Russia’s Very Different Reality

Special Report: The demonization of Russian President Putin and Russia, in general, has reached alarming levels in the West with a new “group think” taking hold that ignores Russian realities and interests, writes Natylie Baldwin.

By Natylie Baldwin

In February, the Obama administration announced that it was quadrupling funding for a major increase in NATO troops and weaponry in the countries of Eastern Europe on the border with Russia. Diplomatic relations have faltered between the two countries over Syria.

And the corporate media in the U.S. and U.K. have again stepped up their demonization of all things Vladimir Putin – he’s corrupt, he personally orders hits on people, is facilitating war crimes in Aleppo, and wants to invade Europe. The media also pushes the idea that Russia is an uncivilized and backwards cesspit.

Russian President Vladimir Putin laying a wreath at Russia's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on May 8, 2014, as part of the observance of the World War II Victory over Germany.

Russian President Vladimir Putin laying a wreath at Russia’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on May 8, 2014, as part of the observance of the World War II Victory over Germany.

Considering that Russia is a nuclear superpower, the largest country geographically in the world, and is the sixth largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity (and projected to be number six in 2021 in terms of GDP), the U.S. relationship with Russia is one of the most important and delicate.

In order to have any chance of conducting this relationship in a rational manner, an accurate and nuanced understanding of the country itself and the history of post-Soviet U.S.-Russia relations is essential. This requires cutting through the misinformation and distortion that saturates much of our mainstream news and political discourse.

It’s important to keep in mind that Russia has a 1,000-year history of authoritarian rule and only started its climb out in the late 1980s. It is a transitional society, with elements of both authoritarianism and democracy. Putin, along with Dmitri Medvedev and Mikhail Gorbachev, is the least authoritarian leader that Russia has ever had.

Considering that the U.S. has supposedly been an established democracy for over 200 years, we Americans should consider a few significant problems we still have in order to gain some perspective. Only 55 years ago, African-Americans could not vote and could even be murdered with impunity in many parts of the country.

Today, we have an epidemic of militarized police officers who are shooting first and asking questions later; more and more people on death row are turning out to be innocent; rising inequality threatens our stability; and, a system of deep corruption in terms of campaign financing has compromised our democracy – corruption that is so profound that two political science academics have recently quantified the ways in which we are now officially an oligarchy.

Is this any better than Russia’s corruption because it has been folded into our legal system? We certainly have our own “oligarchs” in the form of the Koch brothers, Bill Gates, and the Walton family. Perhaps we can concede that it’s not very useful to beat on Russia for not being Switzerland after only 25 years.

Russian Sentiment

A recent poll by the independent Levada Center revealed that 66 percent of Russians feel free and 68 percent don’t believe it is likely that Russia will revert back to dictatorship. To understand why Russians may see themselves as fairly free, it is important to understand not only their history of authoritarian rule but also some facts and observations about Russia that run counter to the narrative often presented in our mainstream corporate media, which is owned by those same oligarchs that have captured our political system.

St. Basil's Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow (Photo by Natylie S. Baldwin)

St. Basil’s Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow
(Photo by Natylie S. Baldwin)

When I visited Russia last autumn, one of the first things I observed was that the police in both Moscow and St. Petersburg did not carry guns, only batons. I asked some Russians about this and was told that if an officer had a special assignment, he/she might carry a gun but that generally they did not. This is not consistent with the characterization that most Americans have about Russia being a police state or autocracy.

Speaking of guns, Russian citizens have to abide by much stricter gun control laws than in the U.S. These include the requirement for gun owners to obtain a five-year renewable license. Before the first license is issued, attendance in a firearms safety class and the passing of a federal safety exam is required as well as a background check.

One example of how the Russian gun control laws have helped to prevent the deadly types of mass shootings seen in the U.S. is the hate crime against patrons of a gay club in Yekaterinburg that occurred shortly after the Orlando massacre. Due to the fact that Russians don’t easily have access to (illegal) assault weapons, no deaths occurred as a consequence of the violence perpetrated against the patrons by a group of Russian hoodlums who only had small, pneumatic weapons.

Russia has also had a moratorium on the death penalty since 1999 and its high court has upheld it, while Putin has publicly supported it, even in the face of popular sentiment for bringing back executions for certain crimes. Russia’s murder rate is still higher than the U.S., but it is important to understand that there is a pattern of major improvement since the Wild West days of the 1990s when journalists who covered Russia, like Angus Roxburgh, acknowledged that people being gunned down in the streets of Moscow was reminiscent of an episode of The Untouchables and was a fairly regular occurrence.

In my visit last year, another woman and I traveled together and encountered no problems or threats, even when we walked from the Metro station to our hotel after dark in Moscow. I felt no less safe than I feel walking around after dark near where I work in San Francisco.

Although the visa application to travel to Russia is more stringent than for other European countries, I traveled freely when I was there, took photos wherever I wanted, and went through a similar airport security procedure as in the U.S. The vast majority of people I encountered in Russia were friendly, curious or neutral.

Recession and Resilience

While Russia has suffered from a recession since 2014 and has seen economic gains for its population suspended since the combination of low oil prices and sanctions, there was plenty of food in the markets and people said that the main hardship was inflation, though that has been coming down and is now at an annualized rate of 6.9 percent. The import substitution policies have shown success in the agricultural sector and are just starting to show promise in the industrial sector.

GUM Shopping Complex, Red Square, Moscow (Photo by Natylie S. Baldwin)

GUM Shopping Complex, Red Square, Moscow
(Photo by Natylie S. Baldwin)

The sense I got from the Russians whom I spoke with was that they’d weather this storm and come out stronger and wiser for it – as they’d had to do in far worse conditions in their history. In spite of the recession, people generally looked healthy, were dressed in Western attire, and young people had their smartphones. In many ways, these people looked indistinguishable from those you’d see in any American city or suburb.

Prior to this economic downturn, Russia had enjoyed consistent increases in quality of life after “the lost weekend” of massive poverty, crime and exploding mortality rates that the Russian people had suffered during the Yeltsin years – giving Boris Yeltsin the distinction of being the least popular leader among Russians of the last 100 years.

As Victor Kramarenko, an engineer and foreign trade relations specialist during the Soviet period and, more recently, a years-long executive with a major American corporation in Moscow, summed up the Yeltsin era: “The Russian economy was devastated. We went from being an industrial power that defeated the Nazis, showed resilience, rebuilt quickly, and had great achievements in aviation and space to a place where morale collapsed and a lack of trust and a pirate mentality emerged.”

Why Is Putin Popular?

The devastation of the Yeltsin era was the state of the nation when Vladimir Putin took the helm in 2000. Having to navigate among ruthless oligarchic clans that Yeltsin had left behind, with no political party to support him and a very real possibility of overthrow or assassination if he wasn’t careful, Putin began to surround himself with people he’d trusted throughout his career. This included, among others, some people from the security services.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

As for the epithet that “once a KGB man, always a KGB man,” Putin was actually not some James Bond-style assassin during his time with the spy agency. He served as a mid-level analyst in Dresden for the bulk of his career. Upon his return to Moscow from East Germany in 1990, he turned down a promotion to the agency’s foreign intelligence operations division, opting to re-settle his family in St. Petersburg instead. His increasing dissatisfaction eventually led him to resign from the KGB.

Putin then went to work as a foreign affairs adviser to Anatoly Sobchack in May of 1990. Sobchak, a professor of economic law at Leningrad State University, had emerged in the Gorbachev era as a popular democratic reformer and major critic of the KGB’s abuses. He had just been elected Chairman of the Leningrad City Council.

The following year Sobchak became mayor and appointed Putin as his deputy. According to Allen C. Lynch in his scholarly 2011 political biography, Vladimir Putin and Russian Statecraft, in this position, Putin coordinated relations with the military, police, district attorney, customs officials and NGO’s and handled diplomatic matters.

In the six years he served in this capacity, Putin had many impressive achievements, including attracting several Western corporations to the city, signing thousands of joint ventures with foreign companies, establishing a substantial foreign banking presence, legalizing the sale of land, allowing for free privatization of residential property, opening an international trade center, and strengthening municipal banks – which contributed to their remaining solvent in the face of the 1998 financial meltdown.

During the 1991 attempted coup against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, Putin found out that the Leningrad KGB, which supported the coup, planned to arrest Sobchak when he returned to the airport from out of town. Putin quickly gathered a group of trusted men and rode straight up to the plane to protect his boss, a challenge the local KGB chose not to press.

The Corruption Claims

Despite Western assertions of Putin’s corruption, with questionable evidence to support these charges, there is evidence pointing in a very different direction about Putin’s honesty. Sharon Tennison – author, program developer and my travel companion in the country – personally interacted with Putin when he reviewed a program proposal for her at Marienskii City Hall in 1992. Although, it was impossible to know who he would go on to become, Putin made an impression on her at the time as the only Soviet/Russian official in her experience who had not asked for a bribe or favor.

Russian President Vladimir Putin answering questions from Russian citizens at his annual Q&A event on April 14, 2016. (Russian government photo)

Russian President Vladimir Putin answering questions from Russian citizens at his annual Q&A event on April 14, 2016. (Russian government photo)

Tennison also developed extensive contacts with young entrepreneurs throughout the country, including in the St. Petersburg area. Several of these entrepreneurs stated that Putin was the only local bureaucrat who had never charged a bribe for registering their businesses.

This general picture of Putin’s honesty is buttressed by biographer Lynch as he addresses Putin’s time as deputy mayor of St. Petersburg, stating:

“For much of this time, given Sobchak’s frequent and protracted absences and his preoccupation with national affairs, Putin assumed the functions of acting mayor. He supervised the drafting and implementation of countless international business deals and policy reforms. These transactions did not always go according to plan, and no doubt many profited handsomely from Putin’s admitted inexperience in these matters.

“During his attempt to establish municipal oversight over a series of casinos, for example, the city was cheated. In another case, the city was fleeced for $120 million for two shipments of cooking oil. Although during this period his mother bought a choice apartment at an exceptionally low price at a city auction, Putin didn’t seem to enrich himself personally. In the one specific public charge of corruption that was brought against him, Putin sued in court for slander and won.”

Lynch sums up Putin’s character as follows: “Putin was not corrupt, at least in the conventional, venal sense. His modest and frankly unfashionable attire bespoke a seeming indifference to personal luxury.…Putin was honest, certainly by Russian standards. He lived simply and worked diligently.” (Lynch, pp. 32-33)

Richard Sakwa, a British scholar specializing in Russia, has written perhaps the most comprehensive political biography of Putin, covering all three of his presidential terms and how the Russian political system has evolved under his watch, both the positive and the negative. Sakwa interviewed numerous people who have worked with Putin throughout his career, including many who vouched for his honesty and relative sense of decency when handling political reassignments and other delicate internal matters.

Under Putin’s leadership as either president or prime minister from 2000 to 2012, Russian citizens saw incomes increase five-fold, the poverty rate cut in half, consistent economic growth, and a safer country. Moreover, Russians enjoy universal health care, one of the highest rates of education in the world (54 percent of Russians have a college degree), and 140 days of paid maternity leave for women. And despite the misinformation regularly put out by Washington, including by President Barack Obama himself, Russia’s average life expectancy is now 71 and has been increasing consistently for several years, rebounding from a stunning decline during the Yeltsin years.

Gradual Improvement

Tennison, who lives part-time in St. Petersburg, has been traveling throughout Russia since 1983, when it was still part of the Soviet Union, and has established a wide network of relationships and connections over three decades. He made the following observations in 2014 on the changes she has seen in Russia since 2000:

Church on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg (Photo by Natylie S. Baldwin)

Church on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg
(Photo by Natylie S. Baldwin)

“During this time, I’ve traveled throughout Russia several times every year, and have watched the country slowly change under Putin’s watch. Taxes were lowered, inflation lessened, and laws slowly put into place. Schools and hospitals began improving. Small businesses were growing, agriculture was showing improvement, and stores were becoming stocked with food.

