation in privatization and public procurement. By the time this second reading took place this point was eased back to read simply “directly or indirectly controlled” by unfriendly countries.

So here we are, descending from “good business partners” to “unfriendly countries”, what is the endgame, who wins? And what? The only immediate beneficiaries of this tit for tat sanctioning and then counter-sanctioning are the international law firms in the relevant capital cities billing clients to unravel this escalating hairball.

These new counter-sanctions ideas are mild when compared to those already arrayed against Russia. It looks like diplomatic and political “restraint” accurately describe Russia’s position even now after the many successive sanctioning regimes imposed against them. The question remains, for how long will forbearance, responsible diplomacy and restraint last? With Russia patience is not an endless quality.

It might be worth everyone’s time and effort to dial back a bit, take a breath, and reassess calmly outside of the newsy political noise. Have sanctions produced positive effects for Europe? For Washington? Perhaps Washington, London and Brussels should try presenting Russia a “Reset” button again instead of throwing stones. This time the reset button should be correctly labelled, and not spell “overload” yet again in Russian…. the line between tragedy and farce is often a thin one.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Good Versus Bad Authoritarians

Published on NEO on May 5th
Here are large excerpts from a recent Time magazine article about a new-comer to the world stage. As you read it, compare it to the way the Russian President, Vladimir Putin is treated by the US and its media:
What Bin Salman is proposing is potentially destabilizing. He has sent dozens of nonviolent clerics and Islamic intellectuals to prison, leading current and former U.S. officials to question whether his talk of reform masks a crackdown on dissent,” although More people today probably feel better about their country, particularly young people,” according to a former top White House official, who adds: “But people have suffered, and the political repression has not lightened up. This is not a democratic reform.
If applied to Russia, these would words would make front-page head-lines, but Time has no opinion on the matter: “If it works, Bin Salman’s putative revolution could transform one of worlds most retrograde auto-cracies into a force for global progress. He is an ambitious young man willing to act aggressively and decisively to consolidate power, according to a former U.S. ambassador under President George H.W. Bush. [But] the rashness of much of what he has been doing—it’s pretty radical stuff—it does make him vulnerable….’ (Not “this is unacceptable”, but it could be dangerous FOR HIM!)
In the U.S., Bin Salman has found some important supporters, including President Donald Trump… but is this a savvy transaction by a young guy who knows his country has to change, but who intends to maintain strict and authoritarian control at home, or will it alter the American conception of his country,” i.e., condemn it as an authoritarian regime. “One former State Department official mused ‘We prayed for a leader like this, but beware of wishing something you dont really want.’
(Translation: The US worries if forward-looking leaders become ‘too’ authoritarian’, but would not dream of ceasing cooperation if they are ‘on our side’.)
When Bin Salman’s father goes, the throne will skip an entire generation — hundreds of middle-aged princes — including his cousin cousin, Mohammed bin Nayef, who was removed as crown prince last June, replacing him with Salman, “who is quietly but ruthlessly consolidating power in the kind of bold strokes that would have left Niccolò Machiavelli feeling bashful.” Betting everything on him, “the king made him Defense Minister in charge of what was then the worlds third largest military budget, after the U.S. and China’ and what did he do? He promptly launched a war against neighboring Yemen, one of the world’s poorest countries. He was also named head of the behemoth state oil company, chief of economic development and deputy crown prince, which should enable him to fund his ambitious modernization projects. But that was not enough: Five months later, Salman imprisoned dozens of princes, aides and businessmen in the Ritz-Carlton hotel, accusing them ofcorruptionDispensing with legality (one aide, who died in custody, showed signs of physical abuse), Salman claims to have recovered 100 billion dollars from his hostages. As the New York Times reported, in the understatement of the year: 
He was far more powerful than people assumed, and the opposition was far weaker ……..” “According to one Western ambassador: ‘Whether shakedown or rough justice, the Ritz episode eliminated Salman’s chief political rivals and cemented his power in a bloodless coup d’état of the old system, rattling investor faith in the countrys stability. Power that had been distributed very widely under a checks-and-balances arrangement has been compressed and concentrated into the hands of one man.’ “Salman also fits into the global trend toward authoritarianism, taking even greater control of the media, and, according to a UN panel ‘arbitrarily imprisoning 60 activists, journalists, academics and clerics since September. (Not very different from what the much maligned Turkish leader gets up to, it seems, but Erdogan is no longer really on our side, so together with the Europeans, we come down hard on him.) “Salman admits that he has no plans to dilute his power in the coming 50 years that he might rule. ‘What we should focus on is the end, not the means. If the means are taking us to that end, that good end, and everyone agrees on it, it will be good.’ Salman says he ultimately wants freedom of speech, improved employment, economic growth, security and stability for his country. And he says his absolutist approach is a better means to get it than the chaos that followed the Arab Spring elsewhere in the region.”
Similarly, the White House is happy to provide intelligence, midair refueling and billions of dollars of munitions for what the U.N. calls the worst man-made humanitarian disaster of our time, while Salman contemplates sending ground troops into Yemen, his priority being that the war remain painless for his people. “We want to be assured that whatever happens, the people shouldnt feel it,” he says. The economy shouldnt be harmed or even feel it. So we are trying to be sure that we are far away from whatever escalation happens.
Shortly after receiving Trump in Riyadh last May, Salman blockaded QatarIn November, after Lebanon’s Prime Minister announced his resignation, he ordered him to Riyadh and kept him for more than two weeks. It was not the US, but French President Macron, who made it clear that this was unacceptable before the unofficial prisoner was allowed to returned home and recant his resignation.
The one policy that progressives can welcome is Salman’s softening of Saudi attitudes toward Israel while remaining firm on the question of Palestinian rights. ‘We have a common enemy (Iran), and it seems that we have a lot of potential areas for economic cooperation’he told Time. Voicing the opinion of the young and progressive worldwide, he says: ‘We cannot have relations with Israel before solving the peace issue with the Palestinians because both of them they have the right to live and coexist, and when that happens, the next day well have good and normal relation with Israel and it will be in the best for everyone.’
Now, placed alongside this portrait of the world’s latest ‘authoritarian’, (were it not for the oil, he would be properly referred to as a dictator), the ‘sins’ of Russian President Vladimir Putin are holding referenda and defending separatism in regions of a neighboring country ruled by Nazis. As depicted by Time magazine, the US has no problem either with the arbitrary arrest, detention and shakedowns of citizens, or aggression against a vulnerable neighbor. “Might makes right” as long as it is perpetrated by a neo-liberal who defends Wall Street-run globalization. Time has no problem with Salman’s thuggish approach to government, laying it all out there. But when it comes to Vladimir Putin, who rescued his country from looters, retained and improved socialist protections for his people, while helping sovereign leaders resolve disputes through negotiations, the label ‘authoritarian’ is too mild: he is ‘a former KGB officer’ and a thug straddling an ill-gotten pile of wealth.

