It is a great honour for me to give the first Tom Lantos Rule of Law Lecture. I would like to thank Annette Lantos, Katrina Lantos, and their whole large family for all their support over these 10 long years.
Today, the outside world is seeing Russia more and more as an aggressive country with an outmoded economy…
Against the background of the latest scandals about interference in elections, military adventurism in Syria and the Donbass, and the seizure of territories in Crimea, my country is more and more often being mentioned in the same breath as places like Iran and North Korea.
Of course, I don’t agree with this, but I cannot help but notice that we are regularly starting out from the position of an aggressor. Of a country that disrupts the world order, an exporter of tension and corruption. And the fact that we are not the only country like this gives me no comfort whatsoever.
I can’t help but notice that my country’s ambition to be a world leader is not supported by the viability of its economic system and the results it produces.These are becoming ever more dismal as the country has stalled its way into stagnation.
She warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that his actions would lead to “catastrophe” for Ukraine.
“It would also change Russia economically and politically,” she said.
But Putin has reiterated his previous stance: Ukraine’s crisis was caused by internal factors, not by Russia.
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President Obama has one crucial lever he can activate immediately, as was done in the case of deposed Ukrainian Viktor Yanukovich: identify, freeze, and disclose stolen assets hidden in the West.
Related: Putin’s Watch Collection Dwarfs His Declared Income | The Moscow Times – 6/6/2012; Helping Russia avoid Putin kleptocracy – CSMonitor.com – 9/27/2011; WikiLeaks cables condemn Russia as ‘mafia state’ | World news | The Guardian – 12/1/2010.
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Britain has been handing visas to hundreds of Russian oligarchs in return for them paying at least £1million towards our £1.2trillion national debt.
Russian and Chinese businessmen have been allowed to jump to the front of the immigration queue by ‘investing’ a seven-figure sum in Government gilts.
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MOSCOW — When Vladimir V. Putin returned to the Russian presidency in 2012, one of the first messages he sent to his political elite, many of them heads of banks and large corporations, was that the times had changed: Owning assets outside Russia makes you too vulnerable to moves by foreign governments, he told them. It is time to bring your wealth home.
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One notable statistic about Russia is that the mean wealth of its 110m adults last year was $10,980 while the median was $870. In other words, if the country’s assets were equally divided, the man in the middle would possess more than $10,000 but, in practice, his net worth is less than a 10th of that sum. This is the result of 110 billionaires controlling 35 per cent of the wealth.
The pundits fret over what to do with the Russia-Crimea-Ukraine debacle not in relation to mere Slavic expansionism — start, oh Russians, with investments in the east for that — but rather the expansion of Putin’s “mafia state“.
______ For readers who have a couple of hours to spare (right now) ______
Putinism and Russian Protest – YouTube – 2:02:48 – posted 10/29/2012.
That I find this kind of thing exciting scares me!
Panels about Putin may be inseparable from concerns associated with political psychology.
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On Viktor Yanukovych:
Revelations In The Yanukovych Papers – YouTube – 3/12/2014.
Primary Source: What the Ousted Ukrainian President Tried to Hide Before He Fled | New Republic – 3/12/2014.
Russia’s Putin Cracks Down on Media When We Need Journalism the Most | New Republic (today): Most of Lenta’s reporters have resigned in protest, writing in a farewell letter, “The trouble is not that we’ve lost our jobs. The trouble is that you’ve got nothing to read.”
Is Vladimir Putin insane? Hardly – latimes.com – 3/11/2014.
Russia – A mafia state? – YouTube – 1:43:47 – roundtable with Luke Harding – posted 7/27/2012.
Can Putin Contain Post-Putinism? – YouTube – 1:24:23 – – 11/28/2012. AKA “Can Putinism Be Reformed?”
Putinism and Russian Protest – YouTube – 2:02:48 – 10/29/2012: “Dictators will always steal as much as they can.”
