Showing posts with label Russians. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Russians. Show all posts

August 17, 2016

Trump’s Campaign Chair’s Role in Electing Corrupt Violent Man in Ukraine

[ Paul Monafort, Trumps Campaign Mger. managed Yakunovitch campaign] Viktor Yanukovych
 and Syrian president Bashar Al Assad.  

My intent on posting this current story about Trump chair Paul Manafort ‘mercenary’ lobbyist and valuable asset, is that negative stories dealing with people Trump is align to never last more than the 48 hr news cycle. I wanted to show while the story is still relevant (it wont for long unless something else comes out) what the connections of Trump’s man, the Kremlin and the election of a criminal and a strongman aligned to Putin are in that part of the world.

The scene was Ostroh, western Ukraine, on the eve of parliamentary elections.

A tall figure bounded on to a stage to cheers from a crowd of elderly flag-waving supporters. They chanted: “Yan-u-kov-ich, Yan-u-kov-ich.”

The man addressing them was Viktor Yanukovich, who at this point – autumn 2007 – was Ukraine’s pro-Russian prime minister. Three years earlier he had tried to cheat his way to victory in the country’s presidential election, triggering the pro-democracy uprising known as the Orange Revolution, which swept Yanukovich’s rival Viktor Yushchenko into power. 
Now, barely three years later, Yanukovich was back, and his Party of Regions was ahead in the polls.

The person who masterminded Yanukovich’s unlikely political comeback was not – as might have been expected – a Russian, like the advisers dispatched by Vladimir Putin to mastermind Yanukovich’s disastrous 2004 presidential bid.

It was an American, and his name was Paul Manafort – previously a consultant for Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush and Bob Dole, and today the campaign chairman for Donald Trump.

Manafort’s years in Ukraine have come under renewed scrutiny during the current US presidential campaign. On Monday, Hillary Clinton’s campaign leapt on a report in the New York Times that handwritten ledgers found in the Ukraine show $12.7m in undisclosed payments to Manafort from the Party of Regions.

“This is a serious matter and there are real concerns about the pro-Kremlin interests engaged with the Trump team,” said Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook.

Manafort has denied any wrongdoing. A source who worked with him in Ukraine said on Tuesday: “If there was cash I would have known about it and seen it. I was going in and out of the Party of Regions HQ every day.”

Even before the latest allegations, Trump’s links to Russia have raised eyebrows: Manafort’s candidate has expressed admiration for Putin, encouraged Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, and appeared unaware that Russian troops had seized the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. 

If he can make Yanukovich president, I’m sure he can do it with Trump
Oleg Voloshin

Meanwhile, the Trump campaign was reportedly instrumental in rewriting the new Republican platform to remove calls for the donation of weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces.

It remains unclear how much of this was down to Manafort. What is indisputable is that at the same time as he was advising Yanukovich, Manafort was also building personal business links with some of the most powerful figures in the post-Soviet world.

Before his arrival in Kiev, Manafort had long specialised in taking on unsavoury clients, such as Ferdinand Marcos, the Filipino dictator, and Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, and subtly retooling their public reputations. 
 Donald Trump has expressed admiration for Putin and encouraged Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails. Photograph: Jeff Swensen/Getty Images
He was recruited to work in Ukraine in the summer of 2005 by the oligarch Rinat Akhmetov – the main financial backer of Yanukovich’s Party of Regions.

That autumn, Manafort and his team – including longtime aide Rick Gates, another future Trump hire – began work for the Party of Regions. They rented an anonymous office at number 4 Sophia Street in Kiev, opposite the stop for the 16 and 18 trolley buses. Typically, its white blinds were drawn.
The Americans kept a low profile, but Manafort’s efforts didn’t go entirely unnoticed. In a 2006 cable to the state department in Washington, US diplomats reported that the Party of Regions had undergone a mysterious transformation. “Long a haven for Donetsk-based mobsters and oligarchs it is in the midst of an ‘extreme makeover’,” they observed.

The party had enlisted “help and advice from veteran K street political tacticians”, the diplomats said, referring to Washington DC’s lobbying district. Manafort’s firm – Davis, Manafort & Freedman – was busy “nipping and tucking”. Its goal was to rid the party of its gangster image and to change it into a “legitimate political force”.

I met Manafort in September 2007, on the eve of the Ostroh rally. This was just before the parliamentary elections, and Yanukovich was frantically touring the regions on a campaign helicopter.

Close up, Manafort looked every inch the classic Washington lobbyist. He wore an expensive suit and tie and exuded seriousness. He also bore a faint physical resemblance to his client – even their hairstyles were similar. (Manafort, I was told later, had instructed Yanukovich to blow-dry his hair. Manafort’s camp denies this.)

The American had an interesting story to tell – one which may sound familiar to observers of Donald Trump’s campaign – of how his candidate had been almost wilfully misunderstood by the west, especially by its media.

The new Yanukovich was nothing like the old one, Manafort suggested. He had absorbed the lessons of his previous defeats, was studying English – and was even playing tennis with the US ambassador.
“People are still looking at the political system in this country through the prism of 2004,” Manafort told me. “That’s not at all the situation here.” 

Yanukovich was no puppet of Putin, Manafort said; he wanted a pragmatic foreign policy – good relations with Russia and the EU.

“As a person, he [Yanukovich] is growing,” Manafort assured me. “I think the time out of power helped him.”

Manafort introduced professional techniques. He gathered polling data, worked on messaging and distributed talking points. His efforts were at least partially successful: Yanukovich’s Party of Regions won the 2007 parliamentary elections, and in 2010 Yanukovich beat his rival Yulia Tymoshenko in a presidential runoff. Within a few months, it had become clear that he was hellbent on reversing the modest democratic gains of the Orange Revolution.

Yanukovich moved quickly to consolidate all instruments of power: the courts, parliament, the prosecutor’s office, the media and TV. Tymoshenko was charged with corruption and jailed; Yankovich repeatedly shrugged off western calls for her release.

In late 2013, Yanukovich was due to sign an association agreement with the European Union, but at the last minute he dumped the plan and instead accepted a $15bn Kremlin bailout.

Pro-EU demonstrators flooded the Maidan, Kiev’s main square, and protests turned violent after a brutal crackdown by security forces.

In February 2014, riot police shot dead 100 people in downtown Kiev. Yanukovich abandoned his palace on the outskirts of town, Mezhyhirya – a Versailles of sorts with a pirate-themed restaurant and private zoo – and escaped to Russia.
 Viktor Yanukovich, then president of Ukraine, in 2014. Photograph: Itar-Tass/ Barcroft Media
Putin exploited this crisis to seize Crimea and launch a covert military invasion of eastern Ukraine. The consequences – 10,000 dead, a civilian jet shot down, a country chopped up – haunt the region to this day. Earlier this month, Russia claimed Ukrainian agents had attacked Crimea, further fueling tensions in the region.
Paul Manafort, Trumps’ Chair

Those who worked with Manafort say that he cannot be blamed for the Ukrainian disaster. Oleg Voloshin, a former aide to Kostyantyn Gryshchenko, Yanukovich’s 2010-12 foreign minister who now works as a political consultant, says Manafort urged Yanukovich to press ahead with the EU integration agenda.