“Highways were being laid across the country, new rails and modern trains appeared even in far out places, and the banking industry was becoming dependable. Russia was beginning to look like a decent country — certainly not where Russians hoped it to be long term, but improving incrementally for the first time in their memories.”

She goes on to describe similar developments further out from the major cities, including in the Urals, Yekaterinburg, Chelyabinsk and Perm. New museums, municipal buildings and supermarkets, well-maintained streets, modern street lights and regular snow plowing in the winter were all observed.

During this period, Russia also became a creditor nation with relatively low foreign debt, substantial foreign and gold reserves, and a rainy day fund built up during the prosperous years. These are some of the reasons why Putin has consistently had approval ratings between 60 percent and his high of 89 percent in late 2015.

The vast majority of Russians credit Putin with taking a nation that was on the verge of being a failed state, turning it around and creating concrete improvements in their lives. In my many conversations, Russians described him as a leader possessing patience, organization and determination. Overall, they believe his good qualities outweigh his flaws.

Russians also expressed support for his handling of foreign affairs. More specifically, they see him as standing up to numerous provocations from the U.S. and its NATO club.

Russian Interests

Putin is first and foremost a Russian patriot and pragmatist whose priorities, in addition to raising Russians’ living standards, are the security and stability of the country.

Russia has a long history of invasions from all directions due to its lack of natural barriers like oceans and mountain ranges. In the Twentieth Century, it was invaded twice within a 25-year period by Germany. Some 27 million Soviet citizens, including 19 million civilians, perished in fighting off the Nazi Wehrmacht, leaving one-third of their country destroyed. By comparison, the U.S. lost approximately 405,000 and suffered no fighting or damage on its homeland. With this background, Soviet leader Gorbachev was understandably hesitant to allow a reunified Germany into NATO at the close of the Cold War.

By the time of the Malta meeting between Gorbachev and George H.W. Bush in December of 1989, the Berlin Wall had fallen and Washington had promised it would not “take advantage” of Gorbachev’s decision to eschew using force to maintain control of Central/Eastern Europe. Two months later, Bush’s Secretary of State, James Baker, negotiated a gentleman’s agreement with Gorbachev that, in exchange for allowing a reunified Germany as a NATO member, NATO would not expand “one inch to the east.”

Baker’s argument was that NATO membership would have a restraining influence on a unified Germany as opposed to a militarily independent state. According to Viktor Kuvaldin, an adviser to Gorbachev at the time, the Soviet leader did not press for the agreement in writing because he trusted Washington to abide by its promise.

Research by academic Mary Sarotte, published in the Diplomatic History Journal in 2010, which included interviews with participants and review of notes and other documentation from the meetings, indicates that American politicians’ subsequent denials that such an agreement was made are disingenuous. A November 2009 investigation by the German news magazine Der Spiegel came to the same conclusion.

After the Cold War, France and Germany believed that the best way to bring Russia into the Western fold and encourage its evolution as a democracy was through cooperation and gradual integration. But the U.S., which saw an intense lobbying campaign by the military-industrial complex and political pandering to certain constituencies, soon began pushing for NATO expansion as well as imposing neoliberal economic reforms, i.e., privatization of the economy and shrinking of the social safety net. Both policies were carried out under the pretext of spreading democracy and both have elicited strong resentment in Russia.

Overtures to the West

During Putin’s first two terms as president, he made overtures to the U.S. and NATO in the hopes of some reciprocity and acknowledgment of Russia’s interests. For example, after the 9/11 attacks, Putin was the first world leader to call President George W. Bush to offer his condolences and support. His reasoning was two-fold: one, he saw the U.S. and Russia as having a mutual interest in fighting Islamist terrorism; second, he knew that he had a tall order in successfully addressing the many profound problems facing Russia at the time.

The World Trade Center's Twin Towers burning on 9/11. (Photo credit: National Park Service)

The World Trade Center’s Twin Towers burning on 9/11. (Photo credit: National Park Service)

He would need to put as much time, energy and resources as he could muster into the project of rehabilitating his country, which meant not wasting them on unnecessary conflict with the world’s lone superpower. Going against the advice of most of his security team, he provided logistical and intelligence support as well as access to military bases on behalf of the U.S. operation in Afghanistan.

In return for this assistance, Putin received the equivalent of a swift kick in the shins from the neoconservative Bush administration in the form of a unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty to pursue a “missile defense shield” in 2002 and the accession of seven more nations of Eastern Europe into NATO in 2004. (Three others — Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic — had joined in 1999)

Seemingly undeterred, in 2008, Putin ordered the Russian Foreign Ministry to draft a proposal that Dmitry Medvedev took to Brussels, outlining a security plan that would cover all of the Euro-Atlantic community and Russia, obviating the need for NATO’s continued existence, much less its expansion.

The preamble stated that: “the use of force or the threat of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other way inconsistent with the goals and principles of the Charter of the United Nations is inadmissible in their mutual relations, as well as international relations in general.”

It also reiterated the intent to cooperatively address any security concerns that may arise among members. The body of the document contains mechanisms for how concerns or breaches of security could be handled. This proposal was sent to the leaders of relevant nations as well as the heads of European Union, NATO and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, emphasizing that Russia was open to suggestions and negotiation on the plan.

Putin and Medvedev heard crickets in response to their proposal.

Ratcheting Up Tensions

Not long afterward, Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili, egged on by elements in Washington, staged a military incursion into South Ossetia, killing Russian peacekeepers and prompting a strong military response by Russia. The 2009 E.U. fact-finding report on the war between Georgia and Russia does not support the insistence by Washington and the corporate media that Russia started the war.

Mikheil Saakashvili, President of Georgia and U.S. President George Bush at a NATO meeting. (Photo credit: NATO)

Mikheil Saakashvili, President of Georgia and U.S. President George Bush at a NATO meeting. (Photo credit: NATO)

Five years later, Ukraine, a country where the southeastern area had historically been part of the Russian Empire and the central and western areas part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, became the flashpoint. The E.U., led by Germany, recklessly tried to pressure Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich to sign an Association Agreement that contained terms that would be unwise for the leader of an already poor and divided nation on Russia’s border to agree to. These included requirements that would result in major economic losses and a security clause that implied integration with NATO.

Again, elements from Washington engaged in provocations. A leaked phone call between Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland (a neoconservative from the Bush years whose rise at the State Department was facilitated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) and U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt revealed them discussing who would take over Ukraine’s leadership several weeks before Yanukovich was illegally overthrown in a violent putsch on Feb. 22, 2014. Footage of Nuland handing out pastries to the protesters also surfaced.

Contrary to repeated claims by the West that the violence on the Maidan, especially sniper fire that killed both police and protesters on Feb. 20, 2014, was the result of Yanukovich’s forces or even Russian provocateurs, several credible sources indicate that neo-fascist forces, such as Svoboda and Right Sector, had hijacked the Maidan movement and were the responsible parties.

The first source is Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet during an intercepted phone conversation dated Feb. 26, 2014 in which he reports to then-E.U. High Commissioner Catherine Ashton that his on-the-ground sources told him:

“What was quite disturbing, the same oligarch told that well, all the evidence shows that the people who were killed by snipers from both sides, among policemen and people from the streets that they were the same snipers, killing people from both sides. … So that and then she [Dr. Olga Bolgomets] also showed me some photos, she said that as medical doctor, she can, you know, say that it’s the same handwriting, the same type of bullets, and it’s really disturbing that now the new coalition they don’t want to investigate what exactly happened, so that now there is stronger and stronger understanding that behind the snipers, it was not Yanukovich, but it was somebody from the new coalition.”

This assessment was later supported by an April 2014 investigation by Germany’s ARD TV. An even more in-depth forensic investigation undertaken by Dr. Ivan Katchanovksi, a Canadian academic whose family originally hails from western Ukraine, also concluded that neo-fascist elements of the Maidan movement were culpable.

These extremists had refused to abide by a Feb. 21, 2014 agreement hammered out by Poland, France, Germany and the Yanukovich government in which the latter had agreed to reduced powers and early elections. Interestingly, these European countries have never publicly explained why they abandoned their role as guarantors of the agreement as the violence of Maidan escalated when the putsch occurred the following day.

Considering that none of these three sources can plausibly be accused of being Putin apologists, it casts the West’s whole narrative of “Putin aggression” in a very different light, including the subsequent referendum in Crimea in which 96 percent of the voters favored seceding from Ukraine and rejoining Russia in spring 2014.

View from Crimea

When I visited the three Crimean cities of Simferopol, Yalta and Sevastopol, I had conversations with a cross-section of people, from cab drivers and bus riders to small business owners and participants in what is variously referred to by the locals as “The Crimean Spring” and “The Third Defense of Sevastopol.” I came away with three conclusions.

Courtyard where famous photo of Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt was taken in 1945, Yalta, Crimea (Photo by Natylie S. Baldwin)

Courtyard where famous photo of Stalin, Churchill
and Roosevelt was taken in 1945, Yalta, Crimea
(Photo by Natylie S. Baldwin)

The first is that Crimeans, who are mostly ethnic Russians who speak Russian, were genuinely alarmed by the ultra-nationalist rhetoric and violence coming out of Kiev, which resulted in what they viewed as an illegal coup by extremist elements of the Maidan movement, supported by Washington.

As Tatyana, a professional tour guide in Yalta told me: “No one asked us if we wanted to go along with Maidan. There are Russians as well as people who are a mix of Russian and Ukrainian here. We are not against Ukraine as many of us have relatives there, but Maidan was not simply a spontaneous protest. We are aware of the phone call with Victoria Nuland and Geoffrey Pyatt, we saw the photos of her with Yatsenyuk, Tiagnibok [leader of Svoboda, the neo-fascist group that was condemned by the E.U. in 2012], and Klitschko on television. We saw the images of her handing out cookies to the protesters.”

These extremists had attacked ethnic Russians from Crimea who had participated in anti-Maidan protests and the attackers were reportedly on their way into the Crimean peninsula. As a result, Crimeans began to organize self-defense units to protect their communities.

Secondly, Crimeans did not necessarily think Russia would accept their requests for help. Crimea had been part of Russia from the time of Catherine the Great’s reign in the Eighteenth Century. But during the Soviet era, Premier Nikita Khrushchev gifted Crimea to Ukraine.

Since both Russia and Ukraine were part of the Soviet Union at the time, this was not a problem. However, when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Crimea remained in Ukraine as an autonomous region, while the naval base at Sevastopol was retained by Russia via a lease with the Kiev government. Between 1991 and 2013, Crimeans had voted several times to be reunited with Russia, only to have their requests ignored.

Putin, as any Russian leader would have, viewed the events of February 2014 as a threat to Russia’s naval base and only warm water port. Knowing that the Crimean population had repeatedly expressed its desire to be part of Russia, Putin decided on an operation to assist the native Crimeans in blocking both marauding ultra-nationalists and representatives of the coup government from interfering in activities that would facilitate Crimea’s quick reintegration into Russia.

Support for Reunification

Crimeans told me that they knew the so-called “little green men” were Russian soldiers legally stationed at the naval base who had donned unmarked uniforms. They also told me that they viewed them as protectors who allowed them to peacefully conduct their referendum, not as invaders. Suggestions that these Russian soldiers had pressured them to vote at gunpoint were dismissed as ridiculous.

Dock at Naval Base in Sevastopol, Crimea (Photo by Natylie S. Baldwin)

Dock at Naval Base in Sevastopol, Crimea
(Photo by Natylie S. Baldwin)

Third, Crimeans were very happy to be part of Russia. Though they acknowledged that there was still a lot of work to be done, they viewed the future with hope. These sentiments have been borne out in several Western opinion polls (Gallup, Pew, GfK, and Levada-Open Democracy) over the past two years.

