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In reacting to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine in early 2014, the US government did not call the Sixth Fleet into action; it did not ban all exports to Russia; it did not stop all cultural and educational exchanges. Rather, key elites close to “a senior Russian government official”—President Vladimir Putin—were targeted with asset seizures and visa bans.

Probably the most serious international crisis since the end of the Cold War, and the White House targets individuals? It seemed an odd response to some observers. But it made sense. At last, after 14 years of dealing with Putin as a legitimate head of state, the US government has finally acknowledged that he has built a system based on massive predation on a level not seen in Russia since the czars. Transparency International estimates the annual cost of bribery in Russia at $300 billion, roughly equal to the entire gross domestic product of Denmark, or many times higher than the Russian budgetary allocations for health and education. Capital flight totaled $335 billion from 2005 to 2013, or about 5 percent of GDP. But then in 2014, with the ruble and oil prices tumbling, it reached more than $150 billion—a figure that has swollen Western bank coffers but made Russia the most unequal of all economies, in which, according to Credit Suisse, 110 billionaires control 35 percent of the country’s wealth.

Dawisha, Karen.  “The Putin Principle: How it Came to Rule Russia.”  World Affairs, May/June 2015.

Red.  Brown.  Green.




And getting away with it!

There’s now plenty of BackChannels opinion on “Syndicate Red Brown Green”, a clever collection of books (in the “The Russian Section” of the library), but no prescriptions and not much hope for those in the Russian oppositions being ground away or controlled for irrelevance by the “Vertical of Power”.   The states of affairs may be ascertained swiftly with a glance at the web sites of well known critics.

Alexey Navalny

Gary Kasparov

Mikhail Kodorkovsky

Let BackChannels know when the outlook of each brightens.

The report, titled Putin. War, asserts that at least 150 Russian military personnel were killed during a Ukrainian offensive in August 2014. A further 70 — including 17 paratroopers from the city of Ivanovo — were reportedly killed during fighting near the bitterly contested town of Debaltseve in January and February.

Families of those killed in 2014 were given 2 million rubles ($39,000) by the government in exchange for signing a promise not to discuss the matter publicly, the report claims.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty.  “Nemtsov Reports Says More Than 200 Russian Soldiers Killed in Ukraine.”  May 14, 2015.


Posted to YouTube July 2013.

The great forces today are not in the “masses” or the “voting public” but in the construction and intentions of “adventurous governments” and otherwise integrated and stable ones.  Among the “adventurous”: Putin, Assad, Khamenei, Orban, Erdogan, among others; “integrated and stable”: the classically liberal democracies of the world.  The figure of “Everyman” shrugs before, sometimes beneath, these altogether large forces.

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