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Ordinary Russians sick of playing the western world’s bad guy

Frustration on the streets is growing at the incessant western campaign to make Russians the root of all evil

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(Forbes) – Looks like the Russians failed to get two Republicans elected in New Jersey and Virginia this week. Better luck next time.

The Russians are coming! Only instead of parachuting into the Inner Empire of California with AK-74s strapped to their backs, they’re hacking Yahoo! and Democratic National Committee emails and blocking tackle for politicians who only seem to be despised by establishment politicians and their friends — whether they’re in Britain or France, the U.S. or Catalonia.

Yes, according to an official Washington Post op-ed, even the Catalonia independence vote can be traced to the geopolitical wiles of Vladimir Putin. And you thought the CIA was omnipotent!

It’s no joke. According to SecureWorks, the DNC emails were indeed spear-phished successfully by Russians. Whether they were on orders from the Russian government is unclear. SecureWorks, a Dell subsidiary, is at least more trustworthy than CrowdStrike and Fusion GPS, a paid smear monger, and more legit than the usual anti-Putin, fiction writing Ukrainian activists who help Washington’s Russia-haters keep Putin on the defense.

The thing is, maybe Putin is not the greatest guy in the world. Maybe there are a lot of shady people in Russia. This is true pretty much throughout the old Communist countries. But Putin can handle being made a villain. He has an entire military and media apparatus to help him at home.

It’s the Russians that are trying to make a living, grow a business, travel and live abroad, who are all somehow guilty by association.

Wait, you’re a Russian? That’s bad. You must have something up your sleeve.

Most Russians do not blame Putin for the West’s borderline hysterical disdain for their country. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/Pool photo via AP)

Podozritelny

To most in the Russia-is-evil camp, it cannot be spoken that American companies and investment banks do business in Russia and with Russians every day.

J.P. Morgan, Citigroup Global Markets and Bank of America Merill Lynch all tag-teamed with VTB Capital as book runners to the $1.5 billion Nov. 3 initial public offering of En+ Group on the London Stock Exchange.  Even worse, the company is controlled by FORBES listed Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska. The New York Times can hardly write about En+ Group without mentioning in the headline that Oleg once did business with the newly indicted Trump campaign advisor Paul Mannafort. That instantly makes him part of the Russian narrative that made Hillary Clinton the unfortunate, two-time loser in her quest for power.

Oh, and double-worse; he is a “Putin ally.”

Over the weekend, the Paradise Papers were released. Russians were center-stage. Wilbur Ross, Trump’s Commerce Secretary, had private equity investments in a Russian company he did not disclose. Yuri Milner, a well-known name in the Valley and founder of venture firm DST Capital, woke up to discover he was part of the problem. That’s because he invested in Facebook and Twitter. He got money from VTB Capital and Gazprom’s investment division, which found its way into those two social media giants stocks. Russian firms paid to advertise on both, including political propaganda that was more pro-Trump than pro-Hillary.

The fact that two Russian government-controlled banks used DST Capital as a way to invest in the shares of two American companies caught up in the Russia probe gave Milner instant villain status. Despite the fact that he sold Facebook and Twitter in 2013 and 2014, respectively, he was called out for aiding and abetting Russian intrusion into American democracy.

“The idea that we were working on Russia’s behalf to turn social media against U.S. democracy is a fairy tale,” Milner wrote in a Recode magazine op-ed in an answer to a handful of heat-seeking missile articles fired in The New York Timesand in the Financial Times.

But that doesn’t matter. He is a Russian. And a rich one. He must be working for Russian intelligence.

Milner moved to the U.S. in 1990 to attend Wharton Business School.  He was one of four graduation speakers at the school this year. In his op-ed in Recode, he says that when he later moved to Silicon Valley, it didn’t matter where he was from.  Now there has been a change in the air. Since Trump beat Hillary, just to be Russian is suspect.

Russians feel the same everywhere.

“I was born here in Russia. I cannot go back in time and tell my mother — mom, let’s have me in the U.S.,” says Igor Matsanyuk, a Russian venture capitalist, and a gamer. He is president of Astrum Online Entertainment. He now lives in Lithuania.

He tells me a story about how he recently went fishing with some Lithuanians, all of them old enough to remember life under the rule of a foreign power known as the U.S.S.R. He recalls them asking him, why are you Russians so hated? He laughs to himself as he recalls this to me.

“I never really thought about it. But when I turn on the TV, everyone hates the Russians,” he says. “I don’t know if any of these stories about Trump and Putin are true. I don’t know what is going on. What I do know is that it is not cool to be made to feel like you’re the bad guy all the time. It’s relentless.”

