Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Putin critic gets 25 years evoking Gulags and useful idiots

Russian opposition figure Vladimir Kara-Murza, who was accused of treason and spreading "false" information about the Russian army, stands inside a defendant's cage during his sentencing at the Moscow City Court on April 17, 2023. Handout/Moscow City Court Press Service

The Russian Putic critic Vladimir Kara-Murza (41) has been sentenced to 25 years in jail in Russia for charges linked to his criticism of the war in Ukraine. He was found guilty of treason, spreading "false" information about the Russian army and being affiliated with an "undesirable organisation."

The "outrageously harsh court decision clearly demonstrates yet again the political misuse of the judiciary in order to pressure activists, human rights defenders and any voices opposing Russia's illegitimate war of aggression against Ukraine," the EU's top diplomat Josep Borrell said in a statement.

Putin's Federal Security Service, or FSB (the successor to Putin's KGB), tried to kill Kara-Murza by poisoning in 2015 and 2017.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny (46) was poisoned with novichok by FSB agents in August 2020. Bellingcat, the investigations group, identified the team that was authorised by Putin to kill Navalny.

After treatment in Germany, Navalny returned to Russia and is now serving 11-1/2 years in the IK-6 penal colony, and may also face another charge with a sentence of 5 years.

Navalny is allowed only four visits by relatives per year instead of the usual six visits and there can be no communication with other prisoners. His lawyers believe that he is being slowly poisoned. “Our theory is that they are gradually killing him, using slow-acting poison which is applied through food."

Today April 26, 2023, Alexei Navalny (46), the jailed critic of the Russian dictator who is 70, has said he is being investigated on terrorism charges that could see him sentenced to 30 years in prison. Putin couldn't kill him by poisoning and now he wants to have Navalny in jail indefinitely.

Kara-Murza wrote this for The Washington Post before the court hearing: "There is hardly a practice of the Soviet repression of dissent that has not been revived by Vladimir Putin’s regime in Russia. A host of draconian new laws has criminalized public criticism of the government and of its actions — especially regarding the war on Ukraine. Political opposition is now officially equated with treason. Opponents of the Kremlin have been murdered, poisoned and imprisoned. Today’s Russia counts more known political prisoners than the Soviet Union did in its later years. Even the forced psychiatric “treatment” of dissenters has made a comeback — in only a few cases, so far. None of this is surprising. After all, Putin not only served in the Soviet KGB but, according to new archival research, personally participated in searches and interrogations of dissidents in 1970s Leningrad."

But there is one repressive Soviet practice that is yet to return — and it looks like this oversight will soon be corrected. One after another, senior Russian lawmakers have called for stripping those they deem traitors — that is, Russians who oppose Putin and the war — of their citizenship. The speaker of Russia’s parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, recently lamented the lack of a procedure for doing this. “But I think there ought to be one,” he added.

What Putin fears most

In a paper, Robert Person, associate professor of international relations at the US Military Academy, and Michael McFaul, former US ambassador to Russia (2012-2014) and White House aide, and now professor of political science at Stanford University, said in an abstract of their 2022 paper:

Russian president Vladimir Putin wants you to believe that NATO is responsible for his February 24 invasion of Ukraine — that rounds of NATO enlargement made Russia insecure, forcing Putin to lash out. This argument has two key flaws. First, NATO has been a variable and not a constant source of tension between Russia and the West. Moscow has in the past acknowledged Ukraine’s right to join NATO; the Kremlin’s complaints about the alliance spike in a clear pattern after democratic breakthroughs in the post-Soviet space. This highlights a second flaw: Since Putin fears democracy and the threat that it poses to his regime, and not expanded NATO membership, taking the latter off the table will not quell his insecurity. His declared goal of the invasion, the “denazification” of Ukraine, is a code for his real aim: antidemocratic regime change.

Putin has a docile lapdog in Lukashenko, the dictator of Belarus, and the authors' case is that the Russian dictator wanted to install another lapdog in an annexed Ukraine.

Finland, the 31st member of NATO in 2023, shares a 1,340 km (832-mile) eastern frontier with Russia. After the war in Ukraine began Helsinki opted for the protection of NATO's Article Five, which says an attack on one member is an attack on all.