Voloshin still has ties with the ex-Party of Regions, which Manafort rebranded in 2014 as the Opposition Bloc. (Manafort’s consultancy in Ukraine continued until at least parliamentary elections in 2014.)

He suggests that Yanukovich “listened to what Paul said” between 2007-2010, but then, once he became president, stopped listening – with catastrophic results.

Manafort’s advice was always non-ideological, Voloshin recalls. He would calmly explain: “These people won’t vote for you, don’t bother with them,” and then suggest he “promote this message, promote that message”. “It was a very American approach. Do this, do that.” And, crucially: “He was the person dragging Yanukovich to the west.”

According to Voloshin, Manafort was an advocate of US interests and promoted American oil companies such as Chevron – so much so that the joke inside the Party of Regions was that Manafort was actually from the CIA. “You can blame him for whatever. The only thing you can’t blame him for is lack of will in lobbying for American interests in Ukraine in the commercial sphere.”

Voloshin insists that it was Manafort who persuaded Yanukovich to press ahead with the EU integration agenda, arguing that it would counter Yanukovich’s sagging ratings. Manafort also strongly objected to Tymoshenko’s imprisonment, telling Yanukovich bluntly: “You are going to have very bad times with the west.”

“It’s not Paul’s fault that Yanukovich didn’t listen to him. If it weren’t for Paul, Ukraine would have gone under Russia much earlier,” Voloshin claims.

During the period that he was advising Yanukovich, Manafort’s interests in the post-Soviet world were not restricted to politics.

In 2007, he set up a private equity firm called Pericles Emerging Partners LP.

Based offshore in the Caymans, the firm had three American partners – Manafort, Rick Gates and Rick Davis. Davis had cofounded Davis Manafort, Manfort’s lobbying company in Delaware. The new firm’s aim was to make investments in the Ukrainian cities of Kiev, Odessa and Mariupol. It would acquire small companies, consolidate them into larger national enterprises, then sell them on.

One of those tempted by this prospectus was the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, an aluminum baron and close friend of Putin, who stumped up almost $19m. Gates, Manafort’s right-hand man, sealed the agreement in trips to Moscow.

What happened next was strange indeed. Only one investment by Pericles was ever made, in a Ukrainian telecoms company called Black Sea Cable. According to court documents, the cash was funnelled into various offshore companies, including one called CardMan ImpEx Corp, registered in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands. The trail wound through other opaque shell firms, including Cascado AG, set up by the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

A search of the Panama Papers leak gives a few details. Cascado has two Latvian directors, Erik Vanagels and Stan Gorin. In reality, they are mere nominees. The pair have been linked on paper to a network of offshore companies and multimillion-dollar scams involving Ukrainian state assets.

When the global financial crisis hit in 2008, Deripaska wanted out – and his cash back. In 2011, the Americans emailed to say that it was proving tricky to sell Deripaska’s stake because of “market conditions”. Further emails went unanswered.
 The former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko alleged that Manafort ‘played a key role in [a] conspiracy and racketeering enterprise’. Photograph: Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images
“It appears that Paul Manafort and Rick Gates have simply disappeared,” Deripaska’s frustrated lawyers wrote, in a 2014 petition to have Manafort’s firm wound up.

It’s unclear if Deripaska ever got his money. Either way, the episode illustrates Manafort’s personal links to figures close to Putin.

Later, Manafort introduced Deripaska to Senator John McCain, when the oligarch was having problems travelling to the US. (In 2006, the US had revoked Deripaska’s visa, citing alleged “criminal associations”. Deripaska denies the allegation.)

This wasn’t the only embarrassing legal scrape arising from Manafort’s capitalist adventures. In November 2011, Tymoshenko sued him and others in the district court in New York. Her lengthy writ alleges that Manafort “played a key role in [a] conspiracy and racketeering enterprise” to launder cash for Yanukovich’s oligarch friends and invest it in New York real estate.

In particular, she points the finger at Dmitry Firtash, a Ukrainian businessman whose generous contributions helped Yanukovich. Firtash is a shareholder and public face for RosUkrEnergo, an intermediary company co-owned by Gazprom, which imports gas from Russia and resells it to Ukraine. Tymoshenko tried unsuccessfully to get rid of it.

The RusUkrEnergo scheme was a piece of monstrous corruption, she alleged in legal filings. Its real owner, she claimed, was Semyon Mogilevich, a Ukrainian-Russian mobster, and one of the FBI’s top fugitives. Firtash denies this.

According to her writ, Firtash and his companies and associates were able to skim billions of dollars from gas transactions. The cash was laundered “through a labyrinth of shell companies”. It was then returned to Ukraine, with the money used to bribe Ukrainian officials.

Manafort sells the unsellable product. If you have a dead horse and you need to sell it, you call him
Alex Kovzhun
“Defendant Paul J Manafort is a well-known Washington D.C. lobbyist and political consultant. He is the senior partner in the firm Davis, Manafort and Freedman. Manafort also worked in Ukraine on various political campaigns, including the successful 2010 presidential campaign of Victor Yanukovich, who is the President of Ukraine at present. Manafort played a key role in the defendants’ conspiracy and racketeering enterprise,” the writ says.

Firtash, who declined to be interviewed for this article, denies the claims. In 2014, a federal judge threw out Tymoshenko’s suit, saying the allegations were outside US jurisdiction. The judge also said she hadn’t demonstrated that Manafort’s business dealings fed back to political persecution back inside Ukraine. Nor had she proved that Firtash was guilty of money laundering.

That same year Firtash was arrested on a US warrant in Vienna, accused of bribing Indian officials over a titanium deal. But an Austrian judge denied a US extradition request and agreed with Firtash that it was politically motivated. The US is appealing, and Firtash remains in Austria.

Firtash did invest money in Manafort’s real estate projects, however. The two met in 2008. Manafort’s plan was to buy the site of the demolished Drake Hotel in Manhattan and to redevelop it at a cost of almost $900m. Firtash transferred at least $25m to the project. According to Tymoshenko, the plan was never serious, with the cash merely transferred for the purposes of money laundering.

“Group DF and Firtash never had any intention to purchase the Drake property, but instead used the real estate project as a vehicle for investing $25 million in New York bank accounts,” her writ stated.

Manafort did not respond to a request by the Guardian for comment on Deripaska’s loan or the Drake Hotel allegations.

