Showing posts with label Russian Crime. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Russian Crime. Show all posts

August 2, 2018

Three Russian Journalists Killed While Investigating A Russian Paramilitary Organization


 The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) media-freedom representative says he is "deeply saddened and shocked" by the killing of three Russian journalists who were investigating the activities of a Russian paramilitary organization in the Central African Republic (CAR).
In a tweet on August 1, Harlem Desir offered his sympathies and condolences to the families and colleagues of Orkhan Dzhemal, Aleksandr Rastorguyev, and Kirill Radchenko, who local authorities and the news organization they were reporting for said were ambushed and shot dead the previous day. Reporters Without Borders, meanwhile, condemned the killings "in the strongest terms" and urged "the CAR and Russian authorities to conduct a serious and thorough investigation."
Questions swirled along with grief and anger a day after the news of the deaths of the journalists, who were investigating a shadowy group that evidence indicates President Vladimir Putin's government has been using to fight battles abroad when it does not want to use the Russian military.
The online news organization Investigation Control Center (TsUR), funded by exiled Putin foe Mikhail Khodorkovsky, said on Facebook on July 31 that the journalists were in the CAR to make a documentary film about ChVK Vagner, a private contractor employing hundreds of mercenaries that reportedly is funded by Kremlin-connected businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin and has carried out clandestine combat missions in eastern Ukraine, Syria, and elsewhere.
Russian documentary filmmaker Aleksandr Rastorguyev had been a contributor to RFE/RL.
Russian documentary filmmaker Aleksandr Rastorguyev had been a contributor to RFE/RL.
Local and international media have reported that Vagner has been operating in the CAR since Russia delivered light arms to the country's security forces this year and deployed hundreds of military and civilian instructors to train them. Russian authorities have denied that the Vagner contractors are carrying out their orders.
Russian investigators said they have opened a criminal case to look into the deaths of the journalists. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on August 1 that the stated purpose of their visit to the CAR was tourism, seems to take them to task for allegedly misstating the intent of the trip.
That remark drew rare criticism of the ministry from a senior pro-Kremlin lawmaker. Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, wrote on Telegram that issues such as the purpose of the trip were "not very important now."
"What is important is that Russian citizens have been killed," he wrote. "Here we should follow the example of our 'strategic friends' from across the ocean: the United States does not leave the death of any of its citizens without consequences. No matter what country they were in and what political views they adhered to."
Henri Depele, the mayor of the town of Sibut, around 200 kilometers northeast of the capital, Bangui, said the journalists were killed late on July 30. Their driver survived the attack.
"According to the driver's explanations, when they were 23 kilometers from Sibut...armed men emerged from the bush and opened fire on the vehicle. The three journalists died instantly," Depele told Reuters.
A CAR government spokesman gave a somewhat different account on August 1, saying that the journalists had encountered about a dozen "turbaned gunmen" after being stopped at a checkpoint and venturing further despite being advised against it.
"When they resisted the theft of their vehicle, they were shot dead, while their driver was injured" but was able to flee, German news agency DPA quoted the spokesman, Ange Maxime Kazagui, as saying.
Other media reports quoted Kazagui as saying the assailants spoke Arabic rather than French or Sango, the national language of the country in which Muslims make up about 15 percent of the population of 5.6 million.
CAR has been plagued by violence, often fought along religious lines between predominantly Christian and Muslim militias, since a 2013 rebellion overthrew then-President Francois Bozize.
Most of the country is beyond the control of the Bangui government, and a 12,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission has struggled to keep a lid on the violence. 
TsUR's statement said the journalists flew to CAR on July 27 and that its last contact with them was late on July 29.
Anastasia Gorshkova, a deputy editor of the media outlet, told the Russian news network Dozhd that the journalists had tried to enter an estate where members of the security company reportedly stayed, but they were told that they needed accreditation from the CAR Defense Ministry.
An armed fighter belonging to the 3R rebel group displays his weapon in the town of Koui in the Central African Republic in 2017. The country has been riddled by violence since a 2013 rebellion overthrew then-President Francois Bozize.
An armed fighter belonging to the 3R rebel group displays his weapon in the town of Koui in the Central African Republic in 2017. The country has been riddled by violence since a 2013 rebellion overthrew then-President Francois Bozize.
On July 30, the journalists planned to meet with a local contact in the town of Bambari, 380 kilometers from Bangui, Gorshkova said. The road to Bambari runs through Sibut.
TsUR is financed by Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon who spent 10 years in prison following convictions in financial crimes trials supporters contend was a Kremlin-orchestrated campaign to seize his company's production assets and punish him for challenges to President Vladimir Putin.
He was pardoned by Putin, released, and flown out of Russia in 2010. He now lives in Europe.
TsUR has published a number of investigations alleging corruption by senior members of Putin's entourage. 
 Monument to the three journalists killed by the Russians.
Photographs of journalists Orkhan Dzhemal (right), Kirill Radchenko (center) and Aleksandr Rastorguyev are seen at a small memorial to the slain journalists outside the Central House of Journalists in Moscow.
 Khodorkovsky called the three journalists who were killed "brave men who were not prepared simply to collect documentary material but wanted to 'feel' it in the palms of their hands... Rest in peace."
Dzhemal, 51, was a respected Russian military correspondent who covered conflicts around the world. He was seriously injured in Libya in 2011 and published a book in 2008 giving a firsthand account of the five-day Russia-Georgia war.
Rastorguyev, 47, was a prominent documentary filmmaker and a contributor to RFE/RL. He was among the three directors of an award-winning 2013 film about leaders of the Russian opposition.
Radchenko, 33, started his career as a projectionist and had become a cameraman in recent years. 
With reporting by dpa, AP, Reuters, AFP, and The New York Times

