I’ve blogged previously about Russia’s flirtation with fascism, the rise in authoritarianism and nationalism, and the increased aggression in its near abroad. I don’t need to rehash the propaganda campaigns, the lies, and the efforts to destabilize eastern European nations. Seems Russia is in the news a lot ever since the 2016 election.
Lately, something else seems to be on the rise, but isn’t getting as much attention as the cyber intrusions: corruption and murder which looks very much to be linked to the Kremlin.
You remember the murder of Boris Nemtsov, don’t you? No?
Boris Nemtsov was a leading Russian opposition politician and former Deputy Prime Minister who was murdered in Moscow in February 2015. BBC reported at the time that an unidentified attacker shot Nemtsov four times in the back as he crossed a bridge in view of the Kremlin.
In a recent interview, Mr Nemtsov had said he feared Mr Putin would have him killed because of his opposition to the war in Ukraine.
Mr Nemtsov, 55, served as first deputy prime minister under President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s.
He had earned a reputation as an economic reformer while governor of one of Russia’s biggest cities, Nizhny Novgorod.
Falling out of favour with Yeltsin’s successor, Mr Putin, he became an outspoken opposition politician.
Five ethnic Chechens were tried for the murder, and Chechen
leader thug Ramzan Kadyrov quickly proclaimed the defendants not guilty and blamed the United States.
It’s only a coincidence that the accused thugs were Chechen, and it’s only a coincidence that Nemtsov was fearless in his public accusations against Putin and his ally Kadyrov of misappropriating government funds, extrajudicial killings, kidnappings and torture. And it’s only a coincidence that Kadyrov is a close ally and cousin of Duma Deputy and Adam Delimkhanov.
Nothing to see here. Move along.
A British inquiry into the death of former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko found that Putin had likely approved the polonium tea that killed the spy who fled to Britain after becoming an outspoken Putin critic.
But nothing to see there either.
Another Putin critic recently wound up in the hospital. Intrepid journalist Michael Totten posted this article on his Facebook page yesterday about Russian reform advocate Vladimir Kara-Murza who wound up in the hospital for the second time in less than two years.
Vladimir is perhaps the most authentic, articulate, informed, reasoned, effective, and persistent advocate for reform and decency in Russia. He has carried his message to audiences in Washington, and across Europe and his own country. He played a key role in the passage of the Magnitsky Act which restricts travel to the US and freezes the assets of designated Russians whose violations of human rights standards have been especially pronounced. Vladimir is also courageous beyond words. After his friend and colleague Boris Nemtsov was murdered outside the Kremlin almost exactly two years ago, Vladimir chose to return to Moscow to advocate for reform in Russia. He did so at considerable personal risk and sacrifice.
Kara-Murza worked for Open Russia, founded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was tossed into the Russian clink for daring to stand up to Putin.
Khodorkovsky was arrested on what appeared to be pretty spurious charges of tax evasion and fraud. He spent the next 10 years in prison, with new charges added on to his sentence, including the accusation that he stole 350 million tons of oil… from himself. His trials were, by all accounts, kangaroo tribunals. It took months just to read the initial charges against Khodorkovsky in a notoriously corrupt judicial system, in which his defense attorney now faces the Russian equivalent of disbarment for failure to defend her client effectively.
He was released in late 2013 and later started Open Russia to promote civil reforms in Russia, and Kara-Murza worked for the NGO and was a good friend of the late Boris Nemtsov. Open Russia – restarted by Khodorkovsky after being harassed by the Russian authorities, and its accounts frozen in 2006 – continued to experience… um… incidental problems, as Kara-Murza wrote in 2014.
Open Russia was revived eight years after being forcibly shut down by the Russian authorities. Its relaunch and the opening videoconference that linked civil society activists in ten cities across Russia—from Kaliningrad to Tomsk—were greeted with the typical official response. Almost all regional locations experienced difficulties with the Internet, which was mysteriously cut off minutes before the conference. In Moscow, conference participants were confronted by “journalists” from the notorious NTV channel, which specializes in slandering civil society and opposition activists (incidentally, the location of the event was never publicly announced). In Yaroslavl, someone sabotaged the door lock the night before the conference, leaving activists unable to enter, and the technical equipment blocked inside. In Nizhny Novgorod, members of a pro-Kremlin group headed by United Russia deputy Yevgeny Fedorov stormed the hall where conference participants were assembled.
