“Populist Stalinism”? Final Episode of In Search of Putin’s Russia

In Search of Putin’s Russian – Part 4 The State of the Arts

Al Jazeera (20150

Film Review

In this final episode, journalist and filmmaker Andrei Nekrasov interviews the director of a film about the 1939 non-aggression pact between Stalin and Hitler; the manager of a fringe theater group that puts on pro-gay, pro-Ukraine and anti-Putin plays; visitors to the last remaining Stalin gulag; attendees at a recent pro-Stalin conference; a Russian ultranationalist who advocates the prosecution of pro-homosexuality, pro-Ukraine, pro-multiculturalism, pro-tolerance, pro-liberal and pro-abortion Russians; and a wealthy Moscow “liberal” who believes that wealthy oligarchs, rather than Putin, are the real power behind the Russian government.

  • 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact – the fact that Stalin and Hitler initially collaborated tends to be suppressed in Russian schools and history books. Yet despite a filmmaker’s refusal to make recommended script changes, the film received full funding from the Russian Cinema Fund.
  • Fringe theater – the theater group specializing in pro-gay, pro-Ukraine and anti-Putin plays talks about a police raid and arbitrary eviction from their premises.
  • Stalin Gulag – the Russian government has destroyed all but one of Stalin’s former Gulags. They have also ended regular festivals that formerly occurred at the one that remains.
  • “Populist Stalinism” – Nekrasov explores a bizarre movement within the Orthodox Church to have Stalin proclaimed a saint.
  • Russian ultranationalism – the Duma, as well as Putin’s ruling United Russia Party, are full of ultranationallist conservatives. The rich liberal Nekrasov interviews regards Putin’s embrace of conservative values as opportunism and pandering to Russia’s unwashed masses.

 

 

Al Jazeera Investigates Putin: Power Mad Dictator or Popular Hero?

In Search of Putin’s Russia – Part 1 Kremlin Rules

Al Jazeera (2015)

Film Review

This is the first in a 4-part Al Jazeera series narrated by liberal Russian journalist and filmmaker Andrei Nekrasov. It tries to offer a “balanced” examination of the extent to which civil and political liberties are tolerated and/or suppressed under Putin. The filmmakers avoid drawing firm conclusions, leaving viewers to decide whether Putin is a power mad  dictator as the Western media portrays him. The impression I came away with is that 1) Russian oligarchs, rather than Putin himself, control the levers of power and 2) Russian society is steadily moving towards “populist authoritarianism.” In both respects, it’s remarkably similar to the US.

In Part 1 Nekarsov looks at  the anti-Putin opposition parties and the extent to which the Russian government tolerates their activities. Nekarsov interviews a producer at independent self-supporting Dozhd TV, as well as members of small opposition parties the Social Democratic Party and the PARNAS (People’s Freedom) Party.

The Dozhd TV producer maintains the Russian government allows them totally free expression.

Obviously opposition parties have more limited access to state-run media at election time. Although the government regularly grants them permits to protest, they are limited to areas outside of central Moscow. Surprisingly several anti-Putin members of PARNAS support his policies in Ukraine.

Nekarsov also attends a 2015 appeal hearing by prominent Putin opponent Alexei Navalnya. The latter, along with his brother, was convicted for corruption in 2013. Alexei’s sentence was suspended while his brother remains in jail. Nemtzov learns that the Russian government helps pay the legal cost of individuals in political dispute with state authorities.*

The journalist/filmmaker also participates in an anti-Putin protest following the February 2015 assassination of Duma member and prominent Putin opponent Morris Nemtzov. Views of fellow demonstrators vary on the extent of Putin’s responsibility for Nemtzov’s death. Some carry signs accusing Putin of murder. Others believe he has lost control of his government officials and that powerful oligarchs staged the assassination to embarrass him. Still others blame the Russian government and media for deliberately promoting intolerance.