Angels Dancing on a Pin

Posted on NEO on May 10th
Twenty-four/seven reporting on the Mueller investigation is beginning to look like nothing so much as the medieval scholasticism summed up in the question “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”
As each new member of the cast of characters has his or her ‘day in the limelight’ while dreading his or her possible ‘day in court’, every sliver of information is presented as ‘breaking news’ — a headline usually reserved for earth-shattering events such as an invasion or an earthquake. Events that outside observers might consider vital are so completely absent from American ‘news’ that one is forced to wonder whether editorial decisions are politically motivated, or whether, more worryingly, the press has ended up believing its own version of reality, that excludes foreign peoples and places. The notion that the United States is ‘the indispensable nation’ implies that Americans must everywhere intervene to make the world safe for ‘democracy’. And since the media spends ever less time informing the public about that world, they are oblivious to the fact that, with NGO help, their government engineers so-called ‘popular uprisings’ that eventually end up ‘requiring’ US intervention, which are viewed as aggressions by those on the receiving end. Currently, one such uprising is taking place in the tiny nation of Armenia, which borders on Iran, Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan, and which, like the latter two, is a former Soviet Republic.
The US intervened twice in Georgia since the turn of the century, creating one of the most unstable governments in Russia’s near abroad (so unstable that its US educated president, Mikhail Sakashvili, was given the boot. (He went to nearby Ukraine, where he twice tried to overthrow the US-installed government backed by fascist militias). The US plan is to bring both countries into NATO, the better to get in the face of the Russian government. As happened in these nations, George Soros’s Open Society leads a parade of seemingly innocuous NGO’s devoted to the spread of American-style ‘democracy’ in Armenia. 
That democracy currently relies on angels dancing on the head of a pin. The idea that Donald Trump could be impeached has made its way from Hillary voters’ minds, to those of pundits and politicians of both parties — who show off their detailed knowledge of the 1974 Watergate player who forced Richard Nixon to resign, and Bill Clinton’s ordeal with a nineties special prosecutor over an affair with a White House intern. (He was impeached but not convicted.) 
Trump assures journalists that he would love to sit down with Robert Mueller, who is investigating him for collusion with Russia, while his lawyers oppose it, knowing that the president would probably perjure himself within five minutes. As if recognizing this, in a recent speech the President hinted that he could be impeached, warning darkly that this would create a lot of unhappy people, many of whom, one assumes, would be gun owners. (I tried to find this sentence on the web, but it had apparently been scrubbed.)
On the other hand, the fact that ‘born again’ Christians still support Trump, notwithstanding his egregious disregard for morality, may be less of a miracle than a way of ensuring that in 2020, he could be succeeded by Vice President Mike Pence, one of their own. Pence is pro-family and church and rigidly against abortion. His point of reference is the Old Bible which features ‘Armageddon’ in the Holy Land, i.e., Israel, followed by ‘The Rapture’, in which Christ’s followers are whisked off to heaven as the earth implodes.  
The 2013 film Elysium portrays the horrific (secular) life of those left behind when the wealthy create a perfect world on another planet. By 2020, the feckless state of the Democratic Party guarantees that almost anything could happen unless dancing angels intervene. 

Eastward From the Koreas

Published on May 14th by NEO, updated May 15th
Certainly kudos go to President Trump for ending a sixty-four year old standoff with North Korea, but let’s not pretend that he was in charge of the process. When news anchors mention that a deal would bring an end to the Korean War, they are referring to a formal treaty that would end an increasingly dangerous situation created by the US sixty-four years ago — and now modified by North Korea.