In the run-up to November’s vote, Trump’s own real estate transactions have been extensively investigated, but it remains unclear if any Russian cash has actually been leveraged in these deals.

In a statement on Monday, Manafort denied that he had received any irregular payments in Ukraine: 

“The simplest answer is the truth: I am a campaign professional. It is well known that I do work in the United States and have done work on overseas campaigns as well. I have never received a single ‘off-the-books cash payment’ as falsely ‘reported’ by The New York Times, nor have I ever done work for the governments of Ukraine or Russia.”

But Manafort’s critics in Kiev are scathing. “He’s an evil genius,” Alex Kovzhun, who spent a decade working for Tymoshenko, beginning in 2001, said. “He doesn’t work statesmen. He works dictators and all-round bastards. He sells the unsellable product. If you have a dead horse and you need to sell it, you call him.

“He works bad guys. They pay more, of course.”

Manafort’s specialism, according to Kovzhun, is running expensive campaigns and targeting the “great unwashed”.

“It’s the same element who voted for Putin, supported Brexit, back Erdo─čan and who will vote for Trump. Manafort works the lowest common denominator. I find him repulsive and his message ugly. He leaves destruction in his wake.”

Kovzhun said he recognised the same “moves” in Manafort’s campaigns for Yanukovich and Trump. He gets his clients to do “corny stuff”, Kovzhun added, with “bland political slogans” and “uncreative Soviet-style imagery”. “With Yanukovich it was: ‘I’ll hear everyone.’ With Trump, it’s: ‘Make America great again.’”

In contrast, Voloshin portrays the decade Manafort spent in Ukraine as a success. “In 2004, Yanukovich was seen as a Russian puppet. He was dead. Paul resurrected him.”

Can Manafort work his magic one more time? “The tougher the client you have, the the greater success you get. It isn’t about the money. It’s about ambition. If he can make Yanukovich president, I’m sure he can do it with Trump.”

August 16, 2016

Trump’s Camp. Mger. Warns ”The Election is Rigged” {in 2010 Ukraine}

Paul Manafort, campaign worker for Donald Trump and ex worker for dictators and more directly against US interests to Ukraine and received under the table payments according to the ledger shown in this page to work indirectly for Putin. PictureCREDIT: BLOOMBERG

"The only way" Hillary Clinton can win in Pennsylvania, Donald Trump said at a rally in that state on Friday evening, "and I mean this 100 percent -- [is] if in certain sections of the state they cheat, OK?" That was "the way we can lose the state," he said, of a state where he currently trails by 9 points. "And we have to call up law enforcement. And we have to have the sheriffs and the police chiefs and everybody watching." On Saturday, his campaign unveiled an effort to somehow formalize the campaign's fraud-prevention system, encouraging sign-ups on their website for "Trump Election Observers."

There's no demonstrated in-person voter fraud problem in Pennsylvania (or anywhere else, for that matter), and it's not clear if Trump's fraud-prevention effort is simply an attempt to collect voter contact information and boost GOP voter enthusiasm, or if it's actually meant to combat a problem that doesn't exist. But it's not surprising that this is a part of Trump's campaign in one sense: When Trump's campaign director Paul Manafort was helping to coordinate the campaign effort of a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine in 2006, he used similar tools and rhetoric.

Trump's campaign manager appears in secret Ukrainian 'black ledger'  Play Video1:06
According to a Ukrainian official, more than $12 million were earmarked for Paul Manafort in under-the-table payments from the political party of Ukraine’s ousted president. (The Washington Post)
In 2004, Ukraine held a presidential election that actually was riddled with fraud and abuse. This was the election in which one of the presidential candidates, Viktor Yushchenko, was poisoned with dioxin. The culprits remain undetermined, but Yushchenko's opposition to the influence of Vladimir Putin and Russia during his campaign has prompted some finger-pointing at the Kremlin. Monitoring of the election by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe found a number of problems focused on the campaign of Viktor Yanukovych, who represented the Party of Regions and was friendlier to Moscow.

A 2004 article at Slate details the allegations against Yanukovych, including stuffing ballot boxes and use of police to intimidate Yushchenko supporters. The rampant fraud led to a series of protests dubbed the Orange Revolution -- and a second ballot, which Yushchenko won.

At some point over the next two years, Yanukovych hired an American consultant to help the Party of Regions in the parliamentary elections. A cable released by Wikileaks noted the addition to Yanukovych's team.

Enjoying a lead in the polls since the fall 2005 Orange team split, ex-PM Yanukovych's Party of Regions is working to change its image from that of a haven for mobsters into that of a legitimate political party. Tapping the deep pockets of Donetsk clan godfather Rinat Akhmetov, Regions has hired veteran K street political help for its "extreme makeover" effort. According to the Internet news site, Davis, Manafort & Freedman is among the political consultants that have been hired to do the nipping and tucking.

Davis, Manafort & Freedman was, as you'd expect, Paul Manafort's firm.

Cables released by Wikileaks detail Manafort's arguments on behalf of the Party of Regions. Before the March 2006 elections, Manafort and aides spoke with representatives of the American consulate in the country. (The cables below come from the leak of diplomatic cables by Chelsea Manning.)

In one meeting, Manafort warned of the threat of election rigging and how it could undermine the legitimacy of the results.

"Manafort added that the people who felt that the 2004 elections had been stolen from them -- rightly or wrongly, that was how they felt -- would feel that it was happening to them again," one cable reads. That this was coming from someone representing the party considered responsible for the 2004 mess wasn't lost on the cable-writer. "In apparent anticipation of our next statement, Manafort offered that he was not in Ukraine in 2004 and could not make a judgment of what had happened. What was past was past; he was concerned about the present."

In the same cable, one of Manafort's employees describes an effort being undertaken by the party. "Catherine Barnes, Project Manager for the 'Ukraine Election Integrity Project,' a Manafort sub-project to train Regions' poll watchers in the standards of the code of conduct adopted by the Party for the 2006 election cycle, briefly mentioned her efforts, which have trained over 1200 Regions' members," it reads. A separate cable describes the goal of the group as being to "prevent or detect fraud on election day."

Manafort's depiction of where the problems lie wasn't uncontested. "Our Ukraine's Anton Klymenko held a press conference March 10 alleging that Regions, not Our Ukraine, was involved in voter list manipulation in eastern Ukraine," the first cable reads, "and that the new' voter lists for some precincts in Donetsk which had stripped off many 'dead souls' on the 2004 rolls had been replaced by the voter lists used in 2004, when fraud in the East was prevalent."

One of the tools Manafort hoped to implement to bolster the Party of Regions' chances was same-day voter registration. "[Manafort] called on the Ambassador March 21 to express his continuing concern about the possible disenfranchisement of 'hundreds of thousands' of Ukrainian voters unless President Yushchenko signed into law an amendment to the election law that would authorize local courts to add voters, names to the lists on election day," a cable reads. Why was Manafort confident that the Party of Regions would win if fraud weren't present?

