Category Archives: Russia

Macedonia, the New US-Russia Battlefield

Leonid Bershidsky writes for Bloomberg:

Macedonia is a poor, landlocked Balkan country of about 2 million. To the Kremlin, it’s also the newest front in an ideological battle, with the U.S. fomenting regime change to counter Russia’s influence. As is often the case, that view is correct to the extent that Russian interests are aligned with those of a corrupt authoritarian ruler.

Here’s what Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had to say last week:

I cannot judge for sure, but it so happens objectively that these events in Macedonia are unfolding against the background of the Macedonian government’s refusal to join sanctions against Russia and an active support from Skopje for the plans to build the Turkish Stream pipeline, to which many in Brussels and across the Atlantic are opposed. We cannot get rid of this feeling that there’s some sort of a connection.

The origins of this conjecture, and Lavrov’s sarcasm, are clear. The Kremlin couldn’t help being suspicious about the timing of Macedonia’s political crisis.’

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Going underground: The subterranean splendor of the Moscow metro

From Russia Behind the Headlines:

Eighty years ago, on May 15, 1935, the very first line of the Moscow metro was officially unveiled. Running from Sokolniki to Park Kultury, the line was just 11 kilometers long and featured 13 stations. But from its humble beginnings, the Moscow metro has since expanded to become the world’s busiest underground rail system outside Asia, with over 9 million journeys made on the network every day.

Today there are 196 stations in the capital’s subway system (44 of which are cultural heritage sites), and the network is continuing to expand: This year seven new stations will open. The trains run along 12 lines with a total length of 327.5 kilometers, with many connecting stations having signs in English. Since trains arrive at the stations at an average of one every two minutes, there is never any need to worry about missing a departing train.

However, the Moscow metro is far from merely functional. The system is considered the most beautiful metro in the world, with the opulent decoration of many of its older stations leaving newcomers astounded. Many visitors have compared grand stations such as Komsomolskaya and Novoslobodskaya to underground palaces, and guided tours of the network are popular with tourists. The Moscow metro even has its own museum, located at the Sportivnaya station.’

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The Palace of the Soviets: A Brief History

Nazi Collaborators Triumph Over Communists in Ukraine

Leonid Bershidsky writes for Bloomberg:

<p>Everything must go.</p><br />
 Photographer: Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty ImagesIt’s goodbye Lenin, hello Nazi collaborators in Ukraine these days. Laws signed into effect by President Petro Poroshenko require the renaming of dozens of towns and hundreds of streets throughout the country to eliminate Soviet-era names. At the same time, Ukraine will begin to honor groups that helped Hitler exterminate Ukrainian Jews during World War II.

Ukrainians’ desire for a European identity and a break with the country’s Soviet past is Poroshenko’s biggest political asset, but these latest steps should worry the country’s Western allies.

A law Poroshenko signed May 15 bans all Soviet and Nazi symbols, even on souvenirs, and criminalizes “denying the criminal character” of both totalitarian regimes. It bans place names, monuments and plaques glorifying Soviet heroes, Soviet flags and communist slogans. Statues of Lenin have been toppled in many Ukrainian cities since the “revolution of dignity” last year, but the new law goes further. ‘

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Why Mr. Kerry Went to Sochi: Interview with Stephen Cohen

Cole Delbyck writes for The Nation:

John Kerry and Vladimir Putin‘Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent sitdown with Russian President Vladmir Putin in Sochi has ushered the Ukrainian crisis onto a new and far more public stage. The Nation’s Stephen Cohen joined The John Batchelor Show to comment on the long-awaited meeting of the minds, as well as the competing strategies for stability in the Ukraine.

It was not certain, Cohen explained, that Putin would make time to meet with Kerry. But prior to Kerry’s visit, Angela Merkel met with Russian leaders to stress the importance of a non-military solution. Cohen speculated that “Merkel and Putin must have decided that this was the last chance to actually implement the Minsk agreement and compel Kiev…to negotiate with the rebels in the East.” Kiev’s close ties to Washington, Cohen said, were likely on Putin’s mind when he “agreed to meet with Kerry, seeking that commitment…to get Kiev to the negotiating table.”’

LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW @ The JOHN BATCHELOR SHOW…

Neocons 2.0: The problem with Peter Pomerantsev

Mark Ames writes for Pando Daily:

pomerantsevIn his opening statement last month before a US Congressional Committee hearing titled “Confronting Russia’s Weaponization of Information,” the Russian-born British author Peter Pomerantsev served his Republican-led audience a piping hot  serving of neocon alarmism. Quoting “the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), General Philip M. Breedlove,” Pomerantsev described Russia’s 2014 takeover of Crimea as “the most amazing information warfare blitzkrieg we have ever seen in the history of information warfare.” To which Pomernatsev added his own chilling warning:

“To put it differently, Russia has launched an information war against the West – and we are losing.”

The hearing was put on by Orange County neoconservative Republican Ed Royce; the purpose of the hearings was to drum up fear about Russia’s “unprecedented” information war on the West — a propaganda battle which obviously exists, but whose dimensions and dangers are being cynically exaggerated — and then convert that fear into budget money for US propaganda and NGOs to subvert Kremlin power.

What made Pomerantsev’s lobbying appearance with the neocons so disturbing to me is that he’s not the sort of crude, arrogant meat-head I normally identify with homo neoconius. Pomerantsev’s book, “Nothing is True and Everything is Possible”, is the most talked-about Russia book in recent memory. His many articles on the Kremlin’s “avant-garde” “information war” and its “political technologists” have been hits in the thinking-man’s press: Atlantic Monthly, London Review of Books... His insights into the strategic thinking behind the Kremlin’s “information wars” are often sharp and illuminating; and yet there’s always been something glaringly absent in Pomerantsev’s writings. Not so much what he puts in, but all that he leaves out. Glaring omissions of context, that had me start to question if Pomernatsev wasn’t manipulating the reader by poaching the rhetoric of leftist critical analysis, and putting it to use for very different, neocon purposes . . . as if Pomerantsev has been aping the very sort of “avant-garde” Kremlin political technologies he’s been scaring the Ed Royces of the world with.

And then of course there’s the larger nagging question—what the Hell is a presumed journalist/writer like Pomerantsev, who claims to have been most influenced by literary figures like Christopher Isherwood, doing lobbying the US and UK governments to pass bills upping psychological warfare budgets and imposing sanctions on foreign countries? Where does the independent critical analysis stop, and the manipulative lobbying begin?’

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US Special Ops raid killing five ISIS chiefs had to be coordinated with Syria and Russia

DEBKAfile reports:

US Delta raid - from CNN reconstructionThe US Delta Special Operations raid that killed ISIS oil chief Abu Sayyaf Saturday, May 16, could not have taken place without prior US coordination with Damascus and Moscow, DEBKAfile’s military sources report. The National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan announced after the raid: “The US government did not coordinate with the Syrian regime, nor did we advise them in advance of the operation.” But that statement did not preclude a possible US notice of the coming raid to Moscow, which then passed it on to Damascus.

The operation therefore fixed more than one new Middle East landmark: Not only did the US put its first boots on the ground in Syria, but the US, Russia and the Assad regime seem to be pulling together for the first time against the Islamic State – much in the same way as Washington is funneling its cooperation with Iran against ISIS through Baghdad.

Our military sources note that the area of operation – Al-Amar some 20 km southeast of Deir El-Zour in eastern Syria – is bristling with Syrian air defense units, while Russian air defense facilities cover the distance from there to Damascus.  How likely is it that they all missed the helicopters which dropped US troops?’

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The Years of Stagnation and the Poodles of Power

Adam Curtis wrote on his BBC blog back in 2012:

Everybody is always remarking about how stuck our society feels these days. The music doesn’t change, the political parties are all exactly the same, and films and TV dramas are almost always set in the past.