But move along. Nothing to see here. Russia is innocent. It’s just a coincidence that those critical of the Kremlin and Putin’s policies are either dying or being imprisoned. Magnitsky, Navalny, Litvinenko, Nemtsov, Khodorkovsky, and Kara-Murza. And that’s just the top of the iceberg. If I wanted to go on, I’d mention the list of journalists and freelancers who were murdered, and who were reporting on corruption and human rights abuses, including Anna Politkovskaya, Anastasia Baburova, and Igor Domnikov.
Is it any wonder that the United States late last year passed the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act? The legislation augmented the Magnitsky Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2012, and ensures human rights abusers from anywhere in the world were denied entry into the United States and barred from using our financial institutions. It was signed into law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.
The indomitable Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) last year uncovered an army of Russian trolls attempting to influence U.S. foreign policy by using the White House’s online petition tool to demand that the Magnitsky Act be repealed.
Don’t count on it, motherfuckers.
The freedoms we so take for granted and even condemn others for exercising can have real and tragic consequences in places other than the United States. And the truth reported by journalists elsewhere, which media outlets so take for granted here in the United States, can result in violence, suppression, arrest, and murder.
Interesting aside, however. Kara-Murza in January sent a letter to Bob Corker and Ben Cardin – both on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – asking them to carefully consider the situation in Russia before voting on Rex Tillerson’s nomination.
It is also important to remember that, according to the statues [sic.] of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – of which both the United States and Russia are full members – “issues relating to human rights, fundamental freedoms, democracy, and the rule of law… are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the State concerned.”
I trust that you will take these issues into account as you consider the nomination for Secretary of State and the next steps in U.S.-Russia relations.
Here’s wishing Vladimir Kara-Murza a quick recovery and a safe escape from Moscow. Being deathly ill in a Russian hospital is no joke under the best of circumstances (see my description of my tonsil surgery when I was a kid). But when you challenge the Kremlin, survival becomes a whole different challenge.
I have an interest in this, having been deployed to Kosovo in 2007 as part of KFOR-8. It’s hard to believe that was 10 years ago! From our end, we did have a very productive relationship with our Serbian counterparts, and to this day, I believe our work together helped keep the area relatively stable.
Serbia has never recognized its former province Kosovo as a sovereign nation, and neither has Russia. The EU and the United States, among others, recognized Kosovo’s independence when the breakaway province jumped ship in 2008, and relations between the two have been strained, to say the least.
Well, they just became more strained.
Kosovo’s president Hashim Thaci has publicly accused Serbia of planning to use its pal Russia’s “Crimea model” to attach a portion of Northern Kosovo, much like the Russians annexed Crimea in 2014, prompting the United States, the EU, and Canada to impose financial sanctions as a result.
Kosovo special police units on Saturday prevented a train painted in Serbia’s national colors and bearing the words “Kosovo is Serbia” from crossing the border.
Serbia does not recognize the independence of Kosovo, its former province, and did not seek Pristina’s permission for the passage of the train, which it paid for and organized. On Sunday Serbia’s president, Tomislav Nikolic, said Kosovo’s action had shown it wanted war with Belgrade.Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci said the train was aimed at “provoking” Kosovars in order to create a pretext for Serbia to intervene militarily and annex northern areas of Kosovo, home to some 50,000 ethnic Serbs who refuse to accept the province’s independence and want to be governed again by Belgrade.
“Serbia’s intention is to use this train, which was donated by Russia, first to help carve away the northern part of Kosovo and then … attach it to Serbia. It is the Crimea model,” Thaci said in an interview.
Accusations of Russian support aside, we should look at the similarities between the two situations.
There was a significant Russian population living in Crimea, which the Russians have been using as an excuse to meddle in sovereign nations’ affairs.
There is also a significant number of Serbs living in northern Kosovo – most of them in northern Mitrovica, but overall nearly 18 percent of those living in Mitro are Serb.
But while in 2013, the Serb-majority municipality of North Mitrovica was created, dividing the city in two administrative units, both municipalities operated within the Kosovo legal framework. Not so for Crimea. Nikita Khrushchev in 1954, handed the Crimean Oblast to Ukraine in order to bolster the “unity of Russians and Ukrainians.” When the Soviet Union fell and Ukraine became a sovereign nation, Crimea remained part of Ukraine. There was nothing that officially signed Crimea over back to Russia.
Russian provocations in Eastern Europe are well documented, including the “little green men” in Ukraine and the missiles in Kaliningrad, as we as sending its nationalist biker gang the Night Wolves to prowl throughout the region, spreading their particularly foul form of nationalism, anti-gay hysteria, and fomenting violence.