In 2017, five Chechen separatists were convicted of Nemtzov’s murder. Investigation continues into the person or persons who ordered the murder. See  New York Times


*During Putin’s first two terms as president, he introduced or oversaw the implementation of the rights of habeas corpus and trial by jury, increased rights to exculpatory evidence and other important legal reforms. See Rule of Law Under Putin

 

 

Russia’s Criminal Oligarchy: The Role of Bush Senior and the CIA

 

This Guns and Butter interview is full of astonishing information (that you will never find in the corporate media) about the role of Bush senior and CIA-funded foundations in the creation of Russia’s criminal oligarchy and the systematic dismantling of communist Poland and the Soviet Union. Bonnie Faulkner and F William Engdahl are discussing his new book Manifest Destiny: Democracy as Cognitive Dissonance.

In the first 15 minutes of the interview, Engdahl describes Reagan’s creation of the CIA-funded National Endowment for Democracy and its sister groups National Democratic Institute (NDI), International Republican Institute (IRI) Freedom House, and Solidarity Center. The formation of the so-called independent foundations enabled the CIA to fund a full range of illegal covert activities without being subject to congressional scrutiny. All worked closely with various foundations funded by George Soros to deliberately destabilize the Warsaw Pact.

15.30 Engdahl discusses the CIA conspiracy to bring down Poland’s communist government, starting with the secret pact Reagan and Pope John Paul II (the first Polish pope) formed in 1982. In this clandestine campaign, NED invested tens of millions of dollar in fax, copy machines, etc, which they smuggled into Poland with the help of Polish priests. This equipment, in turn, was used to facilitate mass protests supposedly organized by Solidarnosc, the dockworkers union led by Lech Walesa.

20.19 Engdahl talks about the 300 CIA agents left over from George Herbert Walker Bush’s tenure as CIA director – and how Bush senior regrouped them into private entities to engage in covert activities in Poland and the USSR.

21.00 Engdahl covers the mass protests leading to the collapse of the communist government in 1989 and the election of Lech Walesa as president. Walesa, in turn, opened the door for George Soros and Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs to strip the Polish economy of all its assets and impose harsh austerity measures.

32.00 Engdahl discusses Executive Order 12333 (signed by Reagan), which put Vice President George Herbert Walker Bush in charge of all US foreign and national security policy after 1981 – and Executive Order 13233 signed by George W Bush, which severely limited public access to the records of prior presidents.

36.00 Engdahl talks about the Enterprise, a private intelligence/security network created by George Herbert Walker Bush that included teams run by Oliver North and Richard Secord. In addition to organizing illegal weapons sales to Iran (Iran Contra), The Enterprise recruited corrupt KGB generals to help  bring down Gorbachev’s government. According to Engdahl, these generals were the real origin (not the Russian mafia) of Russia’s corrupt billionaire oligarchs. The oligarchs were young proteges of these generals.

39.00 Engdahl explains Operation Hammer which financed the KGB generals’ coup against Korbachev in 1991 and installed Boris Yeltsin as president. The latter allowed the oligarchs, with the help of George Soros, Jeffrey Sachs and other Harvard economists to loot Russia exactly as they had looted Poland.

49.54 Engdahl describes how the Open Russia Foundation bribed corrupt legislators in the Duma to privatize all Russia’s natural resources and richest industries (minerals, oil, gas, the largest aluminum smelter in the world) and how Sachs, Soros and their cronies assisted the oligarchs in selling off all these industries for pennies on the dollar. When the giant Russian oil company Yukos was privatized, international banker Jacob Rothschild, George Soros and Henry Kissinger were appointed as Yukos board members.

52.00 Engdahl traces the downfall of Yeltsin starting in 1998 when the Duma refused to approve Chernomyrdin as prime minister. Yeltsin then appointed Yevgeny Primakov, who immediately filed criminal charges against oligarch Boris Berezovksy, who fled to London. When Clinton began bombing Serbia in March 1999, Primakov was en route to Washington DC and order his pilot to turn around and return to Moscow. When he demanded Yeltsin support the Serbs, Yeltsin sacked him.