Russian troops gather at Ukraine border – World – The Boston Globe (today); Russian troops gathering at Ukraine border for exercises as standoff continues – The Washington Post; Russia might halt nuclear inspections | Concord Monitor; Ukraine: Russia Fired On Plane Over Crimea.
Source: Ukraine: Russia Fired On Plane Over Crimea (today): “Kyiv Post’s Christopher Miller tweeted this video that allegedly shows a pro-Russian group attacking pro-Ukrainian groups in Donetsk today”.
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Arms trafficking, money laundering, personal enrichment, protection for gangsters, extortion and kickbacks, suitcases full of money and secret offshore bank accounts in Cyprus and Switzerland: the cables unpick a dysfunctional political system in which bribery alone totals an estimated $300 billion a year, and in which it is often hard to distinguish between the activities of government and organized crime.
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Among the most striking allegations contained in the cables, which were leaked to the whistleblowers’ website WikiLeaks, are:
• Russian spies use senior mafia bosses to carry out criminal operations such as arms trafficking.
• Law enforcement agencies such as the police, spy agencies and the prosecutor’s office operate a de facto protection racket for criminal networks.
• Rampant bribery acts like a parallel tax system for the personal enrichment of police, officials and the KGB’s successor, the federal security service (FSB).
WikiLeaks cables condemn Russia as ‘mafia state’ | World news | The Guardian – Luke Harding – 12/1/2010.
In the list excised, there are more bullets (no puns intended).
Related: BBC News – Wikileaks: Russia branded ‘mafia state’ in cables – 12/2/2010.
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Snowden’s father, Lon, also expressed his gratitude to Russian President Vladimir Putin for protecting his son from the legal consequences of having violated his NSA confidentiality obligations.
Human Rights Watch analysts also took note of the irony of the Kremlin coming to the defense of a self-styled champion of privacy and free speech rights.
“He cannot but be aware of the unprecedented crackdown on human rights that the government has unleashed in the past 15 months,” Rachel Denber, the rights group’s expert on Russia and other former Soviet states told the Associated Press by email.
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Is it just a coincidence that former NSA analyst Edward Snowden, a valuable intelligence asset, ended up in the hands of Russia’s security services?
Or did WikiLeaks, the “anti-secrecy” organization that has taken responsibility for Snowden, send him there in collaboration with the Russians?
Who do you trust?
Throw away God; give up on one humanist ideology or another: what’s left?
Are governments businesses?
Who do they serve?
Among those served, what are they serving?
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In the capitalist democracies, most expect private businesses to keep proprietary the business processes, relationships, and technologies that enable their sales, investment strategies, and accumulations of wealth distributed back to stakeholders or to the public in the form of consumer spending. As regards governments, they may be expected to keep secret fundamental military and security edges involving security intelligence and operations. These days, whether with billions networked through criminal pacts or blacked out for “black ops” budgets, governments, known criminal or not, would seem to be transitioning into deeply feudal empires — not of, for, or by The People but of, for, and by Some (Very Enriched) People.
Spanish police arrested four people Friday suspected of laundering large sums of money from Russian criminal gangs as part of a network they said may be linked to Semion Mogilevich, one of the FBI’s ten most wanted fugitives.
The arrests took place in the Mediterranean coastal town of Lloret de Mar near Barcelona, which has a large Russian community and is popular with tourists from the country, police said in a statement.
The four are suspected of tax fraud, document falsification and money laundering.
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MOTHERBOARD: Let’s start with public perception. People believe the Taliban is fueling the drug trade in Afghanistan. To what extent is this true, and why is it so widely believed?
The Taliban are players in the Afghan drug trade, but minor ones in relative terms. Perhaps the best way to demonstrate this is to look at the value of the annual drug trade within Afghanistan, which is about $3 billion. The Taliban capture only about 5 to 10 percent of those profits. The bulk of the profits is appropriated by other groups, such as traffickers, government and police officers, as well as warlords.