We are also stuck with an economic system that is not delivering the paradise that it once promised – but is instead creating chaos and hardship. Yet no-one can imagine a better alternative, so we remain static – paralysed by a terrible political and cultural claustrophobia.

I want to tell the story of another time and another place not so long ago that was also stifled by the absence of novelty and lacking a convincing vision of the future. It was in the Soviet Union in the late 1970s and 1980s. At the time they called it “the years of stagnation”.

There are of course vast differences between our present society and the Soviet Union of thirty years ago – for one thing they had practically no consumer goods whereas we are surrounded by them, and for another western capitalism was waiting in the wings to fill the vacuum. But there are also echoes of our present mood – a grand economic system that had once promised heaven on earth had become absurd and corrupted.

Everyone in Russia in the early 1980s knew that the managers and technocrats in charge of the economy were using that absurdity to loot the system and enrich themselves. The politicians were unable to do anything because they were in the thrall of the economic theory, and thus of the corrupt technocrats. And above all no-one in the political class could imagine any alternative future.

In the face of this most Soviet people turned away from politics and any form of engagement with society and lived day by day in a world that they knew was absurd, trapped by the lack of a vision of any other way.

But in the late 1970s a post-political generation rose up in Russia who retreated from all conventional political ideologies, both communist and western capitalist, and instead turned to radical avant-garde culture – in music and in literature – to try and protest against the absurdity of the system. I want to focus on their story – because it is fascinating and forgotten (and they produced some great music) – but also because of what happened to them when the Soviet Union collapsed.

Despite the differences between east and west, I think that the fate of that post-political generation does offer a glimpse of what happens in a stagnant political culture when a door finally opens on a different kind of future. Especially as some of the choices they made were very unexpected – and the outcomes sometimes very sad.’

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Paranoia and Patriotism: Putin’s Propaganda Machine

‘Despite sanctions, a plummeting economy, and isolation from the world as a result of its actions in Ukraine, a wave of patriotic fervor is spreading across Russia. Thousands of Russians have attended rallies in support of President Vladimir Putin, whose popularity ratings remain sky-high, while voices of the opposition are increasingly stifled. On the streets and in the media, the Kremlin has tightened its grip on power. State-controlled television channels spin facts to bolster the government line, whipping up anti-Western sentiment and paranoia about internal enemies. Independent broadcasters are struggling to make themselves heard as the country grows more dangerous for journalists and popular figures who are critical of the authorities.’ (VICE News)

Adversarial Journalism in Russia and Dissecting the Propaganda Wars: Interview with Mark Ames

From Media Roots:

Journalist Mark Ames is the founder of The Exile, Exiled Online, senior editor for Not Safe for Work and regular contributor to Pando Daily

Mark lived in Russia and eventually started working on the satirical and hard hitting paper The Exile from the late 90s until it was effectively shut down by Moscow’s media censorship arm in 2008

Robbie Martin of Media Roots has a discussion with Mark about his experience in Russia, the completely ignored corrupt Boris Yeltsin years after the fall of the USSR and the complexities of the current information war.’

LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW…

Sex, Drugs and Excess: Russia’s Music Scene in the ’90s

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series of pieces recently published by Calvert Journal on Russian culture in the 1990’s. 

Artemy Troitsky writes for Calvert Journal:

The 1980s were divided into two five-year periods in Russia, one black, one white. First there were the throes of Soviet power played out to the accompaniment of an extraordinary carnival of underground art: from the Necrorealist film genre, to Ilya Kabakov’s art works and Pyotr Mamonov’s hypnotic rock.

This was followed by the era of perestroika and glasnost — economic policies of “openness” and “restructuring” — where everything was for sale. The 1980s ended up like a lunar landscape: its heroes, like musician Viktor Tsoy, rock singer Mike Naumenko, and avant-garde musician Sergey Kuryokhin, were dead, or — if saleable on the international market — living abroad.

There had been a paradigm shift. Where once cultural life in the U.S.S.R. was led in conditions of all-encompassing censorship, isolation from the ideologically unclean “outside world,” and the complete absence of a market economy, now things were changing.