All the drip drip in the world — Mike Pence meets Kim, Kim and his wife spend a day with South Korea’s presidential couple (US reports confined to the ballet between the two leaders on the dividing line), Trump surrogates bring up the possibility of a Nobel Peace Prize, announcement of the location (Singapore which, under authoritarian leadership, has become an Asian Tiger), Korea releases three American prisoners, Trump announces the June 12th date — none of this can change the fact that the credit goes to Kim Jong Un. 
No American journalist has acknowledged the fact that while appearing to behave like an adolescent, North Korea’s leader was diligently building up his nuclear arsenal and missile-delivery capability to the point where bombs could reach the US mainland (never mind Japan and South Korea). That is when the US suddenly ‘decided’ that the time had come to end the division of the Korean peninsula. (France 24 is forgiven for recycling a report on South Koreans queuing up for North Korea’s signature cold noodle dish, since, unlike the US media, it also covered the day-long visit between the two leaders and their spouses, including the formers’ joyful expressions and body thumping. 
While the US continues to fret over weapons, for both Koreas, this play is all about getting back together, a move which the US has until now prevented. Younger Americans will not be brought up to speed on the history of the Korean War, fought according to the then prevalent ‘domino theory’, to prevent Chinese Communism from spreading to its neighbor. The press will not mention that, having fought the war to a standstill, the US refused to allow a formal treaty, opting for half a loaf: a capitalist south with a 25,000 strong ‘defensive’ force. Although the US has long since made up with Communist China, which now touts ‘capitalism with Chinese characteristics’, a reunited Korea would still not be in the offing had Kim not stuck to his all or nothing stakes.
Between now and the fateful meeting, American academic and political pundits will continue to express doubt that North Korea will actually dismantle its nuclear program, evoking past unkept promises without referring to Washington’s own failures to deliver on aid, and never acknowledging that the US was faced with a choice between being nuked and coming to the table. The North’s operable words are ‘working toward denuclearization’, while the US gives the impressions that it expects denuclearization to happen overnight. In a bizarre demonstration of logic, even normally level-headed progressive Representative Barbara Lee declared that Trump’s abandonment of the Iran Agreement was ‘proof’ that Kim would not follow through on denuclearization! Instead of recognizing that Kim has seamlessly switched from outrageous rhetoric to traditional diplomatic protocol by releasing three American prisoners in advance of the summit, pundits continue to spout the rhetoric of the previous phase, signaling their own lack of intellectual flexibility.
Indeed, the US appears so clueless that it didn’t think it had to reciprocate Kim’s gestures. Kim’s hint that he expects the US to reciprocate his having initiated the dismantling of his nuclear program by cancelling its latest military drills with South Korea is seen instead as a first sign that there can be no deal.  It never crosses an American military or political leader's mind that it should have to make a goodwill gesture toward any other country, least of all one which has supposedly pulled the plug on previous deals.
 Donald Trump’s simultaneous abandonment of the nuclear treaty with Iran that is recognized by all experts as working, may have been intended to show that the US still calls the shots, but it also gives Kim a reason to wonder how tight his own deal with the US will be.    However, having given Israel a green light to attack Iranian positions supporting pro-Shia President Assad in Syria, moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem and declared that he will punish Europeans who do business with Iran, “Trump will create the greatest division between Europe and the U.S. since the Iraq War,” in the words of Robin Wright:  Coming on top of the 2008 financial crisis and the avalanche of third world refugees fleeing US wars, the prospect of economic sanctions have only reinforced the conviction of Angela Merkel and Emanuel Macron, the US’s closest European allies, that the old continent must be free to choose its friends. 