Web searched first-page reference to data on the Taliban’s narcotics trafficking seems to trail off for 2013, but relayed at the bottom of this post, there’s combat footage from early 2013 posted just six days ago.
No pun intended here either: the impression as regards the latest admixtures of crime and politics is getting rich.
According to American national intelligence watcher Tim Shorrock (reference: Spies for Hire), the annual bill for U.S. security-oriented intelligence efforts approximates $52 billion, not that the distribution is known. The social integration of the state’s population with its defense and security sectors may suffice for trust — are we going to trust our neighbors or not? — but the informational dark space created by the development of a large population of government-employed or contracted secrets keepers may not bode well for democracy.
Who is getting that intelligence budget?
On what basis?
To what end?
Shorrock’s sturdy journalism illuminates many paths in the national security intelligence complex, but as seems true today in Russia, the public may be told that it’s being served, but given the enormity of the spooky business and its continuing growth in its institutional aspect, public also has room – more cause – to suspect otherwise.
This is not to impugn the American intelligence community: by and large, we still trust our neighbors.
With help from books like Spies for Hire, the privileges known to the free press and more affirmed than not (so far as I know — and infringements by government gets play in the press pretty damned quick), and the web, it’s not that hard getting a glimpse of the cobbling developed to counter the narcotics trade, the terrorism business, and other contributors to international crime.
Still, the more a government privileges a class with secrets-keeping powers, the more paranoia it may inspire in those who are not of it.
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But, without naming names, Medvedev said Russia should be careful about freeing people convicted of crimes like hooliganism – the charge in the Pussy Riot case – and theft, which was the indictment against Khodorkovsky.
“Our people really are not much inclined, for example, to conduct acts of amnesty for individuals involved in violent crimes, for individuals who committed crimes against society, including hooliganism,” Medvedev said in a TV interview.
In political Russia, it appears deflection has become a high art.
The Khodorkovsky case has become legend and no realist expects more from the Kremlin then in its realpolitik the continued expression of absolute power that has dogged the matter from before the arrest stage and forward.
▶ Khodorkovsky – Official Trailer [HD] – YouTube – Posted 11/28/2011.
I’ve chided Pussy Riot (no, children, we do not take bawdy shows into churches without a big, friendly invitation) but most watchers feel the Kremlin’s punishment back-to-the-gulag! vulgarity bespeaks itself of criminal callousness.
In Medvedev’s above cited statement, the infantilizing of the Russian people by way of a paternalist stance should be as clear to neutral onlookers as the heightened projections of criminality. “Pussy Riot” may indeed be a vulgar noun, but the girls are not the evil ones; as for Khodorkovsky, he appears to have leaned westward with Yukos and in the direction of integrity (gasp!).
Since the late 1990s, Khodorkovsky had taken steps to transform Yukos along the lines of western business models. These steps included the introduction of corporate transparency, the adoption of western accounting standards, the hiring of western management, the creation of an independent board of directors with a corporate governance subcommittee, corporate growth through mergers and acquisitions, and increased western investments. These actions had marked Khodorkovsky as an outspoken leader who was pro-western and challenged the non-transparent means by which government and business operated in the Russian energy sector. These practices, along with the possibility of Yukos selling a major stake to Exxon Mobil or Chevron, deeply unsettled the Kremlin.
Legal | Mikhail Khodorkovsky – as viewed 12/6/2013.
With Russia as with Syria as with, not so oddly, Islamic Jihad in large part, one may expect the patina of legitimate cause to wear away before the eyes of a widening and more profoundly comprehending global public. Even so obvious, so visible, however, one wonders about the better options available to that same public.
One may note that Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe has survived decades in power without a shred of statewide legitimacy left intact, but the crowds of those patronized, the money involved (for himself and those to whom he distributes spoils) has proven sufficient to lead him into his 90s with probably a fairly good night’s sleep.
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