For all its obvious costs, this oppressive system also provided a range of secret weapons: It generated a devil-may-care dissident spirit, a distinctive identity. You could become the idol of millions without going on television once; you could create a smash hit while stoking a boiler or cleaning the streets; you could experiment without sparing a thought for sales.’

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VE Day: Putin accuses US of creating a “unipolar world”

The Problem With Kissinger’s World Order

James Traub writes for Foreign Policy:

I spent the last week immersed in geopolitical conflict, but not in eastern Ukraine or the South China Sea. No, I was at NYU Abu Dhabi, one of the least conflictual places on Earth, at a Brookings Institution conference titled “International Peace and Cooperation in an Age of Global Competition.” The 40 senior policymakers and thinkers from the United States, Europe, and emerging countries largely agreed that we have entered a new world — one which looks very much like the old world — characterized by growing conflict between states.

A few of us bridled at the premise. Someone — I think it was me — said that the return of state conflict was a gift to the foreign policy boys’ club, which in recent years had been bemused by the rise of non-state actors, popular uprisings, and “soft” issues like climate change. Suddenly the realist world of international relations theory has come back from the dead. (See Walter Russell Mead’s 2014 piece in Foreign Affairs, The Return of Geopolitics.”) The world has turned hard.

The problem with my gibe is that while it is true that non-state forces, and above all the Islamic State and al Qaeda, are responsible for many of the worst conflicts in the world, it is also true that major states, including Russia, China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia (and the United States), are prepared to use coercion and force — often in those same conflicts — in a way that has not been true for generations. We do live in an increasingly geopolitical world. So I began to examine the sources of my resistance.’

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The Rape of Berlin

Lucy Ash writes for BBC News:

Treptower Park's Soviet Memorial, in Berlin‘Dusk is falling in Treptower Park on the outskirts of Berlin and I am looking up at a statue dramatically outlined against a lilac sky. Twelve metres (40ft) high, it depicts a Soviet soldier grasping a sword in one hand and a small German girl in the other, and stamping on a broken swastika.

This is the final resting place for 5,000 of the 80,000 Soviet troops who fell in the Battle of Berlin between 16 April and 2 May 1945.

The colossal proportions of the monument reflect the scale of the sacrifice. At the top of a long flight of steps, you can peer into the base of the statue, which is lit up like a religious shrine. An inscription saying that the Soviet people saved European civilisation from fascism catches my eye.

But some call this memorial the Tomb of the Unknown Rapist.

Stalin’s troops assaulted an uncounted number of women as they fought their way to the German capital, though this was rarely mentioned after the war in Germany – West or East – and is a taboo subject in Russia even today.

The Russian media regularly dismiss talk of the rapes as a Western myth, though one of many sources that tells the story of what happened is a diary kept by a young Soviet officer.’

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The Pentagon’s ‘Long War’ Pits NATO Against China, Russia and Iran

Pepe Escobar writes for Sputnik:

Satirized painting of the Statue of Liberty painted on the wall of the former U.S. Embassy, in Tehran, IranWhatever happens with the nuclear negotiations this summer, and as much as Tehran wants cooperation and not confrontation, Iran is bound to remain — alongside Russia — a key US geostrategic target.

As much as US President Barack Obama tried to dismiss it, the Russian sale of the S-300 missile system to Iran is a monumental game-changer. Even with the added gambit of the Iranian military assuring the made in Iran Bavar 373 may be even more efficient than the S-300.

This explains why Jane’s Defense Weekly was already saying years ago that Israel could not penetrate Iranian airspace even if it managed to get there. And after the S-300s Iran inevitably will be offered the even more sophisticated S-400s, which are to be delivered to China as well.

The unspoken secret behind these game-changing proceedings actually terrifies Washington warmongers; it spells out a further frontline of Eurasian integration, in the form of an evolving Eurasian missile shield deployed against Pentagon/NATO ballistic plans.