"Manafort said his polling indicated that 70% of Ukrainians wanted change," the cable states. What's more, Yushchenko was no longer seen as trustworthy. "Manafort said he had two concerns for election day: fraud by Our Ukraine and the poor state of the voter lists," the cable reads.

Party of Regions won a majority of seats in parliament that March, returning Yanukovych to his position as the country's prime minister. The election was observed by OSCE, which didn't see the sort of widespread problems as two years prior.

In 2010, Yanukovych ran for president against Yulia Tymoshenko, who replaced him as prime minister following parliamentary elections in 2007. Again in that election, allegations of vote-rigging and fraud were rampant and flew in both directions. A Wikileaks cable describes Tymoshenko's arguments.

Tymoshenko, trailing Party of Regions leader Yanukovych in advance of the January 17 Presidential election, used a three-hour press event January 14 to hammer the message that Yanukovych is a criminal and front man for rapacious oligarchic interests, whose election would be a humiliation for Ukraine. She called Yanukovych a coward for refusing to debate her.

The cable notes Yanukovych's response.

Yanukovych termed Tymoshenko a "champion liar" and said he would not participate in a media circus with her. He expressed concern that Tymoshenko would not accept defeat and would seek to use the courts to hold as many rounds of elections as it takes for her to get elected. Manafort told us that Tymoshenko knows she is losing and is now moving to discredit the election process as the only means of stopping Yanukovych.

The OCSE found that the 2010 election also saw fewer problems that the 2004 race, perhaps because, as the cable above notes, "Russian influence has been muted."

Yanukovych won, but not without some dispute. Tymoshenko's campaign alleged that "the second round of the presidential election in Ukraine was marked by falsifications that significantly affected the election result and threw the result of the vote into question," the Kyiv Post reported. A Tymoshenko campaign representative said that "despite fierce opposition by Viktor Yanukovych's representatives, Yulia Tymoshenko's representatives managed to seek the first recount of votes at the 20th election district of the fifth constituency in Kerch" and that "data submitted to the Central Election Commission from this district gave Yanukovych 8 percent more votes than he in fact received."
Ukraine's next parliamentary elections, in 2012, were found to be problematic by the OCSE.

Two years after that, Yanukovych was ousted from his position, and his presidential palace overrun. Manafort's relationship with Yanukovych appears to have lasted until that point.

How much Manafort and his team earned for their work for Yanukovych and the Party of Regions isn't clear. A report from the New York Times on Monday morning indicated that Manafort's name appeared repeatedly on a list of secret recipients of cash payments by the party, perhaps to the tune of $12.7 million. "Investigators assert that the disbursements were part of an illegal off-the-books system," the Times reported, "whose recipients also included election officials."

There's no question that in Ukraine in 2006, there was cause to be concerned about election-rigging by the party in power -- Yanukovych's. The insistence by Trump and Manafort that similar risks apply in the United States in 2016 may be politically useful, but there’s no way in which the argument can be made fairly — as Manafort probably knows.

The 'Black Ledger' - How Yanukovych's Party Of Regions Rigged Ukrainian Politics By Bribery

If you will like to know more about Putin and what game he is playing with the US and Ukraine please check another blogger like me except his knowledge about the Ukraine is extensive, blogger Jason Easley in:

August 4, 2016

Russian American Putin’s Critical Biographer Explains How Things get Done at the Kremlin

The Kremlin operates by “Emanations”


Russia flies a different flag now, but its song remains the same — the tune of the Russian Federation anthem is the old Soviet Union’s, unchanged. And unchanged too is Russia’s endless strategizing against the United States.

Masha Gessen is a Russian American journalist, author of a critical biography of Vladimir Putin called “The Man Without a Face, the Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin.” Nuclear arsenal aside, Russia is not the power it once was, but comments by Donald Trump and the WikiLeaks release of hacked Democratic Party documents has brought the relationship of the uneasy adversaries into sharper focus, and brought more questions to the fore.
Software analysts say Russian intelligence or Russian intelligence-related somebodies hacked Democratic emails. What’s going on?

Russia is a disruptive force on the world stage, and that’s actually what it aims to be. And I think this is where a very important distinction comes in that people tend to miss:

There is no doubt that various Russian intelligence services, and in this particular case we’re talking about two different intelligence services that apparently weren’t aware of each other while they were hacking the Democratic National Committee’s emails. 
Russian intelligence services hack what they can and aim to create as much havoc, both in Western Europe and in the United States, especially around election time.

That’s quite different from saying, as some people have said, “Oh, they’re trying to throw the election to [Donald] Trump.” I don’t think that’s what’s going on.

It actually doesn’t work out chronologically either. But they are trying to cause trouble.

Would this hacking be meant to be directed at just destabilizing, just causing trouble, or is there a goal, an outcome that they might have in mind?

That’s the really important question. I don’t think there’s a goal that they have in mind. And there are several things that point in that direction. One is that Russia doesn’t usually have a goal in mind. It’s that the Putin government and Putin himself are not known for creating strategy. What they are known for is creating havoc.

The other thing is that talk of the chronology: Both of these actual hacking attacks by the two different agencies occurred in 2015, long before — one occurred earlier — long before it was even clear that Trump had a shot at the nomination. I think the goal was very much just to create trouble, which is what Russia is known for.

The other thing is, of course, that Putin hates Hillary Clinton. This is very personal for him. He has accused Hillary Clinton personally of having inspired and funded the protests in Russia in 2011, 2012. So imagining that Putin wants to do anything possible to prevent the election of Hillary Clinton, that is easy to imagine.

How much of this is Putin aware of, do you think, or perhaps even sanctioned or directed?

Russia is not a well-run country, and even though it is structured as though it was perfectly centralized, in fact it isn’t. And Putin is fairly isolated from a lot of his own government agencies.
And the fact that there are these two intelligence agencies that have carried out the two hacking attacks, the fact that they apparently, according to American experts, weren’t aware of each other, actually points away from the Kremlin and suggests this wasn’t personally ordered by Putin.

A lot of the way the Russian government works and Russian society works at a larger level has to do with trying to do their best and currying favor by producing good results. So it very much looks to me like these two intelligence agencies were trying to carry out what they thought would be liked by the Kremlin. And then, if they produced good results, that would mean being in favor with the Kremlin and getting additional funding.

That’s a lot of the way Russian politics works. One bureaucrat I interviewed once several years ago said, “We don’t carry out orders, we carry out emanations.”


Emanations, yeah — vague signals that point them in the direction in which they should be working. So I think these two agencies were carrying out emanations.

It sounds like government by Ouija board.

