Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Putin follows Peter the Great as Russia's 1% own 59% of wealth

Peter the Great (1672 -1725. He modernised Russia and visited Western Europe in 1697 and 1717. His eldest child and heir, Alexei, was tortured and executed in 1718. Alexei had a poor relationship with his father. 

The Russian war against Ukraine is a year old and it's the biggest land war in Europe since 1945.

On April 30, 1945, in an underground bunker in Berlin, Adolf Hitler committed suicide by swallowing a cyanide capsule and shooting himself in the head. After the death of the beast Germany unconditionally surrendered to the Allied forces,ending Hitler’s dreams of a “1,000-year” Reich (empire).

Another insecure dictator in 2022 wanted to restore the Russian Empire and he too had a record of mass murder.

It was not on the scale of the Austrian-born Hitler but Putin and his henchmen have no mercy when it comes to targeting civilians.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said this week that nearly 18mn people are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. Some 14mn people have been displaced from their homes while 8mn have moved abroad.

Vladimir Putin, the current Russian dictator, has compared himself with the tsar, Peter the Great (1672-1725), in their historic quests to win back Russian lands.

“Peter the Great waged the great northern war for 21 years. It would seem that he was at war with Sweden, he took something from them. He did not take anything from them, he returned [what was Russia’s],” Putin said last June after visiting an exhibition dedicated to the tsar.

The revelation of imperial ambitions showed that the alleged grievance of the eastward Nato expansion was a facade for a conventional war of conquest.

Peter's rule, Putin suggested, was proof that expanding Russia had strengthened it.

"It seems it has fallen to us, too, to reclaim and strengthen," Putin concluded, with a near-smirk (according to Sarah Rainsford, the BBC's Eastern Europe correspondent) that left no doubt he was referring to Ukraine and his aims there.

Putin's versions of history are myths

Targeting civilians in Ukraine does not worry this tyrant.

Putin, a former officer of the KGB secret police, was the Russian prime minister from 1999-2000 when he vowed to raze the city of Grozny to the ground. The city had a population of 350,000 and tens of thousands of civilians were killed in the capital of the breakaway province of Chechnya. Putin said the military would not stop bombing until troops "fulfilled their task to the end." He became president in March 2000.

It was a Carthaginian solution evoking Ancient Times when in 146 BC, Rome destroyed its rival, the city of carthage, on the North African coast.

The city of Aleppo, Syria, in 2016 was extensively bombed by the Russians. Thousands of civilians died. Human Rights Watch said, "Those who ordered and carried out unlawful attacks should be tried for war crimes."

The Kremlin

Crime of aggression

Putin is guilty of "the crime of aggression" against Ukraine in invading the latter on February 24, 2022.

At Nürnberg, Germany, a trial of 24 military and political leaders of the Third Reich was held from November 20, 1945, to October 1, 1946. Evidence against 21 of the defendants was heard.

Great Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union and France each had prosecutors and Prof Aron Trainin, a Soviet jurist proposed that the Charter of the International Military Tribunal (IMT) should include a new legal concept, 'the crime of aggression,' that would be used to hold Nazi Germany's military and political leaders accountable for the numerous countries they invaded and occupied :

(a) 'Crimes against peace:' namely, planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances, or participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the foregoing;

(b) 'War crimes:' namely, violations of the laws or customs of war. Such violations shall include, but not be limited to, murder, ill-treatment or deportation to Wave labour or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory, murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war or persons on the seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity;

(c) 'Crimes against humanity:' namely, murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the war, or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated.

"Leaders, organizers, instigators and accomplices participating in the formulation or execution of a common plan or conspiracy to commit any of the foregoing crimes are responsible for all acts performed by any persons in execution of such plan."

The Soviet prosecutor had charge of show trials in the 1930s and when Stalin and Hitler had their alliance, Stalin ordered a series of mass executions in April and May 1940. Soviet secret police murdered an estimated 22,000 captive Polish military officers and soldiers, policemen, officials, intelligentsia and others.

Today in Russia it's a crime to even mention the Stalin-Hitler alliance of 1939-1941.

The International Criminal Court is investigating war crimes and ‎crimes against humanity in Ukraine.

France has become the first major western state to publicly back the creation of a special tribunal to try senior Russian officials – potentially including Vladimir Putin – for the 'crime of aggression' in Ukraine.

According to The Guardian "The EU wants a specialised court because Russia has not signed the international criminal court (ICC) treaty, leaving the court in The Hague without jurisdiction over 'crimes of aggression' committed by the Russian government. The ICC can judge specific war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine, although Putin and his top ministers retain immunity from prosecution while in office."

Russian economics and theft

In Putin's kleptocracy, his cronies have benefited from foreign companies leaving the Russian market.

The Financial Times reported last December, that "A Russian court has ordered the seizure of a luxury hotel complex owned by billionaire Oleg Deripaska, one of the few oligarchs to have criticised President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, in a sign of the pressure facing the country’s tycoons since the invasion."

These assets were valued at $1bn and have been handed over to Putin.

Yevgeny Prigozhinhe, the gangster Wagner leader, known as Putin's "chef" has generated revenues of $250mn, outside of Russia, despite sanctions, according to the FT.

"Revenues made from Prigozhin’s mercenary-backed businesses in countries such as Sudan and Syria since 2018 have helped the Kremlin-backed catering magnate emerge as a powerful warlord in President Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine."

Credit Suisse, the Swiss bank, in 2022 had the top 1% of the Russian population owning 58.6% of the wealth.

The bank noted that "By any standard, wealth inequality is high in all countries and exceptionally high in some. As a rough guide, typical values are 30%–35% for the share of the top 1% and 60%–65% for the share of the top 10%. A Gini value of 70 is relatively low and a Gini above 80 is relatively high. These values are much higher than those for income inequality or any other customary welfare indicator."

