Archives for April 2013

Storm In A BVI Teacup

If you remember a couple of weeks ago, the Internet was rocked – for a total of about one or two days – by a wave of leaks from the ICIJ about the identities of offshore account holders in the British Virgin Islands. What juicy revelations did we have about the henchmen of the kleptocratic Putin regime?

Other high profile names identified in the offshore data include the wife of Russia’s deputy prime minister, Igor Shuvalov, and two top executives with Gazprom, the Russian government-owned corporate behemoth that is the world’s largest extractor of natural gas.

Shuvalov’s wife and the Gazprom officials had stakes in BVI companies, documents show. All three declined comment.

So that comes to one Minister who has always been open about the wealth which he made in the 1990’s as a law firm manager and then multiplied by leaving it in a blind trust invested into the Russian stockmarket; and a couple of top executives at one of the world’s biggest companies, are the two most prominent names that have been dredged up.

Rather underwhelming, TBH.

Incidentally, in most countries there is nothing particularly illegal about having offshore bank accounts. Morally questionable? Perhaps. For some, yes. And I can understand why countries like Germany (mistakenly, IMO) might not want to contribute to bailing out alleged tax havens like Cyprus, or why the US demands Switzerland reveal the identities of Swiss secret bank account holders to the IRS.

But is keeping money offshore illegal? No, it isn’t. Not in the US, not in Russia, not practically anywhere else. Not in any country that supports the principle of basically free movements of capital. Now if said money is suspected to have been laundered or otherwise acquired illegally then yes, investigations can follow. But the past few years of pressed government budgets have seen the big countries lean heavily on alleged tax shelters to reveal more information about their clients so it is arguably a much smaller problem than it was, say, a decade ago.

The non-illegal nature of offshore banking is the reason why Romney isn’t being prosecuted for his $250 million stash in the Cayman Islands, and why revelations that many wealthy Germans keep bank accounts in Panama has led to a lot of media noise but no legal proceedings. Is it because Germany is a kleptocracy in which the elites corruptly protect their own? To ask the question is to mock it.

But funnily enough whenever it comes to Russia even otherwise neoliberal or even Randian commentators start frothing at the mouth and demanding populist, Bolshevik reprisals against any Russian – that is, if he isn’t opposed to Putin – with money abroad.

Book Review: Xin Liu – The Otherness Of Self

The Otherness of Self” by Xin Liu, published in 2002. Rating: 1/5.

I don’t want to sound overly demanding, but really, unless a writer is the next Kant or Heidegger, he owes it to his readers to make his prose at least minimally engaging. With this book on too many occasions I was under the impression that I was reading something from the Postmodern Essay Generator. Here is a totally random quote I just pulled from THE OTHERNESS OF SELF: “As Carr argues, a solution to the problem of experience is provided by the Husserlian idea of retention-protention as a horizon from which the experience of being experienced at the present moment stands out.

Come again, amigo? About 80% of this book is PoMo-babble, as verbose as it is apparently meaningless – one is under the distinct impression that Xin Liu is padding out a thesis paper with references to thinkers who are not really at all relevant to the putative object of his studies, the Beihai Star Group and South Chinese business culture. It is with this in mind that we come to the actual content, unearthing which expends no small time of energy and sanity.

In this book, the anthropologist Xin Liu argues that “the human experience itself is narrative in character… time is the life of narrative.” By extension, social life is centered around the perception of time as it relates to the past, present, and future, as well as to the sense of “before” and “after”. He analyzes China’s changing society through the prism of its changing conceptions of temporarily as described in three contemporaneous books representative of the time periods in which they were written, as well as his own observations of business life in Beihai.

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Book Review: Benjamin Schwartz – In Search Of Wealth And Power

In Search of Wealth and Power by Benjamin Schwartz, published in 1964. Rating: 4/5.

in-search-of-wealth-and-power-benjamin-schwartz

In Search of Wealth and Power is a very dense but richly rewarding tome by Benjamin Schwartz, a noted China scholar. He focuses on the life of the translator Yan Fu to illustrate the culture clashes that arose when traditional Chinese civilization came into contact with Western philosophies.