Exactly. And that’s the impression you get sometimes.

But we haven’t mentioned Assange, Julian Assange, who made the ultimate decision about when he was going to release the information that he got from the Russian intelligence agencies.

We don’t know that it was the Russians who decided to release this information just before the Demo convention. That actually looks like it was Assange’s decision. Assange is no great fan of Hillary Clinton, and Assange is also a destructive force, and Assange has ties to — at least functional ties to – Russian intelligence. But he’s not been a Russian agent, and he’s certainly not Putin’s personal agent.

He has been asked and has said he won’t talk about whether there’s any government’s hand behind these leaks, behind the information.

Right, but we don’t need Assange to tell us that. I mean, we have top-level American cyber experts telling us that, yes, there is a Russian government hand. But a Russian government hand doesn’t mean Putin’s hand.

Would Putin be pleased, or at least not unhappy, with what he has been hearing from the Trump campaign?

Given the choice, Putin would prefer Trump to Hillary. There are some things that Putin would certainly like about Trump, including his statement about NATO, and including the fact – and this is probably even more important – that clearly he doesn’t know what the hell is going on in Ukraine, as it shows in the responses he was giving in an interview over the weekend when he made it clear that he had no idea that Russia has actually been waging war on Ukrainian territory for over two years.

That’s nice for Putin. He would much prefer to deal with an ignorant buffoon as an American president than he would with a master strategist and a policy wonk and a hawk like Hillary Clinton.

I remember reading that when John F. Kennedy was elected, Khrushchev was thinking, “Here’s a boy, here’s a pushover.” And certainly Kennedy did not fare well in some of the talks, the initial talks, in his administration with the Soviet Union. The Berlin Wall went up nonetheless. But then there was the Cuban missile crisis. Does the Kremlin, then and now, assess these things strategically, the leadership of the United States, and the mood and the political direction of the United States?
That is a really great question and it really goes to the heart of this. We try to make sense of of the way the Kremlin acts by imagining that it functions very much like the American government, which isn’t perfect but which has a bit of a longer-term view. It’s not true at the Kremlin. I think what you’re getting at, and this is very accurate, is that the benefit of having somebody who’s ignorant and doesn’t have a set anti-Putin opinion becomes American president, that benefit is very short-lived. I can’t imagine a Trump-Putin friendship that lasts more than a few months.

In fact, I think that’s the real danger, or one of the really huge dangers, of seeing Trump become, God forbid, president of the United States, that it will not be a long-lasting friendship, and we will be on the brink of nuclear war because we will have two unpredictable, irresponsible non-strategic leaders in charge of our the world’s nuclear arsenals on both sides.

Should we wait for the other shoe to drop, that there will be emails forthcoming from the Republicans or the Trump campaign?

That’s a good question. I don’t know. I think there are a lot of variables at play. I don’t have information about hacked Republican emails.

There’s also the variable of the intermediary. We haven’t seen Russians actually release any of these emails directly. So would someone like Julian Assange, again, be interested in releasing those emails if that happens? Or Anonymous? Or some other agent of  information dumping? Will they have an interest in it?

And finally, how disruptive would really seeing Republican National Committee emails be? It’s hard to predict these things, but I don’t see that at this point it would have much disruptive value. What are we likely to find out – that Republicans were terrified of seeing Trump become the candidate? We know that. That’s not going to pack any sort of punch.

If, on a broader level, you’re asking, should we expect more disruption from Russia during this election, then yes, by all means, we should expect more disruption from Russia.

If, to the satisfaction of the U.S. government, it were found that the Russian government was indeed behind these hacks and these leaks, is there any risk to Russia? What possible retaliation could be constructed?

Russia is like the playboy hooligan, which is one of Russians’ favorite words for disrupting social order. It’s not afraid of reprimand, it’s not afraid of becoming a pariah on the world stage — it already is.

What would the United States do back to Russia? Hack its emails and find out that they don’t really talk about anything, and there’s no policy discussion in that country whatsoever, which is what we would likely find out?

I think the Western world is largely helpless in the face of people who seek to do nothing but create havoc and disrupt things, and that is an accurate description of both Putin and Trump.

I was thinking that even 25 or 30 years ago, the very idea that the then-Soviet Union would have hacked into and tried to perhaps disrupt a presidential campaign would have this country, the United States, in an uproar, and it doesn’t seem to have happened. Do you have any sense of why that’s the case?

Part of it is we don’t actually feel like the United States is in a Cold War, in a confrontation with Russia. I think that Russia is perceived accurately as a huge nuisance, which I know is a little oxymoronic, but I think it’s accurate in this case, except for, of course, that it’s got nukes.

But unlike 30 years ago, we’re not obsessed with nukes. Somehow we think that it’s unthinkable that nuclear weapons would be used, which I think is shortsighted and inaccurate. So we think that’s the worst they can do is hack some emails.

I think another thing is — and I think that has to do just with the United States — is a general distaste for the American political establishment, which is very different from the way Americans felt 25 or 30 years ago when they owned their establishment. I think at this point, they’re alienated from it. And the fact that somebody hacked into the establishment, which is how it’s perceived, that doesn’t cause outrage. 

Patt Morrison

July 26, 2016

The Evidence The Russians Are the Hackers

Many U.S. officials and cyber security experts in and out of government are convinced that state-sponsored Russian hackers are the ones who stole 20,000 emails from the Democratic National Committee and leaked them to the public just in time to disrupt the Democrats' national convention in Philadelphia.

Here's why the experts are so confident the Russians did it:

GEOGRAPHY: At least one of the hacker groups attacking the DNC appeared to cease operations on Russian holidays, and its work hours aligned with a Russian time zone, cybersecurity company FireEye concluded in a report.

LANGUAGE: The hackers also left an obvious digital fingerprint, one cybersecurity expert said, perhaps on purpose: a signature in Russia’s Cyrillic alphabet.

FORENSIC EVIDENCE: After a different batch of hacked Democratic emails was released last month, a wide spectrum of cyber-security experts concluded that it was the work of Russian intelligence agencies through previously known proxy groups known as COZY BEAR or APT 29, and FANCY BEAR or APT 28. “We've had lots of experience with both of these actors … and know them well," according to the DNC's own contract cybersecurity firm, Crowdstrike, which blogged that one of the two groups had already gained illegal access to the White House, State Department and even the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff.

MOTIVE: Given their mutual and very public bromance, Putin would much prefer a Trump presidency to a Clinton one, and the timing suggests the leak was timed for maximum embarrassment to the Democrats and their presumptive nominee. Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said the campaign was told by cyber experts that Russian hackers stole and released the emails to help Trump. “I don't think it's coincidental that these emails were released on the eve of our convention here," said Mook, "and I think that's disturbing."