When the topic of sanctions came up during a meeting with small business professionals in Simferopol, one of them stated, “We are suffering under the sanctions, but the sanctions will not make us go back to where we don’t want to be. There are still many Crimeans willing to fight if it were to become necessary.”

In a similar vein, one participant in the self-defense forces of Sevastopol, Nicolai Kachin, told me: “Sevastopol was the first city to rise up in Crimea. If residents hadn’t stood up to defend themselves, war would be raging in Crimea worse than in the Donbass.”

The Donbass is a region of southeastern Ukraine where Russian speakers had similar concerns. The West has typically characterized the Donbass rebels as puppets of Russia with no legitimate grievances or indigenous support. However, American Russia scholar Nicolai Petro, who spent a year in Ukraine and was in country when the upheaval occurred, has cited sociological surveys of Donbass residents from March, April and May of 2014 in which the results show that majorities considered the Right Sector to be dangerous and influential and the Maidan protests to be illegal and representing “an armed overthrow of the government, organized by the opposition, with the assistance of the West.”

Kiev’s subsequent decision to start an “anti-terrorist operation” against the Donbass region, instead of negotiating a resolution, has only hardened the view of Crimeans that their reunification with Russia was correct and saved them from a similar fate.

Alternative Approaches

One is left to wonder if this could have all been avoided if the West had engaged Russia in good faith on its proposal for a pan-western security architecture in 2008, instead of pushing what amounts to a very dangerous zero-sum game in Russia’s backyard. Attempts to press for the eventual inclusion of Ukraine (and Georgia) into NATO have been ongoing since at least the George W. Bush administration when Condoleezza Rice had a heated discussion with Putin about it during a meeting in 2006.

Ex-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice

Ex-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice

 

When Rice tried to assert that each country had the right to decide for itself which alliances to join, Putin explained that Ukraine had many ethnic and political divisions and that such a move could create instability in the country. Polling had reflected that the majority of Ukrainians at the time did not favor joining NATO. This, of course, was in addition to the fact that having a hostile military alliance right on its Western border was understandably perceived as a national security threat to Russia.

These points were reiterated in a conversation between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and then-Ambassador to Russia William Burns as reflected in a confidential cable to Washington from February 2008 titled “Nyet Means Nyet: Russia’s NATO Enlargement Red Lines.”

In the cable, Burns states that Russia warned that pushing Ukraine into NATO could provoke a civil war and that Russia would consequently have to decide whether to intervene or not – a decision Lavrov emphasized Russia did not want to be faced with.

At a minimum, Washington needs to recognize what America’s preeminent Russia expert, Stephen F. Cohen, has noted. That is that we need a pragmatic partnership with Russia if we are to have any hope of addressing the most pressing challenges facing humanity:  nuclear disarmament, catastrophic climate change, terrorism and global inequalities that have become destabilizing.

If one studies Putin’s speeches, along with major interviews, which are available in good English translations on the Kremlin website, one can deduce that Putin is an intelligent and rational actor who could be a partner to Washington in areas of mutual interest – as he has indeed demonstrated with respect to eliminating the Syrian government’s chemical weapons and assisting in the Iran nuclear deal.

Putin has been clear and consistent for years that he requires Russia’s interests to be taken into account, including its security. And this is as it should be. He was elected to represent and pursue Russia’s interests, not to serve Washington if he gets nothing in return. Unfortunately, Western corporate media routinely quotes Putin out of context or pretends that it is impossible to understand him because of their cartoonish characterization of him as a “thug.”

Challenges for Russia

Corruption 

Corruption has been an intractable problem for centuries in Russia since the administrative state and its attendant tribute paying and harsh bureaucracy were established by the Mongols in the Thirteen Century.

Thoroughfare for pedestrians in downtown Krasnodar (Photo by Natylie S. Baldwin)

Thoroughfare for pedestrians in downtown Krasnodar
(Photo by Natylie S. Baldwin)

Indeed, it is one of the major issues Putin has publicly admitted he has failed so far to adequately resolve. Although there has been some progress as is reflected in Russia’s rapid rise in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business scores and the Coopers Waterhouse findings for 2016 that Russia has reduced economic crime by 12 percent in the last two years, it is recognized by both Putin and the Russian public that substantially more needs to be done.

Political and Civil Rights

Russians can travel freely as long as they can afford it. Orthodox Christians, Muslims, Jews and Buddhists are generally free to worship as they please. There is little overt censorship and all the Russians I spoke to said they had access to Western media through both satellite and the Internet, although they all found it to be very distorted and inaccurate in its portrayal of their country and their leader. There is a variety of opinion represented in print media, and even on pro-government Russian TV it is not unusual for a pro-Western viewpoint to be included on political talk shows.

There is still considerable room for improvement for journalists in Russia. However, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, deaths of journalists have actually gone down in the Putin era of governance compared to the Yeltsin era. One would be hard-pressed to know that judging by the way Western politicians and media have undertaken an over-the-top vilification campaign against Putin but gushed that Yeltsin was a “democrat.”

As for the fate of Anna Politkovskaya, the idea that Putin was behind her murder has been promiscuously bandied about in the West, but no evidence has ever been presented. Moreover, her employers at Novaya Gazeta believe the Chechen leadership was behind her death, not the Russian government. Those who carried out the murder have been convicted in Russian court and are now in prison, but it is troubling that whoever ordered it remains at large.

Civil society development has had a setback with the foreign agents law. While some civil society activists whom I spoke to acknowledged that Western provocateurs were a problem, there were many authentic NGO’s that were being caught in the dragnet and the law is consequently viewed among them as a mistake that needs to be rectified. The Russian population in general is divided on this legislation. In response to some of the criticism, in May of this year, the Duma amended the law to exclude charities and cultural organizations.

There have still been some openings for modest civil society development. For example, an independent organization of citizens called the Public Council has developed since 2014 in the city of Krasnodar. It has successfully worked to get the local authorities to start taking the needs and desires of citizens into account when making decisions and enacting policies.

Among other things, they have stopped the destruction of old trees, buildings and parks as well as networked with youth groups and infrastructure specialists, including foreign experts in urban planning, public arts, transportation and city marketing. They have organized periodic cleanup and renovation days sponsored by local businesses that donate equipment, and are working to connect the city’s hiking trails and protect its 16 lakes.

Not only have they received no opposition from Russian authorities, they have begun to gain positive recognition as well as interest from other Russian cities looking to replicate their model.

Another example is a civic education program to teach democracy skills to Russians designed by an independent American named Charles Heberle. The program has been under implementation in a province near St. Petersburg and has had the quiet backing of the Putin government since the early 2000’s.

As the French and Germans wisely recognized at the end of the Cold War, it would serve the goal of encouraging Russia’s evolution toward more openness and democracy if their deep and historical fears of hostility, invasion and exploitation are not provoked. If given the time and space, without U.S. meddling, Russia will address its own internal problems and evolve into a system that will reflect its unique geography, culture and political history.

Natylie Baldwin is co-author of Ukraine: Zbig’s Grand Chessboard & How the West Was Checkmated, available from Tayen Lane Publishing. In October of 2015, she traveled to 6 cities in the Russian Federation and has written several articles based on her conversations and interviews with a cross-section of Russians.  Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in various publications including Consortium News, Russia Insider, OpEd News, The New York Journal of Books, The Common Line, Santa Fe Sun Monthly, Dissident Voice, Energy Bulletin, Newtopia Magazine, and the Lakeshore. She blogs at natyliesbaldwin.com

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78 comments for “Russia’s Very Different Reality

  1. October 24, 2016 at 11:39 am

    Interesting article, that should be in national media. Unfortunately here in the “democratic west” the question has to be asked: “Are The Corporate Media Propaganda Pushers For The War Criminals?”

    “There is overwhelming evidence that there are war criminals that plotted and planned a number of wars in various countries. [1] Yet, you won’t hear or see most of the corporate controlled media exposing the criminality of the powerful war perverts in our midst, or the victims of the war criminals and their war business. [2]”
    [read more at link below]
    http://graysinfo.blogspot.ca/2016/10/are-corporate-media-propaganda-pushers.html

  2. fosforos
    October 24, 2016 at 12:20 pm

    This article contains a common, but false assertion: that Germany invaded Russia twice within twenty-five years. The fact is that in 1914 it was Russia that invaded Germany. Tsar Nicholas The Bloody was the first to mobilize his army, whose military doctrine, like that of all the other Great Powers, was The Offensive. The very first great battle of the Great War was the battle of Tannenberg, fought on GERMAN soil.

    • Abe
      October 24, 2016 at 4:08 pm

      In August 1914, the Imperial Russian Army first attempted an invasion of eastern Prussia, only to be beaten back by the Germans after some initial success.

      However, the German Army did later invade Russia, and reached just 85 miles (137 km) from the Russian capital Petrograd (St. Petersburg) https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/df/Map_Treaty_of_Brest-Litovsk-en.jpg

      The French war plan in 1914 was to attack as soon as their army was mobilized to drive the Germans from Alsace and Lorraine. If the British joined as promised, they would become the left flank. Their Russian allies would have a massive army, more than 95 divisions, but their mobilization would inevitably be somewhat slower. Getting Russian forces to the front would also be delayed because their railway network was far behind Western European standards; for instance, three-quarters was still single-tracked. They intended to have 27 divisions at the front by day 15 and 52 by day 23, but it would take 60 days before 90 divisions were in action.

      Despite their difficulties, the Russians promised the French that they would promptly engage the armies of Austria-Hungary in the south and on day 15 would invade German East Prussia. The only military unit defending East Prussia from a Russian attack was the German Eighth Army. The remainder of the German Army, following the Schlieffen Plan, was massed in the west attempting to gain the decisive victory that would knock France out of the war.

      The Russian First army invaded East Prussia across its eastern frontier, the Germans attacked them unsuccessfully at the Battle of Gumbinnen on 20 August 1914. The Germans then learned that the Russian Second Army was approaching their southern frontier. To avoid being cut off the alarmed Eighth Army commander, Maximilian von Prittwitz, proposed to retreat over the River Vistula , abandoning East Prussia to the Russians. Prittwitz and his chief of staff were immediately relieved in favor of Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff. Deputy chief of staff Lieutenant Colonel Max Hoffmann was put in command of the German Eighth Army.

      The two Russian armies were too far apart to readily aid one another, which Hoffmann knew from intercepted radio messages. He also knew from his experience in Manchuria of the deep dislike the two Russian commanders had for each other, which would further disincline them to support one another. Hoffmann started to concentrate the Eighth Army against Alexander Samsonov’s Russian Second Army in the south. Hindenburg, Ludendorff, and Hoffman encircled and annihilated the invading army in the Battle of Tannenberg. Hoffman saw the propaganda value of casting the German victory as the long-awaited revenge for a medieval defeat, so he suggested the engagement be named after Tannenberg though it actually took place much closer to Allenstein. Hindenburg was hailed as an epic hero, Ludendorff was praised, but Hoffmann was generally ignored by the press.

      Hoffmann next turned the Eighth Army east and mauled Paul von Rennenkampf’s Russian First Army at the First Battle of the Masurian Lakes, driving the Russians out of East Prussia for the remainder of the war.

      After Hindenburg and Ludendorff became supreme commanders in 1916, Prince Leopold of Bavaria assumed command of all German armies on the Eastern front with Major General Hoffmann as his chief of staff. Eventually Hoffmann was able to bring all of the forces on the Eastern front (including Austrian units) under their command.

      By 1917, Germany and Imperial Russia were stuck in a stalemate on the Eastern Front of World War I. The Russian economy had nearly collapsed under the strain of the war effort. The large numbers of war casualties and persistent food shortages in the major urban centers brought about civil unrest, known as the February Revolution, that forced Tsar Nicholas II to abdicate. The new Russian government under Alexander Kerensky attempted to reinvigorate Russian support for the war by attacking along a broad front. Hoffman withdrew for sixty miles, all the while urging Ludendorff to shift men from the Western Front to knock Russia out of the war.

