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Tag: Russia

We need new words to describe the Putin dictatorship

Sunday, 18 March, 2018 0 Comments

Today in Russia, millions of people will go to polling stations and cast their votes in the presidential election. The candidates will be shown on TV placing their ballots into boxes and smiling at the cameras. Later Vladimir Putin, who is certain to get 64 percent 73.9 percent of the vote, will thank the electorate for returning him to the presidency for another six years and world leaders will congratulate him on his victory. All of this will be reported in detail by the Russian media.

Many of the words used in that paragraph are taken from the vocabulary of democracy: polling stations, votes, election, ballots, presidency, media. Yet, in this case, they have been hijacked by a sham process designed to support a dictator, who intends to rule Russia for as long as he wants.

Garry Kasparov, chairman of the Human Rights Foundation and the author of Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped, examines the language of the farce taking place today in Russia in a Weekly Standard article titled The Truth About Putin. Snippet:

“Russia’s election spectacle on March 18 isn’t only a domestic distraction. It provides Putin’s defenders in the free world with rhetorical ammunition, as do the approval polls and fake controversies over the fake opposition candidates. There is no form of democratic process or opposition in Putin’s Russia. Pretending otherwise makes you complicit in his propaganda. Stop calling them elections. Stop calling Putin a president. Stop calling to congratulate him on his victories. Let us begin the fight against Putin’s lies with the fundamental truth about what he really is.”

Putin


Russian mercenaries fighting and dying in Syria

Tuesday, 27 February, 2018 0 Comments

If you live near Yekaterinburg in Russia and want to fight with pro-Assad forces in Syria, the go-to guy is a paramilitary boss who advises Russians looking to work for the Wagner Group, a Kremlin-linked military contractor. “Each week I receive five or six new requests,” he told FRANCE 24. He said that interest has only increased since the Russian foreign ministry reported that five Russians died in a US bombing raid on pro-regime troops attacking opposition forces in Deir Ezzor province on 7 February.

“Now, it’s more about getting revenge than it is about money,” he said, but he warned that revenge-seekers don’t know the full story. He says it wasn’t just five Russians killed in the American raid — it was 218. US officials have said about 100 pro-regime fighters were killed, without specifying whether they were Syrian army, Russian mercenaries or other forces.


The Fogh of war and peace

Saturday, 17 February, 2018 0 Comments

The annual Munich Security Conference is one of those events where you’ll hear interesting words being used. Take “revanchist”, for example. It’s defined as “seeking revenge or otherwise advocating retaliation against a nation that has previously defeated and humiliated the other side in war.” The word comes from the French revanche (“revenge”) and it originally referred to French indignation over losing Alsace-Lorraine to Germany in the Franco-Prussian War.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, former Prime Minister of Denmark and Secretary General of NATO from 2009 to 2014, regularly uses “revanchist” when referring to Russia and China and his candour is most refreshing.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen


Kersti Kaljulaid and Sophia talk weaponized AI

Friday, 16 February, 2018 0 Comments

The organizers of this year’s Munich Security Conference decided they’d try something novel for the pre-event titled “The Force Awakens: Artificial Intelligence & Modern Conflict”, so they put Sophia centre stage and had her do the introductions. Hanson Robotics, Sophia’s creator, describe her as their “most advanced robot” and for many last night this was their first opportunity to see a chatty bot in action.

The verdict? Unimpressive. The quality of Sophia’s audio output was sub-standard, but much worse was her language. The Munich Security Conference is an annual gathering of a global elite that’s comfortable with the global lingua franca but those in charge of Sophia’s speech rhythms ignored that fact that speed does not always equal progress. Her pace of delivery was way too fast for even most native speakers present. Earlier this week in the Financial Times, Michael Skapinker posited that “Europe speaks its own post-Brexit English” and he claimed that this so-called “Eurish” is a mix of “romance and Germanic influences — and no tricky metaphors”, but Sophia, clearly, does not read the FT and neither do those in charge of her interaction with the real world. Skapinker’s “Eurish” is mostly imaginary but chatbot programmers would do well to slow the pace of delivery, simplify the vocabulary and go easy with the metaphors.