HISTORY: U.S. intelligence officials, including Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, said they had previously seen evidence of foreign hackers spying on U.S. presidential candidates, including some state-sponsored ones, and that such cyber-intrusions would become even more commonplace.
The main reason, however, is that the email hack is exactly the kind of thing Russian hackers can do, are supposed to do, and are used for by Putin and his aides, retired four-star Adm. James Stavridis told NBC News.
"It is certainly well known that the Kremlin uses Russian hackers for a variety of missions," said Stavridis, who led NATO from 2009 to 2013. "It is certainly well known that Russia possesses those kinds of capabilities. And it certainly seems sensible to assume that the Russians would rather have a Trump than a Clinton presidency.” 

"And as the saying goes, crime is so often where motive meets opportunity. And when you put those two elements together, I'd say it's a real possibility."

Like other cyber-experts, however, Stavridis said definitively proving such connections is virtually impossible. "I don't know the answer to that and I'm not sure anyone knows the answer to that except for a few individuals in the Kremlin."

(Stavridis, who now heads Tufts' University's Fletcher School of International Affairs, was mentioned as a possible Clinton running mate, but says he is a registered Independent.)

On Monday, Crowdstrike co-founder and CTO Dmitri Alperovitch declined to comment on the latest release of hacked emails and whether it confirmed his earlier assessment that the Russians were responsible.

"At this time, I don't have any new insights or commentary to share beyond the facts that I presented [earlier]," he told NBC News.

Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort dismissed allegations of Russian complicity in the leak of DNC emails Monday, as the FBI announced that it is investigating what it called "a cyber intrusion involving the DNC and are working to determine the nature and scope of the matter."

“A compromise of this nature is something we take very seriously," said the FBI in a statement, "and the FBI will continue to investigate and hold accountable those who pose a threat in cyberspace." 


November 9, 2015

Increased Number of Russians Seeking Asylum in the US

The number of new U.S. asylum applications by Russians has reached its highest level in more than two decades, a surge that immigration lawyers link to the Kremlin's tightening grip on politics, pervasive corruption, and discrimination and violence against sexual minorities.

Russian nationals filed 1,454 new asylum applications in the 2015 fiscal year ending September 30, up 50 percent from the previous year and more than double the number filed in 2012, when President Vladimir Putin returned to the Kremlin after a four-year stint as prime minister, according to U.S. Department of Homeland Security data obtained by RFE/RL under the Freedom Of Information Act.

It is the third consecutive year that the number of U.S. asylum applications filed by Russian citizens has risen since Putin took office for a third presidential term. A single asylum application can include more than one individual, such as the spouse or children of the applicant.

The data obtained by RFE/RL does not specify the motivations of the applicants for seeking asylum. U.S. immigration lawyers have said the steady rise is likely driven in part by an exodus of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Russians after Putin signed a controversial 2013 law banning the spread among minors of "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations."

Western governments have denounced the law as discriminatory, and rights groups say it has helped foster an atmosphere of impunity for those who commit acts of violence against gay people. Putin insists the law does not infringe on LGBT rights and is merely aimed at protecting children.

Anecdotal evidence from lawyers who work with Russian asylum seekers suggests that the sharp spike in new applications this year may also be tied to an increasing number of Russians claiming to be victims of political persecution and threats or harassment by corrupt officials.

New York-based immigration attorney Alena Shautsova tells RFE/RL that she has fielded an increasing number of inquiries this year from Russians due to their opposition to Putin's policies and actions, including the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine last year.

"They reach out to me and they say, ‘Well, we can't live there anymore. How can we immigrate?'" Shautsova says, adding that her clients include both LGBT Russians and those purportedly persecuted for their political views.

Since returning to the presidency, Putin has embarked on a range of domestic policies that have further consolidated the Kremlin's control of Russia's political landscape. He has sharpened the state-owned media's messaging to more closely mirror the Kremlin line and cracked down on foreign funding for nongovernmental organizations, many of which are critical of his policies.

Opposition activists — including prominent anticorruption crusader Aleksei Navalny -- have also been targeted in criminal cases widely seen as politically motivated.

Ismail Shahtakhtinski, a Virginia-based lawyer who works with asylum seekers primarily from Russia and Azerbaijan, says that over the past year he has been contacted by an increasing number of Russians who claim to have been pressured by the authorities to pay bribes, make false confessions, or give fabricated testimony.

"A lot of times the government is trying to build up a case against someone, and in the way of doing that, they try to gather witnesses," Shahtakhtinski says. "They use a lot of fake witnesses and court testimonies. Those are the types of cases that I see a substantial increase [in]."

'Basic Fear'

Immigration Equality, the largest legal advocacy group in the United States devoted to assisting LGBT individuals with immigration matters, says the number of Russians it has met with about potential asylum applications this year is roughly at the same level as in 2014.

The New York-based organization has met in person with 44 Russian nationals so far this year "to determine whether or not they should file for asylum," compared to 47 in 2014, its legal director, Aaron Morris, says.

"There will probably be a slight rise since we have two more months left in 2015, but I don't anticipate hugely bigger numbers," Morris says. "We're also currently representing 52 Russians in LGBT asylum claims, which is, as a raw number, more than last year. I don't know that that reflects the increase, because of the long delays in the system."

Morris says that among the individuals Immigration Equality has met and worked with over the past year, the organization is seeing more instances of LGBT couples from Russia who have married in the United States and are interested in applying for asylum. Fear of physical violence remains the chief factor motivating sexual minorities to flee Russia and seek asylum in the United States, he adds.

"The basic fear for a lot of our clients is the same: It's that there's going to be a skinhead group that attacks them because they look gay or they're known to be gay or they're coming out of a gay club, or gay bar, or somewhere where LGBT people frequently meet," Morris says.

Russian citizens have filed more than 17,000 U.S. asylum applications since 1994, more than 6,000 of which have been approved, according to data provided by the Department of Homeland Security.

The number of new U.S. asylum applications by Russians this year was the largest in a single year since 1994, when the U.S. government received 2,127 applications from Russian nationals in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The United States receives far fewer asylum applications from Russian nationals than the European Union. Russians filed just over 14,000 first-time applications to EU countries last year, though that number was down from more than 35,000 the previous year, according to Eurostat data.

Between 2008 and 2014, however, the United States outranked all EU countries in popularity among Russian asylum-seekers except Germany, France, Poland, and Sweden, according to available Eurostat data.