A precious glimpse of what’s ahead was offered at the Moscow Conference on International Security (MICS) in mid-April.’

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Fear of Vladimir Putin, Islamists and immigration see new iron curtains constructed once again across Europe

Joseph Charlton writes for The Independent:

The “Great Wall of Ukraine” looks nothing like its nickname suggests. It boasts no stone, brick or tampered earth, you can’t walk along it, and there is little chance (one would hope) that parts of it will remain standing 2,000 years from now. It is, however, “a priority”, according to the Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko, and its intended purpose is simple: to keep Russia out and would-be secessionists in.

Two years ago, the Ukrainians did not need this “wall”. Or, to put it differently, they did not think they needed it. Times, however, have changed. The wall – simply an idea 12 months ago, a political play by Poroshenko in the run-up to elections – is now being marked out. The first stretch of wire fencing has already gone up in Kharkiv, the northern region not far from neighbouring Luhansk, where skirmishes are frequent. The eventual plan, however, is to create something much larger in scale: a boundary to run the length of Ukraine’s eastern land border with Russia, stretching 1,500 miles, and replete with trenches, watchtowers and armed guards. It will take an estimated three to four years to build and $500m (£330m) to fund – a figure of which bankrupt Ukraine is hoping the EU will help to provide at least a portion in support.

It will not be the only fence to go up this year. All over Eastern Europe – from Ukraine, to Poland, to Bulgaria – Soviet-style “iron curtains” are celebrating a renaissance, with boundaries springing out of the ground in places few would have expected half a decade ago, and neighbours separating themselves in new and surprising ways. Poland this month announced plans to harden its border with the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad to the north – with six watchtowers to be put up this year – in a move indicative of worsening relations between Russia and its contiguous EU states. Meanwhile, further south, in Bulgaria, a fence topped with razor wire is being erected to stretch the length of the southern border with Turkey. The goal, according to the administration in Sofia: to stop the flow of refugees from the Middle East and Africa, and curb the risk of receiving militants from Syria and Iraq.’

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The Case for US-Russian Parity: Interview with Stephen Cohen

Editor’s Note: Stephen Cohen is Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies and Politics at NYU and Princeton, and he is a contributing editor to The Nation. He is also the author of ‘Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War‘. You can find more interviews and articles by Professor Cohen here.

Putin: US Spy Agencies Backed Islamist Separatists in 2000s

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

During interviews for a documentary on the early days of his presidency, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed his government had intercepted phone calls made by US intelligence assets in Azerbaijan to Islamist separatist groups in the northern Caucasus of Russia.

Russia has faced several separatist movements in and around Chechnya since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Putin claimed to have confronted President George W. Bush with the evidence, and to have been assured by Bush that he would prevent further actions and “kick the asses of” those agents responsible.’

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The Long Shadow of Chernobyl

John Vidal wrote for the Guardian in July 2014:

Victor Gaydack is now in his 70s and lives in a Kiev suburb. In April 1986 he was a major in the Russian army, on duty when reactor four at Chernobyl exploded. He was one of tens of thousands of fit, young “liquidators” sent in from all over the Soviet Union to try to make safe the stricken reactor. Since the accident, Gaydack has suffered two heart attacks, and developed severe stomach cancer.

Who is to say that Gaydack’s conditions were not caused by the accident or would have happened without the explosion? Or that the many mentally disabled Belarussian children and the thousands of people born in the fallout region who today suffer from thyroid cancers and congenital diseases were not also Chernobyl victims? Estimates of the eventual deaths, cancers, heart diseases, ailments and malformations that will eventually result from the accident vary enormously and are still bitterly contested by scientists.

What is certain is that about 350,000 people like Gaydack were evacuated and resettled from the high-level 2,600 square kilometre contamination zone that stretches from Ukraine into Belarus and Russia. It is certain, too, that the accident cost tens of billions of dollars in today’s money and that the area around the plant will be psychologically cursed for hundreds, if not tens of thousands of years.