Finnish public opinion towards joining NATO was at 78% last November.

The Gulags returns

Vladimir Lenin began the slave labour camps in 1919 and in the 1930s they were filled with victims of Stalin's reign of terror.

The word Gulag is an acronym (used from 1930) for Glavnoye Upravleniye LAGerey, or Main Camp Administration. The majority of Gulag prisoners were political prisoners locked up for a broad variety of political reasons. These prisoners not only had to endure brutal hard labour conditions but also terrorism from guards and criminal prisoners. Historians estimate the total number of Gulag prisoners at 15-18mn, of whom at least 1.5mn did not survive their incarceration.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) fought in World War II, achieving the rank of captain of artillery; in 1945, however, he was arrested for writing a letter in which he criticized Joseph Stalin (although the friends referred to him in disguised terms) and he spent eight years in prisons and labour camps. After the completion of the sentence in 1953, he wrote, that he was "EXILED FOR LIFE to Kok-Terek (southern Kazakhstan). This measure was not directed especially against me, but was a very usual procedure at that time."

Josef Stalin died in 1953 and in 1956, at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party, Nikita Khrushchev, the new leader, made a "secret speech," when he denounced the excesses of the Stalin era and Stalin's personality cult, for six hours.

The Gulags were wound down and Solzhenitsyn was able to get his novel 'One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich' published in 1961. Solzhenitsyn said "The printing of my work was, however, stopped almost immediately and the authorities stopped both my plays and (in 1964) the novel, 'The First Circle,' which, in 1965, was seized together with my papers from the past years. During these months it seemed to me that I had committed an unpardonable mistake by revealing my work prematurely and that because of this I should not be able to carry it to a conclusion."

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1970 was awarded to Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn "for the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature."

'One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,' 'The First Circle' and 'The Cancer Ward' (the latter novels had been published outside Russia) were cited by the Swedish Academy.

Solzhenitsyn was refused permission to go to Stockholm to accept the prize. In 1965 Mikhail Sholokhov, author of 'And Quiet Flows the Don' made the trip to Sweden as he enjoyed official favour. In 1958, Boris Pasternak, a poet, won the prize mainly for his novel 'Doctor Zhivago,' but he was forced by Krushchev to refuse the award.

The 'Gulag Archipelago: An Experiment in Literary Investigation' in three volumes, was written between 1958 and 1968 by Solzhenitsyn. It was first published in 1973 in French and later in English.

The writer was arrested and charged with treason on February 12, 1974. He released the text of 'Live Not by Lies' that day. He was stripped of his citizenship and then exiled from the Soviet Union.

Later in the day, a Russian aircraft arrived in Frankfurt, West Germany with Solzhenitsyn on board.

The New York Times noted that the "action against the Nobel Prize author was the first forced expulsion of a major political dissident since 1929, when Stalin ordered Leon Trotsky exiled to Turkey."

Solzhenitsyn returned home from the United States in 1994.

Journalist Maria Ponomarenko (44) is pictured in Leninsky District Court on Tuesday, February 14, 2023. A Russian court has sentenced journalist Maria Ponomarenko to six years in prison for a Telegram post that the court said spread “false information,” state news agency TASS said. Ponomarenko was detained last April and charged with publishing “false information” on her Telegram channel about a Russian airstrike on a theatre in Mariupol, Ukraine, that killed hundreds, and for which Russian authorities deny responsibility. A court in Russia’s city of Barnaul in Western Siberia sentenced Ponomarenko to “six years of jail time in a general regime correctional colony,” the press service of the court said in a statement according to TASS. Maria has two young children.

“First and foremost it is worth acknowledging that the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century,” Putin said in 2005. “As for the Russian people, it became a genuine tragedy. Tens of millions of our fellow citizens and countrymen found themselves beyond the fringes of Russian territory."

Putin was in his first term and in an apparent response to foreign allegations that Russia has been backtracking on democracy, he said "Russia’s main political task was to develop as a free, democratic nation with European ideals." He stressed that individual freedoms would not be compromised by strengthening the state. However, the seeds were being sown: restrictions had been placed on independent media and ending the direct election of governors which ensured a compliant federal parliament.