Yan Fu was a translator and thinker who was one of the first Chinese to engage with Western thought at a deep level. He rejected contemporary thinkers like Zhang Zhidong, who aimed to integrate Western technics onto Chinese cultural foundations – not for him was the slogan “Chinese learning for fundamental principles and Western learning for practical application.” Nor was he a Marxist, to consider society as a mere superstructure to underlying economic realities. Instead, Yan Fu emphasized that if anything there was “more materialism (in the ethical sense)” among Chinese than in the West, whose own material foundations were built on innovative legal, political, and spiritual foundations. In a nutshell, the purpose of Yan Fu’s lifework was to foster the evolutionary growth of these Western qualities, many of them quite intangible, so as to “enrich the state and strengthen the army.” Yet in so doing this through his translations and commentary he ran into many paradoxes, and grew disillusioned with Western thought in the last decade of his life – as did admittedly many Western intellectuals as well. At the end he (re)turned to a form of Taoist mysticism.

At the start it is important to note that Yan Fu was intimately acquainted with all major strands of the Chinese philosophical tradition. Confucianism had been the bedrock of the Chinese state since the Qin dynasty. It stressed the importance of filial piety, of the ruler setting a virtuous example of the people, and of keeping laws and regulations light; however, Yan Fu and numerous other members of the Chinese intelligentsia during that time were coming to see it as a regressive influence keeping China backward. For his own part Yan Fu has little patience with it, beyond keeping its few good parts – mostly those to do with family organization – and extending it to the masses, the armies and factories (much as he perceived Christianity to have laid the groundwork for English public spirit despite its purported theological errors).

The other strand that he drew on is Legalism, a far more practical doctrine that  contained the Chinese version of balance of power theory and Machievallian ideas about the state. Furthermore, Schwartz writes, “while the immediate aims of the Legalists may be narrowly fiscal, the germ of a notion of economic development is latent within this mode of thought.”

Finally, there was Taoism; although the least practical of the three, Yan Fu was extremely influenced by it. In its attribution of a deep and incomprehensible driving force he found deep parallels with the monist Western philosophers, as well as a metaphysical lattice to hold together the evolutionary process and the “ten thousand things”. It did not proscribe a frozen feudal order like old-school Confucianism, and it was the polar opposite of the crass materialism of Legalism. As such, Yan Fu considered it the ultimate anchor on which Western philosophical concepts could be moored, even going so far as to argue proto-democratic tendencies in the works of Zhuangzi.

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Book Review: C.S. Friedman – Black Sun Rising

Black Sun Rising (Book 1 of the Coldfire Trilogy) by C.S. Friedman, published in 1991. Rating: 3/5.

The Coldfire Trilogy is sometimes described as a successful fusion of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. So what better work to start reviewing on this site?

I will be forthright: By far the most wondrous and intriguing element of this series is the world Celia S. Friedman built. Not really in the details – names are generic, and cities have no character of their own – but in the metaphysics. This is a world where simply thinking about something can bring it into being. This is reminiscent of other fantasy worlds like Solaris, numerous Philip K. Dick creations, and The Wheel of Time’s Tel’aran’rhiod. If you’re the type who has a lot of nightmares, living there probably wouldn’t be your cup of tea: “Erna is a harsh mistress.”

The interrelations between the cognitive and physical realms are mediated by the fae. The fae are a sort of energy current that can be manipulated, or “Worked,” by conscious minds to produce what we might think of as magic. But don’t call it that! For as the main hero of the story points out, “The fae is as natural to this world as water and air were to our ancestors’ planet.” Nor is it all bad: It can reinforce buildings against earthquakes, and cure wounds (giving faith healing an altogether more literal meaning!). The natural world, as a result, is subject to Lamarckian evolution: “Here, if trees grow taller, the next gaffi calves are born with longer necks.”

As it is now more than a millennium since humans first settled the planet, the concept of a world without fae is hard to imagine. Even though Damien Vryce, the main protagonist, serves a Church that is committed to the extirpation of the fae, he himself reacts to a vision of such a world with terror:

Explosives fire like a sharp drumroll in the distance, the crack of a hundred pistols perfectly synchronized. He feels a sharp bite of fear at the sound, at the unnaturalness of it. What kind of Working must it take, to make it possible for so many guns to fire successfully, with such planned precision? … For the first time in his life, he knows the rank taste of terror. Not the quantifiable fear of assessed risk, but the unbounded horror of total immersion in the unknown. Guns fire once more in the distance, and for the first time since coming here he realizes why they can function with such regularity. Man’s will has no power here—not to kill and not to heal, not to alter the world and not to adapt to it. The whole of this world is dead to man, dead to his dreams, impassive to his needs and his pleas and even his fears. The concept is awesome, terrifying.