What has been less understood however is that Chernobyl changed the course of the world’s history and that its long shadow will hang over nuclear power for centuries. In an essay in National Geographic photographer Gerd Ludwig’s new book of the aftermath of the accident, Mikhail Gorbachev, the last president of the Soviet Union and on whose watch Chernobyl occurred, makes it clear – not for the first time – that the accident greatly accelerated the end of Soviet Union.’

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Putin’s Annual Q&A Session 2015

Editor’s Note: Last night RT aired Putin’s annual marathon Q&A session. You can watch the full four hours, or you can read selected highlights in the links below (I’d go with this option). 

They Have “Propaganda,” US Has “Public Diplomacy” – and a Servile Private Sector

Jim Naureckas writes for Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting:

The Red Menace movie posterThe New York Times headline (4/15/15) paints a dire picture: Turmoil at Voice of America Is Seen as Hurting US Ability to Counter Propaganda

But wait a second–isn’t Voice of America itself a propaganda outlet? Not in the New York Times stylebook, apparently. The piece, by Ron Nixon, describes VOA as “the government agency that is charged with presenting America’s viewpoint to the world.” Later on, the Times refers to what it calls “America’s public diplomacy.”

The US’s enemies, on the other hand, have “sophisticated propaganda machines that have expanded the influence of countries like China and Russia and terrorist groups like the Islamic State.” The difference between “propaganda machines” and “public diplomacy” is never explained in the article, but the former appears to be what “they” do while the latter is what “we” do.’

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US, Russian War Games Rekindle Cold War Tensions

Jari Tanner and David Keyton report for the Associated Press:

[…] The four-week drill is part of a string of non-stop exercises by U.S. land, sea and air forces in Europe — from Estonia in the north to Bulgaria in the south — scaled up since last year to reassure nervous NATO allies after Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine. U.S. and Russian forces are now essentially back in a Cold War-style standoff, flexing their muscles along NATO’s eastern flank.

The saber-rattling raises the specter that either side could misinterpret a move by the other, triggering a conflict between two powers with major nuclear arsenals despite a sharp reduction from the Cold War era.

“A dangerous game of military brinkmanship is now being played in Europe,” said Ian Kearns, director of the European Leadership Network, a London-based think-tank. “If one commander or one pilot makes a mistake or a bad decision in this situation, we may have casualties and a high-stakes cycle of escalation that is difficult to stop.”‘

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Putin: No one has ever succeeded in intimidating or pressuring Russia and no one ever will

Jonathan Steele Reviews ‘Frontline Ukraine: Crisis in the Borderlands’ by Richard Sakwa

Jonathan Steele writes for The Guardian:

When Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Ukraine’s prime minister, told a German TV station recently that the Soviet Union invaded Germany, was this just blind ignorance? Or a kind of perverted wishful thinking? If the USSR really was the aggressor in 1941, it would suit Yatsenyuk’s narrative of current geopolitics in which Russia is once again the only side that merits blame.

When Grzegorz Schetyna, Poland’s deputy foreign minister, said Ukrainians liberated Auschwitz, did he not know that the Red Army was a multinational force in which Ukrainians certainly played a role but the bulk of the troops were Russian? Or was he looking for a new way to provoke the Kremlin?

Faced with these irresponsible distortions, and they are replicated in a hundred other prejudiced comments about Russian behaviour from western politicians as well as their eastern European colleagues, it is a relief to find a book on the Ukrainian conflict that is cool, balanced, and well sourced. Richard Sakwa makes repeated criticisms of Russian tactics and strategy, but he avoids lazy Putin-bashing and locates the origins of the Ukrainian conflict in a quarter-century of mistakes since the cold war ended. In his view, three long-simmering crises have boiled over to produce the violence that is engulfing eastern Ukraine.’

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War with Russia More Possible Than Ever? Interview with Stephen Cohen

Editor’s Note: Stephen Cohen is Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies and Politics at NYU and Princeton, and he is a contributing editor to The Nation. He is also the author of ‘Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War‘. You can find more interviews and articles by Professor Cohen here.