Matsanyuk says that when doing business in London now, for example, they do extra “know your client” work on him, just in case.

The Russians were promised after the fall of the Soviet Union that they were welcomed into the fold of Western capitalist modernity. Let bygones be bygones. Communism had imploded, spasibo Gorbi! The West had won the economic culture war. The Russians learned English. They learned about derivatives trading. They bought Ferraris.

Now, Russia is being shut out. The story is that Putin wants to rebuild the Soviet system and take over Lithuania and the Baltics. He’s already dividing up Ukraine. And as a result of this, Russians are the collateral damage of a narrative run amock.

When everyone is suspect, you trust no one.

European pension funds are not investing in Russia. Russian funds that grew on foreign money are now stagnant; there’s no new money coming in. Venture capital, the foreign kind, has basically left.

I asked 30-something-year-old Yana Starovoytova how often she has seen negative headlines about Russia in the foreign press. Daily, she tells me. Starovoytova works for a Moscow-based hedge fund.

“None of my friends are surprised by this anymore,” she tells me. We are at Bamboo Bar in Moscow’s financial district. An early dinner. It soon gets mobbed. The city is very much alive and kicking. Some people are even speaking American English. What the hell are they doing here? Isn’t this a political faux pas?

I asked her if she blames Putin for all the controversy surrounding her country. She does not. Her explanation for what is behind all of this is not much different from Matsanyuk’s. “We are a ‘convenient’ enemy, historically. China has all the imperfections that we have, but it is not demonized as much as Russia. There is no campaign against it in the western media,” she says.

She should live here. China is a job killer for many in Washington.  Until Russia became a really really bad country, China was Washington’s favorite punching bag every election year, though for different reasons.

She elaborates.  “I know it’s because of Ukraine and Syria. Russia has openly refused to play by the rules imposed by the U.S. on the rest of the world. What if it becomes a trend and other countries decide to follow? This is a completely new situation for the West, and certainly is not something they want to put up with,” she says.

A year ago, at the Leo Tolstoy estate, I attended a private birthday party of this Russian romantics singer whose name I will never remember. I was the only American in the tiny room of maybe 50 people. Friends of the singer came to me, asked me how I liked it. There was small talk. One made a point to tell me that Russians were not bad people. Including the ones who like Putin.

Russians were hopeful Trump would have embraced Russia in its war on terrorism, at least. Now they believe Trump adds fuel to the fire. If Hillary Clinton had won, Russia would be disdained for Ukraine and roadblocking regime change in Syria. Trump adds one more bone to pick with the old Cold War rival. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Last month, at Jaime’s Italian restaurant across from the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, I met with three expats, including an American. In the mix was a high tech Russian talking blockchain, and a fund manager from VEB, the development bank of Russia.

I asked the expats what their friends say about them being in Russia. Unanimously: they think we are crazy.

The conversation was off the record.

Igor Podzigun used to work for the government in the Russian city of Kaluga. He was assistant to the mayor and left the public sector for the private sector. He is now part of Russia’s growing tech market, helping to build a digital company called Apla. “When I look at myself and picture me in the world as a Russian today I feel like that Sting song, an Englishman in New York — I don’t belong and feel excluded,” he tells me. “I feel like I’m the bad guy, which limits who I can do business with,” he says. Apla is currently working on a small start-up project with one of the Emirates in the U.A.E.

“I think it’s a tragedy,” he says. “There are a lot of people in Russia who want to travel and want to be global entrepreneurs. Politics is making it very difficult.”

It’s not getting easier.

Maryland Congressman Benjamin Cardin reiterated this week that he wants the Democratic Party to lead an independent committee to investigate Russian election meddling not only here, but worldwide. The move further solidifies the fact that Washington deems Moscow as nefarious as it was in the days of the Soviet Union.

Cardin was part of a handful of congressional leaders that helped former Russia hedge fund manager Bill Browderlobby for the passing of the Magnitsky Act. The Act was signed in 2012 and targets individuals deemed responsible for the death of Sergei Magnitsky, Browder’s former accountant at his Hermitage Capital investment firm. Browder is now taking his Magnitsky Act on a road show and managed to pass it in Canada in mid-October.