Russia is on top and is followed by Brazil at 49.3%.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts that in 2023 the per capita GDP (gross domestic product) will be $14,700 in current US dollars.

The World average level will be $13,900; Poland will be at $20,500; Advanced Countries $55,040.

Total GDP will be slightly above $2trn in 2023. The UK will be 50% above and Germany will be almost double the Russian level.

The country is entering its seventh year of population decline, with 2023–2024 expected to have the lowest birth rate on record, notes the Gaidar Institute in Moscow.

War deaths and emigration by young people will continue.

Russia’s economy may continue to shrink in 2023. Its GDP is forecast to decline by 5.6% in the worst-case scenario (OECD) or by 3.3% according to the World Bank. The IMF expects slight growth in 2023 (0.3%).

Russia's total exports account for only 2% of total world exports.

Energy exports accounted for almost 50% of total exports, and 14 of GDP.

Oil and gas export revenues accounted for 45% of the federal budget in 2021 but may decline by 24% this year.

Ukraine, George Orwell and emergence of state sovereignty

Ukraine was independent 1917-1921; under Communist Moscow rule from 1922-1991

Most of Ukraine was included in the Russian Empire after the second partition of Poland in 1793. After the Communists (Bolsheviks) seized power in October 1917 they wanted to have control of all the territories that had been part of the Empire.

The Red Army in Kharkov, Ukraine, 1920. (Photo by: Universal History Archive)

In 1922, Ukraine became one of the original constituent republics of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR); it would not regain its independence until the USSR’s collapse in 1991.

An overwhelming majority of 92.3% of voters in December 1991 approved the declaration of independence made on 24 August 1991.

Putin made the decision to invade Ukraine after consulting a few people. Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, was surprised by the move.

“He has three advisers,” Lavrov replied according to The Financial Times, quoting an oligarch. “Ivan the Terrible. Peter the Great. And Catherine the Great.”

“The idea was never for hundreds of thousands of people to die. It’s all gone horribly wrong,” a former senior Russian official says. With the initial plan in tatters, Putin is searching for new rationales to justify the war effort, insisting he had no choice but to pursue the invasion by any means necessary, current and former officials say.

“He tells people close to him, ‘It turns out we were completely unprepared. The army is a mess. Our industry is a mess. But it’s good that we found out about it this way, rather than when Nato invades us,’” the former official adds.

Timothy Snyder, a Yale University historian, in his 2010 book 'Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin' wrote that a total of 14mn innocent human beings, most of them women and children, were shot, gassed or intentionally starved to death in the period 1930-1945.

Snyder stressed the difference between concentration camps and death facilities, whether Nazi or Soviet. "My figure of 14mn killed does not even include people who died in camps." Death facilities, "whether a Soviet shooting pit or Treblinka (a Nazi extermination camp in Occupied Poland)," were places where people were deliberately starved, shot, or gassed.

In 1918 Lenin had ordered officials in Penza, in Western Russia, to "hang (absolutely hang, in full view of the people) no fewer than one hundred known kulaks, filthy rich men, bloodsuckers."

In the early 1930s Stalin ordered the deaths of 30,000 kulaks (it was the term which was used to describe peasants who owned over 8 acres of land towards the end of the Russian Empire) and they were killed directly, mostly shot on the spot. Another 2mn were forcibly deported to the Far North and Siberia.

The Holodomor is the name for the genocide of Ukrainians in the famine that followed the kulaks' destruction, which resulted in 3mn to 5mn deaths in Ukraine.

Almost two years after the Hitler-Stalin alliance in the Second World War, Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. About 3mn Germans and Axis allies were involved.

In the first year of the campaign, Hitler expected that 30mn Russians could be starved to death.

'Der Untergang' (Downfall)," is a film that portrays the human side of Adolf Hitler which opened across Germany in 2004. The director of the film, Oliver Hirschbiegel, believed that the depiction of Hitler as a lonely man deserted by his once loyal cronies days before taking his own life would help cinema-goers understand a different period of history which needs to be confronted as much as the more publicized horrors if Germany is truly to move out of the shadow of the Third Reich.

"If we are to look seriously at these 'monsters' then we must go into depth and let their backgrounds shine through. There are 53,000 books about Adolf Hitler and none of these books looks at the real man. The fact is we can only raise new questions about him, not offer answers."

Bruno Ganz, the late Swiss actor, brilliantly portrayed Hitler in the suffocating last days inside Hitler's bunker.

In January 2023, over 80% of Russians approved of activities of the Russian President Vladimir Putin. In a dictatorship, this must be taken with a pinch of salt. However, he likely has significant backing from a gullible public.

As for Hitler, Der Spiegel notes "For the vast majority of Germans, the restoration of national pride and military strength, the overthrowing of the Versailles Treaty and the expansion of the Reich to incorporate ethnic Germans from Austria and the Sudetenland were goals in themselves. Most could not, or would not, comprehend, that for Hitler and the Nazi leadership, they were the prelude to a war of unlimited German conquest ...Instead of condemnation for his authorization of mass murder, he reaped extensive approval for appearing to have acted ruthlessly to eradicate the evils and misdeeds that endangered the nation. 'Through his energetic actions the Führer has hugely won over the broad masses, particularly those who had still reacted hesitantly to the Movement; he is not only admired, he is idolized,' was the verdict in one confidential report from within the lower levels of the regime's bureaucracy. Many other reports echoed the same sentiments. Reports filtering out of Social Democrat oppositional circles — whose main thrust was, naturally, criticism of the regime -- acknowledged the upswing in support for Hitler.'"

Putin is not in the mass murder league of Hitler and Stalin but he has the blood of tens of thousands of innocent people on his hands.