On the other hand, Donald Trump may hope that a European turn toward Moscow will limit the ability of the American deep state to prevent his own rapprochement with Vladimir Putin. 

Monday, May 7, 2018

Vladimir Putin Inaugurated for Fourth Term

Following US efforts to condemn Vladimir Putin's 70%+ election win for a fourth presidential term, Americans will look in vain for anything related to his inauguration in the US media.  I apologize for being unable to force my blog template to allow me to modify the spacing on this report, which reveals the 'former KGB agent's' evil designs.  (This text was downloaded from the highly dangerous website President of Russia.....)

Vladimir Putin has been sworn in as President of Russia

Vladimir Putin has been inaugurated as President of Russia in a ceremony that took place at the Grand Kremlin Palace. 

Vladimir Putin takes the oath to the people of Russia.
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Vladimir Putin takes the oath to the people of Russia.
The ceremony opened as the National Flag, the President’s Standard, the Russian Constitution and the President’s Badge were brought into St Andrew’s Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace.
According to Article 82 of the Russian Constitution, Vladimir Putin took the oath to the people of Russia in the presence of Federation Council members, members of the State Duma and judges of the Russian Constitutional Court. Constitutional Court President Valery Zorkin announced Vladimir Putin the new President of the Russian Federation.
Afterwards, Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia and the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Armed Forces, reviewed the Presidential Regiment on Cathedral Square to mark his inauguration. The Presidential Regiment marks its 82nd anniversary today.
After the inauguration ceremony, President of Russia Vladimir Putin briefly met with representatives of public youth associations and volunteer organisations.
Later, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia served a thanksgiving service at the Annunciation Cathedral in the Kremlin.
* * *
Speech at the inauguration ceremony as President of Russia
Vladimir Putin: Citizens of Russia, ladies and gentlemen, friends,
I salute all the citizens of our great nation and compatriots living abroad, all those who are watching the broadcast of this ceremony and all those present here today, in the historic halls of the Kremlin and on the ancient Cathedral Square.