Funny How Russian Propaganda, US Free Press Produce Exact Same Mood Swings

Jim Naureckas writes for Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting:

‘[…] Funny thing, though–the anti-American sentiment in Russia is pretty much a mirror image of anti-Russian sentiment in the United States, which has likewise risen to record heights since polling began roughly 25 years ago. Here’s the polling of Russians about the US:

RussiaPoll

And here’s the polling of Americans about Russia, from Gallup (2/16/15):

Gallup polling of US about Russia

Note that the spikes in hostility occur precisely together. The Post describes these as a “list of perceived slights from the United States”:

The United States and NATO bombed Serbia, a Russian ally, in 1999. Then came the war in Iraq, NATO expansion and the Russia-Georgia conflict. Each time, there were smaller spikes of anti-American sentiment that receded as quickly as they emerged.

But they could just as easily be described as a list of perceived slights by Russia toward the United States. On both sides, the population seems to object about equally to the rival nation using violence against a smaller country and the rival nation failing to endorse one’s own nation’s use of violence.’

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Rumours Claim Russian President Vladimir Putin has been ‘Neutralised’ by Coup

Editor’s Note: #WheresPutin mania has swept the internet over the past few days. The image to the right of the featured article pretty much highlights the lack of difference at times when it comes to the tabloid media and outlets that regard themselves as engaging in “serious” journalism in the online world of click-bait content.

Johnlee Varghese reports for the International Business Times:

‘It’s been over 10 days since Russian President Vladimir Putin was last seen in public, sparking several rumours, including the most recent being that he has been neutralised.

Amid claims that Putin has not been keeping well, Daily Mail, citing pro-Kremlin Islamic Committee chairman Geydar Dzhemal, reported that former Federal Security Service chief Nikolai Patrushev staged a stealthy coup in Moscow.

Further backing the rumour that Putin has been taken out in a coup, social media reports claimed that several tanks were spotted outside Kremlin after a three-hour power outage.’

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The very scary reality behind the silly rumors of Putin’s death

Amanda Taub writes for Vox:

‘[…] University of Pittsburgh research fellow Sean Guillory explained via email that the rumors “say a lot” in that “they excite both the desire and fears of many people, likely at the same time.” Some Russians may want Putin gone — but fear that “if he is, what comes next?”

Thoburn agreed. The rumors, she said, “get to the problem with having only one central figure” in the Russian government. She noted that if the US president or the German chancellor were to suddenly take ill or have a stroke, there would be other means of succession and other instruments of government to fill that void while a replacement was found. But in Russia right now, “you don’t have that. That does expose a certain fragility in the system that scares Russians a little bit.”

That’s very serious. “If both the system and the integrity of the nation state are so centered on one person, whether it’s a czar or whether it’s Putin or some other leader,” Thoburn said, “it becomes very dangerous.” And if the system is so centralized but there is no system set up for succession, “the system itself is not viable in the long term.”‘

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Putin Keeps Changing His Story About the Annexation of Crimea

Joshua Keating writes for Slate:

‘In a forthcoming Russian television documentary, President Vladimir Putin states for the first time that plans were in the works to reabsorb Crimea into Russia weeks before a referendum on the issue was held.

As reported by the BBC, Putin tells the interviewer that an all-night meeting with his senior officials was held on Feb. 22, 2014, to plan the rescue of Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, who had just fled Kiev after weeks of protest.

Putin says, “We finished about seven in the morning. When we were parting, I told all my colleagues, ‘We are forced to begin the work to bring Crimea back into Russia.’ ”’

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Russia’s Ghost Army in Ukraine (Documentary)

‘VICE News travels to Russia to investigate the mysterious deaths of dozens — possibly hundreds — of active-duty Russian servicemen who are believed to have been killed in Ukraine. Accounts gathered from soldiers’ families, human rights workers, and government officials cast doubt on the Kremlin narrative, revealing the unacknowledged sacrifices borne by Russia’s ghost army.’ (VICE News)