“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.

 

 

In Search of Putin’s Russia Reclaiming the Empire – Part 3

In Search of Putin’s Russia – Part 3 Reclaiming the Empire

Al Jazeera (2015)

Film Review

In Part 3,  Andrei Nekrasov explores what Russian liberal intellectuals feel are the two major external threats currently facing Russia: 1) a US-sponsored coup in Ukraine that threatens to place NATO troops on Russia’s western border and 2) so-called “radical” Islam. He begins this episode by reminding us that the current Russian Federation is quite a bit smaller than pre-revolutionary Russia.

Ukraine

Nekrasov interviews a Russian Special Forces officer who served as a volunteer trainer for Russian volunteers who fought to defend the newly declared Donetsk Peoples Republic (in eastern Ukraine); a volunteer who fought in this capacity and an recent ethnic Russian immigrant from Ukraine. By 2015, when this documentary was made, over one million ethnic Russians had fled Ukraine into Russia.

The Special Forces officer complains bitterly about the government’s refusal to fund either his efforts or those of volunteer troops – although Moscow does supply tanks to Russian combatants in eastern Ukraine. Only about 20-30% of pro-independence fighters in Donbass are Russian volunteers. At least 70% are Donbass natives.

The Donbass refugee speaks quite poignantly about bombing campaigns by the Ukrainian government that deliberately target civilians and civilian infrastructure.

Dagastan

By deliberately circumventing a government checkpoint that bars entry to journalists, Nekrasov pays a visit to Dagastan, a north Caucasus region under episodic attack by Islamic separatists. He interviews a number of Muslim civilians who complain of being brutalized by Russian forces stationed there. In some cases, troops have arbitrarily sacked civilian homes and permanently destroyed power, water and sewer connections. Some women complain of male family members being “disappeared.”

Officially Putin portrays Islam as essential to the fabric of Russian society, while labeling violent extremism as inconsistent with an essentially peaceful religion.

At the same time Islamophobia is rife among the Russian population and media, which the Russian government does little to discourage.

 

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

 

 

Pipelinistan: Is the Novichok Psyops an Effort to Shut Down Nord Stream 2?

Politics, Power and Pipelines – Europe and Natural Gas

DW (2018)

Film Review

This documentary concerns Russia’s controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, due for completion by the end of 2019. The EU, the UK and the US have been working hard to shut down Nord Stream 2, and various commentators believe the current Novichok psyops is an effort to pressure Germany to back out of their agreement with Gazprom.

The Nord Stream 2 project is a partnership between Russian state-owned Gazprom and five private energy companies from Britain, Germany, France and Netherlands. It will transport natural gas directly across the Baltic Sea to Germany. The existing Nord Stream 1  pipeline system transports Russian gas to western Europe mainly via Ukraine.

Since the 2014 US-sponsored coup in Ukraine, there has been considerable conflict between Russia and Ukraine over Nord Stream 1 – involving Ukraine’s non-payment of fuel charges, their failure to maintain the pipeline and illegal diversion of gas supplies. Russia totally shut down gas supplies to Ukraine in 2009 and 2014 for non-payment, resulting in very cold winters for Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary at the other end of the pipeline.*

Two prominent Germans are part of the Nord Stream 2 consortium, former German Chancellor and Social Democratic Party leader Gerhard Schroder and former Stasi member and Putin friend Mattias Warning. The latter serves as the company’s Managing Director.

Despite their determination to become more independent of Russian gas and oil, Poland and other Eastern European states are dismayed that Nord Stream 2 will bypass them. Ukraine is distraught because it stands to lose $2 billion annually in transit fees.

The EU is trying to stop Nord Stream 2 by claiming regulatory authority, **which Russia and German dispute, as both Nord Stream 1 and 2 are external pipelines.

The US also opposes the pipeline, as it prefers both EU countries to buy its more costly fracked LNG (liquified natural gas). They have threatened economic sanctions on countries that sign new energy agreements with Russia.

The US also opposed Nord Stream 1 (completed in 1973), fearing it might lead to a closer relationship between West Germany and Russia. Former German chancellor Willy Brandt strongly championed Nord Stream 1, over US objections. He believed trade and detente*** were a preferable strategy for bringing down the Iron Curtain. It now appears he was right.

The filmmakers raise legitimate concerns about Russia investing so heavily in yet more fossil fuel pipelines (Gazprom is also building a pipeline via Turkey to Italy and Greece) in a period when the planet urgently needs to end fossil fuel use altogether.


*On March 3, 2018, Russia announced it was ending fossil fuel contracts with Ukraine altogether, raising grave concerns for countries at the other end of the pipeline. See Russia’s Gazprom to Terminate Gas Contracts with Ukraine

**Detente is a cold war term referring to the easing of strained relations.

 

Ukrainian Soldiers Caught Planting Car Bombs in Donbass – Guess Who Trained Them?

The “mystery” behind the long list of assassinated rebel leaders in Donbass might now be solved.

Two Ukrainian soldiers have been captured with weapons and bomb-making materials by Lugansk authorities.

The two soldiers, both allegedly part of Ukraine’s Special Forces, confessed to assassinating the rebel commander Oleg Anashchenko last month.