Radio Free Europe

February 18, 2018

Election Interference Russian Trolls Could Quote the Bible or Sharia Law

  Normal-looking" trolls. (Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin)

At the height of the 2016 American presidential campaign, Russian propagandists used Twitter accounts to spread conspiracy theories, misinformation, and political division. That and other shady online activity led Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating foreign interference in the election, to indict 13 Russian nationals.
Before the campaign though, these fake accounts eased into their digital personas by tweeting stereotypically “American” content: Nirvana lyrics, Bible verses, uplifting platitudes, comments about pizza.
This transition in tone from vapid to vociferously political is common across the universe of Russian troll tweets, according to our survey of 200,000 tweets released this week by NBC. The banal early tweets could be part of an effort to make the accounts seem like they belong to real people.
A good example is the Twitter user “evagreen69,” now known to be part of the network of Russian accounts. In July 2014, it tweeted, “I am in Love with LOVE!” A few months later, the user announced, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!”—chapter 55, verse 6 of the Book of Psalms. The next month there was a quote from the Stoic philosopher Seneca: “The most onerous slavery is to be a slave to oneself.” In the same month it tweeted, “What I tend to do when it comes to you,” a line from a song by Shakira (feat. Rihanna).
None of the quotes were attributed.
Then, in 2015, evagreen69 started to get political. “It’s not a secret that Obama grew up in a Muslim family,” it claimed in February of that year. In March, “All of those protesters in Ferguson, your hand [sic] are covered with blood!” Later in the year, “#GOPDebate Together we can make America great again.” Much later, in August 2016: “Please sign and share my petition #WakeUpAmerica #NeverHillary #ImNotWithHer.” That one was retweeted over 800 times.
“Eva Green’s” initial penchant for song lyrics, scripture, and inspirational quotes is shared across the troll network.
In 2014, the user “heyits_toby” had a Benjamin Franklin quote, a line from a song by the Finnish rock band Rasmus, and an English translation of a Russian proverb. The account “patriotraphael,” delivered yet another Seneca quote, yet another Russian proverb, and this line from the rap-rock band Hollywood Undead: “I got the speakers pumpin’ straight bangin’ the thong song #RAPCORE.”
Let’s look at another example. Why not. Twitter user “judelambertusa” had these three quotes:
  1. “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” —Ludwig Wittgenstein
  2. “A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.” —Ruth Bell Graham
  3. “Know that I don’t make music for niggas who don’t get pussy so those are the ones I count on to diss me or overlook me.” —Drake (this one was attributed)
There is much more like this.
From the 200,000 tweets collected by NBC, the pattern looks like this: A new troll account is set up. It populates its feed with non-political tweets, presumably drawing from databases of quotes, song lyrics, platitudes, and, it seems, Russian proverbs. Then the account gets going with political messages. Those messages lean pro-Trump, but they can go the other way, too.
The goal here seems to be to make the accounts look like those of regular Americans. If they only tweeted controversial political messages, it would be more obvious that they were not genuine. That’s also probably why they have names like “patriotraphael” and “judelambertusa.” In his indictment, Mueller accused the Russian propagandists of impersonating Americans on social media.
The Russian trolls seem to have a sense of humor. There is some irony in turning a Benjamin Franklin quote into a weapon aimed at the United States. But Lil’ Wayne (yes, he’s in there) just seems sloppy. Perhaps they were taking the advice of Steven Tyler, via the troll user “micparrish”: “If it is worth doing, it is worth overdoing.”