      In mid-July 1917 six divisions were sent by train from Flanders; using these reinforcements, Hoffmann counter-attacked along the entire front and within a fortnight entered Riga. This rout fatally weakened Kerensky, led to the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia, and thus to the collapse of Russian resistance.

      At a conference in December 1917, the Kaiser pressed Hoffmann for his recommendation for the post-war German–Polish border. He suggested taking from Poland a modest defensive strip; the supreme command wanted much of Poland. Furious that Hoffmann would even give his opinion, Ludendorff wanted him sent to command a division, which the Kaiser refused to do. In his memoirs Hindenburg does not even mention Hoffmann.

      On March 3, 1918, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed and the Eastern Front ceased to be a war zone. While the treaty was practically obsolete before the end of the year, it did provide some relief to the Bolsheviks, who were embroiled in a civil war, and affirmed the independence of Ukraine. However, Estonia and Latvia were intended to become a United Baltic Duchy to be ruled by German princes and German nobility as fiefdoms under the German Kaiser. The Germans were able to transfer substantial forces to the west in order to mount an offensive in France in the spring of 1918.

      The 1919-1921 Polish-Soviet War largely determined the Soviet–Polish border for the period between the World Wars. Much of the territory allocated to Poland in the Treaty of Riga became part of the Soviet Union after World War II, when Poland’s eastern borders were redefined by the Allies in close accordance with the Curzon Line of 1920.

  3. Joe Tedesky
    October 24, 2016 at 12:49 pm

    Once again Natylie Baldwin I learn something from your great writing. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if at least one of our major media outlets would report the truth just as it stands. It blows my mind to how bad and propaganda filled our news in America is, and especially when it comes to Russia and Putin. The saddest part is when I listen to my fellow Americans talk about Putin I’m afraid that the propaganda is working very well to further it’s goals. This must change, but how it will change is still an unknown known to me. America is a very young country, as far as countries go, and America still has a lot to learn about empire. My hope is that the lessons to be learned will be learned in a peaceful way.

    I’m leaving a report below which explains Russia’s wrongly understood media censorship law, which the West has deemed as being a anti gay law…..

    http://static.prisonplanet.com/p/images/february2014/white_paper.pdf

    • October 24, 2016 at 1:01 pm

      Thank you, Joe. Yes, the propaganda is very dangerous and it is tough for me to break into certain outlets where I have made attempts. I queried several places (unsuccessfully) for an article much like this one to try to educate Americans and provide the other side of the story. Our establishment media is in a sorry state and has become so much a part of the problem.

      • Joe Tedesky
        October 24, 2016 at 2:26 pm

        Natylie, you are welcome. Nothing in America will go well as long as the truth is withheld from the ill informed public of our nation. I remember when Walter Cronkite declared the Vietnam war was a loss cause, and many had said at that time, that was a pivotal moment away from the positive support that the American public had had for that debacle up until then. America’s first priority should be to create an objective and truthful media. Until then all else to be accomplished in some positive way is hopeless. Keep up the good reporting Natylie, we need you.

        • Green Rock
          October 24, 2016 at 5:05 pm

          No Cronkite would make it into news work now….Cloward Piven has done its work well.
          America very dumbed down. Not to mention the food, fluoride, big pharma drugs and endless entertainment.

          As John Lennon said” “Keep them dumb with religion, sex and TV,…and you think you’re so clever and classless and free.”

          • Joe Tedesky
            October 25, 2016 at 1:50 am

            Being a huge Beatles fan I must agree how on more than one occasion John Lennon hit the nail on the head, on many subjects.

            I have now a family campaign for my grandchildren to watch the Nixon-Kennedy 1960 debates to see how once America stayed within the borders of speaking towards the issues of its day, and have the candidates reference actuall house bill numbers, and facts to back up all they’re claims.

            Today our presidential debates with their huge audiences, and character assassination driven accusations against each other, serve to make for good reality tv, but this clever marketing toward a continuation of keeping the electorate stupid has been working all to well for far too long a time, and it would be excitingly liberating to see it all end to be replaced by smaller news entities who would report the news in the most honest and forthright way as to properly inform the citizen reader to at least know the facts, and then proceed to evaluate our country’s situations that much better…lets hope that may happen, and sooner rather than later

            We need a lot of those Cronkite moments to happen to our news media, and possibly with enough of the truth being reported the nations people could demand more from its elected political class. What adds to this problem is that when Walter Cronkite did report the truth about Vietnam there were but three major tv outlets. Cronkite’s single news broadcast segment would have had more of an impact on the society at large, due to less competition in the media sphere of it’s day. Today I’m sorry to say there is almost nothing to none of a chance that anything like Cronkite’s historical broadcast could happen due to a much more corporate run media, which stands guard over things like Cronkite’s report from ever going public.

            Let’s hope our future has a wild card which could turn our media around.

    • Bart Gruzalski
      October 24, 2016 at 4:22 pm

      Joe Tedesky,

      You are right that this is a GREAT article. I have a professional philosophy friend whom I respect deeply as a professional but has such a biased view of Putin and Russia that I am willing to provoke his wrath (I’ll remind him of his respect for me as I send it) and will send him the link to this article. I’ve also been wanting to have contact with you and one way to do it is to spend $4.95 on Amazon to purchase my “America First!: the Moral Imperative to Join November’s Nonviolent Christian Rebellion against America’s Royalty.” The new edition will be out tomorrow but whichever you purchase, please use the contact email on the copyright page.

      Cheers,

      Bart

      • Joe Tedesky
        October 25, 2016 at 2:13 am

        Bart is that your book. You should provide a link to it. There was another commenter here once that wrote a book, and I enjoyed it a lot after I purchased a copy. I’m up to read almost anything, as long as the references are decent enough to except as the truth, or at least a creditable fact of some kind is within it’s pages as to support the authors claims.

        Natylie Baldwin has had articles posted here before, and I wasn’t just blowing smoke when I complimented her on that subject of her writing. I know your like me Bart, always starving for the truth, and reaching into the depth of us learning what maybe the truth of a certain event is all that we require. Our country’s stupidity is a result of a nation buying into it’s celebrity culture in to big a way. Reality tv is as scripted as professional wrestling, and it is no mistake how our culture has been wrapped around big media’s finger for far to long, because this 2016 presidential election is nothing but the merger of wrestle mania reality tv put in place of what should be a political campaign based on real facts, and sticking to the ill be gone issues of our day. Because of this subservience to our nations shadow governments propaganda have left us looking like a nation who shouldn’t be left with the responsibility of electing a decent government. In other words us Americans look utterly stupid to the rest of the world.

  4. October 24, 2016 at 1:07 pm

    Great article. There are some underlined words that I thought might be links, but do not work as such (at least on my computer). One that particularly interests me is Baldwin’s statement that “corruption [in US] that is so profound that two political science academics have recently quantified the ways in which we are now officially an oligarchy.” I would like to see the source of this quantification of something I would have expected but could not prove or show a reference.

    It might be easier for some readers if the underlined words in articles were replaced by numbers to explicit links as notes at the base of the article. This would make an excellent article such as this one that much more useful. I hope it won’t be too much trouble to do this.

    • October 24, 2016 at 1:16 pm

      Hi David. I also noted that the links are not working. Here is the link for the source you wanted:

      https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/perspectives-on-politics/article/testing-theories-of-american-politics-elites-interest-groups-and-average-citizens/62327F513959D0A304D4893B382B992B

      You can download a pdf copy of the 18-page report there.

      Regards,,
      Natylie

      • October 24, 2016 at 1:52 pm

        Thanks, Natylie – I did just that. Heavy slogging for the non-academic! I trust I will figure it out eventually…

        I hope Consortium will republish your article with live links. A lot of meat there, but it needs the skeleton in order to stand up right.

        • October 24, 2016 at 5:52 pm

          Hear Hear! I really don’t have time to chase up the references and presumably neither has anyone else I may share this with, assuming they even have the inclination.

      • Nyna
        October 24, 2016 at 10:31 pm

        Natylie,

        Yes, thanks for your article. I’ve been a fan of Sharon Tennison’s since I stumbled on an article of hers a couple of years ago. On this side of the Atlantic (and Pacific), we desperately need real first-hand information about that amazing phenomenon we know as “Russia”.

        Your links are not working because they are not links.
        I looked at the html, and they are just underlined words — enclosed in the html tags .
        Someone will have to manually change those to anchor tags.

        If you cut/pasted your article straight from a Microsoft Word doc into the blog, that might be the problem.

        Hope this helps.

        ~ N.

  5. Jean Ranc
    October 24, 2016 at 1:25 pm

    Many Thanks to Natylie for this awesome piece of research & writing! But quick, Robert: call the Electronic Support, because the LINKS are NOT WORKING! I’ve just printed it out for closer study on paper but also want/must f/u all of the links!

    Then check out today’s On Point program from Boston public radio with its manic Tom Ashbrook on “The New Cold War With Russia”, in which he provides in-put from Gary Kasparov, the chess master-now NY exile vs Dr. Stephen. F. Cohen, the Russia scholar-Professor Emeritus from Princeton-NYU. As a psychologist, I would likely diagnose Kasparov with PTSD inflicted during his days under the Soviet Union…& probably reinforced by his profession as an obsessive-compulsive chess player…causing him to be permanently imprisoned in a cell of his own construction obsessively acting out past traumas forever. Never-the-less, Ashbrook, in his state of perpetual over-caffeinated histrionics with an eye on his ratings? & worry about job security? put on this so-called “balanced program” with a mentally ill Cold War casualty on one side vs the calm, rational Princeton-NYU historian: giving the babbling hysteric the first & last word…because it makes for more sensational broadcasting to run up the numbers? So goes the contemporary Great Game with the world as Chess Board in the time of American over-extended Hegemony in decline..being challenged by other powerful nations & their people who want out-from-under: free to determine their own destinies…without being threatened by a military-industrial-government-media complex run amuck…out of control…with the two presidential candidates it has produced:: one loose Trump Cannon vs a Lady Macbeth made up for the first debate in a Margaret Thatcher-style hair-do & out-fit (which turned out to be the usual pant-suit) in a race to determine which gets to inhabit the imperial Sand Castle…on Pennsylvania Ave in Government City, DC: representing the tragically dis-united states of America…torn apart by its over-extended imperial aspirations & non-stop wars. Thus the “New Rome” declines and falls…while the would-be Empress Macbeth triumphantly gloated after the overthrow, mutilation & murder of her designated nemesis, Gaddafi: “We came, we saw, he died!”

  6. Jean Ranc
    October 24, 2016 at 1:27 pm

    Many Thanks to Natylie for this awesome piece of research & writing! But quick, Robert: call the Electronic Support, because the LINKS are NOT WORKING! I’ve just printed it out for closer study on paper but also want/must f/u all of the links!

    Then check out today’s On Point program from Boston public radio with its manic Tom Ashbrook on “The New Cold War With Russia”, in which he provides in-put from Gary Kasparov, the chess master-now NY exile vs Dr. Stephen. F. Cohen, the Russia scholar-Professor Emeritus from Princeton-NYU. As a psychologist, I would likely diagnose Kasparov with PTSD inflicted during his days under the Soviet Union…& probably reinforced by his profession as an obsessive-compulsive chess player…causing him to be permanently imprisoned in a cell of his own construction compulsively acting out past traumas forever. Never-the-less, Ashbrook, in his state of perpetual over-caffeinated histrionics with an eye on his ratings? & worry about job security? put on this so-called “balanced program” with a mentally ill Cold War casualty on one side vs the calm, rational Princeton-NYU historian: giving the babbling hysteric the first & last word…because it makes for more sensational broadcasting to run up the numbers? So goes the contemporary Great Game with the world as Chess Board in the time of American over-extended Hegemony in decline..being challenged by other powerful nations & their people who want out-from-under: free to determine their own destinies…without being threatened by a military-industrial-government-media complex run amuck…out of control…with the two presidential candidates it has produced:: one loose Trump Cannon vs a Lady Macbeth made up for the first debate in a Margaret Thatcher-style hair-do & out-fit (which turned out to be the usual pant-suit) in a race to determine which gets to inhabit the imperial Sand Castle…on Pennsylvania Ave in Government City, DC: representing the tragically dis-united states of America…torn apart by its over-extended imperial aspirations & non-stop wars. Thus the “New Rome” declines and falls…while the would-be Empress Macbeth triumphantly gloated after the overthrow, mutilation & murder of her designated nemesis, Gaddafi: “We came, we saw, he died!”