Partial list of prominent rebel leaders who have been assassinated:

  • May 23, 2015: Luhansk rebel leader Aleksey Mozgovoy is assassinated in East Ukraine (his car was ambushed).
  • October 16, 2016: Donetsk rebel leader Arsen Pavlov, aka “Motorola”, is assassinated by a bomb.
  • February 8, 2017: Donetsk rebel leader Mikhail Tolstykh, aka “Givi”, is assassinated by some sort of explosive projectile or bomb.

 

 

Snowden: The Book Behind the Film

snowden-files

The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man

By Luke Harding

Guardian Books (2014)

Book Review

The Snowden Files is the fast-paced thrilleresque account of whistleblower Edward Snowden’s dramatic escape from US capture in Hong Kong, following his leak of thousands of computer files documenting Orwellian NSA surveillance activites. Earlier this year, this book was remade as the motion picture Snowden.

Published in the UK, The Snowden Files provides substantial background on the NSA’s British counterpart GCHQ, whose spying on innocent civilians is even more egregious than the NSA’s, owing to the country’s weaker civil liberties protections. In fact, the NSA relies on GCHQ to engage in certain types of snooping (on Americans) that are expressly forbidden in the US.

When Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald first broke the story that Internet giants Google, Facebook, Apple and Yahoo were secretly turning over vast amounts of customer data to the NSA, his editors were forced to release the story online from the Guardian’s New York office to avoid prosecution in Britain. Shortly after the story’s release, British police destroyed all the hard drives in the Guardian’s London office – in the belief they continued copies of NSA files Snowden had released.

I especially appreciated the book’s epilogue about Snowden’s life in Russia, as it dispels much of the western propaganda about his selling NSA secrets to Russia, his refusal to learn Russian (he speaks enough to do his own grocery shopping and is working to improve his fluency), and his (non-existent) job with a Russian tech company. At the time of publication, Snowden supported himself through savings and speaking fees.

Four other government whistleblowers (Coleen Rowley, Jesselyn Radack, Ray McGovern and Thomas Drake) visited Snowden in Moscow in 2013, and the book recounts their meeting.

The book’s major shortcoming is its embarrassing fact checking lapses – for example the assertion that Putin “invaded” Crimea in 2014. Most independent sources confirm that in 2014 the legislature of the Autonomous Republic Crimea held a referendum in which 95.5% voted to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. The referendum was triggered when a US-sponsored fascist coup seized the government in Kiev.

Untold History of the US – The Cold War

Parts 4 and 5 of Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States explore the exaggerated claims of Soviet expansionism that characterized the Truman/Eisenhower administration.

Part 4 begins by contrasting the economic standing of the US and the USSR when the war ended in 1945. The US economy was booming. America controlled 50% of the world’s economic production and most of its gold. The Soviet economy, in contrast, had been shattered. Truman reneged on Roosevelt’s promise to provide the Soviets post war aid to assist in their recovery. During the US occupation of West Germany, he also discontinued German war reparations to the USSR.

The late forties was a period of excruciating poverty for Eastern Europe, with major famine in the Ukraine. With the Soviet economy in a shambles, the claims made by Truman about their intention to conquer the world were ludicrous.

After Henry Wallace, the last holdover from the Roosevelt administration, made a major speech (echoing statements by Einstein and Eleanor Roosevelt) opposing nuclear weapons, Truman fired him.

This episode also explores the first implementation of the Truman Doctrine, justifying US intervention in the domestic affairs of other countries. Truman first used it in 1947 to put down a popular uprising against a fascist coup in Greece. In a clear precursor to US intervention in Vietnam, Truman sent in US advisors to train the Greek military in “counterinsurgency tactics,” ie death squads to crush unions and human rights organizations and concentration camps to extinguish civilian support for pro-independence activists.

Part 4: Cold War: 1945-50

Part 5 explores the election of Eisenhower to power in 1952, coinciding with Khrushchev’s rise to power in 1953 and the re-election of Churchill in 1951 (Churchill was replaced by Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee from 1945-51).

Eisenhower, who had opposed using the A-bomb against Japan at Pottsdam, became a fervent nuclear weapons supporter as president. Under pressure from anti-communist hawk John Foster Dulles, he resisted Khrushchev’s and Churchill’s to organize a peace summit to limit the nuclear arms race.

Eisenhower would go on to engage in war crimes in Korean, causing massive civilian deaths by bombing North Korean dams.

In addition to authorizing the CIA overthrow of democratically elected governments in Iran in 1953 and Guatemala in 1954, he paid 80% of French military costs as they endeavored to defeat Vietnam’s pro-independence movement.

In this episode, Stone also explores the formation of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1955 in Java. Members consisted of world leaders determined to remain independent of either US or Soviet influence. In attendance at the first meeting were Ho Chi Minh  (Vietnam), Tito (Yugoslavia), Nehru (India), Nasser (Egypt), Zhou Enlai (China) and Sukarno (Indonesia). The CIA eventually removed each of these men from power, in some cases via assassination.

Part 5: the ’50s: Eisenhower, The Bomb and the Third World