Adamfoxie🦊 Celebrating 10 years of keeping an eye on the world for You brings you the important LGBT news others ignore. Does not repost from gay sites [except only when importat athlete comes out].Will post popular items with a different angle or to contribute to our readers🦊

November 19, 2017

Russia's Non Dying Gay Demons

Masha Gessen
Masha Gessen; drawing by Siegfried Woldhek

Early in Vladimir Putin’s first presidency, I spoke to a Moscow banker, with reason to care on this point, who said he detected no trace of anti-Semitism in Putin personally, but that Putin would encourage popular anti-Semitism in a second if he thought that doing so would serve his interests. So far, Putin has not felt the need to demonize Russia’s Jews. He has instead identified the enemy within as Russia’s homosexuals, whose persecution is one of the main themes of The Future Is History, Masha Gessen’s remarkable group portrait of seven Soviet-born Russians whose changing lives embody the changing fortunes and character of their country as it passed from the end of Communist dictatorship under Mikhail Gorbachev to improvised liberalism under Boris Yeltsin and then back to what Gessen sees as renewed totalitarianism under Putin.
Two of Gessen’s central characters, Masha* and Lyosha, were born into the educated middle class of the 1980s. Two more characters of the same generation have lives touched by great privilege: Seryozha is the grandson of Alexander Yakovlev, who was Gorbachev’s close adviser and a longtime member of the Central Committee; Zhanna is the daughter of Boris Nemtsov, a minister under Yeltsin and a dissident murdered under Putin. All four are encountered first in childhood and referred to throughout by their childhood names. Three characters appear first as adults, with private and public lives. Alexander Dugin is a philosopher who develops an ideology of Russian exceptionalism that wins him fame and favor under Putin. Lev Gudkov is a sociologist who seeks to model the emerging new Russia. Marina Arutyunyan is a psychologist who reestablishes the practice of psychoanalysis in Russia after its disappearance under communism.
Gessen’s deft blending of these stories gives us a fresh view of recent Russian history from within, as it was experienced at the time by its people. It is a welcome perspective. In turbulent periods, anything seems possible. Only with hindsight does causality creep in, and with it the illusion of inevitability. The infinite possibilities of the moment are lost. Through the eyes of her characters, Gessen manages to restore those possibilities, to convey how it felt to imagine that life in the new Russia could go in any direction. 
The tension between experience and hindsight is there within Gessen’s writing. She alternately zooms in on the lives of her characters and zooms out to give more general accounts of the major events of the time—the putsch against Gorbachev in 1991, Yeltsin’s shelling of the Russian White House in 1993, the reelection of Yeltsin as president in 1996, the handover of power to Putin in 2000, and so on. How familiar these events appear when Gessen arranges them in their historical order, and how unfamiliar they appear when we see them as fragments of experience. On one side is the historian explaining the rise of Putin as a logical reaction to the failings of Yeltsin. On the other is Masha’s mother, wondering how on earth that dull man she met while selling insurance in St. Petersburg a few years back is now the prime minister.
Gessen was born in Moscow, emigrated to America with her family as a teenager in 1981, and returned to Russia ten years later to pursue a distinguished career as a journalist and LGBT activist. She came back to America in 2013, fearing that if she stayed in Russia, official hostility toward homosexuals could result in her children being seized by the state. Russia’s persecution of homosexuals is the strand of Gessen’s book that shows Putin at his cruelest. She arranges this narrative around Lyosha, who was born near Perm in 1985, and who was fifteen, on holiday in Crimea, when he recognized himself as gay:
When he saw other boys, teenagers like himself or young men, dressed, like he was, in only a pair of small black bathing trunks, he felt heat shoot excruciatingly through his body and a thrilling invisible shiver set in. It happened every day after that first time…. I am a pervert, he thought. I am sick. I am the only person in the world who feels this way.
The early post-Soviet period was not the very worst of times to be gay in Russia. Between 1989 and 1994, according to surveys conducted by the Russian sociologist Yuri Levada, support for “liquidating deviants” fell from 31 percent to 23 percent. It fell again to 15 percent in 1999, shortly before Lyosha had his realization. Homosexuality was no longer illegal. Teachers and doctors could talk about it if they wanted to. Lyosha did not much want to talk, but after a horrible beating from a local thug who was tipped off by a suspicious classmate, he opened up to a school counselor and discovered the liberating power of a sympathetic ear. He returned energized to his studies, graduated with distinction, and came out. 
Lyosha built an academic career as a pioneer of gender and LGBT studies at Perm University, but when government-sanctioned hate campaigns made his work impossible and put his life in danger, he left the country. The sadistic murder in 2013 of a young gay man in Volgograd made a deep impression on him, and Gessen’s account of it will make a deep impression on you too. Whatever Putin’s legacy, it includes—among other results of his state-approved homophobia—three bloody beer bottles and one dead boy.
Demonizing homosexuality is, most obviously, a way for Putin to assert Russia’s superiority over the West. The West’s acceptance of homosexuality is given as proof of its moral and social collapse. Putin also sees, correctly, that the equality of all sexual orientations is widely proclaimed in the West but not uniformly accepted, allowing Russia to pose as a beacon of hope for Western reactionaries. To make homosexuality seem truly evil even to Russians who had ceased to think of it as such, Putin conflated it with pedophilia. If, in the age-old anti-Semitic narrative, “they” were conspiring to steal the nation’s money, in Putin’s anti-gay narrative “they” are conspiring to steal the nation’s children.