  7. WG
    October 24, 2016 at 1:43 pm

    Thanks for providing a factual examination of Putin and his policies over the last few decades. This type of article is sorely needed, and it’s unfortunate that it won’t be seen in any ‘mainstream’ newspapers or magazines.

    Just before reading this article I saw that 80+ NGO’s just called for Russia to be removed from the UN Human Rights Council. Personally I’m going to save a copy of the NGO’s supporting this, their ‘impartiality’ has been permanently damaged my eyes.

    Isn’t Saudi Arabia currently head of the Human Rights Council? What an embarrassment for everyone actually concerned about human rights.

    • backwardsevolution
      October 24, 2016 at 7:02 pm

      WG – maybe the NGO’s are angry that Putin kicked a bunch of them out of Russia for trying to stir up trouble. He allowed the NGO’s who wanted to just help people to stay, but kicked out the political ones. Good for him. These NGO’s are sometimes used to bring about coups, to stir up the people.

    • Joe B
      October 25, 2016 at 1:50 pm

      Yes, many of those “NGOs” are just oligarchy propaganda operations. They readily deceive young people with idealistic mission statements coupled with improbably comfortable budgets, so they have plenty of true believers in their professed mission who ignore the real affects of their actions as mere dissonance or temporary effects or missteps. At last they see that they were hoodwinked and now guilty of horrors, and in embarrassment they say nothing.

  8. Lowell Googins
    October 24, 2016 at 1:47 pm

    This and so many honest and rational articles is why I enthusiastically support comsortiumnews.com.

  9. Nelson Betancourt
    October 24, 2016 at 1:57 pm

    Great article. Balanced, honest and enlightening. An article like this is the type of journalism that creates understanding, tolerance and friendship.

  10. Henry Jacobs
    October 24, 2016 at 2:22 pm

    My wife, is due to return from Crimea, thanks for the reality view of what is happening in Russia.

    I’ll be 80 years old day my wife returns, my ancestors came from Essex England as separatist to settle this country.
    Ever since the Puritans taken over 25 years later. In spite of the efforts of the Freemasons our governmental institutions, no matter how they discriminated against the minorities of this country, are not held accountable for their ignorance in dealing with and trying to control the lives of the Russian. I’ve loved them ever since I was a really young man, realizing because of my dad, that If Hitler
    Didn’t go north he would have control the world. Hank Jacobs

  11. James lake
    October 24, 2016 at 2:31 pm

    Russia is the most written about country and the least understood.
    It’s leadership and people are spoken about – not spoken too.

    They have a president who stands head and shoulders above all the current crop in the west. The people seem to just want to get on with life in peace without other pompous countries imposing ideas on them.

  12. Thurgle
    October 24, 2016 at 2:53 pm

    To understand US actions, one needs to understand its strategic concerns and objectives. The nightmare of US foreign policy elites is for America’s position in Eurasia to be rolled back so that the US is eventually reduced to hegemony only in its own hemisphere. The long term threat is China, but they have chosen to target Russia by keeping it on the defensive and economically weak. To this end, the US has gobbled up the former Warsaw Pact countries into its bloc as well as some former Soviet republics. The next step is to gobble up Ukraine and Georgia. If the US succeeds, the process is unlikely to stop there. By escalating hostility on Russia’s western frontiers, it will cripple Russia economically by undermining its trade relations with Europe at no cost to the US (which does minimal trading with Russia even in the best of times). By gobbling up the rest of the Caucasus, the US will cut Russia off permanently from the Middle East. By eventually absorbing most of the non-Russian parts of the former USSR into its bloc, the US will have Russia encircled and can gradually strangle it. Eventually, Russia will cave and the US bloc will then become as much a land threat to China as it is currently a threat from the sea. In the meantime, with Russia excluded from the Middle East, the US can accomplish its aim of weakening Iran and eventually perhaps absorbing Iran and places to its east within the US bloc. At that point, the US will be positioned to overawe China and will have secured its preeminence in Eurasia and thus global hegemony. The US certainly expects Russia China and Iran to draw closer in the meantime, but those countries have so many conflicts of interest that it is unlikely they can forge a unity sufficient to resist US ambitions. The choice will likely instead be between submission to the US and nuclear holocaust. That, anyway, is the American’s game, though I don’t know if they will be any more successful in winning than they were in Iraq, except in the Pyrrhic sense.

    • ms 57
      October 24, 2016 at 3:44 pm

      Really? The US “gobbled up” the former Warsaw Pact countries? Is it necessary to remind you of how those former Warsaw Pact countries actually became Warsaw Pact countries? Ask a Pole, a Czech, an Estonian how happy they were under Soviet domination and the Warsaw Pact; ask that same Pole or Czech or Estonian how unhappy they are today to be free of Soviet domination — and how nervous they are by Putin’s Russian nationalist ambitions. They would certainly not agree with Putin that the greatest tragedy of the 20th century was the dissolution of the USSR. They ought to know.

      Gobbling up the Caucasus? Russia excluded from the Middle East? Ask the people of Aleppo if they think the Russians have been excluded from the Middle East, let alone from the skies over their heads.

      Submit to the US or face a nuclear holocaust? That’s the American game? Can you point to any credible evidence of anyone anywhere in the West arguing that it’s either submission or nuclear war? There are only two state actors in the world who so freely talk about nuclear war — the Russian Federation and the Democratic Republic of North Korea.

      These reflexively anti-American, pro-Putinist, pro-Russian nationalist arguments are gallingly naïve and willfully ignorant of history and contemporary Russian aspirations.

      • Abe
        October 24, 2016 at 5:00 pm

        Our resident Atlantic Council sockpuppet, comrade ms57 chimes in to remind us of NATO’s great benevolence.

        The latest Atlantic Council shtick is to insist that the United States (and major non-NATO ally Israel) are something other than a nuclear belligerents.

        Major non-NATO allies like Israel are eligible for American financing for purchase of goodies like depleted uranium anti-tank rounds, attack helicopters, and tons of military equipment.

        In December 2014 the US Congress passed the US-Israel Major Strategic Partner Act. This new category is one notch above the Major Non-NATO Ally classification and adds additional support for military purchases. The bill additionally calls for the US to increase their war reserve stock in Israel to US$1.8 billion.

        The reflexively anti-Russian arguments of ms57 and his pals are gallingly naïve and willfully ignorant of history and contemporary American and Israeli aspirations.

        Gobble gobble.

        • ms 57
          October 24, 2016 at 8:30 pm

          Name calling is not an argument. Echoing the words I used is not an argument.

          I did not mention NATO or the Atlantic Council or Israel. You completely ignored the comments I actually made. Why respond at all?

          Quack.

        • Abe
          October 24, 2016 at 9:54 pm

          Taking time out between porn surfing and comments at the Bellingcat blog, Atlantic Council sockpuppet ms57 regularly chimes in with such gems as “You sound like nothing so much as a Russian troll trying to undermine accepted European norms.”
          See https://consortiumnews.com/2016/08/04/the-danger-of-excessive-trump-bashing/

          In fact, ms57 never deviates from the Atlantic Council-approved Bellingcat blog comment script.

          But name calling is not an argument, and echoing the quacks used by comrade ms57 is not argument.

          It’s enough to simply notice the duck walk.

          • ms 57
            October 24, 2016 at 10:47 pm

            I don’t surf porn. I don’t know who Bellingcat is. I don’t call myself a citizen investigative journalist. Other than that you’ve got my number.

            Once again, the caustic ad hominem is no substitute for an argument. You are intellectually bankrupt, my friend.

          • Abe
            October 24, 2016 at 11:00 pm

            We can see, comrade ms57, how you don’t know who Bellingcat is when you twice post articles that feature Bellingcat.

            Such “open source” sleuthing skills qualify you as an exceptional Bellingcat “citizen investigative jounalist”.

            Once again, comrade, your quacks are no substitute for facts.

      • October 24, 2016 at 7:33 pm

        Let’s provide some clarity to your citation of Putin’s speech where you claim he called the dissolution of the Soviet Union the “greatest tragedy of the 20th century.” Here is the relevant excerpt of what he actually said in that speech, correctly translated and in context. It speaks for itself and no honest and rational person will walk away believing that Putin is calling for a return to the Soviet Union or Russian imperialism:

        “Above all, we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century. As for the Russian nation, it became a genuine drama. Tens of millions of our co-citizens and compatriots found themselves outside Russian territory. Moreover, the epidemic of disintegration infected Russia itself.

        Individual savings were depreciated, and old ideals destroyed. Many institutions were disbanded or reformed carelessly. Terrorist intervention and the Khasavyurt capitulation that followed damaged the country’s integrity. Oligarchic groups – possessing absolute control over information channels – served exclusively their own corporate interests. Mass poverty began to be seen as the norm. And all this was happening against the backdrop of a dramatic economic downturn, unstable finances, and the paralysis of the social sphere.

        Many thought or seemed to think at the time that our young democracy was not a continuation of Russian statehood, but its ultimate collapse, the prolonged agony of the Soviet system.

        But they were mistaken.

        That was precisely the period when the significant developments took place in Russia. Our society was generating not only the energy of self-preservation, but also the will for a new and free life. In those difficult years, the people of Russia had to both uphold their state sovereignty and make an unerring choice in selecting a new vector of development in the thousand years of their history. They had to accomplish the most difficult task: how to safeguard their own values, not to squander undeniable achievements, and confirm the viability of Russian democracy. We had to find our own path in order to build a democratic, free and just society and state.

        When speaking of justice, I am not of course referring to the notorious ”take away and divide by all“ formula, but extensive and equal opportunities for everybody to develop. Success for everyone. A better life for all.”

        http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/transcripts/22931

        Furthermore, there is no evidence or logic in the claim that Russia has any designs on the Baltic countries. If you have some actual substantive evidence, present it and don’t leave us in suspense.

        • ms 57
          October 24, 2016 at 7:51 pm

          I very much appreciate your effort to humanize what is too often demonized, but, in response to your challenge, I found the following in about 45 seconds. I hope the suspense is relieved.

          http://www.motherjones.com/media/2016/05/putin-russia-baltic-states-master-plan

          • Abe
            October 24, 2016 at 9:57 pm

            I found the reference to Bellingcat in 3 seconds.

            The challenge is actual substantive evidence. We remain in suspense.

        • ms 57
          October 24, 2016 at 8:21 pm

          Let’s put aside Putin’s cynicism (do you think they have accomplished “a democratic, free and just society and state?”)…

          Please note that in the Putin’s comments he describes the collapse of the USSR as a major geopolitical disaster, but spends all of his time talking about the effects of that collapse solely on the Russian people. That is precisely the source of his grievances — the loss of Russia’s former status as a global hegemon. Putin is determined to reestablish that status, come what may. First and foremost he is a Russian nationalist. If you want to pin your hopes for the future on any nationalist movements anywhere you are bound to regret it, and I don’t care if it’s the Russian or American brand of nationalism. I’m willing to bet that you find the America First crowd — “the greatest country in the history of the world” — as noxious as I do. How is it that you don’t recognize the same impulses at work elsewhere?