Vladimir Putin’s inauguration ceremony.
As I am about to take office as the President of Russia, I am keenly aware of the immense responsibility towards each and every one of you, and towards our entire multi-ethnic nation. I am aware of my responsibility towards Russia, a country of magnificent victories and accomplishments, towards the history of the Russian state that goes back centuries and towards our ancestors. Their courage, relentless work, undefeatable unity, and the way they sanctified their homeland are eternal examples of their dedication to their Fatherland.
I believe that it is my duty and the meaning of my entire life to do everything for Russia, its present and future, to ensure that it is peaceful and prosperous, to preserve and perpetuate our great people, and bring prosperity to every household in Russia. Let me assure you that just as before I will devote my life and my work to serving the people and our Fatherland. This is my outmost aspiration.
I would like to thank the citizens of Russia for their unity, for believing that together we can change many things for the better. Let me extend my gratitude to you one more time. Thank you for the sincere support I received from the citizens of Russia at the presidential election. I view this support as a huge political asset and a reliable moral backing. This support is a sign of faith and a sign of hope that Russia will continue to build up its strength while its people will live better. This support is also essential for asserting our positions on the international stage and for taking resolute action for promoting far-reaching, positive change within the country.
Russia must be a modern and vibrant country ready to take up the challenges of time and respond to them with all its energy in order to consistently build up its leadership in areas where our positions have been traditionally strong. At the same time, we need to work with confidence and diligence and to harness all our willpower in areas where we have yet to achieve the results we aspire to, where a lot has yet to be done.

Vladimir Putin’s inauguration ceremony.
The way forward is never easy. It is always a challenging journey. But there is only one thing history never forgives: indifference and inconsistency, slackness and complacency, which rings especially true today, at this turning point in history, as the entire world is undergoing rapid change.
The objectives we face and the decisions we will be called upon to take are without exaggeration historic in their scale. They will determine the future of our Fatherland for decades to come. We have a lot of hard work ahead of us that will require the entire Russian society to come together. Every one of us, all responsible political forces and civil society movements, united by the fact that they sincerely care for Russia, must be proactive in these efforts.
We need breakthroughs in all areas of life. I strongly believe that only a free society that is open to all new and cutting-edge advances, while rejecting injustice, ignorance, crass conservatism and bureaucratic red tape, is callable of achieving these breakthroughs. We must cast aside everything that constrains people, prevents them from fully unleashing their potential and their talents, becoming a barrier for the development of the entire nation.

Vladimir Putin’s inauguration ceremony.
Friends, this year we will be marking the 25th anniversary of the Russian Constitution. It stresses the unconditional primacy and priority of the rights and freedoms of Russian citizens. It is the harmony between free individuals, responsible civil society and a strong, active and democratic state that creates a solid foundation for the development of Russia.
We have coped with the most difficult economic and social problems. We have realised that, while changing with the world, we should not break away from our own roots, our own history and multinational culture. We have understood that all our beauty and strength are in our distinctness and unity. We have learned to uphold our interests and revived pride in our homeland and our traditional values. Experience shows that today, too, we must cherish what has been achieved and, based on this to move only forward.
Of course, we should keep pace with the global changes and organise our breakthrough development agenda so that no obstacles or circumstances could prevent us from determining our future on our own and only on our own and from implementing our boldest plans and dreams. But at the same time, we are open to dialogue. Along with our partners, we will actively promote our integration projects and build up business, humanitarian, cultural and scientific ties.
We are in favour of equitable and mutually beneficial cooperation with all states in the interests of peace and stability on our planet. 
Russia is a strong, active and influential participant in international life; the country’s security and defence capability are reliably assured. We will continue to pay the necessary, close attention to these issues. 
But now, we must use all the opportunities available to us primarily to address the most vital domestic development objectives, to achieve an economic and technological breakthrough, and to enhance competitiveness in the spheres that determine the future. A new quality of life, wellbeing, security and health are what constitutes our main goals and the focus of our policies. Our reference point is Russia for the people, a country of opportunities for self-fulfilment for each person. 