The Russian commentator, Dmitri Trenin, who supports the war said last year “Putin is a pre-communist leader . . . He is a tsar.”

Since the dictator's war started in February 2022 at least 500,000 Russians have fled and 20,000 people have been detained for political and antiwar protests last year, according to human rights group OVD-Info. A second arrest risks being in prison for at least 5 years.

In 2021 alone, the country’s population dropped by 693,000, or about 0.5% according to The Economist.

It's a crime in the Putin dictatorship to mention the 1939-41 Nazi-Soviet pact when Stalin and Hitler agreed to carve up Eastern Europe. Stalin invaded six independent countries — Poland, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania — compared to Hitler’s conquest of nine (or 10 if one counts the Channel Islands.)

The Financial Times reports "that at least 440 people — artists, priests, teachers, students and doctors — have had criminal cases opened against them, according to OVD-Info. Many are awaiting trial in jail, and some face sentences of up to 15 years. Others have fled the country."

The dictatorship also is similar to what Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn experienced in the 1960s.

Today there is no independent press and Putin, the war criminal and killer of his own people, can bask in public polls that apparently show support for the invasion of Ukraine. The dictator of course is popular!

In 2021 The Moscow Times reported that "Around 500 super-rich Russians control more wealth than the poorest 99.8% of Russians, according to a new report into Russia’s inequality problem.

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found that Russia’s financial elite — the approximately 500 individuals with a net worth of more than $100mn — controlled 40% of the country’s entire household wealth."

Putin's Kleptocracy has the 1% controlling 58% of the wealth according to a Swiss bank.

Last year the Swiss Bankers Association (SBA) told Reuters that the country's banks held between 150bn and 200bn Swiss francs ($160bon to $214bn) of Russian money.

Russians are fewer, poorer and more miserable than a decade ago

The average nominal household income of a Russian in 2021 was 57,000 roubles or $700 per month.

World Bank data for 2021 show that GDP (gross domestic product) per capita for Russia was at $12,200 (US current $). It coincided with the average for the World. In 2013 the level was $16,000.

$48,200 (High Income countries); Ireland $47,000; Denmark $68,000; Italy 35,700; Germany $51,200; Poland $18,000; Euro Area $42,450; EU $38,400 and Central Europe + the Baltics $18,700.

President Barack Obama, explaining in December 2016 why he didn’t do more to stop Kremlin-directed hacks of US political institutions, mocked Russia as a sad, declining power:

“They are a smaller country, they are a weaker country, their economy doesn’t produce anything that anybody wants to buy except oil and gas and arms,” he said. “They don’t innovate.”

The useful idiots

Russia has a programme to sabotage wind farms and communication cables in the North Sea, according to new allegations. The details come from a joint investigation by public broadcasters in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland in April 2023. It says Russia has a fleet of vessels disguised as fishing trawlers and research vessels in the North Sea.

Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2, each consisting of two pipes, were built by Russia's state-controlled Gazprom to pump 110bn cubic metres (bcm), while close to the Danish economic zone, were blown up last September. It's not known which country or countries were involved.

I have previously noted that the term "useful idiot," for a naive or unwitting person, was believed to be first recorded in 1864 in 'The Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science, and Art,' a London periodical. The context was politics in France.

In the 20th century, it was linked to Vladimir Lenin, the father of the Bolshevik Revolution but in the West the useful idiot expected Soviet communism to usher in a system of government that would outlast capitalism.

In 1917 Bertrand Russell (1872–1970), the British philosopher, logician, essayist and social critic, saw it as “one of the great heroic events of the world’s history.” However by 1920, he understood that the new rulers were facing huge challenges but the problem was not communism in itself, he questioned the wisdom of holding a creed such as Marxism so firmly that for its sake men are willing to inflict widespread misery.

George Bernard Shaw, the Anglo-Irish writer, excused mass murder as others did.

Useful idiots from Bernard Shaw to President Michael D Higgins

What has been extraordinary in the past decade is that Putin has won admirers in the West from contemporary useful idiots of the far right and far left.

The Kremlin has also bankrolled European populist parties.