This vision was created by Gerald Tarrant, the anti-hero of the story, to evoke fear in Damien. He is a centuries-old sorcerer who escaped death by pledging himself to demonic forces, gaining immortality and great power over the dark fae in return for regularly engaging in murder and feeding off the fear and terror of his victims – hence, his psychological torture of Damien, which the latter agrees to. But Tarrant is also the original founder of Damien’s Church, even if he has long abandoned its ideals (albeit he says it’s not that simple). This makes for an uneasy and tension-filled relationship between the two that looks like it will evolve in interesting directions in the next two books. It is also the main reason that I will continue reading the series to its end.

So why the rather mediocre rating? Plot. Characters. Consistency. It is not entirely clear why Damien became so committed to Ciani in the course of a weeks-long fling that he would literally travel to the ends of human civilization to bring back her stolen memories. Nor do I even recall why she was singled out in particular. The Big Bad’s fortress is originally described as a massive, physically-impossible structure of “naked stone” that “rose up from the earth like a basalt column,” but soon afterwards it becomes a citadel that was like “a jewel, a prism, a multifaceted crystalline structure that divided up the night into a thousand glittering bits.”

The very title of the book is “Black Sun Rising,” but there is only one reference to a black sun that I can recall. And unless it’s a metaphor for Tarrant, I don’t see it leading anywhere:

In the far north, across the Serpent’s waist, a midnight sun is rising. Black sphere against ebony blackness, jet-pure; a thing that can only be Felt, not Seen. Into it all the light of the world is sucked, all the colors and textures that the fae contains: into the crystalline blackness, the Anti-Sun. He stares at it in adoration and horror and thinks: There, where all the power is concentrated, like matter in a black hole . . . there is the power we need for this quest. Power to shake the rakhlands and make our kill and move the earth besides!

Apart from the stolid Damien Vryce and the darkly seductive Gerald Tarrant, the other characters are quite wooden, Senzei in particular giving off the vibes of an expendable (and accurately so, it turned out). Despite or rather because of his inherent intrigue and dark mystery, Gerald Tarrant is – looking at it in another way – a quite banal product of the feminine erotic imagination. Like a fusion of Stephanie Meyer’s vampires, and the serial killers who get bags of love letters in the mail, as channeled through Ciani:

With consummate grace, Tarrant walked to where she stood, took her hand in his, and bowed gallantly. Gritting his teeth, Damien was forced to acknowledge the man’s charm. … With a sinking feeling Damien realized just how drawn she would be to the Hunter, and to the mystery that he represented. It would mean little to her that he tortured human women as a pasttime, save as one more fact for her to devour.

It’s all the same power to her. He’s just another adept. More interesting than most, perhaps—but that only makes him more desirable. The cost of it means . . . nothing.

Essentially, the sheer awesomeness of Gerald Tarrant paradoxically cheapens him as a character, especially when he decides to slum it with mere humans. But maybe I am missing something big that explains all this in a later book.

Finally, there is also an ecological and anthropological element to the story. There is “The Forest” that Gerald Tarrant had engineered into existence with the force of his will, his need, and his intellect; sunlight and its solar fae are deadly to a man of the dark like himself, so over the long centuries, he created an entire ecosystem that could thrive without sunlight. There are the rakhlands, home to the rakh, a cat-like species that – under the avalanche of human fears over a rival species – evolved intelligence. The humans tried to exterminate them out of existence, with the result that the rakh retreated to an isolated part of the continent and erected a barrier called the “Canopy” to protect themselves from humankind. In a world where thinking really is existing, the Canopy can be seen as an “extentsion of their communal protection [and of] their need for protection [against man].” We also meet the “Lost Ones,” subterranean-dwelling relatives of the rakh who eat creatures from the above – including their cousins – for sustenance. They are the Morlocks/Falmer of Erna.