That aside, the real star of the show was Kersti Kaljulaid, President of Estonia. Her English was perfectly attuned to the wavelength of the audience and her knowledge of both artificial intelligence and modern conflict was extraordinary. Then again, she would be familiar with both topics as Estonia is a leader in digital transformation and the 2007 Russian cyber-attack on Estonia was a sign of the dangerous new world we now share with the ruthless regimes in Moscow, Beijing and Teheran. Kersti Kaljulaid is on the front line and we are lucky that she understands the grave nature of the threats posed by AI in the hands of those who wish to destroy the civilization and the society she represents so eloquently and so knowledgeably.

Sophia


Autocrats have a very high friend in Brussels

Wednesday, 10 January, 2018 0 Comments

“If @FedericaMog didn’t exist, the world’s autocrats would be trying to invent her.” So tweeted @EliLake yesterday. Background:

“As the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs, she is a tireless advocate for engaging rogue states. Few diplomats though have pursued this kind of engagement with such moralizing puffery. In Mogherini’s world, diplomacy with dictators should not aim to transition these countries to open societies, but rather to prevent conflicts at all costs.”

That’s from Europe’s High Representative for Appeasement, in which Lake highlights the disgraceful conduct of Federica Mogherini, the EU’s High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Snippet:

“Just consider her trip last week to Cuba, a plantation masquerading as a nation-state. Did Mogherini use her visit to call attention to the struggle of human rights activists or to comfort the families of political prisoners? No, Mogherini was in Cuba to reassure a regime that Europe will not go along with America’s trade embargo.”

Shabby and all as Mogherini’s behaviour in Cuba was, her position on Iran is horrifying:

“Mogherini’s ideology is a particular tragedy in the case of Iran. The West can help aid Iran’s freedom movement by linking the regime’s treatment of its people, and particularly its political prisoners, to economic and political engagement. The U.S. has some leverage here, but Europe — because so many of its businesses want a piece of Iran’s economy — has far more.

As Suzanne Maloney, an Iran expert at the Brookings Institution, told me this week: ‘This is the European moment on Iran.’ Europe’s response to the regime’s violent suppression of protests after the stolen election of 2009 was firm. The EU should send the same message today: ‘We are not going to sustain political and economic engagement with a country engaged in the suppression of peaceful protests,’ she said.

So far Mogherini and the Europeans have delivered the opposite message. On Monday, the high representative invited Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, to Brussels next week for more discussions on the Iran nuclear deal. Alireza Nader, an Iran expert at the RAND Corporation, told me this week that Mogherini’s statement on Iran was ‘saying both sides are equal, when it’s Iranian security forces that are shooting and killing people.'”

Iran, Cuba, Russia and North Korea have a friend in very high places in Brussels. That’s bad news for everyone, apart from autocrats, of course.

Federica Mogherini


Fighting the maskirovka of the Russian Elephant

Wednesday, 22 November, 2017 0 Comments

“As the West considers how to respond to the Kremlin’s use of bots, trolls, bullshit news, dark ads and hacks as tools of foreign policy, the way we describe things will define whether we prevail.” So writes Peter Pomerantsev in Beware the Russian Elephant.

The evil we’re up against is fundamental and it was constructed during the last century as part of what is called maskirovka, a Russian doctrine that embraces military deception, ranging from camouflage to denial and deceit to propaganda. It also embraces a cast of unsavoury characters that includes Putin and Snowden, who are now the mortal enemies of the West. So how can they be opposed, overcome?

Although it does appear at times as if the Kremlin has the upper hand, Peter Pomerantsev is far from defeatist because the Kremlin finds itself in a dilemma, he says. Snippet:

“…it needs the media fireworks of a verbal conflict with the West to distract from its own failures domestically and to give it meaning, but it is also reliant on the very same West for advertising to fund its hate speech-filled television channels, for technology to extract its oil, and for banks and law courts to protect its elite’s investments. These are the spots to target. If this were a war, after all, you would never engage the enemy in the battle he desires. There are more painful measures to take against his active measures.”

This is our fight. These are our freedoms. We cannot surrender.