Trump has been an admirer including his followers and Fox News presenters.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was travelling over conflict-hit Ukraine on 17 July 2014 when it disappeared from radar. A total of 298 were on board. There are “strong indications” the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, personally signed off on a decision to supply the missile that downed flight MH17 in 2014, a team of international investigators has said. The Netherlands and Australia said in 2018 that Russia was responsible for the disaster.

In France, the radical right-wing leader Marine Le Pen and the wealthy radical-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon both support Putin.

Mélenchon wants to destroy the EU, lead France out of NATO and deprive Europe of its own defence capabilities. The craven politician confirmed his useful idiot status when he commented on Putin’s barbaric war in Syria “I congratulate Russia on its actions in Syria.”He was also an admirer of the late Hugo Chávez, the populist leader of Venezuela.

The recent US intelligence leak showed that Kremlin documents recorded meetings between its officials and Russian political strategists about how to unite elements in the German Left Party and the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), behind a common, pro-Moscow cause. "The documents basically show that Kremlin officials gave orders to a group of political strategists working with the Kremlin to focus on Germany as the base for efforts to weaken support in Europe for Ukraine and to try and sap support for weapons deliveries," according to The Washington Post.

Der Spiegel, the German news magazine, said in March, that "Putin’s war in Ukraine is unsettling many in Germany. A new peace movement is forming in the country, but it is stirring up the ghosts of German history – and has an open flank to the extreme right."

"I can fully understand the emotional response. Everyone wants peace," says Jamila Schäfer, a 29-year-old Green Party member of parliament. "But some people confuse the pacifist objective with the pacifist method." Schäfer also considers herself to be a pacifist. "But I am not going to resign myself to falling into a state of desperate helplessness as soon as an aggressor starts a war."

Sinn Féin, the Irish political party, had a love affair with the Kremlin tyrant. The funny thing was that when Crimea was annexed, SF would not criticise the dictator.

In 2015, Sinn Féin abstained from a European Parliament resolution which condemned human rights abuses in Russia and slammed the dictator's annexation of Crimea in Ukraine. When Putin in 2018 sent his goons to the UK to kill a former intelligence and his daughter, Mary Lou McDonald, leader of Sinn Féin, criticised the condemnation of Leo Varadker, the taoiseach, as “a flagrant disregard for Irish neutrality.”

On May 2, 1945, Éamon de Valera, the taoiseach, visited the German Embassy in Dublin to offer his personal condolences over the death of Adolf Hitler, who had committed suicide in the Führerbunker two days earlier. Maybe he thought it was in line with neutrality!?

Douglas Hyde, Ireland's president during the second world war, also offered condolences to Germany's representative in Dublin over the death of Adolf Hitler. The secretary to the president was said to have called on "His Excellency, the German minister, Dr Hempel" on May 3rd, 1945.

McDonald suggested that any abuse of human rights should be ignored by an Irish leader.

In 2019, then Sinn Féin MEP Lynn Boylan accused the EU of being “overly confrontational” towards Russia and defended voting against plans to block a Russian gas line.

In December 2021 the party’s MEP, Chris MacManus, voted against a landmark resolution that supported Ukraine’s independence, which stressed that Putin’s military build-up at Ukraine’s borders represented a threat to Europe’s peace, and called on Russia to respect its international obligations.

Three other Irish MEPs (members of the European Parliament), Clare Daly, Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, and Mick Wallace, gave speeches in the European Parliament condemning the EU, the US and NATO while praising the regimes in Russia, China, Syria and elsewhere.

Daly and Wallace love dictators.

Naomi O'Leary of The Irish Times wrote last September [When Dublin MEP Clare Daly stood up to denounce sanctions on Russia last week in the European Parliament and say that the EU’s response makes her “absolutely sick”, within a day the clip was being played on Russian state television.

The speech was broadcast on the country's two most popular channels, the state-controlled Rossiya-1 and Channel One, where a presenter and a guest discussed it as evidence that Western politicians were coming around to the Kremlin's point of view on the Ukraine invasion.

"This is a very important precedent which suggests that many politicians in Europe don't want to participate in this information campaign which demonises our country," remarked the guest, Nikita Danyuk of a Russian strategic studies institute.] More here:

The other prominent Irish useful idiot is Chay Bowes, who has become a correspondent of the Kremlin's propaganda broadcasting service Russia Today.