Have no illusions: This is not a landmark fantasy series. The characters are forgettable, with the partial exception of Damien Vryce and Gerald Tarrant (although the latter has his own issues). The plot meanders considerably, and is barely discernible in places, like the earth fae over the ocean. I think there are too many points of inconsistency for them all to have been a result of errors on my part as a reader (if so: Apologies. Maybe somebody was stealing my memories when I was reading the book?). There is also one character’s miraculous and unexpected survival at the end that, much like Sherlock Holmes’ faked death, strains the bounds of credulity. I wonder if the author will explain this sometime, or whether its a deus ex machina that will lie buried – unlike the unlikely survivor – to the end.

But it intrigued my just about enough to download the second book. I guess that means that aura of Erna can still draw you in even despite quite significant flaws in execution.

A Brief Intro To The Navalny Case

The anti-corruption crusader and best hope of the Russian race Navalny will be on trial for embezzlement on April 17th. And it has to be admitted that even many of us who tend to look at the liberal opposition’s claims of repression with a healthy degree of skepticism are now “plagued by vague suspicions.”

It’s just too convenient. After all, there are now a total of four criminal cases against him, three of them potential (SPS, Yves Roche, Post of Russia) and one in process (Kirovles). Most of them appear to be pretty flimsy. It’s as if the Investigative Committee read through the entire book of his life and placed a laser-like focus on every spelling and grammatical error. Which the IC itself acknowledges:

Interviewer: But if the case didn’t have Navalny, then, probably, the case itself wouldn’t exist?

Vladimir Markin, IC spokesman: Perhaps, it would not have happened so quickly, because unfortunately the numbers and energy of our investigators are quite limited. In an ordinary case of embezzlement and misappropriation perhaps our hands wouldn’t have reached in so quickly. But if the person in question draws attention to himself with all his strength, or we can even say, teases authority – saying that oh I am so white and flawless, then the interest in his past increases and the process of exposing it to the sunlight, understandably, accelerates.

Yet with all that said, the fact of this vastly intensified scrutiny being politically motivated does not – as with Khodorkovsky – absolve the defendant of guilt should he actually have committed the crimes in question. And here is where an objective appraisal of the case parts ways with the narrative that has been presented by the liberal opposition and Western media, which asserts that the case against Navalny has been invented out of thin air on Putin’s orders.

After all, stealing 15 million rubles of timber should, at least in theory, be as bad if done by Navalny as if done by any random Nashist – and as deserving of punishment. IF he did actually steal them. But how to find out if he did?

You could do a lot worse than avoiding the media din, and instead systemically reading through the documents and arguments offered by both sides. Here are the more important sources I have identified:

The only problem? All this material is in Russian. But despair not! For your fearless Leader (aka myself) is going to do this for you in the coming days, and write informative posts and articles on the basis of his discoveries.

I will not write a lot right now, but there are four things I wish to clear up from the beginning, to set down the correct channels about how to think about the case.

(1) At the most basic level, the allegation is that Navalny, in concert with Ofitserov, set up a shell company to criminally enrich themselves. Originally, Kirovles, a state company headed by Opalev, had a set of agreements with its customers to supply them with timber. Under pressure from Navalny, who was an adviser to Governor Belykh, these agreements were torn up and rewritten at the same prices, but with their shell company as the new partner. Kirovles, in its turn, sold the same amount of timber to the shell company, but at lower prices. The difference, presumably, was pocketed by Navalny and Ofitserov. This scheme only lasted four months before there was a scandal and Opalev was evicted from Kirovles.

(2) It is not clear that this, even if true, would constitute outright theft. As Politrash’s second lawyer Strigov argues, the charges then would not be Article 160, part 4 of the Criminal Code (theft/хищение) – as per the Investigative Committee – but Article 165, part 2 (causing financial loss by way of deceit and misuse of trust/Причинение имущественного ущерба путем обмана или злоупотребления доверием).

(3) There are dozens of witnesses testifying that they were pressured into rewriting timber supply contracts from Kirovles to Navalny and Ofitserov’s shell company. For his part, Navalny alleges that he had nothing to do with the shell company and was only marginally acquainted with Ofitserov. The evidence within the IC’s indictment however overwhelmingly suggests that this was the not case on both counts. Navalny would have been wiser to focus his defense on proving that the shell company did not do anything illegal, as opposed to (falsely) disavowing any involvement with it, and I do not know if it’s now too late to change tactics.

PS. More links:

The Anti-Magnitsky List

Here is the list of US citizens publicly barred from Russia in response to the US Magnitsky List. Are you familiar with any of them?