There is a tiny cadre of people, of which Cardin and Browder and expat and ex-billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky are a part, who have made it their life’s work to seek revenge against Putin for deeply personal reasons. They are dragging an entire nation through the mud.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, center, and his wife Yulia, left, take part in a march in memory of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in Moscow, Russia, Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017. Thousands of Russians take to the streets of downtown Moscow to mark two years since Nemtsov was gunned down outside the Kremlin. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

For women like Starovoytova, even if opposition politician Alexie Navalny was president, Washington would have a gripe unless Moscow acted as a “vassal” state.

To many Western observers who have never been to Russia, much of these comments may seem like a bunch of locals falling for state propaganda. How is that different from those that have fallen for the opposing side of that story here at home? To hear it, a few thousand Obama voters in blue states in the north went rogue because they didn’t like what they discovered in those DNC and John Podesta emails. Podesta was Hillary’s campaign manager.  That’s Russia’s fault. Now we got Trump. Scream to the heavens.

No matter who got into those emails, the contents of them were never disputed. Where are the interviews with these dumb, duped voters? Where are the blue staters who are admitting: yes, Anderson, it was that Russian-backed Facebook ad with Jesus arm wrestling Satan that really did it for me.

Perhaps the Russians can say the same about our own storyline on them.

“I feel more like a patriot these days,” says Maria Vavilova. I ask her what she thinks about Russian involvement in Brexit and in electing Trump and in fomenting unrest in Spain and backing anti-EU French politician Marine Le Pen. She sighs as I run it down for her, wrapped in a white parka, sipping jasmine tea at the lobby bar of the Hotel Ukraine.  She doesn’t know what to say. She doesn’t have the answers. None of us do. She sits back, frustrated. “Why are people talking like this about my country? I am proud to be Russian,” she tells me. And repeats it, three times in a row.

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De-Dollarization Tops Agenda at Russia’s Eastern Economic Forum

The Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) was held in Vladivostok on Sept.11-13. Founded in 2015, the event has become a platform for planning and launching projects to strengthen business ties in the Asia-Pacific region.

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This year, the EEF brought together delegations from over 60 countries to discuss the topic “The Far East: Expanding the Range of Possibilities”. A total of 100 business events involving over 6,000 participants were held during the three days.

1,357 media personnel worked to cover the forum. Last year, the number of participants was 5,000 with 1,000 media persons involved in reporting and broadcasting. The EEF-18 gathered 340 foreign and 383 Russian CEOs. Nearly 80 start-ups from across South-East Asia joined the meeting.

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This year, a total of 175 agreements worth of 2.9 trillion rubles (some $4.3 billion) were signed. For comparison, the sum was 2.5 trillion rubles (roughly $3.7 billion) in 2017.

They included the development of the Baimsky ore deposits in Chukotka, the construction of a terminal for Novatek LNG at Bechevinskaya Bay in Kamchatka and the investment of Asian countries in Russia’s agricultural projects in the Far East.

Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), Mail.Ru Group, Megafon and Chinese Alibaba inked an agreement on establishing AliExpress trade joint venture. Rosneft and Chinese CNPC signed an oil exploration agreement.

The Chinese delegation was the largest (1,096 people), followed by the Japanese (570 members). The list of guests included the president of Mongolia and prime ministers of Japan and South Korea.

It was also the first time Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the event to meet his Russian counterpart. The issue of de-dollarization topped the agenda. Russia and China reaffirmed their interest in expanding the use of national currencies in bilateral deals.

During the forum, Kirill Dmitriev, the head of RDIF, said the fund intends to use only national currencies in its transactions with China starting from 2019. It will cooperate with the China Development Bank.

This “yuanification” is making visible progress with Shanghai crude futures increasing their share of oil markets up to 14 percent or even more. China has signed agreements with Canada and Qatar on national currencies exchange.

READ MORE: Eastern Economic Forum opens new chapter in US-Russia dialogue

De-dollarization is a trend that is picking up momentum across the world. A growing number of countries are interested in replacing the dollar. Russia is leading the race to protect itself from fluctuations, storms and US-waged trade wars and sanctions.

Moscow backs non-dollar trade with Ankara amid the ongoing lira crisis. Turkey is switching from the dollar to settlements in national currencies, including its trade with China and other countries. Ditching the US dollar is the issue topping the BRICS agenda. In April, Iran transferred all international payments to the euro.

The voices calling for de-dollarization are getting louder among America’s closest European allies. In August, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called for the creation of a new payments system independent of the US.

According to him, Europe should not allow the United States to act “over our heads and at our expense.” The official wants to strengthen European autonomy by establishing independent payment channels, creating a European Monetary Fund and building up an independent SWIFT system.

Presenting his annual program, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called on Sept. 12 for the European Union to promote the euro as a global currency to challenge the dollar.