The Democrats have issues, as they say

Wednesday, 25 October, 2017 0 Comments

Breaking: Clinton campaign, DNC paid for research that led to Russia dossier. According to The Washington Post: “The Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee helped fund the research that resulted in a now-famous dossier containing allegations about Donald Trump’s connections to Russia and possible coordination between his campaign and the Kremlin, people familiar with the matter said.”

Meanwhile: Andrew Sullivan is worrying about what he calls “The Issue That Could Lose the Next Election for Democrats:”

“I don’t believe it’s disputable at this point that the most potent issue behind the rise of the far right in America and Europe is mass immigration. It’s a core reason that Trump is now president; it’s why the AfD is now the third-biggest party in the German, yes, German, parliament; it’s why Austria’s new chancellor won by co-opting much of the far right’s agenda on immigration; it’s why Britain is attempting (and currently failing) to leave the EU; it’s why Marine Le Pen won a record number of votes for her party in France this spring. A critical moment, in retrospect, came with Angela Merkel’s 2015 decision to import over a million Syrian refugees into the heart of Europe… This is, to be blunt, political suicide. The Democrats’ current position seems to be that the Dreamer parents who broke the law are near heroes, indistinguishable from the children they brought with them; and their rhetoric is very hard to distinguish, certainly for most swing voters, from a belief in open borders. In fact, the Democrats increasingly seem to suggest that any kind of distinction between citizens and noncitizens is somehow racist.”

The bottom line for Sullivan is this: “The most powerful thing Trump said in the campaign, I’d argue, was: ‘If you don’t have borders, you don’t have a country.’ And the Democrats had no answer, something that millions of Americans immediately saw.”


Trump endorses the Three Seas Initiative

Thursday, 6 July, 2017 0 Comments

Readers of today’s earlier post will understand the significance of the Three Seas Initiative to Poland and the other members of this new Eastern/Central European alliance. In short, it’s a project designed to prevent former Warsaw-Pact countries becoming pawns in Russia’s energy game. In his speech earlier today in Warsaw, President Trump addressed the Three Seas Initiative at the outset of his remarks:

“President Duda and I have just come from an incredibly successful meeting with leaders participating in the Three Seas Initiative. To the citizens of this great region, America is eager to expand our partnership with you. We welcome stronger trade and commerce as you grow your economies and we are committed to securing access to alternate sources of energy so Poland and its neighbors are never again held hostage to a single supplier of energy. Mister President, I congratulate you along with the president of Croatia on your leadership of this historic Three Seas Initiative.”

For Moscow, Berlin and Brussels, the Three Seas Initiative represents a serious challenge to their different plans for a Europe in which energy supply and energy dependence will be critical. Energy will be central to the 21st-century version of the Great Game and Washington is signalling that it’s going to be a player in every theatre.

Pipelines


Mr Tillerson goes to Moscow

Tuesday, 11 April, 2017 0 Comments

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visits Moscow today and will there meet his counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. What makes the trip particularly noteworthy is that it comes after the US strike on Moscow’s Middle East proxy and armaments purchaser, Syria. President Trump has sent an unmistakable message that he is holding President Putin accountable for Bashar al-Assad and red lines mean red lines from now on for the new administration in Washington.

The oleaginous Lavrov learned his trade by in the days of Hafiz al-Assad, father of the current tyrant, and one wonders if Tillerson has prepped for his meeting by reading Assad: The Struggle for the Middle East by the late Patrick Seale. First published in 1988, it has lost little of its relevance despite the passing of time. Indeed, given what’s now going on in Syria, its 552 pages remain ultra- relevant. Despite, or perhaps because of his anti-Israel prejudice, Patrick Seale was an influential commentator on events in the Arab world and he possessed a deep understanding of the Arab mind and how it works. On page 412 of Assad: The Struggle for the Middle East, Seale displays his skills as an observer and writer when describing the cunning of Hafiz al-Assad. Snippet:

Assad “Over the years, Assad had developed a negotiating technique which he frequently used with foreign guests, and [Robert] McFarlane [national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan from 1983 to 1985] was no exception. He would begin by exchanging a few pleasantries. Then he might ask, ‘How is the weather in your country?’ A Western guest would usually reply to the effect that at home it was colder than in Syria , giving Assad his opportunity. ‘Indeed’, he would say, ‘it’s warm here because the United Sates is stoking the fire!’ There were two sorts of climate in the world, he would explain, one given by God, the other by the United States, and step by step he would make his point that the tension, crises and wars in the area must all be laid at Washington’s door. An American visitor would feel compelled to defend himself, starting the meeting at a disadvantage.