Individuals alleged to be involved in the use and legalization of torture and indefinite confinement of prisoners – the “Guantanamo list”:

1. David Spears Addington – Chief of Staff of the U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney (2005-2009);
2. John Choon Yoo – Legal adviser at the U.S. Department of Justice (2001-2003);
3. Geoffrey D. Miller – Commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo, which administers the U.S. military detention centers at the U.S. Guantanamo Naval Base on Cuba (2002-2003)
4. Jeffrey Harbeson – Commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo (2010-2012)

Individuals alleged to be involved in abuse of Russian citizens’ human rights abroad:

5. Jed Saul Rakoff – U.S. District Judge for Southern District of New York;
6. Preetinder S. Bharara – U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York;
7. Michael J. Garcia – Former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York;
8. Brendan R. McGuire – Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York;
9. Anjan S. Sahni – Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York;
10. Christian R. Everdell – Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York;
11. Jenna Minicucci Dabbs – Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York;
12. Christopher L. Lavigne – Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York;
13. Michael Max Rosensaft – Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York;
14. Louis J. Milione – Senior Special Agent of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration;
15. Sam Gaye – Senior special Agent of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration;
16. Robert F. Zachariasiewicz – Special Agent of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration;
17. Derek S. Odney – Special Agent of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration;
18. Gregory A. Coleman – Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation;

I’m familiar with two of them.

John Yoo, of course – the guy who provided much of the “legal” basis for both Guantanamo and the Iraq War. I don’t view him as a war criminal or anything like some of the liberal leftists do. Nonetheless, if Russia is providing a “symmetrical” response to the Magnitsky List, it couldn’t bar a more appropriate person. Yoo himself seems to be taking it in good stride.

The other guy I’m familiar with (too familiar with) is Preet Bharara who was just now the subject of a gushing hagiography from Mark Galeotti. In reality he is a thug who thinks who thinks that going after online poker players’ money is a good use of US investigative resources. Oh, I know full well that he was really blacklisted for his actions against Viktor Bout – a legitimate arms trader who the US only took a disliking to after he started selling weapons to the wrong people. But while I may not care much about Bout, I do care about my money, especially that which was frozen after Black Friday, and the hit to my expected earnings once the biggest online poker vendors pulled out of the US in its aftermath. (How else do you think I blog and write books without a regular day job?). So for this reason I am extremely happy to see Bharara on that list in the knowledge that maybe, just maybe it will cause him some spot of inconvenience one day.

Mark Feygin Treating Pussies Badly

Everybody in the Western media seems to have forgotten Pussy Riot. Well, not forgotten, they still wheel them out every so often as symbols of the repressiveness of the Putin regime – but news of actual developments in the affair have come to a standstill. Which is a pity, because they undermine the commonly accepted narrative about what it was in the first place.

I am talking, of course, about the estrangement of Pussy Riot from their original trio of lawyers – Mark Feygin, Nikolay Polozov, and Violetta Volkova. This began approximately when they Pussy Riot lost their case and got sent off to jail, which led them to switch lawyers. Their new lawyer, Irina Khrunova, managed to get Samutsevich (one of the Pussies) released by arguing that she was not an active participant in the “performance.” Khrunova continues to represent the other two who are still in jail. Here is pretty much the only article you will find out about this in the Western media. (Funny that it’s in The Independent, and not in the Guardian, which was otherwise Pussy Riot’s most fiery supporter).

Then Mark Feygin, via his wife’s company, tried to register the Pussy Riot brand. Pussy Riot claims that he did not have their permission to do so and that it was an attempt to cash in on the case. Feygin denies this, saying that he did have permission and that his intentions were to prevent OTHERS from unscrupulously profiting off the name. He says the newspapers smeared him. In any case this is a moot point anyway, as Russia’s patent office denied them their trademark anyway; but this was just one of a series of wedges that would alienate the lawyers from the Pussies.

Things moved up into critical mode when Samutsevich asked Russia’s bar association to consider Volkova’s status as a lawyer, and now, to dismiss her. This prompted a furious, vitriolic, and frankly stunning reaction from the lawyers:

Mark Feygin: Samutsevich again requested the Association to disbar Violetta Volkova!

Mark Feygin: Without a doubt, we are dealing with a RAT here!