          • Abe
            October 24, 2016 at 10:41 pm

            Let’s put aside the neo-con and liberal interventionist anti-Russian propaganda (do you think the Ukrainians have accomplished “a democratic, free and just society and state” thanks to the Atlantic Council’s Future Europe Initiative?)

            Please note that in the ms57 comments he is “willing to bet that you find the America First crowd — ‘the greatest country in the history of the world’ — as noxious as I do”. Feel the sincerity.

            Elsewhere our generous comrade ms57 is “not a neo-con, whose aggression, thirst for ‘regime change,’ dangerous meddling and outright failures are self-evident – though their intentions, influence and power are largely hidden from the citizenry.”

            Nor is ms57 “a liberal interventionist; the citizens of nation-states have an absolute right to self-determination”.

            And have no fear, comrade ms57 is “aware of the pressure Putin’s Russia must feel with NATO having expanded to their borders.” Really. Honest.

            Obviously you’re a Russian troll if you think otherwise.

          • Gregory Herr
            October 24, 2016 at 11:28 pm

            Let’s put aside matters of freedom, justice, and “democracy” here in the States while I respond to your assessment of what Putin is about. Of course Putin is primarily concerned with the Russian people…that is his obligation. But when he refers to “geopolitical disaster”, he is expressly concerned with the degradation of geopolitical “balance” and respect for national sovereignty, the rights of mankind, and international law. His “nationalism” is simple a reflection of those principles with respect to Russia’s own security and development within a good-faith structure of international relations. Putin, unlike the neocons, isn’t concerned with hegonomy or full-spectrum dominance, or wanton death and destruction for vile purposes. It’s not about “taking over” the Baltics or any other comparable nonsense, it’s about simple respect, cordiality, and “balance”.
            I’m not some Russian “troll,” I’m simply a fair-minding working stiff from middle America who reads a good bit.

        • Moscow Exile
          October 28, 2016 at 5:43 am

          Further to that often misquoted Putin speech so beloved of Western know-nothing hacks, the alleged key sentence of that speech that regularly surfaces in the Western media is frequently given as:

          “The collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical disaster of the century”.

          Putin did not say that.

          In an address made on 25 April 2005, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin did not say to the Russian Federal Assembly that the collapse of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical disaster of the century”, which is what Western journalists similarly and repeatedly present as an English translation of what he said in his mother tongue, thereby citing this statement as clear evidence of his yearning for a rebirth of the USSR and of Soviet might. They sometimes like to use “downfall” instead of “collapse” as well.

          What Putin actually said in Russian was:

          “?????? ????? ??????? ????????, ??? ???????? ?????????? ????? ???? ?????????? ??????????????? ??????????? ????. ??? ??????????? ?? ?????? ??? ????? ????????? ??????. ??????? ????????? ????? ????????? ? ????????????????? ????????? ?? ????????? ?????????? ??????????. ???????? ??????? ? ???? ?? ???????????? ?? ???? ??????”.

          For those with some command of the Russian language, in the above quote of Putin’s actual words, it can be seen that Putin said that the collapse of the Soviet Union was “a major geopolitical disaster of the century”, namely one of several major geopolitical disasters such as, I should imagine, the loss of millions of Soviet citizens and combatants during the Great Patriotic War, 1941-1945.

          Putin then went on to say why he thought this was so, though few, if any, Western commentators go on to quote his reasoning as regards this matter, namely that:

          “As for the Russian nation, it became a genuine drama. Tens of millions of our fellow citizens and countrymen found themselves outside of Russian territory and the epidemic of disintegration bounced back into Russia itself”.

          That first sentence of the two quoted immediately above reads in the Russian transcript of Putin’s speech thus:

          “??? ??????????? ?? ?????? ??? ????? ????????? ??????”

          and has been officially translated by Kremlin translators into English as:

          “As for the Russian nation, it became a genuine drama”.

          One sometimes sees how Western hacks replace “drama” in the translation with “tragedy”.

          Sometimes, these same hacks replace the “disaster” that Putin speaks of at the beginning of their favourite Putin misquote with that self-same word “tragedy” – I should think that they believe that “tragedy” sounds more emotional, that Putin is really unhappy about the demise of the USSR and is striving for its return.

          However, I repeat: the official Kremlin Russian-English translation reads: ” … the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century”, yet very often, according to Western journalists and politicians, that which the Russian nation suffered as a result of the fall of the Soviet Union was a “catastrophe”, or even a “tragedy”, and not just a major one but the major one in the whole of the 20th century!!!

          So, with just a little nip here and a little tuck there and you end up with Putin quoted as saying that “the downfall of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”. That is, in fact, how a former British politician quoted Putin in a British newspaper a few weeks ago.

          Putin is a “KGB thug” who regrets the fall of the Soviet union – case proven!

          These are not, in my opinion, slight, accidental adjustments to the quoted words.

          A translation into English of what Putin said on 25 April, 2005 has been available online for over 11 years now, yet Western hacks and politicians continue to maintain with great regularity that Putin said something different, something that contains nuances that lead one to think …

          However, the proposition conjured up by misquoting what Putin said, namely that he is a megalomaniac, latter-day Stalin who regrets the end of the USSR and yearns for its resurrection, can easily be shown to be patently untrue if one reads the official Kremlin translation into English of what he went on to say in his address made in April 2005. and which words are, therefore, seldom quoted by the MSM:

          “Individual savings were depreciated, and old ideals destroyed. Many institutions were disbanded or reformed carelessly. Terrorist intervention and the Khasavyurt capitulation that followed damaged the country’s integrity. Oligarchic groups – possessing absolute control over information channels – served exclusively their own corporate interests. Mass poverty began to be seen as the norm. And all this was happening against the backdrop of a dramatic economic downturn, unstable finances, and the paralysis of the social sphere.

          “Many thought or seemed to think at the time that our young democracy was not a continuation of Russian statehood, but its ultimate collapse, the prolonged agony of the Soviet system.

          “But they were mistaken.

          “That was precisely the period when the significant developments took place in Russia. Our society was generating not only the energy of self-preservation, but also the will for a new and free life. In those difficult years, the people of Russia had to both uphold their state sovereignty and make an unerring choice in selecting a new vector of development in the thousand years of their history. They had to accomplish the most difficult task: how to safeguard their own values, not to squander undeniable achievements, and confirm the viability of Russian democracy. We had to find our own path in order to build a democratic, free and just society and state”.

          For the official English translation of Putin’s speech of 25 April 2005 see:

          http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/transcripts/22931

          For the original Russian transcript see:

          http://kremlin.ru/events/president/transcripts/22931

          A footnote for linguists.

          A superlative form of the Russian adjective ??????? (large, big) is ?????????? (here, masculine singular ending).

          In Putin’s misquoted speech, the adjective ??????? (large, big) and the noun that it qualifies, ?????????? (Russian noun, feminine gender: “catastrophe, disaster, crash”) are in the instrumental feminine singular, signifying “in a manner”, i.e. “the collapse of the SU was [in the manner of] a major geopolitical disaster of the century”.

          Furthermore, although the adjective meaning “big/large” in the normative form was expressed by Putin in a superlative form, namely ??????????, this use of the superlative is simply for emphasis of the nature attributed to the noun by the adjective: here, ?????????? does not mean “[as] the greatest [geopolitical disaster]” but “[as] a major [geopolitical disaster]”.

          Use of the superlative in this way for emphasis is not uncommon in Russian and can lead to misunderstanding by those not au fait with Russian usage.

          Here is another example – indeed a very common one – of a Russian superlative adjectival form being used comparatively for emphasis.

          In Russian, “the good boy, the better boy, the best boy” is “??????? ???????, ?????? ???????, ????? ?????? ???????” – literally: “good boy, best boy, most best boy”.

          Yet time and time again Putin is misquoted by Western hacks in an English translation of what the Russian president allegedly said, which translation erroneously reads that the collapse of the SU was “the greatest geopolitical disaster of the century” – ergo: Putin regrets this collapse happening.

          This mistranslation may well be a result of the widespread ignorance of the Russian tongue. However, I think not, for as pointed out above, for more than 11 years the official translation into English of what Putin said on 25 April, 2005, has been freely available on the Kremlin archive website.

          PS

          Oh dear! My quotations in Cyrillic do not appear.

          Not to worry!

          Check them out on the linked Kremlin website.

      • Zachary Smith
        October 24, 2016 at 11:05 pm

        Can you point to any credible evidence of anyone anywhere in the West arguing that it’s either submission or nuclear war?

        That’s obviously impossible, for any evidence whatever would be dismissed as not credible. I know that from my experience with the 9/11 Truthers and Climate Change Deniers. And there is another factor – people who stray from the current Corporate Media line tend to become unemployed in a hurry. So they either stick to that approved line, or talk about something else.

        Some of us have functional eyes though. It comes down to whether or not we trust those eyes, and the brains they’re connected to, or do we figuratively close our eyes and shut down our brains and buy into the BS Hillary is peddling.

        http://time.com/4521509/2016-election-clinton-exceptionalism/

        • ms 57
          October 25, 2016 at 4:37 am

          “MOSCOW, Oct 12 (Reuters) – Americans should vote for Donald Trump as president next month or risk being dragged into a nuclear war, according to a Russian ultra-nationalist ally of President Vladimir Putin who likes to compare himself to the U.S. Republican candidate.

          Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a flamboyant veteran lawmaker known for his fiery rhetoric, told Reuters in an interview that Trump was the only person able to de-escalate dangerous tensions between Moscow and Washington.

          By contrast, Trump’s Democratic rival Hillary Clinton could spark World War Three, said Zhirinovsky, who received a top state award from Putin after his pro-Kremlin Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) came third in Russia’s parliamentary election last month.”

          That’s the kind of evidence I’m talking about.

        • Abe
          October 25, 2016 at 1:03 pm

          The Order For Merit to the Fatherland is the highest Civilian decoration of the Russian Federation. Recepients of the award include scientists, academicians, artists, theater directors, filmmakers, cosmonauts, diplomats, and political officials.

          A standard propaganda ploy is to single out the outrageous political personalities in a targeted nation and position them as a close “ally” of the demonized nation’s leader.

          The Reuters article cited by comrade ms57 is an example of the kind of “information activities” we’re talking about.

      • ??????? ?????
        October 25, 2016 at 3:47 pm

        I hope I’m not a bother, but as a Russian, I have one question. Why are all the euro-atlantists so emotional and uncompromising in their argumentation? The closest comparison I can find to them are our bolsheviks, they had the same rhetoric in 1930s–1950s.

        PS thank you for an interesting article!

    • Green Rock
      October 24, 2016 at 5:00 pm

      Good analysis. There’s nothing in western press addressing Russia. But, Russia has moved on, and is now a partner in the Silk Road with China. Kissinger’s nightmare has been born alive: the Russian Bear partners with the Chinese Dragon. Resources coupled with industry & capital. How terrified they must be. But the cabal is numb and full of their own hubris.

      Russia is now the world’s top wheat producer….beat the US out by miles.
      US GMO corn is now rejected by China…..farmers suing Syngenta. That’s the state of affairs for the US. No friends, no exports- with enormous debt. Not a successful country anymore. What military dominance the world sees now is the last dregs of dying former empire. The Anglo-Zionist bankers are trying to set up the SDR as their new base. China & Russia are jointed at the hip & won’t have it. But the Americans don’t know that yet.

      World War III? We’re in it right now, in Syria. Syria is fighting for everyone.

    • October 24, 2016 at 7:42 pm

      You are basically repeating Zbigniew Brzezinski’s Grand Chessboard theory from 1997-98 and, to some extent, the Wolfowitz Doctrine of 1992. However, this is no longer the 1990’s and the world has moved on. Russia and China have been on to Washington’s imperial ambitions in Eurasia for a while now and are taking appropriate measures, including a strategic partnership on economic and military matters. Even Brzezinski has recently come out with a more chastened view of things. I discuss this in a recent article:

      http://natyliesbaldwin.com/2016/10/has-zbigniew-brzezinski-really-changed-his-tune/

      I also recommend the articles of Pepe Escobar and F. William Engdahl for more information on Eurasian geopolitics.