As Gessen recounts, Putin encountered few obstacles in selling this notion to the public. Politicians competed to imagine new crimes with which LGBT people could be charged and new punishments for them. Even to contest the conflation of homosexuality with pedophilia marked the objector as a friend of the pedophile conspiracy. The crudeness and viciousness of views expressed in parliament and the media verged on the medieval. According to Dmitry Kiselev, a host on state-owned television: “If [gays] should die in a car accident, we need to bury their hearts underground or burn them; they are unsuitable for the aiding of anyone’s life.”
I suppose it is worth pointing out that just as my banker friend did not think Putin to be personally anti-Semitic, so I doubt that Putin hungers to murder homosexuals with his own bare hands. He might even enjoy the company of a gay grandson. When Oliver Stone asked him a question about gay rights in a recent series of interviews, Putin responded much as a middle-aged Western male might have responded forty years ago, jocularly and gingerly:
Putin: Sometimes I visit events where people publicly declare that they’re homosexuals, these events are attended by such people and we communicate and have good relations.
Stone: Is that true in the military as well?
Putin: There’s no restriction.
Stone: No restriction in the military? I mean, if you’re taking a shower in a submarine and you know he’s gay, do they have a problem with that?
Putin: [laughs] Well, I prefer not to go to the shower with him. Why provoke him?
At such moments, thinking of a young man on a park bench in Volgograd with three beer bottles up his rectum, you have to wonder about the mixture in Putin’s character of the stupid, the brilliant, the evil, and the naive.
While Lyosha very wisely gets out of Russia, Seryozha gets by there, Zhanna gets on, and Masha gets involved with the 2011 protest movement organized by Boris Nemtsov—Zhanna’s father—and by Alexei Navalny, a younger dissident. It is an uneasy alliance. Navalny is a nationalist, whereas Nemtsov is the last and best survivor of Yeltsin-era liberalism, perhaps the last true liberal to have held any meaningful political power in Russia. When Nemtsov is murdered within sight of the Kremlin in 2015, apparently for his opposition to Russia’s war in Ukraine, Zhanna blames the killing squarely on Putin. Others report that Putin is both surprised and angered by Nemtsov’s murder, less because he has any affection for Nemtsov than because a high-profile assassination in the center of Moscow is a direct challenge to his own monopoly on violence.
The outlier among Gessen’s seven is Alexander Dugin, the only one to favor repression, to reject freedom, to want more and better Putinism. He is too big and too strange to fit easily into the story, and instead haunts its margins. Dugin has always seemed to me a bogus thinker, a fantasist, an opportunist. But others take him seriously, and he emerges from Gessen’s account as a prodigious consumer and manipulator of philosophy and political science.
Dugin was expelled from college and has been deeply influenced by Heidegger and Hitler. He’s allegedly capable of learning a new European language in two weeks merely from reading books in that language. He appropriates the arguments of the Russian Eurasianists, including the émigré linguist Nikolai Trubetskoy and the Soviet ethnographer Lev Gumilev, to the effect that Russia’s geographical sprawl between Europe and Asia gives the nation a unique, non-Western character. Russia is not a country, but a civilization. The Russian identity belongs not to the Russian Federation but to the “Russian World,” and the West is the natural enemy of the Russian World.
Dugin had his wilderness years in the 1990s, but with the arrival of Putin, his influence rocketed. His Eurasian Youth Union marched through Moscow. He was given a teaching job at Moscow State University. When, after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Putin referred on television to “a Russian person, or, to speak more broadly, a person of the Russian World,” Dugin’s happiness was complete. He was putting words into Putin’s mouth that articulated in a suitably lofty manner their common vision of ethnic, cultural, and religious Russian supremacy. Dugin wants his Russian World to be totalitarian, which is to say, a world in which the state polices everybody’s thoughts as well as everybody’s actions. He opposes universal human rights and the rule of law as alien ideas from the hostile West.
Gessen claims in her title that Russia is already totalitarian. I imagine that Dugin would disagree. And from a different perspective, so would I. Take, for example, Gessen’s account of a moment after Masha has been arrested as a political protester in 2012. Under prolonged police investigation, she goes to stay in her mother-in-law’s dacha outside Moscow. The neighboring dacha belongs to a senior police officer called Natalia. The two fall into a conversation:
“Hey, you are part of the Bolotnoye case, aren’t you,” she asked when they were having a cigarette Masha’s first night at the dacha. It was cool and quiet and you could see the stars.
“Yeah,” said Masha.
“Who is your investigator?”
“Ah, Timokha!” Natalia’s voice sang with the joy of recognition. “He is one of mine. I had to send three people. It’s a big case. He doing his job?”
“Oh, he is doing his job, all right.”
“Good. Say hi to him there.”
That is not my idea of how life proceeds in a totalitarian society. I sense in this brief exchange humanity and sincerity on both sides. I do not want to generalize too much from this. Many horrible things happen in Russian police stations. But totalitarianism ought surely to be total, if only among the police.
The idea of categorizing dictatorships as either authoritarian or totalitarian is a twentieth-century one. Totalitarianism took as its examples Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. The distinction was of practical significance during the cold war, when there was a political need in the West to distinguish between cruel regimes that the US supported (Pinochet’s Chile, the Shah’s Iran) and cruel regimes that the US opposed (China, the USSR). The former was deemed authoritarian, the latter totalitarian. Totalitarian regimes were beyond hope of improvement; authoritarian regimes were not.

Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin; drawing by Siegfried Woldhek

If we accept the distinction between an authoritarian desire to control behavior and a totalitarian desire to control thought, then, as Gessen shows, Russia crossed that line some time ago under Putin. But what if you set Russia alongside North Korea? Putin wants all Russians to think like him, whereas Kim Jong-un would rather his subjects not think at all. That is not a very encouraging distinction, but at the darker end of government, it is surely one worth maintaining.
One problem with trying to understand totalitarianism is that, to the extent it succeeds, it is impenetrable to outsiders. Everything that is said and thought is the product of propaganda. Lev Gudkov, the sociologist in Gessen’s book, has a lucid account of this problem that merits quoting at some length, in Gessen’s paraphrase:
Looking from the outside in, one cannot see, for example, whether people attend a parade because they are forced to do so or because they so desire. Researchers generally assumed one or the other: either that people were passive victims or that they were fervent believers. But on the inside, both assumptions were wrong, for all the people at the parade…and for each one of them individually. They did not feel like helpless victims, but they did not feel like fanatics either. They felt normal. They were members of a society. The parades and various other forms of collective life gave them a sense of belonging that humans generally need…. They would not be lying if they said that they wanted to be part of the parade, or the collective in general—and that if they exerted pressure on others to be a part of a collective too, they did so willingly.
Another problem with trying to arrive at an account of totalitarianism—at least from a Western point of view—is that totalitarian societies are by definition the enemy, so we are not terribly interested in what their better points might be. “After the fall of the Soviet Union made it easier to study the country that had been,” Gessen writes, referring to the work of Sheila Fitzpatrick and others, “academics began noting how much richer private life had been in the USSR than they had once thought, how inconsistent and how widely disregarded the ideology, and how comparatively mild police enforcement became after Stalin’s death.”
This seems to be borne out by the lives of Gessen’s older characters. Even in the 1960s and 1970s, long before Gorbachev cracked open the old certainties, Arutyunyan the psychologist and Gudkov the sociologist were finding that Soviet academia allowed them a fair amount of room to maneuver, as long as this was exercised discreetly and deniable. For example, although you could not study the problems of Soviet society (Soviet society had only solutions), you could still study sociology so long as you pretended to be denouncing Western sociological theories, or if you called it something else. Gudkov’s mentor, Yuri Levada, was allowed to set up a department within the Academy of Sciences called the Institute for Concrete Social Studies. I also admire Gessen’s line that “the Soviet system offered not a vision of the future but the ability to know one’s future, much as tradesmen did in feudal times, and to make very small-scale, manageable decisions about the future.” If this was totalitarianism, you start to see why so many Russians wanted Putin to turn the clock back.
Gudkov argues that, in fact, the clock never moved. It was always striking thirteen. Institutions and systems designed for the totalitarian Soviet Union survived with little or no change into the new Russian state, encouraging totalitarian behavior to return through them. Elections became public displays of support for the regime, just like parades. Public protest was more frequent in Putin’s Russia than it had been in the Soviet Union, but only because the regime had reached a new understanding that street demonstrations changed nothing—on the contrary, they helped to maintain the existing order. Dissidents revealed themselves and were arrested. The rest of society was reassured by the regime’s show of power in shutting the demonstrations down.