54.00 After Yeltsin lost control of the Russian military, which dispatched troops to seize the airport in Kosovo, he appointed Putin as Prime Minister. Engdahl attributes this decision to KGB  deception operation that convinced Yeltsin and his oligarch buddies that Putin would play along. Instead Putin threatened Yeltsin with corruption charges unless he resigned. Putin would serve as acting president until he was elected in his own right in March 2000.

 

 

Putin: A Russian Primetime TV Documentary

 

Exclusive: Fantastic Russian Prime Time 2 HR Putin documentary

Masterskaya (2016)

English subtitles

Film Review

This film, despite being an obvious pro-Putin propaganda piece, provides interesting historical background on his role in thwarting western efforts to turn Russia into a third world sweatshop.

The beginning of the documentary, describing the plans laid by Putin’s cabinet to remove the oligarchs from power (see How Putin Outwitted the Russian Oligarchs ), confirm what I have always suspected: that his rise to global prominence relies heavily on his ability to choose skilled advisors.

This documentary also clearly conveys that he’s as much a populist as Donald Trump – though a far more skilled one. An amazingly effective speaker, his ability to influence and manage large groups is unparalleled among world leaders.

Although he tends to be extremely guarded about disclosing personal feelings, the film contains a few revealing clips from TV interviews. In one, he admits to his mistaken belief as a KGB agent that political conflict with the West would dissolve once Russians abandoned their Communist ideology. He now realizes that Russia will always have tension with the West based on competing geopolitical interests (ie competing demands for resources, markets, labor etc).

I was also intrigued to hear him discuss his enormous debt to teacher and mentor Anatoly Sobchak. Sobchak was a legal scholar and politician who co-wrote the constitution of the Russian Federation and was the first democratically elected mayor of St Petersburg. He died under suspicious circumstances in 2000.

The film’s main weakness is its total dismissal of Russia’s opposition movement as being too chaotic and disorganized for Putin to take seriously. While there is good reason to suspect CIA involvement in various anti-Putin street protests, it seems to be there would also be legitimate protest against the enormous obstacles to registering new political parties in Russia, as well as major censorship by the mainly state-controlled media.

I was also irritated by the repeated emphasis on Putin being a self-sacrificing leader with no interest whatsoever in personal wealth or power. According to various former insiders, Putin has immense personal wealth and may be one of the richest men in the world. See Putin Corruption: Five Things We Learned About the President’s Secret Wealth

 

How Putin Outwitted the Russian Oligarchs

The Rise and Fall of the Russian Oligarchs

Directed by Alexander Gentelev (2006)

Film Review

The Rise and Fall of the Russian Oligarchs focuses on the scandalous period after the collapse of the Soviet Union, in which 100 opportunist oligarchs destroyed the economy of a relatively wealthy country (with the help of the CIA, USAID, the IMF and the World Bank) by seizing $20 billion of assets for roughly a billion dollars. The admitted goal of these Russian oligarchs (and their CIA supporters) was to privatize as many industries as possible behind the scenes before the Communist majority in the Russian parliament could consolidate power and stop them. The documentary’s overarching theme concerns Putin’s rise to power in 1999, which is credited for saving the Russian economy via his shrewd confrontation and defeat of these oligarchs.

This Russian-made documentary focuses on three specific oligarchs: Mikhail Chernoy, who now lives in exile in Israel; Theodore Gusinski, who now lives in exile in Spain, and Boris Beresovksy, who now lives in exile in London. It’s divided into two parts.

Part 1

Part 1 describes how these men used privatization schemes introduce by the last Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev (under Perestroika – 1985-1991) to acquire a variety of Russian assets for pennies on the dollar. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many state-owned factories were threatened with closure, the Russian government initially privatized them through an ill-conceived voucher scheme. Ownership in the factories was broken up into millions of shares in the form of vouchers distributed to all Russian citizens. Because they had no other source of income, many were forced to sell their vouchers cheaply for food. Others were tricked into “investing” them in phoney investment schemes as their owners sold on their hoard of vouchers and pocketed the proceeds.