Vladimir Putin’s inauguration ceremony.
I strongly believe that everyday challenges people face and demands they have are directly linked to the goals we have as a nation. In fact, this is the only way to put in place the needed conditions for promoting creativity and development, and creating an atmosphere of shared responsibility, support and trust in society, which is essential.
Every person must understand that only our proactive engagement in the country’s affairs can add new momentum to renewal. No one will do it for us, since all of us, the citizens of Russia, are the main force of change.
The more people in all walks of life, professions and authority realise the importance of the role they must play in improving how we live, the more effective and rapid will our progress be.
State and municipal authorities have a special responsibility. People have every right to expect matters that cause them concern to be resolved without delay, to have their proposals, observations and demands treated with due attention, so that such things as reputation, honour, generosity and openness become a norm of life for the officials at all levels of government.
We must give more freedom to entrepreneurs and researchers, to creative and active people who care, and to all who want to reinvent the world. For me, this is a guarantee of continuity in our strategy and efforts to promote steady development in Russia. I look forward to novel ideas and approaches, to the audacity of young people and their ability to lead the change.
I hope that young people will remain true to the values of truth and justice that guided the older generation, and that the knowledge, experience and wisdom of the preceding generations will be relevant for today’s young.
By having all people who care for their country and its future work together we will definitely deliver on our objectives and achieve breakthroughs in research and technology. Together, we can bring to fruition large-scale initiatives to upgrade and improve cities and villages and develop regions across Russia. We will be proactive in conducting a modern social policy that caters to the needs of every individual and every Russian household, improves the quality of education and healthcare. We will pay special attention to supporting the traditional family values, motherhood and childhood, so that more and more wanted and healthy babies are born in Russia who go on to become smart and talented people. It will be they, our children, who will take up our efforts to develop the country, and achieve even greater success than their parents, while respecting the history of our Fatherland.

Vladimir Putin’s inauguration ceremony.
As head of state I will do everything to build up Russia’s might, prosperity and glory, and to live up to the expectations and hopes of the country’s citizens.
We know that in the 1990s and early 2000s, apart from the far-reaching and necessary historical changes, our homeland and its people went through harsh challenges. Much, though far from all has been restored. Not all the wounds of the past have been healed yet, not all challenges have been overcome. There are new complex tasks ahead of us, and we will have to work hard to deliver on them. We have to act without delay.
That said, we remember all too well that throughout its history, which reaches back centuries, Russia faced a number of dark periods and challenges, and rose like a phoenix from the ashes every time, achieving heights that seemed unattainable to others. Those challenges served as a stepping stone for Russia, setting the stage for the next major breakthrough.
I am confident that we will achieve a breakthrough this time as well, since we are a powerful team that can deliver on any tasks, even the most daunting ones. Let the love for the Fatherland and all the best there is in people inspire each and every one of us to improve ourselves in order to succeed as individuals and for the benefit of our families, and to work hard for the benefit of our homeland.
There is no doubt that we will succeed! This is what I believe. I will do everything in my power to achieve this.
Thank you.

Friday, May 4, 2018

The Koreas

Certainly kudos go to President Trump for ending a sixty-four year old standoff, but let’s not pretend that Rocket Man played no part. When news anchors mention that a deal would bring an end to the Korean War, they are not merely talking about a formal end, they are referring to a really dangerous situation that was modified, not by the US, but by North Korea.
The US is not in the habit of recognizing any merit with respect to any other country, and this has certainly been the case with the North Korean leader.  The way things look right now, only a Trumpian-style blunder is likely to put a spanner in the denuclearization of the peninsula, so it’s time to give credit where it is due: Kim Jong Un gradually built up his nuclear and missile-delivery capacity to the point where the US had no choice but to ‘come to the table’ — ‘bearing gifts’.  
The agreement being hammered out with Kim could have happened sixty-four years ago, putting a formal end to the war, but the US preferred a divided Korea, in keeping with the then prevalent ‘domino theory’. The war was fought to a standstill in order to prevent China’s new Communist regime from spreading to its neighbor, and half a loaf was better than none.  ‘Peace’ was not permitted.
As the US looks on, the leaders of the two Koreas have met, not just to reciprocally step over the demarcation line between the two regimes, but also to enjoy a banquet with their spouses and a meeting invovling top figures from both sides.  Americans did not see this on their television,s but the rest of he world did.  (I followed the events on France 24...) Even merely seeing evidence of these meetings made clear that they did not take place thanks to a suddenly benevolent Uncle Sam.  As soon as they realized that President Trump was determined to avoid a nuclear catastrophe on American soil, North and South Korea were free to meet and implement agreements that had obviously been waiting in their drawers,  as Kim pursued his nuclear campaign. 
Only when it became clear to Washington that the ‘little dictator’ could actually nuke a US city, did the US agree to the terms of a peace treaty which, if implemented in 1953, would  have spared the North Koreans decades of privations.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