Can the train painted in Serbia’s national colors with the words “Kosovo is Serbia” be considered provocation on the Serbs’ part? Well, Serbia’s leaders certainly have been vocal about claiming that Kosovo wants war after the train was stopped at the border. And if we do consider the train to be a provocation, we can also note a similarity in strategies: a provocative act, followed by claims that the Serbian population must be protected from attacks.
President Tomislav Nikolic of Serbia issued the latest warning after the passenger train, painted in the colors of the red, blue and white Serbian flag, was prevented from crossing into Kosovo, where Mr. Nikolic government contends that ethnic Serbs are under threat from Kosovo Albanians.
I also note with some interest the similarities in the use of near proxies during the Cold War. The West has acknowledged Kosovo’s sovereignty and is ostensibly on Kosovo’s “side,” as it were. Meanwhile, Russia is squarely in Serbia’s corner on this one, and has not recognized Kosovo’s sovereignty. It doesn’t help tensions that former Kosovo PM Ramush Haradinaj was arrested in France on a Serbian arrest warrant, and Serbia is demanding his extradition to face war crimes charges. Meanwhile, a French court last Thursday ordered Haradinaj’s release pending a decision on whether to extradite him to Serbia. He will stay in France under judicial supervision while the court ponders its decision, and Serbia is threatening not to cooperate on future extradition requests, including terrorism cases (that one has to have hit France in the balls, considering how focused they are on CT matters in the aftermath of terrorist attacks in the past two years).
Most of this is me mulling this out in my own mind. There are definite differences between Russia’s obvious violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, including its “referendum,” in which we have seen pre-completed ballots in favor of Russia shipped in. We also haven’t seen the infiltration of Serbian troops into Northern Mitro or any part of Kosovo, and the claims that Russia somehow funded the offending train are at this point nothing more than Thaci’s speculation.
Serbia hasn’t recognized Kosovo’s independence, so to them, it’s a renegade province that is still part of Serbia.
There is also some truth that Serbian populations in Kosovo are threatened by Kosovo Albanians.There are reported allegations of attacks against Serbs inside Kosovo, a bus with Serbian athletes was stoned on its way to a football match in Tirana last year, and one of Serbia’s most treasured Orthodox sites and one of the world’s most beautiful Heritage Sites came under grenade attack in 2007. There’s a reason why Italian peacekeepers keep a watchful eye on the site. Are these attacks sufficient justification for meddling in the affairs of a sovereign nation – a nation whose independence Serbia has yet to recognize? I suppose that depends on where your sympathies lie.
If you’re Serbia, and are reluctant to release what you consider to be the historical, cultural, and religious heart of your country, and refuse to recognize that said heart has decided to become an independent nation, then you will use any justification possible as grounds for intervention in Kosovo affairs.
If you’re Albanian, and you remember not so distant history that resulted in a 1999 NATO military intervention, are concerned about Serbia’s and Russia’s (a permanent member of the UN Security Council) refusal to accept Kosovo as a country, and are worried that the much stronger Serbian Armed Forces will invade your country, even if there are attacks against Serbs, you’re unlikely to have a whole lot of sympathy for the victims.
There’s certainly a case to be made about the similarities in strategy that could possibly result in the annexation of Northern Mitro, but to call it a “Crimea model?”
I think that’s a step too far.
My essay on Russian propaganda was published over at Sarah’s the other day, and I’ve been busy running around and failed to link to it. In it I discuss why Russian propaganda is so effective – especially in the west. There are some people who actually believe that the Soviet system was effective and fair, that there were no bread lines, and if there were, it’s because those greedy Russians insisted on fresh bread every day!
Here’s an excerpt.
The Russians don’t make a whole lot of mistakes in the agitprop and brainwashing arena. They indoctrinated generations of young people into worshipping suffering, and compared to their subtle campaigns abroad, the efforts against their own populace were positively hamhanded!
Today’s propaganda efforts are subtle and gradual. From drafting new history books that whitewashed tyranny – both past and present – to positive Russian messages through media outlets such as RT and Sputnik, to the nearly inconspicuous and dignified repatriation of the body of Russian nationalist philosopher Ivan Ilyin, the Russians continue to excel at indoctrination and propaganda. Is it any wonder they are spending billions to purchase media outlets in neighboring countries to spread their message?
Note how eagerly American Marxists fall for Russia’s victim routine.
No, Russians say, they never invaded Crimea! Crimea wanted to separate from Ukraine! There were no little green men, and they certainly weren’t Russian! That’s just a Western ploy to discredit Russia and keep Russia down, because the United States can’t stand to see a successful, sovereign Russia. Oh, and by the way, the US was responsible for manipulating oil prices to ensure that the ensuing sanctions to punish Russia for its actions in Crimea would hurt more!