According to him, “We must do more to allow our single currency to play its full role on the international scene.” Mr. Juncker believes “it is absurd that Europe pays for 80 percent of its energy import bill – worth 300 billion euros a year – in US dollars when only roughly 2 percent of our energy imports come from the United States.” He wants the raft of proposals made in his state of the union address to start being implemented before the European Parliament elections in May.

70% of all world trade transactions account for the dollar, while 20% are  settled in the euro, and the rest falls on the yuan and other Asian currencies. The dollar value is high to make the prices of consumer goods in the US artificially low. The demand for dollars allows refinancing the huge debt at low interest rates. The US policy of trade wars and sanctions has triggered the global process of de-dollarization.

Using punitive measures as a foreign policy tool is like shooting oneself in the foot. It prompts a backlash to undermine the dollar’s status as the world reserve currency – the basis of the US economic might. The aggressive policy undermines the US world standing to make it weaker, not stronger.

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Putin and Erdogan Plan Syria-Idlib DMZ

What the Putin-Erdogan DMZ decision means is that the 50,000 Turkish troops occupying Idlib will take control over that land, and have responsibility over the largest concentration of jihadists anywhere on the planet.

Eric Zuesse

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As I recommended in a post on September 10th, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan jointly announced on September 17th, “We’ve agreed to create a demilitarized zone between the government troops and militants before October 15. The zone will be 15-20km wide,” which compares to the Korean DMZ’s 4-km width. I had had in mind the Korean experience, but obviously Putin and Erdogan are much better-informed about the situation than I am, and they have chosen a DMZ that’s four to five times wider. In any case, the consequences of such a decision will be momentous, unless U.S. President Donald Trump is so determined for there to be World War III as to stop at nothing in order to force it to happen no matter what Russia does or doesn’t do.

What the Putin-Erdogan DMZ decision means is that the 50,000 Turkish troops who now are occupying Idlib province of Syria will take control over that land, and will thus have the responsibility over the largest concentration of jihadists anywhere on the planet: Idlib. It contains the surviving Syrian Al Qaeda and ISIS fighters, including all of the ones throughout Syria who surrendered to the Syrian Army rather than be shot dead on the spot by Government forces.

For its part, the U.S. Government, backed by its allies and supported in this by high officials of the United Nations, had repeatedly threatened that if there occurs any chemical-weapons attack, or even any claimed chemical-weapons attack, inside Idlib, the U.S. and its allies will instantaneously blame the Syrian Government and bomb Syria, and will shoot down the planes of Syria and of Russia that oppose this bombing-campaign to conquer or ‘liberate’ Syria from its Government. The U.S. has announced its determination to protect what one high U.S. official — who is endorsing what Trump is doing there — “the largest Al Qaeda safe haven since 9/11.” He admits it, but he wants to protect them from being bombed by Syria and by Russia.

During recent weeks, the U.S. military has increasingly said that even if the jihadists they’ve been assisting to assemble the materials for a chemical-weapons attack fail to carry it out or to stage one, any attempt by Syrian and Russian forces to destroy the jihadists (which the U.S. side calls ‘rebels’) in Idlib will be met with overwhelming U.S.-and-allied firepower. That would spark WW III, because whichever side — Russia or U.S. — loses in the Syrian battlefield will nuclear-blitz-attack the other side so as to have the lesser damage from the nuclear war and thus (in military terms) ‘win’ WW III, because the blitz-attack will destroy many of the opposite side’s retaliatory weapons. In a nuclear war, the first side to attack will have a considerable advantage — reducing the number of weapons the other side can launch.

If, on the other hand, the DMZ-plan works, then Turkey’s forces will be responsible for vetting any of Idlib’s residents who try to leave, in order to prohibit jihadists and their supporters from leaving. Once that task (filtering out the non-dangerous inhabitants and retaining in Idlib only the jihadists and their supporters) is done, the entire world might be consulted on whether to exterminate the remaining residents or to set them free to return to the countries from which they came or to other countries. Presumably, no country would want those ‘refugees’. That would answer the question.

America’s Arab allies, the oil monarchies such as the Sauds who own Saudi Arabia and the Thanis who own Qatar, and which have funded Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, would then be put on a spot, because if they say “Exterminate them!” then their clergy who have provided the moral imprimatur upon those families’ ownership of those nations, will either be in rebellion or else will themselves become overthrown either by their own followers or else by their monarch — overthrown from below or from above.