Gudkov fears that the Soviet system has reshaped the Russian national character to such an extent that Russians can willingly recreate a totalitarian society among themselves even without compulsion from the state to do so. A corollary of that argument is that Russia can have a totalitarian society even without a totalitarian state—a useful formulation if one takes the view that the ultimate aim of the Putin regime is the accumulation of wealth even more than the accumulation of power. Thus Gessen, when she discusses the ideas of the Hungarian political scientist Bálint Magyar, can speak of Russia as a “mafia state ruling over a totalitarian society.”
With all due respect to Gessen and to Gudkov, the term “totalitarian” is being used loosely here. It may be useful to invoke the prospect of totalitarianism as a rhetorical way of alerting Russians to the fact that their government is a danger to themselves and to others. But to claim that Russia is already totalitarian is to absolve Russians in general from what is done in their name by proposing that they have been indoctrinated into acquiescence. One risks imagining the Russian nation which, freed from thought control, reveals itself to be liberal and freedom-loving. This is exactly the mistake that Westerners made when Soviet communism was on its last legs thirty years ago—and when, as Gessen so poignantly shows, what was revealed was the appetite for a newer and better dictator.
My own view of Putin is that he came to powerfully intending to be an authoritarian leader but also to allow some small degree of pluralism in politics and some larger degree of liberalism in private life and business, on the purely pragmatic grounds that he knew from Soviet times the weakness of totalitarianism. He would rather be Lee Kuan Yew than Robert Mugabe. But he found it personally intolerable to be criticized, let alone thwarted, so freedom to oppose him politically soon disappeared. Economics was a closed book to Putin when he took power, but he came to understand that a thriving market economy required a well-functioning rule of law capable of constraining even government—and that was the death knell for the market economy. Freedom in private life lasted rather longer but was eventually curtailed, most obviously in the sexual domain, when the stagnating regime needed new ways to mobilize popular support.
The theater and film director Andrei Konchalovsky, quoted by Christian Neef in Der Spiegel, sees roughly the same trajectory in Putin’s career, but attributes it to pressure from below:
Putin initially thought like a Westerner, but ultimately realized why every Russian ruler struggles to lead this nation: Because its inhabitants, in accordance with an unshakable tradition, freely delegate all their power to a single person, and then wait for that power to take care of them, without doing anything themselves.
We are close here to the dilemma of Bertolt Brecht’s poem “The Solution,” about the anti-Communist uprising in East Germany in 1953, and a thought that must have struck every observer of Russia at some time or other:
Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia

by Masha Gessen
Riverhead, 515 pp

August 15, 2017

Washington on Vacation Seems Empty But Mueller and His Team are Not

[Stay up to date here on the investigation here]

The Senate is long gone. The House? Splitsville. The president is at his golf club in New Jersey. Only the hardiest swamp creatures continue to scuttle in and out of the half-empty offices of late-August Washington, D.C.

Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller and his team, however, haven't gone anywhere.

His attorneys and investigators are using a federal grand jury to interview witnesses and issue subpoenas as they look into potential connections between President Trump's campaign and Russia's attack on the 2016 election. 

News also emerged this week that FBI agents searched a home owned by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and that Manafort and other people in Trump world, including Donald Trump Jr., had submitted hundreds of documents to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

If all that has been established, many other questions remain about Mueller's investigation — just who else is he interviewing? What specific materials does he want? — as well as the rest of the sprawling Russia imbroglio.