Carl Schreck
Radio Free Europe

August 19, 2014

Putin and Russians are paying a dear price with World Opinion


With Russia escalating its military involvement in eastern Ukraine to its highest levels yet, reportedly sending as many as 1,200 troops plus 30 tanks across the border to bolster its separatist rebel proxies, it's worth looking at one way that Russia has paid for its Ukraine aggression: global opinion toward Russia is plummeting.
You can see how rapidly world opinion is turning against Moscow in this map from Pew's recent report on attitudes toward Russia.
Global popular opinion toward Russia as of July 2014 (data via Pew)
The map shows the proportion of people in every surveyed country who say they hold a favorable view of Russia, as of early July. Red means fewer than half hold a favorable opinion, purple means about half, and blue means more than half.
As you can see, Russia is extremely unpopular in most of the world. That's most true in Europe, where its favorability rating is typically somewhere in the teens, but it's also very true in Latin America, the Middle East, and parts of Asia. There are some major implications in this map for Russia, its place in the world, and the long-term consequences of its involvement in Ukraine.

Europeans are increasingly hostile toward Russia — as is almost everyone else

Vladimir Putin has to know tough times are coming. (IVAN SEKRETAREV/AFP/Getty)
Russia is most unpopular in Poland, which, as a long-suffering Soviet puppet state, is exceptionally alarmed about Russia's recent invasion of Crimea and its sponsorship of separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. In Poland, only 12 percent say they have a favorable view of Russia, with 81 percent holding an unfavorable view. The rates are not much higher in the rest of Europe, which is part of why European leaders are becoming much more willing to impose tough sanctions on Russia, even at some cost to European economies.
But Russia is also deeply unpopular in the Middle East. This is most true in Turkey, where only 16 percent hold a favorable view of the country, with 73 percent holding an unfavorable view. This may be a result of Russia's sponsorship of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, who has been able to get away with slaughtering thousands of civilians in that country's civil war in part because Moscow shields him from international action.
Russia is not universally reviled. It has an astounding 75 percent approval rating in Vietnam, which may be in large part due to Russia's long-standing support for the Vietnamese communist government against the country's historical enemy, China. Russian support for Vietnam as a balance against China has been rising in recent years as well. China and Greece also report mostly favorable views toward Russia (66 and 61 percent), perhaps because they see Moscow as challenging the West, which is viewed with deep distrust in both countries.
The highest pro-Russia approval rating in Europe, outside of Greece, is actually Ukraine itself: 35 percent approval. This might seem bizarre, given that Russia is loathed globally for invading and annexing Ukraine, but remember that a source of the crisis from the beginning has been a political split between Ukraine's Europe-leaning western half and an eastern half that has more Russian speakers, more ethnic Russians, and a fonder memory of joint Ukraine-Russian history. Those eastern Ukrainians still exist, and some of them apparently approve of Russia's actions.

Russia has always been generally unpopular, but it's getting much worse

Global popular opinion toward Russia as of July 2013 (data via Pew)
Russia's global unpopularity is not new, but that unpopularity has been on the rise since the Ukraine crisis began late in 2013, and it has been rising very rapidly. To see how quickly this has happened, above is a map showing the result of the same Pew poll one year earlier, in July 2013.
There's still plenty of red, but you may notice that the red is much lighter. Just one year ago when this poll was taken, Russia's favorability ratings in Europe were about twice what they are now: Poland dropped from 36 to 12 percent favorable toward Russia, Germany from 32 to 19, and Spain from 38 to 18. In the US, it plummeted from 37 to 19 percent.
Public opinion toward Russia soured in almost every country surveyed, across Asia, Latin America, and Africa. But it rose significantly in China, from 49 to 66 percent, again perhaps because of support for Russia's anti-Western confrontationalism. It also ticked up in Israel and the Palestinian territories, perhaps as a reaction against the US for brokering the failed and widely unpopular peace talks, as well as in India and the Philippines.

This is a major problem for Putin

Shoppers in Moscow peruse Vladimir Putin t-shirts (Marina Volisievitch/Laski Diffusion/Getty)
These polls bear out, as President Obama has long argued, that Russia's role in the Ukraine crisis will eventually come back to hurt it, that Russian President Vladimir Putin will hang himself by his own rope. The more Russia imposes itself in Ukraine, the weaker it becomes everywhere else in the world.
The most direct cause of that is sanctions: European sanctions, which have gotten a good deal tougher since this poll was taken, are starting to really damage the Russian economy. Putin for years premised his rule, which has long been authoritarian, on delivering solid economic growth. Now that that growth is gone, he's using Ukraine to churn up nationalism instead; you see it working in this poll, which shows that Russians' views of their own country have gone from 83 percent favorable to 92 percent.
But Putin can only nibble away at Ukraine for so long. At some point, as the Ukrainian military pushes harder to finally defeat the pro-Russia rebels, Moscow will either get sucked into a full-blown quagmire or will quietly withdraw. Either way, the crisis will end, the nationalistic rallies will wind down in Russia, and Russians will wake up to realize that they’ve become poorer, internationally isolated, and even weaker than they were in the disastrous 1990s. 