Chernoy wound up with hundreds of thousands of these vouchers, which he used to buy up Russia’s aluminum industry.

Using western financing, Gusinski would form Russia’s first commercial TV network in 1993. In 1994 Berezovsky (again with the help of western financing) would buy Russian state TV for a few million dollars. Joining with other oligarchs, they skillfully used their media monopoly to promote their privatization agenda.

Part 1 also covers the 1991 attempted coup against Gorbachev (a desperate attempt by the Communists to reverse rapid privatization); Yeltsin’s successful (CIA-backed) coup in 1993, in which he used the military to attack the Russian parliament, effectively dissolving parliament and the constitutional court; and the vast human misery caused by the “shock therapy” Wall Street imposed Russia as they looted their economy. This, in turn, would lead to escalating mass protests demanding a return of the Communists to power.

Part 2

Part 2 focuses on the oligarch (and CIA) financed and controlled election of Boris Yeltsin in 1996 – as well as the direct role the oligarchs assumed in government following Yeltsin’s victory against his more popular Communist opponent.

The Russian economy reached breaking point in 1998. By then, the Russian government had lost so main state-owned industries (75%) that it could no longer pay its debts and Russian banks froze depositors assets.

This, along with Yeltsin’s failing health, would lead to a political crisis, resulting in Vladimir Putin’s appointment as acting president initially supported by the oligarchs – in 1999. Following Putin’s election in 2000, he quickly turned on oligarch supporters, who expected to control his government as they had Yeltsin’s.

Then, as now, he excelled at media manipulation, capitalizing on popular fear of Chechen terrorism to heighten his popularity. He also shrewdly confronted individual oligarchs for tax evasion and other financial crimes during televised cabinet meetings.

This was followed up by security raids and harassment, arrest – and in some cases imprisonment – to encourage numerous oligarchs to relinquish their ill-gotten shares to state control.

In this way, Putin essentially ended Wall Street’s wholesale exploitation of the Russian economy and the Russian people – and Wall Street and the US military-intelligence complex have never forgiven him for it.

The documentary’s main weakness is its failure to explore the major role Wall Street and US intelligence played in the destruction of the Russian economy between 1991-2000. Good background on this at the following links:

The Harvard Boys do Russia

US Meddling in 1996 Russian Elections in Support of Boris Yeltsin

USA Russia

The Plunder of Russia in the 1990s

How Big Oil Dictates US Foreign Policy

The Secret of the Seven Sisters

Al Jazeera English (2013)

Film Review

Despite its length, this documentary should be compulsory viewing. Everyone with an IQ over 90 should see it at least once before they die. It was only in viewing this film that I fully grasped the insane, oil-inspired military aggression in the third world and the US fascination with despotic dictators.

The video below is actually an 8-part series shown over successive nights on Al Jazeera-English. I’ve summarized the highlights of each of the eight parts so you can fast forward to specific segments that interest you.

0.00 – 23.26

Part 1 takes viewers from the founding of the secret Seven Sisters oil cartel in 1928 to the creation of the competing Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1960. The latter is made up of oil producing countries that have nationalized their oil industries.*

The film begins by describing the secret (illegal) cartel formed in 1928 by the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (which became British Petroleum), Standard Oil (which became Exxon) and Royal Dutch Shell. The goal was to end the cutthroat competition that was eating into profits. At a secret meeting in Scotland the three companies agreed to an orderly division of global production zones, as well as a process for fixing oil prices.

Later Mobil, Gulf, Texico and Chevron would join these three oil giants. The existence of the cartel remained secret until the 1950s, when it became known as the Seven Sisters.