1. What inning is this?

Does Mueller's use of the grand jury mean this game is almost over — or has everyone on the starting lineup even had a chance at bat? Does the FBI search warrant mean the tempo is increasing?

Mueller hasn't uttered more than a peep on the record since he's been in his job. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has talked about the probe in general terms, but no one seems to have a sense about how far along this story might be — only that it's focused appropriately.

"It's not a fishing expedition," Rosenstein recently told Fox News Sunday.
There Are Many Russia Investigations. What Are They All Doing?
The more time Mueller takes, the greater the political pressure in Washington.

The leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees said at one time they hoped to complete their investigations about Russia's election interference by the fall.

That may prove optimistic, but if they do wrap up their work and Mueller's investigation continues into the new year and beyond, it could turn into a big factor in the 2018 congressional midterm elections.

2. How much classified, or otherwise confidential, evidence will become public?

The Russia soap opera is frustrating to try to understand because it's an iceberg, only partly visible above the water.
Former CIA Director Tells Lawmakers About 'Very Aggressive' Russian Election Meddling
Much more of the evidence remains hidden — teased by current or former intelligence officials but never detailed. One big example: electronic intercepts of communications between Americans and Russians allegedly involved in the interference.

"I was worried by a number of the contacts that the Russians had with U.S. persons," as former CIA Director John Brennan told the House Intelligence Committee this spring. "By the time I left office ... I had unresolved questions in my mind as to whether or not the Russians had been successful in getting U.S. persons involved in the campaign or not work on their behalf."

Mueller and the congressional intelligence committees have access to this evidence — believed to be intercepted emails or other messages from key Americans to key Russians. 

There's also classified material from allied intelligence services. Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper confirmed to the Senate Judiciary Committee that European spy agencies had sent material to Washington in 2016 — but said nothing more.

"It's quite sensitive," he warned in May.

It also hasn't been described in anything like helpful detail. U.S. government officials have spoken about it anonymously to reporters — for example, CNN reported that Russians discussed conversations with then-Trump campaign chairman Manafort — but very little is solidly on the record.

Until it is, the widespread skepticism among many Americans about the theory of the case — that Donald Trump or some of his top campaign aides might have colluded with Russians who targeted the election — will likely endure.

3. What if Trump or associates did something other than "collude?"

So far, prosecutors haven't accused the president or anyone in his camp of doing anything wrong. But allegations about Trump's business practices, and those of his associates, swirled for years before his run for office.
Businessman Paints Terrifying And Complex Picture Of Putin's Russia

Separately, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and others have said they want to know whether Trump might have obstructed justice by firing FBI Director James Comey and taking other actions to try to protect himself or his aides — whatever the merits of the underlying DOJ investigation into possible collusion with Russia.

These issues aren't trivial, and they're all tied together with the original mandate for Mueller's investigation: Did, per press reports, Russian underworld figures have a relationship with Trump? If so, did Russian political leaders' awareness of these ties put the president in a position in which he might be subject to coercion?

Trump alluded obliquely to this thread of the story in his interview with The New York Times. He told the newspaper that he'd consider it a "breach" of Mueller's mandate for the special counsel to look into his or his family's business practices.

"I mean, it's possible there's a condo or something, so, you know, I sell a lot of condo units, and somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows?" Trump said. "I don't make money from Russia."

That's not the account The New Republic, for example, gave in its story "Trump's Russian Laundromat," which described decades' worth of business relationships between the Trumps and Russian underworld figures who allegedly used the president's properties to launder illicit money.

The magazine reported, among other things, that at least 13 people connected to Russian organized crime have "owned, lived in and even run criminal activities out of Trump Tower and other Trump properties."

If Mueller's investigators substantiate organized crime connections to Trump himself, but no "collusion" with Russia's election mischief, would they reveal it? And, if so, what happens next?

4. Will the U.S. ever deploy any safeguards or countermeasures?

Trump Calls Russia Story 'Total Fabrication' 

Although some Americans — particularly Trump supporters — don't believe the Russians attacked the election, Washington has officially rebuked Moscow over it. Members of Congress passed and Trump himself signed legislation imposing new sanctions and constraining the president's ability to lift them on his own.

Before he told supporters at a political rally in West Virginia that the story was a "hoax," Trump said in signing the sanctions bill that he supported "making clear that America will not tolerate interference in our democratic process, and that we will side with our allies and friends against Russian subversion and destabilization."