      • Abe
        October 25, 2016 at 2:02 pm

        Thank you for your superb book and articles, Natylie.

        Unfortunately, I can’t go there with you on the claim that Zbig’s view is “more chastened”. His geopolitical sagacity has always quickly dissolved into a recipe for more franchised military force.

        While Zbig keeps muttering about Russian “overreach” and the “stabilizing role” of the United States, he seems genuinely disappointed that catastrophic military conflict was averted in eastern Europe.

        In his 2015 Der Spiegel interview, Zbig repeated his mantra: “We should make it more costly for the Russians to use force.” http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/interview-with-zbigniew-brzezinski-on-russia-and-ukraine-a-1041795.html

        He further opined: “I think it makes sense to give defensive weapons to the Ukrainians, like mortars and anti-tank rockets, for the defense of major cities. If you want to take over a large country, you have to take the big cities. And taking big cities is extremely expensive if people are willing to defend it.”

        It’s obvious that Kiev’s vaunted Anti-Terrorist Operation was designed to bait the Bear into a blitz, but Putin wisely refused to bite.

        Zbig’s szlachta sensibilities grant him an inveterate detestation of German, Russian and Ukrainian “chessboard” aspirations. He’d like nothing better than watch Berlin weep over the spectacle while all parties east of the Dnieper are hacked to pieces, “stability” and tactical nukes be damned.

        • Abe
          October 25, 2016 at 2:38 pm

          In the not so distant past, Zbig would have thrown all parties east of the Bug River into the melee. So I suppose you could say that his view has “chastened” somewhat.

          Those NATO team players in Warsaw certainly understand that it’s wise to keep several battalions of social-nationalist “Freedom” fighters in your back yard, ready to deploy in case an en passant move is needed to quell an uncooperative citizenry.

  13. Martin Godden
    October 24, 2016 at 2:54 pm

    Excellent article but sadly unlikely to find its way into the mainstream western media

  14. Abe
    October 24, 2016 at 3:26 pm

    A cabal of irrational actors and vicious thugs dictates American policy toward Syria, Iran and Russia.

    Washington has clearly demonstrated for years that it does not function as a reliable partner in areas of mutual interest. Indeed the only security interests purportedly taken into account by Washington are those of Israel, not those of Syria, Iran, Russia… or the United States.

    Russia has no hope for a pragmatic partnership with America as long as Washington continues to support terrorism as a tool for destabilizing nations.

  15. Chris Chuba
    October 24, 2016 at 4:31 pm

    Putin is popular because he uses military force to distract Russians from a collapsing domestic economy. I just wrote every article ever written by a Russian expert in the U.S. Great article, a bit long but still good.

    I also believe that Putin is a very honest man and all of these stories, ‘Putin the hitman, Putin the embezzler, Putin the election stealer, Putin the Olympic cheat’ are part of a concerted U.S. plan to get him out of office. I laugh when we play all innocent and shocked at ‘Russia’s attempt to undermine our democracy’. Even if the Russian hack stories are true, the only things hacked were private gmail accounts, not govt secrets that would threaten our security. We have been gunning for bear for well over a decade.

  16. W. R. Knight
    October 24, 2016 at 4:44 pm

    “One is left to wonder if this could have all been avoided if the West had engaged Russia in good faith on its proposal for a pan-western security architecture in 2008, instead of pushing what amounts to a very dangerous zero-sum game in Russia’s backyard.”

    This IS NOT a zero sum gain as the winner will lose as much as the loser. THERE IS NO WIN!

  17. Green Rock
    October 24, 2016 at 4:51 pm

    It’s very obvious that all the criticism against Putin would stick as facts for Obama.
    Russia’s progress has been astounding, while the US is crumbling.Even the Philippines has walked away as an ally.
    Washington can rant & rage all they want but the truth is the world is leaving the US dollar and its Anglo banking system behind. Good riddance!

  18. Bob Van Noy
    October 24, 2016 at 4:58 pm

    It is most important right now to have an alternative voice to the MSM on Russia and President Putin. Thanks to you Natylie Baldwin for your reporting.

    Clearly it will become increasingly important that America gets good and accurate information about Russia going forward, as the American Wurlitzer of disinformation is running on full volume.
    I especially agree with your statement by Stephen F. Cohen, “we need a pragmatic partnership with Russia if we are to have any hope of addressing the most pressing challenges facing humanity:  nuclear disarmament, catastrophic climate change, terrorism and global inequalities that have become destabilizing.”

    Should a Hillary Clinton Presidency be in our future; it will be all the more important to speak loudly and accurately in opposition; if there is to be any hope of averting further War.

    Natalie’s Book & Reviews here: https://www.amazon.com/Ukraine-Zbigs-Grand-Chessboard-Checkmated/dp/0996174079/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1477342540&sr=8-1&keywords=Natylie+Baldwin#customerReviews

    • Gregory Herr
      October 24, 2016 at 9:35 pm

      Thanks for the link Bob. A review of Natylie’s book is so well done, I think it should be posted in its entirety here:

      “I’m not sure if there’s been a better written book published yet this year than Ukraine: Zbig’s Grand Chessboard and How the West Was Checkmated, but I’m confident there’s not been a more important one. With some 17,000 nuclear bombs in the world, the United States and Russia have about 16,000 of them. The United States is aggressively flirting with World War III, the people of the United States have not the foggiest notion of how or why, and authors Natylie Baldwin and Kermit Heartsong explain it all quite clearly. Go ahead and tell me there’s nothing you’re now spending your time on that’s less important than this.

      This book may very well be the best written one I’ve read this year. It puts all the relevant facts — those I knew and many I didn’t — together concisely and with perfect organization. It does it with an informed worldview. It leaves me nothing to complain about at all, which is almost unheard of in my book reviews. I find it refreshing to encounter writers so well-informed who also grasp the significance of their information.

      Nearly half the book is used to set the context for recent events in Ukraine. It’s useful to understand the end of the cold war, the irrational hatred of Russia that pervades elite U.S. thinking, and the patterns of behavior that are replaying themselves now at higher volume. Stirring up fanatical fighters in Afghanistan and Chechnya and Georgia, and targeting Ukraine for similar use: this is a context CNN won’t provide. The partnership of the neocons (in arming and provoking violence in Libya) with the humanitarian warriors (in riding to the rescue for regime change): this is a precedent and a model that NPR won’t mention. The U.S. promise not to expand NATO, the U.S. expansion of NATO to 12 new countries right up to the border of Russia, the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty and pursuit of “missile defense” — this is background that Fox News would never deem significant. U.S. support for the rule of criminal oligarchs willing to sell off Russian resources, and Russian resistance to those schemes — such accounts are almost incomprehensible if you’ve consumed too much U.S. “news,” but are explained and documented well by Baldwin and Heartsong.

      This book includes excellent background on the use and abuse of Gene Sharp and the color revolutions instigated by the U.S. government. A silver lining may be found, I think, in the value of nonviolent action recognized by all involved — whether for good or ill. The same lesson can be found (for good this time) in the civilian resistance to Ukrainian troops in the spring of 2014, and the refusal of (some) troops to attack civilians.

      The Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004, the Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003, and Ukraine II in 2013-2014 are recounted well, including detailed chronology. It’s truly remarkable how much has been publicly reported that remains buried. Western leaders met repeatedly in 2012 and 2013 to plot the fate of Ukraine. Neo-Nazis from Ukraine were sent to Poland to train for a coup. NGOs operating out of the U.S. Embassy in Kiev organized trainings for coup participants. On November 24, 2013, three days after Ukraine refused an IMF deal, including refusing to sever ties to Russia, protesters in Kiev began to clash with police. The protesters used violence, destroying buildings and monuments, and tossing Molotov cocktails, but President Obama warned the Ukrainian government not to respond with force. (Contrast that with the treatment of the Occupy movement, or the shooting on Capitol Hill of the woman who made an unacceptable U-turn in her car with her baby.)

      U.S.-funded groups organized a Ukrainian opposition, funded a new TV channel, and promoted regime change. The U.S. State Department spent some $5 billion. The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State who handpicked the new leaders, openly brought cookies to protesters. When those protesters violently overthrew the government in February 2014, the United States immediately declared the coup government legitimate. That new government banned major political parties, and attacked, tortured, and murdered their members. The new government included neo-Nazis and would soon include officials imported from the United States. The new government banned the Russian language — the first language of many Ukrainian citizens. Russian war memorials were destroyed. Russian-speaking populations were attacked and murdered.

      Crimea, an autonomous region of Ukraine, had its own parliament, had been part of Russia from 1783 until 1954, had publicly voted for close ties to Russia in 1991, 1994, and 2008, and its parliament had voted to rejoin Russia in 2008. On March 16, 2014, 82% of Crimeans took part in a referendum, and 96% of them voted to rejoin Russia. This nonviolent, bloodless, democratic, and legal action, in no violation of a Ukrainian constitution that had been shredded by a violent coup, was immediately denounced in the West as a Russian “invasion” of Crimea.

      Novorossiyans, too, sought independence and were attacked by the new Ukrainian military the day after John Brennan visited Kiev and ordered that crime. I know that the Fairfax County Police who have kept me and my friends away from John Brennan’s house in Virginia have had no clue what hell he was unleashing on helpless people thousands of miles away. But that ignorance is at least as disturbing as informed malice would be. Civilians were attacked by jets and helicopters for months in the worst killing in Europe since World War II. Russian President Putin repeatedly pressed for peace, a ceasefire, negotiations. A ceasefire finally came on September 5, 2014.

      Remarkably, contrary to what we’ve all been told, Russia didn’t invade Ukraine any of the numerous times we were told that it had just done so. We’ve graduated from mythical weapons of mass destruction, through mythical threats to Libyan civilians, and false accusation of chemical weapons use in Syria, to false accusations of launching invasions that were never launched. The “evidence” of the invasion(s) was carefully left devoid of location or any verifiable detail, but has all been decidedly debunked anyway.

      The downing of the MH17 airplane was blamed on Russia with no evidence. The U.S. has information on what happened but won’t release it. Russia released what it had, and the evidence, in agreement with eye-witnesses on the ground, and in agreement with an air-traffic controller at the time, is that the plane was shot down by one or more other planes. “Evidence” that Russia shot the plane down with a missile has been exposed as sloppy forgeries. The vapor trail that a missile would have left was reported by not a single witness.

      Baldwin and Heartsong close with the case that U.S. actions have backfired, that in fact whether the people of the United States have any idea what is going on or not, the power brokers in Washington have Second Amendmented themselves in the foot. Sanctions against Russia have made Putin as popular at home as George W. Bush was after he’d managed to exist as president while planes were flown into the World Trade Center. The same sanctions have strengthened Russia by turning it toward its own production and toward alliances with non-Western nations. Ukraine has suffered, and Europe suffers from a cut-off of Russian gas, while Russia makes deals with Turkey, Iran, and China. Evicting a Russian base from Crimea seems more hopeless now than before this madness began. Russia is leading the way as more nations abandon the U.S. dollar. Retaliatory sanctions from Russia are hurting the West. Far from isolated, Russia is working with the BRICS nations, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and other alliances. Far from impoverished, Russia is buying up gold while the U.S. sinks into debt and is increasingly viewed by the world as a rogue player, and resented by Europe for depriving Europe of Russian trade.

      This story begins in the irrationality of collective trauma coming out of the holocaust of World War II and of blind hatred for Russia. It must end with the same irrationality. If U.S. desperation leads to war with Russia in Ukraine or elsewhere along the Russian border where NATO is engaging in various war games and exercises, there may be no more human stories ever told or heard.”