This segment describes the totalitarian control BP exercised over Iran until 1951. A strike for higher wages led to a national uprising that overthrew the Shah and resulted in the democratic election of Mohammad Mosadegh as president. When the latter threatened to nationalize Iran’s oil industry, the British government requested CIA assistance to overthrow Mosadegh and restore the Shah to the throne. In return, the US government won the right for American oil companies to join BP in exploiting Iran’s oil resources.

In July 1956 after Egyptian president Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal (the main route for transporting Middle East oil to Europe), Britain, France and Israel declared war on Egypt. Nasser responded to an aerial bombing campaign by using concrete bunkers to blockade all Suez traffic. For once, the US and USSR collaborated to pressure the three aggressors to withdraw their forces and restore the transit of oil tankers through the canal.

23.26 – 46.00

Part 2 traces how the rise of OPEC worked to gradually erode the dominance of the Seven sisters – with violent repercussions.

In 1972 Saddam Hussein nationalized Iraq’s oil industry, with technical and military support from the Soviets and the French.

By October 1973, when Israel’s Arab neighbors launched the Yum Kippur War, OPEC members controlled 60% of the global oil supply. This enabled them to launch an oil embargo against the US in retaliation for their support of Israel in the 1973 conflict.

In 1978 Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, living in exile in Paris, called for a workers strike in the Iranian oil industry that caused a total shutdown of oil production. This, in turn, led the US to abandon their longtime support of the Shah and his secret police. The result was a national uprising, the forced exile of the Shah, the return of Ayatollah and the nationalization of Iran’s oil industry.

Determined to regain American corporate control of Iran’s oil industry, the US government backed Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iraq in 1980. The sudden onset of peace in 1988 led to a period of “overproduction” and a dangerous drop in oil prices. In response, George Bush senior, whose Zapata oil company had made a fortune via offshore drilling in Kuwait, openly encouraged Saddam Hussein (through ambassador April Glaspie) to invade Kuwait. This would create a pretext for the first US invasion of Iraq in 1991.

In May 2001 (20 months before the US invasion), a secret energy task force headed by former oil executives Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice, drew up a plan whereby Exxon, Shell and BP would divide up US occupied Iraq into eight oil extraction zones.

48.00 – 61.00

Part 3 describes the decision by the Seven Sisters to open up Africa to increasing oil exploitation due to their gradual loss of control over Middle East oil.

In 1970, Colonel Omar Gaddafi led a coup against a corrupt Libyan monarchy that was allowing the Seven Sisters to pay 12 cents a barrel in royalties to extract high quality Libyan oil. Gaddafi immediately nationalized the oil industry, raised oil prices 33% and used the funds to finance generous public services for the Libyan world and to fund freedom fighters all over the world (including the Palestinians).

This section also traces the history of the French oil companies ELF and Total in Nigeria. After Algeria won independence from France in 1971, they nationalized their oil industry, and ELF began exploiting oil resources in Nigeria, Chad, Congo, Cameroon, and Angola, where they financed guerrillas and despotic regimes and participated in bribery and embezzlement schemes that massively increased the international indebtedness of these countries. In 2003 the CEO of ELF was sentenced to prison and the company was bought out by Total.

61.00 – 95.00

Part 4 covers the role of the Seven Sisters in stoking Sudan’s civil war (most of Sudan’s oil comes from South Sudan) and the role of Shell Oil Company in Nigeria’s trial and execution of environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.

95.00 – 118.00

Part 5 traces the longstanding battle between Russia and the US oil industry over control of the Baku oilfields on the Caspian Sea. It begins with Lenin’s capture of the oilfields in 1920. Hitler’s primary reason for attacking the USSR in 1941 was to gain control over Baku.

This section also details how a US-Saudi conspiracy to flood the market with oil in the late eighties (dropping the global oil price to $13) ultimately led to the Soviet collapse in 1989. At the time revenue from oil sales was the Soviet’s sole source of foreign currency.