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The West Made Its Bed, Now Russia Will Lie In China’s

The latest US-Russia.org Experts Panel discussion was about Russia’s burgeoning partnership with China. I especially recommend Mercouris’ contribution which – although unfortunately titled by VoR’s editorial staff)) – is otherwise quite brilliant. My own effort follows below:

First of all, let me preface that I’m one of the biggest China bulls around. Its economy in real terms will overtake that of the US by the mid-2010’s, if it hasn’t already. It’s already bigger in a range of industries, from traditional heavy industry (steel, coal) to consumption (car sales, e-commerce). Its manufacturing wages have caught up with Mexico’s, which is a quintessential middle-income country. If the average Chinese is now about as prosperous as the average Mexican, then the PRC’s total GDP – taking into account its vast population – is now well ahead of America’s.

Nor is it a house build on sand, as many Sino pessimists would have you believe, but on solid, steel-reinforced concrete. Its economic growth is NOT dependent on cheap exports. And fantasies about its “exploited” cheap labor force, which will become increasingly uncompetitive as it develops, belie the fact that the average Chinese now scores higher in international standardized tests than the OECD rich country average. Given the centrality of human capital to economic growth, China’s rise to the top tables of world power is all but assured.

It would be very worrying if China’s ascent was accompanied by the bellicose rhetoric and militaristic posturing adopted by other rising Powers of the past, like the Kaiser’s Germany. But “yellow peril”-type hysteria aside, this does not seem to be the case. China spends a mere 2% of its GDP on its military, i.e. about twice less in proportional terms than both Russia and the US. This is a most fortunate confluence of events, especially for Russia, as competing with China is unrealistic in the long-term – not when its economy is an order of magnitude bigger. On the other hand, deep engagement with China hold out a number of benefits.

First, China gets access to Russian energy resources, bypassing the vulnerable routes past the Strait of Malacca (either overland via Siberia, or across the top of the world via the thawing Northern Sea Route), while Russia gets access to Chinese capital and technologies – much of the latter purloined from the West, true, but so what? Second, both countries secure their frontiers, allowing them to focus on more troubling security threats: The Islamic south and possibly NATO in Russia’s case, and disputes with Vietnam, Japan, and a USA that is “pivoting” to the Pacific in China’s case. Third, resources can be pooled to invest in Central Asia and root out Islamist militants and the drug trade – an issue that will assume greater pertinence as the US withdraws from Afghanistan.

Frankly, the West is too late to the party. It had an excellent chance to draw Russia into the Western economic and security orbit in the 1990’s, but instead it chose the road of alienation by pointedly welcoming in only the so-called “captive” nations of East-Central Europe. Putin’s reward for his post-9/11 outreach to the US was a series of foreign-sponsored “colored revolutions” in his own backyard. While in rhetoric both he and Medvedev continue to affirm that Russia is a European country, in practice attitudes towards them have come to be based on practicalities, not lofty “values” that they don’t even share. So it is only natural that with time Russia came to be more interested in pursuing a relation with the BRICS (“The Rest”) in general, and China in particular.

The West’s response hasn’t been enthusiastic. The BRICS are written off as a bunch of corrupt posers with divergent geopolitical ambitions that will stymie their ability to act as a coherent bloc. Russia and China come in for special opprobrium. While there’s a nugget of truth in this, it misses the main point: The BRICS might be poorer but by the same token they are growing faster and converging with the West, or at least China and Russia are; and while they don’t see eye to eye on all things, they agree on some fundamentals like multi-polarity, a greater say for developing nations in the IMF and World Bank, and the primacy of state sovereignty.

Here is a telling anecdote from an online acquaintance of his recent experiences with the European news channel, Euronews: “A feature of this site is that there’s a world map with happy and sad smileys on it to indicate good news and bad news. And there on Moscow I spotted a sad smiley, so I focused on it, thinking there would be a report on the already day-old and forecast to last another day blizzard that is raging right now across the Ukraine and European Russia… And the “bad news” that I read? The meeting between the Russian president and his Chinese counterpart together with a report and an analysis of the increase in trade between those two states. That’s really bad news, it seems, for some folk.”

And this is not so much an isolated incident, but a metaphor for the general state of West – Russia relations: While the former expects a certain degree of respect and even submission from the latter, it doesn’t tend to make reciprocal gestures, and then acts like a jilted lover when Russia gives up and goes to someone else’s bed. But that’s the reality of a globalized world, in which the West isn’t the be all and end all, and countries have choices. It is high time that the West mustered the humility to finally accept that it has been dumped.