In a Twitter post, he was compared with William Joyce (1906-1946), better known to the British public as “Lord Haw-Haw,” who broadcasted anti-British propaganda on behalf of Nazi Germany during World War II.

In Dublin Bowes had an investment in The Ditch, a political news service that is effectively controlled by Paddy Cosgrave of the Web Summit.

Bowes will be safe on his trips to Moscow while real journalists have been silenced.

The useful idiots say the casus belli was the expansion of NATO but as pointed out above before Putin became a full dictator he had no problem with NATO.

Three decades ago, the newly independent country of Ukraine was briefly the third-largest nuclear power in the world.

Thousands of nuclear arms had been left on Ukraine's soil after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. However, Ukraine made the decision to completely denuclearize. In exchange, in 1994 the US, the UK and Russia gave a guarantee that Ukraine's security would be upheld in an agreement known as the Budapest Memorandum.

Putin reneged on it.

While the US can be criticised for military adventures, the useful idiots lick the boots of the dictators.

The useful idiots also can harshly criticise their own leaders at home but similar criticism of Putin would risk a treason charge and 25 years in the Gulag. 

Bowes has written "...your author and many others like me are essentially anti-war advocates, who earnestly seek to challenge the profit fuelled neoliberal hegemony that has led Europe, blindly, to the brink of a third world war. As the Russian army crossed the Ukrainian border in the early hours of February 24th, not only did it spell the end of decades of Russian warnings about NATO's eastward expansion onto its borders, it may also have marked the end of a global world order dominated by the US and its dollar."

He appends a commentary by a Swiss businessman who had lived in North Korea for 7 years (it's much better than portrayed) while the Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang, Northwest China are not mistreated.

United Nations: The assessment finds that the scale of the arbitrary and discriminatory detention of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities in Xinjiang “may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity. 31 Oct 2022

Some foreign Kremlin apologists may be gobshites but it’s likely that most of them know what's going on. These despicable heartless people trade on getting the proverbial 15 minutes of fame while the dictator murders Ukrainian civilians in their homes.

Serhii Plokhy author of the book 'Lost Kingdom: The Quest for Empire and the Making of the Russian Nation' noted in 2017 "When Putin pushes the idea that Russians and Ukrainians are the same people, he doesn't mean that Russians are Ukrainians. The underlying argument is that Ukrainians are really Russians."

The Kremlin website in English July 12, 2021: Article by Vladimir Putin "On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians"

Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians are all descendants of Ancient Rus, which was the largest state in Europe...The throne of Kiev held a dominant position in Ancient Rus. This had been the custom since the late 9th century.

...Our kinship has been transmitted from generation to generation. It is in the hearts and the memory of people living in modern Russia and Ukraine, in the blood ties that unite millions of our families. Together we have always been and will be many times stronger and more successful. For we are one people.

Today, these words may be perceived by some people with hostility. They can be interpreted in many possible ways. Yet, many people will hear me. And I will say one thing – Russia has never been and will never be ”anti-Ukraine." And what Ukraine will be – it is up to its citizens to decide.

In 2014 Russia seized control of Eastern Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula, followed by a limited international backlash.

In 2022 Putin assumed that the capture of the rest of Ukraine would be easy and the whole of the country would have been annexed. Last September Putin unilaterally declared the annexation of areas in and around four Ukrainian oblasts – Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.

The Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires annexed Ukraine in the late 1700s while Poland disappeared from the map.

A referendum on the Act of Declaration of Independence was held in Ukraine on December 1, 1991. An overwhelming majority of 92.3% of voters approved it. International observers attended and over 84% of eligible voters turned out.

The day after the referendum was held, Poland and Canada recognised Ukraine’s independence. By the end of December 1991, the number of such countries increased to 74 – 25 days after the Ukrainian independence referendum was held, the Soviet Union collapsed.

Putin's versions of history are myths

The Big Lie from Hitler to Putin and Versailles

Ukraine, George Orwell and emergence of state sovereignty

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

Putin's Irish useful idiots vote down the European Parliament resolution on Russia