March 13, 2014

How The West and Obama Play into Russian Nationalism and thus Putin

Ukrainian soldiers mar 12
The West has rejected the scheduled Crimea referendum as illegitimate and demanded that Russian President Vladimir Putin give up its support for the peninsula. This pressure is not likely to succeed and, if anything, will only strengthen Putin’s drive to recognize Crimea either as an independent state or a part of Russia. The attempts to explain Putin’s intervention in Crimea by Russia’s economic weakness and fear of democracy are not credible and ignore the genuine roots of Putin’s action—nationalism and the West’s own role in its rise.
Although Russia’s internal problems are serious, Putin’s approval ratings were high before the intervention and he hardly needed it to improve his domestic standing. By fall 2013, the Kremlin gained a new political confidence largely by locating what experts identified as Putin’s conservative majority. By studying Russian reactions to the Anti-Magnitsky Act, the trial over Pussy Riot and restrictions on the activities of protesters and NGOs, Putin’s regime concluded that it had a sufficiently strong social base to avert destabilization. In December of the same year, Putin pardoned 20,000 prisoners, including members of Pussy Riot and his longtime critic, former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Many of those charged for disturbances during protests in the early 2012 were either released or received sentences lighter than expected.
The true motives of Putin’s intervention in Ukraine have nothing to do with diversionary domestic politics, just as his true intentions have nothing to do with trying to recreate the USSR. Instead, the support for Crimea is a reflective nationalist reaction to what the Kremlin views as unjust treatment by the West. Putin can no longer ignore those inside Russia who have been worried for years about protecting the country’s security and values from what they view as a dangerous encroachment by Western nations.
Nationalism in Russia has been a potent force, but it would have not have become as influential without the Ukrainian revolution and the Western support for it. The nationalist coalition behind Putin’s Crimea intervention includes security hawks known for their tough opposition to NATO expansion and ethno-imperialists advocating the “reunification” of all Russian lands in the former Soviet space. Security hawks form a close circle of Putin’s old KGB friends who have had access to him since his arrival to power in 2000. In 2008, a member of the group, Sergei Ivanov, currently the head of presidential administration, expected to become a heir of Putin, but was passed over for a more liberal and West-friendly Dmitri Medvedev. The other group includes those who, like Dmitri Rogozin, have argued since the 1990s that Russians are the core of the post-Soviet revival and the state must defend them everywhere in Eurasia. The two groups converged by supporting each other’s policy appointments and arguments. For instance, Rogozin is a known critic of NATO and the former Russia Ambassador in Brussels.
Russia’s relations with NATO are well-known. In response to the alliance’s intervention in Yugoslavia, two rounds of expansion in Europe, the United States’ decision to deploy elements of the Missile Defense System in Europe (allegedly against Iran), Russia made it abundantly clear where its red lines were. In August 2008, it went to war with Georgia in part out of determination to affirm these red lines. Ukraine too has tried to join NATO under President Victor Yushchenko. Although his successor Victor Yanukovych scrapped the membership plans and signed a long-term lease on Russia’s military bases in Crimea, security hawks in the Kremlin, including Sergei Ivanov and Secretary of Security Council Nikolai Patrushev, remained suspicious that Yanukovych’s desire to strengthen relations with the European Union was a Trojan Horse path toward NATO.
With the ascent of Arseny Yatsenyuk’s pro-Western coalition in Kiev, Moscow has had reason to believe that Kiev would resume its drive to join NATO and denounce the Black Sea agreement that allows Russia to keep its fleet in Crimea until 2042. By intervening in Crimea, Putin acknowledged that his leverage against Kiev—largely based on natural gas supplies and personal ties with Ukrainian pragmatists—was insufficient to ensure Ukraine’s neutral status and preserve Russian fleet in the Black Sea.
In addition to security hawks, the Ukrainian revolution empowered Russian ethno-imperialists who have been insulted by the new Ukraine’s version of history that devalues the Soviet contribution to Nazi defeat and glorifies Stepan Bandera. Bandera fought alongside the Nazi against the Soviets and actively participated in Holocaust. Former Ukrainian leader Yushchenko awarded Bandera the medal of Hero of Ukraine that Yanukovych subsequently cancelled. That the Western nations never condemned such a nationalist version of history and embraced those who advanced it exacerbated Russians’ sense of betrayal by Kiev.
Steps that followed confirmed Russian fears. Kiev canceled the law on Russian language (it has now repealed that action), restricted Russian media coverage, pushed many eastern and southern representatives out of the Rada, proposed “lustrations” against members of the “old regime,” and formed a new government with a heavy representation of nationalist figures. Indeed, prominent positions in the new cabinet are now held by members of ultranationalist organizations who trace their political roots to Bandera. Among them are minister of defense, head of national security, prosecutor general and minister of education—presumably to educate Ukrainians in the spirit of Russophobic history. Back in the government is also the proponent of NATO under Yushchenko, Boris Tarasyuk. The new Rada is now considering a law on gaining membership in the alliance. In response to many Crimeans obtaining Russian passports, there is also a proposal to punish the second (Russian) citizenship with ten years jail time.

During the Ukrainian revolution, Putin could not ignore those who turned to Russia for protection. In the war in Georgia he defended not only Russia’s security perimeters, but also Russian citizens and small nationalities in the Caucasus. Putin further embraced some ethno-nationalist ideas in response to nationalist and middle class protests in 2011–12. For instance, in one of his pre-election articles he described ethnic Russians as “the core [sterzhen’] that binds the fabric” of Russia as a culture and a state. Inaction to the Ukranian revolution would have come with the high cost of declining support for Putin”s claims to leadership in Eurasia.
Although the exact extent of nationalist influences on Putin remains unknown, it is clear that the Crimea intervention has made his internal position stronger. Until security guarantees are provided to Russia, and the issue of Ukraine’s non-NATO status and protection of ethnic Russians is seriously addressed, it is increasingly likely that Crimea will remain the Kremlin’s leverage and will not be returned to Ukraine.

January 23, 2014

Taking a Bath for 400,000 in St Petersburg Takes You Back 100 Yrs

  • Municipal bathhouses provide access to hot water for locals without proper bathing facilities at home
    Photo: Alexander Belenky / SPT

Taking a bath is far more complicated than it sounds for an estimated 400,000 St. Petersburg residents. These citizens reside either in communal apartments, older apartments without bathrooms or cold-water apartments. For such people, municipal steam baths often are the only way to keep clean.
People who use bathhouses for convenience rather than leisure, however, cannot afford to use private saunas or banyas. There exist a number of bathhouses financed by the city where the entrance price varies from 25 to 35 rubles for 90 minutes, a price that occasionally drops to a mere 10 rubles on certain days. The minimum price to use these banyas skyrockets to at least 150 rubles on the weekends, as groups of friends use them as weekly meeting places.

The city plans to undertake a more determined effort to maintain the city’s system of public baths. St. Petersburg currently has 30 such facilities scattered throughout its environs and city authorities have promised to introduce a detailed plan to modernize these facilities by 2014.

It is a plan long overdue: Some of these bathhouses are in such poor condition that many residents are afraid to use them. Residents also worry when any of the banyas are closed for reconstruction, since it is not an uncommon practice for developers to use the opportunity to change the zoning of a building to something more profitable. There are numerous examples of temporary closures becoming permanent when a bathhouse is turned into an entertainment complex or business center rather than maintaining its original function.

“Krasnie banyas,” one such bathhouse located on Moskovsky Prospekt, closed for renovation at the end of 2012. Recently, investors emphasized their intention to maintain bathing as the primary function of the facility. This tends to be the case when adequate bathrooms are unavailable in surrounding buildings.
“We had the following reasons to keep the bathing complex,” Vitaly Nikiforovsky, vice-president of Springald, the company responsible for the renovations, told The St. Petersburg Times. “First of all, the banya plays an important social function. There are lots of communal flats nearby and, for some elderly people, the banta is not only a tradition but an opportunity to take a bath in adequate conditions.”

“Moreover,” Nikiforovsky continued, “There aren’t any other municipal banyas in the surrounding area, so investors wanted to keep this as the basic function of the building.”
The first stage of the renovation finished at the beginning of the year. The project was put on hold after the initial work was completed and, in mid-September, construction began anew. Currently, the walls and roof have been repaired and new equipment has been installed. The renovation affected more than 10,000 square meters of the complex, replacing many of the building’s historic yet dilapidated sections.

This is the first time the banya has undergone any kind of reconstruction since its foundation was laid at the end of 19th century. Once finished, the Moskovsky Prospekt complex will feature a new boiler, which will not rely on the city’s heating system so that breakdowns, a common occurrence in the city’s older buildings, won’t plague the updated facility.
When reopened, the bathhouse will not only have several types of steam rooms but will include spa services as well. The reopening is planned for November 2014.

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