118.00 – 142.00

Part 6 concerns the role of the color revolutions in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan in keeping Caspian Sea oil out of Russian hands and under the control of US oil companies.

It briefly discusses the US role in Boris Yeltsin’s coup against the Russian parliament and his privatization of the Russian oil industry on behalf of the Seven sisters and a handful of Russian oligarchs (Putin has subsequently re-nationalized Russia’s oil industry).

142.00 -165.00

Part 7 discusses the concept of Peak Oil and the current dispute between the Iraqi Kurds and the Iraqi government over the control of the Bakr oil terminal near Bazra. At present it’s illegal for the Kurds to export their own oil. Eighty-five percent of Iraqi oil is processed at the Bakr oil terminal and Iraqi Kurdistan on receives 17% of this revenue.

165.00 – 190.00

Part 8 is about the Seven Sisters exploitation of Mexican and Venezuelan oil prior to the election of Hugo Chavez as president. It also summarizes that status of the countries (Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, Venezuela, Brazil, and Malaysia) that have nationalized their oil industry. At present these countries control one-third of oil and gas production, and more than one-third of oil reserves. Despite their role in instigating western military aggression, the influence of the Seven Sisters continues to declines.

At present they control 10% of oil production and only 3% of oil reserves. Their monopoly on exploration, drilling and refining technology gives them disproportionate control over the industry.


*Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela

Privatization and the Theft of the Commons

Catastroika

by Aris Chatzistefanou and Katerina Kitidi

Film Review

Catastroika is a Greek documentary on neoliberalism, with a specific focus on the privatization of publicly owned resources. Although it makes no mention of historian Richard Linebaugh, its depiction of the neoliberal privatization movement provides an elegant illustration of the ongoing theft of the Commons (see Stop Thief: the Theft of the Commons).

After a brief overview of the University of Chicago economists (championed by Milton Friedman) who first put neoliberal theory into practice during the Pinochet dictatorship, the documentary tracks the wholesale privatization of Russia’s state owned industries after the 1993 coup by Boris Yeltsin, in which he illegally ordered dissolution of the Russian parliament (see The Rise of Putin and the Fall of the Oligarchs).

The fire sale of state assets to oligarchs and western bankers would virtually destroy the Russian economy, throwing millions of people into extreme poverty and reducing average life expectancy by ten years.

The Privatization of East Germany

With German reunification in 1990, East Germany would be the third major target for massive privatization. According to German economists interviewed in the film, the process amounted to an “acquisition” of East Germany by West German bankers. The West German government set up an agency called Treuhand to buy up state owned East German businesses at the rate of ten to fifteen a day – a total of 8,500 businesses in four years. The process, undertaken with virtually no oversight, predictably resulted in massive chaos and fraud. Many well-performing East Germany companies were dissolved for the simple reason they competed with West German businesses. Three million (out of 4.5 million) East German workers lost their jobs, which East Germany’s GDP shrank by 30%.

Using Debt to Compel Compliance

With the gradual demise of the world’s dictatorships during the 1990s, debt, rather than brute force, became the main mechanism to compel people to give up their publicly funded assets. At present, most of the focus is on Greece.

Current EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker holds up Treuhand (which incurred a 250 million euro debt German taxpayers are still paying off) as a model for the Greek Asset Development Fund. The latter has been steadily selling off (at bargain basement prices) Greek railroads and municipal power and water systems.

The Dismal Track Record of Privatized Utilities

The filmmakers end the film by highlighting the disastrous outcome of Britain’s decision to privatize its railroads in 1993, the city of Paris decision to privatize its water service in the 1980s (it’s recently been re-municipalized due to massive public unrest – like privatized water systems in Bolivia, Ecuador and Argentina) and California’s experiment with electricity deregulation in the 1990s (leading to the Enron scandal).*


*The Enron scandal involved massive securities fraud and a deliberate conspiracy by power companies to withhold power to drive up electricity prices.