A Snake in a Net

If the Russians wanted to sow chaos in the US via the 2016 election, they succeeded beyond their wildest hopes: the president, who is theoretically the most powerful man in the world, is like a snake caught in a net, able to move about, but unable to escape the net, writhing desperately, via Twitter, as his handlers look for any way to eliminate him, whether for fornication, money-laundering, or more importantly, cozying up to Russia. As the Mueller investigation of the Trump campaign for ‘collusion’ with an ‘adversary’ appears to be wrapping up, American newscasters no longer bother to preface their accusations against Russia with any qualifying language, such as ‘So-and so claims’ or ‘Evidence appears to point to’. They simply declare as fact that ‘Russia poisoned a former KGB agent and his daughter in Great Britain’. They ‘wonder’ in feigned puzzlement what the Russian president might have thought he would gain by ordering an attack on foreign soil, but fail to report Russian assurances that had Novichok really been used, anyone touched by it would be dead.
So determined are the US and its allies to build a case for war with Russia that they appear indifferent to the possibility that this might lead to the end of human life on earth. As part of this charade, Britain’s Foreign Secretary announced that his country has no quarrel with the Russian people, claiming that ‘They are not surrounded’. But that claim, suggesting that this is a false Russian belief, was strictly for domestic consumption. Russians know that their western borders, from the Baltic to the Black Sea, are lined with NATO troops, tanks and missiles, while many Brits — like many Americans — do not.
The fact that Prime Minister Theresa May mounted a vigorous campaign among NATO countries to ensure that they would join her in expelling Russian officials in retaliation for the Skripal poisoning, does not mean that the British public is aware of NATO’s actions on the ground. Europeans, however, are aware that their troops have moved (or rather been moved) steadily eastward, since the dissolution of the Communist military alliance, the Warsaw Pact, in the early nineties. That awareness is attested by the small number of Russians each of them expelled, for a total of about a hundred. (There are 28 countries in the European Union, eight of which — Portugal, Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Malta, Slovakia, Slovenia and Luxembourg — failed to expel any.)
For France, Germany and the others to expel a handful of diplomats each, is, after all, a small price to pay for the continuing ‘protection’ of NATO against a neighbor with whom all do business. During Angela Merkel’s three hour trip to Washington to talk business she artfully assured a journalist that when she declared several months ago that Europe had to start taking matters into their own hands as Europeans she meant that it had to beef up its contributions to NATO and not expect the US to foot the costs of their protection. This, on the heels of Macron’s insistence that Trump not trash the crucial treaty with Iran, and pundits warned that doing so would demonstrate to Kim the futility of entering into agreements with the US.
 Suddenly, these nuances seemed irrelevant, as the presidents of the two Koreas embraced on the demarcation line and proceeded to enjoy a formal dinner with their spouses, as if there had not been 70 years of strife between them, aided and abetted by the US. Newscasters emphasized the uncertainty of the ultimate outcome of the rapprochement, attributing what was obviously a heartfelt North-South reunion to President Trump’s sanctions, and almost betting that Kim would renege on his promise to denuclearize. However, it apparently did not occur to them that it was Little Rocket Man who had pursued the superior strategy, forcing the US to ‘come to the table’ by demonstrating that he could hit any American city.  
Giving credit where it is due, even a snake in a net recognizes that.