No, Russia says, life was so much better in the past! There was law and order. There was nationalism. There was love of country and patriotism. All lived for everyone else. We need to turn inwards, says Russia. Do you see how much the West hates us? They impose economic sanctions. They lie about is. They want to cause us economic ruin and steal our resources. Time to look inward and turn away from the evil West.
I think the Russian propaganda efforts provide just the confirmation bias American leftists need to support their lunacy. They’ve never lived it. They don’t understand it. And when Russia says it’s not possible that people stood in bread lines, used wadded up newspaper to wipe their asses, and were, at best, denied employment, and at worst, arrested and sent to the gulag for WrongThink (read: criticizing the mighty state), they want desperately to believe it!
There can’t be suffering and privations when everyone gets the same, right? It’s ultimate equality!
The United States is just evil and is victimizing those poor Russians!
The Soviets took away money and power from those evil capitalists, those evil “rich” until there was no “rich” left and everyone suffered equally (except for those with connections, of course, but we don’t talk about that!).
Literally, every bias the American Marxists have is confirmed by Russian propaganda.
Anyway, so I blogged there. The discussion is quite lively, so enjoy!
Bottom line: Russian President Vladimir Putin has created a “National Guard” (Нацгвардия), but it’s not like the National Guard we’re accustomed to. While Putin claims this armed force, which incorporates some of the Interior Ministry troops, is created specifically to address terrorism, transnational organized crime, and arms trafficking in the country, it as a way to continue consolidating power in the presidency. It is a ministry-level organization that falls directly under the control of the President.
“If you have noticed, this decision is not simply related to detaching the interior troops from the Interior Ministry. But this has been done so that this new structure will now concentrate all that is connected with firearms. This refers to various kinds of security provision and the authorization system [to get the right to possess firearms], ensure oversight of private security firms and this also refers to interior troops proper,” Putin said.
Yes, I know the translation sucks, but think about this for a moment. The Russian president, who already has been well on the path to grabbing power, censorship, stringent nationalism, and violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of his country’s neighbors, is now creating himself a little army that’s focusing not just on terrorism and TOC, but also firearms trade. By the way, the Russian Federation in November 2014 eased firearms restrictions to allow its citizens to carry firearms for self defense, but now Putin is controlling some pretty powerful military troops who focus internally.
Call me crazy and untrusting, but I wouldn’t want any government – especially not an authoritarian crap weasel like Putin – having control of his own little army that can be used against the citizenry, and given Russia’s pivot toward statism in the past few years, this Нацгвардия is more than concerning.
We view the right to keep and bear arms as a bulwark against tyranny. The fact that Putin has now created an armed entity, controlled solely by him, to focus on “all that is connected with firearms” should tell you everything you need to know about where that nation is headed internally. And that, my friends, coupled with the recent aggression of Russian fighter jets first buzzing the USS Donald Cook, and then flying dangerously close to one of our recon craft, is indicative of the kind of threats with which the next President will be dealing.
Everything old is new again.
So…. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is planning to fellate the Islamic militants instead? Just curious.
The Liberal government says Canada is not at war with Islamic militants — a view not shared by ally France.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion are rejecting the “at war” label just one day after the bombings in Brussels that killed more than 30 people and injured 270.
After the attacks, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Europe was “at war.”
They’re not “at war,” Trudeau says, because it doesn’t fit the definition of war as he understands it.
I’m not sure what his “understanding” of “war” is, but I would say if their guys are launching attacks on our countries and killing our people, that’s kind of… uh… war.
The dictionary says that the definition of “war” is “armed conflict.” So I’m thinking using explosives against innocent people like they did in the Brussels attack a few days ago, and staging shooting attacks, as they did in Paris and San Bernardino, counts as “armed conflict.”
But Trudeau appears to be one of these coddled fuckwits, whose strategy against murderous jihadist slime is to stick his tongue as far up their asses as humanly possible and pray that they don’t turn around and recognize he’s there.
“Death to the West!”
“But we’re not at war with you! No really! Look how squeaky clean I’ve made your anus!”
“Death to you western, imperialist swine!”
“But wait! No! We are good with you murdering innocents elsewhere! It’s OK! Look, we’re far away from Europe, see? We’re not involved.”
“Get your tongue out of my arse. It’s starting to irritate my delicate starfish. Oh, yeah, and DIE!”
“Oh, but we’re not…. AAAAAAAAAAAH!”
You’re welcome for the visual. Tip your waiters.