      • Bob Van Noy
        October 25, 2016 at 1:55 pm

        Good job Gregory… Thanks.

  19. Mahatma
    October 24, 2016 at 5:16 pm

    Really good article. Thank you for providing some clarity.

  20. Ellen Rosser
    October 24, 2016 at 5:49 pm

    Thank you for publishing this very informative article. I guess Trump knew what he was talking about when he said he wanted to make friends with Putin. (I’m voting Stein, not Trump).

  21. ranney moss
    October 24, 2016 at 6:12 pm

    That was an extraordinarily good article that covers just about all the questions one could have on Putin and Russia. I was fascinated by the description of his time as assistant mayor of St Petersburg, also by the fact that he alone didn’t take bribes.
    I’m forwarding this to all my friends and relatives who seem to think Putin is the devil incarnate (thank you Network news media). I will encourage them to read it, but it is long and most of these people don’t want to spare the time it takes to read more than a tweet. We live in a “don’t bother me with facts” country. I wish Natalie’s description of Putin’s career could be injected into Wikipedia, but I suppose that’s too much to ask.

    • J'hon Doe II
      October 24, 2016 at 7:34 pm

      Could Putin be western media’s archetype of Prince Myshkin, the chief character in Dostoyevsky’s “The Idiot.”?

    • Stephen Sivonda
      October 25, 2016 at 12:32 am

      Ranny Moss, I too also liked the article for many of the previously unknown items on Putin’s working life. What he did as a KGB agent, how he got into politics and all the steps that ultimately took him to being the president of Russia. The treachery of elements of the US Govt. in NOT honoring the Gorbachev / GHW Bush agreement about NATO goes to the Neocon , Pentagon and certain lawmakers supporting the MIC . Here’s a group that I belong to…Vladimir Putin Fan Club NZ . Putin It Right !! on F/B Give it a look ! Many in NZ are against the TPP , in the last 6 years their Govt has been co-opted by a Neocon PM. He’s an ex Merrill-Lynch banker who has made loads before the 2008 meltdown and has the country on the road to ruin. But like their US model, and their media being no better then ours as far as reporting accurate news he was re-elected a year and a half back. The parasites are difficult to get rid of once they get in office .

  22. J'hon Doe II
    October 24, 2016 at 8:15 pm

    Natylie Baldwin– “In February, the Obama administration announced that it was quadrupling funding for a major increase in NATO troops and weaponry in the countries of Eastern Europe on the border with Russia.”

    Obama’s buttons are pushed by The Minds Behind The Curtain. It’s, obey or die in our system of democracy. Proof, as always, is in the pudding. Obama was “brought to heel” very effectively, very early in his presidency. We’ll witness how he fares in the coming existing years of “American Democracy” after his stint as president in the era of Color Blindness. [giggle]

    His purported military blunders, which have “weakened America” were always shots called by men behind the curtain.

    What’s needed most today is an awakening, a revival of the spirit and commitment of a TOM HAYDEN – who just passed away –

    MAY THE SPIRIT OF TOM HAYDEN ENLIVEN AND EMBOLDEN A NEW NATIONAL UPRISING AGAINST WAR AND PERPETUAL WAR AS HE DID IN THE VIET NAM ERA !!!
    ::

    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/25/us/tom-hayden-dead.html?_r=0

  23. Zachary Smith
    October 24, 2016 at 10:54 pm

    This was a very interesting and useful essay to read. As for the part I’m quoting, I’ve wondered why I haven’t been seeing anything like this anywhere else.

    Today, we have an epidemic of militarized police officers who are shooting first and asking questions later; more and more people on death row are turning out to be innocent; rising inequality threatens our stability; and, a system of deep corruption in terms of campaign financing has compromised our democracy – corruption that is so profound that two political science academics have recently quantified the ways in which we are now officially an oligarchy.

    Is this any better than Russia’s corruption because it has been folded into our legal system? We certainly have our own “oligarchs” in the form of the Koch brothers, Bill Gates, and the Walton family. Perhaps we can concede that it’s not very useful to beat on Russia for not being Switzerland after only 25 years.

    The corruption and rotten dealing in the US has been growing by leaps and bounds in recent years. It may be paralleling the ever-more-extreme wealth divide, and the belief some people are “too rich to prosecute”, let alone jail. Unfortunately prosecutors are increasingly taking this attitude too.

  24. Bill Rood
    October 24, 2016 at 10:56 pm

    Ah, Putin does not accept bribes, or even “gifts,” nor most likely “speaking fees.” So he can not be bought by the Empire and is therefore “corrupt.” War is peace. Slavery is freedom.

  25. JRGJRG
    October 24, 2016 at 11:45 pm

    I at first missed this article because as I found out a few days later, yahoo.com bounced it being sent to my regular Yahoo Inbox “for policy reasons!” That was the reason given on my Mailer Demon notice. And Yahoo began refusing to deliver all Consortium articles after that.

    Apparently, they don’t like Bob Parry undermining their narrative blaming Russia, the official state propaganda, and this has bled over to the Internet. Consortium is peddling dangerous ideas to us weak minded citizens. Folks, 1984 has officially arrived and net censorship is here. We are in a hell of a mess in this country. Anyone that reads this stuff is going to be branded as a terrorist.

  26. Kramet
    October 25, 2016 at 2:37 am

    It’s China in the East; Russia in the West with the US on the far side of the Atlantic trying to peep in, guns blazing! The Phillipines was the beginning; the Middle East is where it will be end. Clinton may win, but Trump is America in its simplest essence

  27. ms 57
    October 25, 2016 at 4:56 am

    Vladimir’s Tale — Anne Applebaum, 2012

    “To illustrate the nature of Russia’s new ruling class, [Masha] Gessen provides portraits of several major and minor characters who have functioned within and around it since the 1990s. They include Mayor Sobchak, a friend and mentor to both Putin and his sidekick, ex-president Dmitri Medvedev; Boris Berezovsky, the oligarch—a former mathematician and engineer—who, by his own account, introduced Putin to Yeltsin, and thus facilitated his rise to power; Andrei Bystritsky, the Russian state television executive who was one of the chief propagandists for the Putin reelection campaign in 2004; and Alexander Litvinenko, the FSB officer murdered by radiation poisoning in London in 2006, after attempting to expose corruption in the FSB. She investigates Putin’s role in the botched KGB coup attempt of 1991, in the terrorist attack on a Moscow theater in 2002, and in the prosecution of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the oil oligarch who was arrested in 2003 after becoming too critical of Putin, and who remains in prison almost ten years later, following a series of what can only be called show trials.”

    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2012/04/26/vladimirs-tale/

  28. John
    October 25, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    Natalie,

    Thank you for the tremendous effort you put into this piece. I have come to expect excellent journalism from Robert Party’s site. Nonetheless this piece goes above and beyond the call of duty and stands out even on Robert’s site. I am also impressed with the fact that you are responding to commenters. I have recently tried very hard to understand Vladimir Putin. His foreign policy is completely rational and sensible and his rhetoric (ie. speeches at Valdai and interview with Charlie Rose) is right on the money. However much of his history disturbs me. Since you have obviously done a lot of research on Putin and Russia I am hoping that you can point me in the right direction and help me research a couple of issues that are puzzling me. First, I don’t understand what went on when Putin was head of the Committee for External Relations in St. Petersburg in the early 90’s. He seems to have set up a series of barter arrangements which were supposed to enable St. Petersburg to trade precious metals for food to help solve a food shortage at that time. It appears that $93 million in metals was spent, but that no food was received in exchange. Marian Salye investigated this and tried unsuccessfully to prosecute Putin for this. She posted all of the documents associated with this fiasco on a Miami University website before she died. You can still find and download these documents if you Google “Salye Commission Documents.” You can see what appears to be Putin’s signature in several places in these documents above lines with Putin V.V. typed in Cyrilic. The signature are unreadable but I assume that Putin actually signed and stamped these documents. He gave speeches lauding these agreements and then either failed to follow through on them or misappropriated all of the funds acquired from the transactions resulting from them. Secondly the circumstances surrounding the Moscow apartment bombings are troubling. Shortly after Putin gave up his position as head of the FSB to become acting Prime Minister of the Russian Federation the apartment bombings occurred. The FSB was caught planting what appeared to be explosives in the basement of an apartment building in Ryazan shortly after the apartment bombings. There appear to almost be more stories explaining the apartment bombings than people telling these stories so this series of incidents is really confusing. Putin is believed by many to be building a palatial estate on the Black Sea with money hidden in shell companies. Some claim he has embezzled about $40 billion from Russia via companies like Rosinvest. I really want to get my head around Putin. The harder I try the more confused I get. Can you help?

    • John
      October 25, 2016 at 12:39 pm

      Robert and Natylie,

      Apologies for the typos on the above comment. My spellchecker does atrocious things on this tablet and I don’t always catch them.

  29. DBR
    October 25, 2016 at 1:15 pm

    Anna Politkovskaya, Alexander Litvinov, Stanslav Markelov, Boris Nemtsov. All critics of Putin. All murdered. By common hoodlums, all of them? Or by order of Putin?

    • David G
      October 25, 2016 at 7:27 pm

      Two things:

      1) Being a critic of Vladimir Putin does not give anybody the secret of eternal life, so yes, such people can die from other causes, natural or otherwise, than by order of the Dark Lord.

      2) Even if Putin really is bumping off journalists or others he doesn’t like, that fact—while lamentable, and worthy of exposure—is still peripheral, if not irrelevant, to the dangerously rising geopolitical tension between the U.S. (and its cronies) and Russia, and doesn’t change the manifest public record of Russia acting rationally, diplomatically, and in accordance with international law, while the U.S. flagrantly and relentless behaves otherwise.

  30. Abe
    October 25, 2016 at 3:13 pm

    In Russian Newspaper Monitor, an overview of Russian media landscape, Professor Filip Kovacevic discusses the front-page articles from three Russian newspapers: Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Kommersant and Nezavisimaya Gazeta. He focuses on the recent interviews by the Russian president Vladimir Putin and the Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, the state of the Russian-German relations, the recent movement of the “Iskander-M” rocket launchers, and the Russian influence in Central Asia.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=201&v=u_9gm9SJdXw

    • Abe
      October 25, 2016 at 6:51 pm

      Filip Kovacevic (PhD University of Missouri-Columbia, 2002) is Adjunct Professor in the Department of Politics at the University of San Francisco, California specializing in geopolitics, U.S. foreign policy, and East-Central European / Eurasian affairs. He is the author of seven books, dozens of academic articles & conference presentations and hundreds of newspaper columns and media commentaries. He has been invited to lecture throughout the EU, Balkans, ex-USSR and the US.

      Kovacevic has been one of the leading intellectual figures campaigning for democratic reforms, the rule of law, and the protection of human rights in Montenegro. He is the chairman of the Movement for Neutrality of Montenegro and has been sharply critical of the ruling oligarchy, its abuse of Montenegrin state resources and persecution of political opponents as well as its servile foreign policy.

      Kovacevic blog on Geopolitics
      https://geopoliticskovacevic.blogactiv.eu/

  31. David G
    October 25, 2016 at 7:43 pm

    Super and much needed piece, Natylie Baldwin (especially now that the links work). Many thanks indeed!

    Regarding Russia’s deep historic background, it is worth noting that prior to the Mongol invasion, there was another, less despotic Russia, represented by the Novgorod Republic, with indigenous, council-type governing institutions such as “veches” (cognate to “soviets”). This tradition was ended when, post-Mongols, hitherto obscure, absolutist Moscow was the state left standing to begin its historic expansion.

    So today’s Russians can look to their own past, and not just models in the more “advanced’ West, for inspiration in their democratic development.

  32. Erieza
    October 26, 2016 at 1:36 pm

    One of those interesting articles about Putin as a person, his values and Russia as a country that is inclusive and trying to make its people happy.

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