Assad’s next stratagem was to be extraordinarily digressive and argumentative. If the name of God were mentioned, this might set him off on a long discourse about Islam, Judaism and Christianity before he could be brought back to the matter in hand. Negotiating sessions would last for hours. More than one envoy who suffered this treatment came to the conclusion that Asad raised all sorts of irrelevant subjects simply to tire his visitors the better to control them. At the end of a wearisome session the temptation was to accept what he had to say simply to escape.”

Like father, like son when it comes to cruelty and cynicism, but Bashar al-Assad remains unable to read the writing on the wall, despite his training in London as an ophthalmologist. Maybe Rex Tillerson can help his patrons see things more clearly.


St Patricius joins the menology

Tuesday, 14 March, 2017 0 Comments

“These saints did their service in the Western countries. St Patricius, the enlightener of Ireland who is more commonly known as St Patrick is one of them.” So spoke Dr Vladimir Legoida, head of communications for the Russian Orthodox synod, on Friday in Moscow. The occasion was the decision by the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church to enlarge its menology with the names of some 15 saints, “who bore with witness of Christian faith in the West European and Central European lands before the split of the united Christian Church in 1054” in what became known as the Great Schism.

St Patricius

Dr Legoida told Pravmir that there was evidence Patricius had been venerated by the Russian Orthodox faithful. Critically, given Russian sensitivities, a key question was the role the saints might have played in polemics between Catholics and the Orthodox. “We took account the immaculateness of devotion of each saint, the circumstances in which their worship took shape, and the absence of the saints’ names in the polemic works on struggle against the Eastern Christian Church or its rite,” Dr Legoida said.

When it came to engaging in polemics or ridding Ireland of its snakes, St Patricius decided to concentrate on removing the reptiles. And, lo, his chosen land has been blessed since. “Russians to invade Trump’s luxury Irish golf resort” crowed the Sunday Business Post at the weekend, adding that “Up to 100 wealthy Russians will visit Doonbeg, Co Clare, to celebrate St Patrick’s Day.” What a saint!


Storytelling the year 2035

Wednesday, 25 January, 2017 0 Comments

Did anyone ask the “experts” 10 or 20 years ago to predict who’d be inaugurated as US President in 2017? We know what the pollsters said on 8 November and we know how that turned out. Still, there’s an insatiable demand for a glimpse of the future, no matter how far-fetched, and there’s a tidy industry devoted to churning out the visions. Consider two new studies: the National Intelligence Council’s “Global Trends: Paradox of Progress” and the Atlantic Council’s “Global Risks 2035: The Search for the New Normal.” Both look at the year 2035.

Each of them offers a somewhat similar views of a world in which the United States is more insular, while China, Russia and Iran have become more aggressive regional powers. Technology continues to innovate but economic growth is uneven. In 2035, people are flooding from the land into megacities of 10 million or more, growing the number of such metropolises from 30 now to 41 in 2030.

For its scenarios, the Atlantic Council presents a variety of fictional situations written in part by August Cole, author of Ghost Fleet, a near-future military thriller published last year about an America-China conflict in the Pacific. Cole drew upon the Atlantic Council’s The Art of the Future Project, which uses fictional depictions of the future “to inform official perspectives on emerging international security issues.” Example: “Fingers on the Scale,” a short story by Mike Matson about an app that allows parents to boost their children’s academic achievements, and which is on the homescreen of all rulers of despotic nations. To prevent nasty countries from developing the intellectual calibre of their elites, however, the CIA steps in to limit the abilities of the despots’ offspring. Langley saves the West again!

The future is always just around the corner, which means lots of people in Washington and Brussels can now make a nice living creating infographics about what might come after the present. August Cole is saying, though, that storytelling can be just as useful as trend-line graphs for forecasting. And, if those don’t satisfy, there are the stars. In the 1980s, the Reagan White House turned to Joan Quigley for astrological advice.

Ghost Fleet