(The question of whether U.S. sanctions actually change Russia's policies is a different matter.)

But many members of Congress and outside advocates say Washington must do much more to deter future Russian interference in elections and respond in kind to Russia's war of information against the U.S.

State governments are bitterly frustrated with the federal government's follow-up to the election interference, from the awkwardness of the outreach by the Department of Homeland Security to a White House "voter fraud" commission widely viewed as partisan.

At the same time, former diplomats and intelligence officers complain that Washington has all but surrendered the battlefield of public opinion to Moscow. The Russian government is spending millions of rubles on both open and covert influence operations against the West, from cable TV networks to Twitter bots, but commentators argue the U.S. isn't even trying to level the playing field.

Two members of Congress asked why the State Department reportedly isn't using funds that have been set aside exactly for that purpose.

"Countering foreign propaganda should be a top priority, and it is very concerning that progress on combating this problem is being delayed because the State Department isn't tapping into these resources," complained Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. 

Timeline: Foreign Efforts To Hack State Election Systems And How Officials Responded
"This is indefensible," said Sen. Chris Murphy D-Conn.

A State Department spokeswoman told reporters that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to review global "engagement" following Trump's approval of the sanctions bill, but she acknowledged that much of the work now is focused on the Islamic State.

Clapper told lawmakers earlier this year he thought they should bring back a "U.S. Information Agency on steroids," targeting Russians and "giving them some of their own medicine much more aggressively than we've done now."

Will Congress heed his advice? Will it increase federal scrutiny of the security of state election systems and their vendors — or will the politics, along with all the other priorities that await lawmakers when they return in September, make it all too fraught?

April 22, 2017

European Council Reports The Kremlin Connected with Underworld Crime

A European think-tank has published a report alleging the Kremlin exploits connections with the criminal underworld of Europe.

The European Council on Foreign Relations highlights the influence of what they call “Russian-based organised crime” (RBOC) on violent and dangerous crimes across Europe. ECFR say Russian criminals are responsible for 1/3 of the heroin on European street corners, a “significant amount of non-European people trafficking”, and a majority of illegal weapons that find their way into European criminals’ hands.  

But as so-called “indigenous gangs” continue to take their lead from RBOC, ECFR and the report’‘s author Mark Galeotti says there is “growing evidence” to link these criminals to the Moscow’s state security networks- including the FSB (formally known under a different acronym as the KGB).

The links between the Russian government and criminal gangs are not new.

Galeotti points out that since Putin’s rise to power in the late 1990’s and 2000’s, Moscow has worked with Chechen criminals to ensure the gangsters did not side with rebels against the Russian state. And during the 2011 Duma elections, reports show “clear indications” that criminal organisations were employed to disrupt opposition efforts.

The papers says that although Moscow-linked street gangs, such as the Georgian “Kutaisi ‘clan’”, do still operate (and are targeted by coordinated, pan-European police raids), most RBOC is more sophisticated.

An example of this type of operation was broken up by the Portuguese police in Operation Matrioskas. Gangs had invested ‘dirty money’ (from drug imports) into failing football clubs, in order to launder money and run illegal betting groups from the UK, to Estonia, to Germany and Moldova.

According to Galeotti, Putin’s Russian state is run as an “Adhocracy”, meaning rank and number matter little in comparison to how useful one is to be Russian state. Putin, Galeotti continues, has “continued the tradition” of putting criminals and prisoners to use.

Viktor Bout is an example of this. A career criminal who was allegedly linked to GRU (Russian military intelligence), and set up a freight business with a twist. It is unclear if, for example, Bout’s offer of 700 surface-to-air missiles to the Colombian rebel group the FARC was on Moscow’s direct instruction, but the ECFR point out that the sheer number of missiles apparently sourced by Bout “suggests so”.

However international these alleged crime links are, not all the criminal projects are on the macro-scale of large weapons trading.

The Russian security services also seem to be involved in seemingly less significant, but still highly organised operations, such as the illegal mass-import of cigarettes from Russian into Estonia.

This link was uncovered after a “brazen raid” by the FSB into Estonia to arrest an Estonian security agent who was allegedly on the cusp of discovering Russian ties to the illegal trafficking.

ECFR say the evidence points to the profits from this endeavor being poured into “operational funds” for apparent Russian political activities in Europe, while avoiding any Kremlin fingerprints being found.

The report suggests several ways in which European nations and security agencies can combat RBOC, including a common approach to money laundering, and better information exchanges between security services and police.

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