Navalny’s Promises To Put Putin In Jail

In a recent interview with the opposition Dozhd TV channel – which is, incidentally, available for public viewing in Russia as part of the NTV Plus satellite TV package – for the first time openly declared he wants to be President. He also speculated about the motivations behind the Kirovles fraud case being brought against him. (He expects to get a suspended jail sentence that will disbar him from electoral politics).

However, I think other parts of the interview were at least equally interesting and telling about what sort of politician Navalny would be. First, he unequivocally said that he would send Putin and his friends to jail. It is rather ironic that the self-appointed leader of the extra-parliamentary Russian opposition doesn’t bother, unlike Putin, to even pay lip service to the rule of law and judicial impartiality that he supposedly espouses. Second, his tendency to intemperately react to critics – even those who support him – is, once again, on full and inglorious display.

Below is a translation from the relevant part of the interview.

Host: Many people interpreted you as saying, I paraphrase, “I am Alexey Navalny and I will put you in prison, once I become President.”

Navalny: I don’t know about a President Navalny, but one day there will come to power those who will put him in prison. It’s a general feeling, I or we altogether, in another regime we would put him…

Host: [interrupting] [unclear] is it we or I?…

Navalny: Well, I, because I feel myself as part of this process, and I will do everything possible to make sure that he, and Putin, and Timchenko, and the entire list go to prison. To me these are all chains in this odious, kleptocratic regime, from the policeman who breaks your arm to Timchenko who steals oil, it’s all related…

Host: [interrupting] Do you want to become President?

Navalny: I do want to become President. I want to change life in this country, I want to change the system of administration, I want to make it so that the 140 million people of in this country – who are surrounded by oil and gas that flows out of the ground – would no longer have to live in destitution and hopeless squalor, but lived normally, like in any European country. We aren’t any worse than Estonians!

Host: Do you have a clear, well-planned program? Because as we know, and I think we raised the issue a year ago with you, you said that one shouldn’t lie and steal, and we got questions from many people like this on air: “To not steal and lie is all well and good, but what can we concretely do about it?”

Navalny: These “many people” are all idiots. We don’t need to do anything other not lie and not steal.

Host: So everyone will cease to not lie… will cease lying and will cease stealing…

Navalny: [interrupting] It’s the principles that are important.

Host: … and the Sun will start shining?

Navalny: If the top echelons of government will no longer lie and steal, but will do what is expected of it, and will at the least start to realize those nice programs of Putin such as Strategy 2020… All the reforms we need have already been compiled, down to roadmap detail. But none of them are being fulfilled.

Host: [interrupting] [unclear] … So the plans suit you. At least as they are on paper.

Navalny: No. They don’t exist. The plan for Russia’s development, and reforms, has been reworked multiple times, and overall everybody pretty much understands and agrees… We have this strange situation where we have a consensus between Left and Right as relates to the reforms we have to carry out, but they aren’t getting carried out, because the essence of the current regime is corruption. Everybody more or less understands how to combat this corruption, and we bring very concrete and constructive proposals on how to combat corruption to Medvedev’s anti-corruption conferences…

Host: For example Rospil.

Navalny: Yes Rospil, and our Anti-Corruption Fund, and many other suggestions, and many people there agree with those suggestions, but nothing happens further.

Margaret Thatcher, RIP

margaret-thatcher

A friend on Facebook said it best:

watches with amusement as people who think history is the result of transpersonal economic forces that determine individual consciousness get hung up on the supposed moral evil of one woman

I am personally entirely neutral and indifferent to her. I have British acquaintances who are her fans, as well as those who are very hostile to her. I think both sides overstate her real significance. The coal mines were dead men walking by the 1980’s, and any British Premier would have defended the Falklands. Friendships with dictators who like you and support your policies are entirely normal and within the national interest. Nor did she (or Reagan) have any influence whatsoever on the fall of the “evil empire,” which was governed by almost entirely internal developments.

She was of course no friend of Russia, and associated with some people whom I loathe, like Gorbachev. But as a British PM she of course had no obligation whatsoever to be a friend to anyone or anything but the British national interest – and at that, it has to be said, she was successful.