Alternatively, after Turkey’s forces in Idlib will have allowed release from Idlib of all who will be allowed out, Syria’s and Russia’s bombers will simply go in and slaughter the then-surrounded jihadists and take upon themselves the responsibility for that, regardless of what the leaders of the U.S. and its allied governments might say.

On the night of September 17th in Syria, there were missile-attacks “from the sea” against several Syrian cities; and those attacks could have come from either Israel’s or America’s ships, or from other U.S.-allied ships. Russian Television bannered, “Russian plane disappears from radars during Israeli attack on Syria’s Latakia – MoD” and reported:

A Russian military Il-20 aircraft with 14 service members on board went off the radars during an attack by four Israeli jets on Syria’s Latakia province, the Russian Defense Ministry said.
Air traffic controllers at the Khmeimim Air Base “lost contact” with the aircraft on Wednesday evening, during the attack of Israeli F-16 fighters on Latakia, said the MOD.Russian radars also registered the launch of missiles from a French frigate in the Mediterranean on the evening of September 17. …
The attack on Latakia came just hours after Russia and Turkey negotiated a partial demilitarization of the Idlib province

If the missiles were authorized by President Trump, then WW III has already begun in its pre-nuclear stage. However, if the attacks were launched by Israel’s Netanyahu, and/or by France’s Macron, without U.S. authorization, then the U.S. President might respond to them by siding against that aggressor(s) (and also against what he used to call “Radical Islamic Terrorists”), so as to prevent a nuclear war.

Late on September 17th, Al Masdar News bannered “NATO warships move towards Syrian coast” and reported “The NATO flotilla cruising off the Syrian coast reportedly consists of a Dutch frigate, the De Ruyter, a Canadian frigate, the Ville de Quebec, and a Greek cruiser, the Elli.” Al Qaeda and ISIS have influential protectors.

Ultimately, the decision will be U.S. President Trump’s as to whether he is willing to subject the planet to WW III and to its following nuclear winter and consequent die-off of agriculture and of everyone, in order to ‘win’ a nuclear war, such as America’s aristocracy has especially championed since the year 2006. The nuclear-victory concept is called “Nuclear Primacy” — the use of nuclear weapons so as to win a nuclear war against Russia, instead of to prevent a nuclear war. That concept’s predecessor, the “Mutually Assured Destruction” or “M.A.D.” meta-strategy, predominated even in the U.S. until 2006. Trump will have to decide whether the purpose of America’s nuclear-weapons stockpiles is to prevent WW III, or is to win WW III.

In Russia, the purpose has always been to have nuclear weapons in order to prevent WW III. But America’s President will be the person who will make the ultimate decision on this. And Idlib might be the spark. Netanyahu or Macron might be wanting to drag the U.S. into war even against Russia, but the final decision will be Trump’s.

The ultimate question is: How far will the U.S. go in order to continue the U.S. dollar as being the overwhelmingly dominant global currency?

—————

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

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Russian MoD: Il-20 downed by Syrian missile after attacking Israel’s F-16s used it as cover

Israeli pilots used the Russian plane as cover and set it up to be targeted by the Syrian air defense forces.

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Russia has stated that it “reserves right to response” after claiming that Israel’s actions led to downing of Il-20 by Syrian S-200 missiles.

The Russian military accused their Israeli counterparts for causing the downing of a Russian Il-20 plane by the Syrian air defense forces, which were responding to an Israeli air raid on Latakia.

Via RT


The Russian military say the Israeli raid on Syria triggered a chain of events, which led to the shooting down of a Russian Il-20 plane by a Syrian S-200 surface-to-air missile. Moscow reserves the right to respond accordingly.

On Monday evening four Israeli F-16 fighter jets attacked targets in Syria’s Latakia after approaching from the Mediterranean, a statement by the Russian defense ministry said on Tuesday. The Israeli warplanes came at a small altitude and “created a dangerous situation for other aircraft and vessels in the region”, it said.

The military said the French Navy’s frigate “Auvergne” as well as a Russian Il-20 plane were in the area of the Israeli operation.

“The Israeli pilots used the Russian plane as cover and set it up to be targeted by the Syrian air defense forces. As a consequence, the Il-20, which has radar cross-section much larger than the F-16, was shot down by an S-200 system missile,” the statement said.

The Russian ministry stressed that the Israelis must have known that the Russian plane was present in the area, which didn’t stop them from “the provocation”. Israel also failed to warn Russia about the planned operation in advance. The warning came a minute before the attack started, which “did not leave time to move the Russian plane to a safe area,” the statement said.

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