Expert analysis or crude regime-change info war?

This is a story in the Guardian about apparent links found in the ‘Panama papers’ between relatives and friends of two people who work in the Kremlin and offshore accounts.

The Panama papers recall is a leak of private information sponsored by extremely wealthy free-market financier George Soros [1] and, arguably, through its sponsorship of one of the pseudo-journalistic bodies involved by the US government [2]. It is not illegal to use an offshore bank account (unless specific laws in the user’s home country have been broken). In fact then there is very little to the story. This is why it has to be dressed up with smears and innuendo.

This article is no exception. The author starts off with a mention of the recent death (possibly a murder, the investigation in the US continues) of the former head of RT. There is no suggestion about why this is mentioned in this context. It isn’t clear if we are supposed to think that this was a Kremlin sponsored murder. If not – why is it mentioned at all? Then there is a story about how the son of someone who used to be the head of the Russian railways owns property in London despite his father being an ‘anti-Western idealogue’. (That probably means he criticized the West). That’s it in terms of pre-smears.

Then we get to the real meat of the story. The wife of the Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov managed some companies through an offshore structure. And the godfather of Putin’s daughter had some money in an offshore account. That’s it. Not exactly a steak.

The above is reported as:

While ordinary Russians were being instructed to tighten their belts in the ideological battle with the west, their rulers were employing Mossack Fonseca to infiltrate their money into enemy territory

This sentence contains so much that is false and erroneous it is difficult to know where to start. In fact the leaked documents do not show that the ‘rulers’ of Russia were using offshore accounts. In this report at any rate two friends or relatives of the ‘rulers’ were. And then – what ‘ideological battle with the West’? The author seems to be living in an imaginary world of his own making. Russia has been trying to form a partnership with the West for some time. For example; they seek Western capital to develop their oil industry. They have been seeking to work together on counter-terrorism and security more generally. Russia is a member of the WTO. They are signatories to the European Human Rights Convention. They have been modernizing their social infrastructure along Western lines. Yes; it has all gone sour over Crimea – but where is this ‘ideological battle’? (One suspects that by ‘ideological battle’, the author really means ‘they disagree with our view of how their country should be run’). And ‘enemy territory’? That is just silly. The author is mocking the ‘rulers’ of Russia for investing funds in ‘enemy territory’; but who created the recent wave of enmity? It was the US and EU who started sanctions and broke off various relations – such as PACE and some NATO forums, not Russia. This is childish in its lack of bearings in reality.

Then we have:

It is of course not a secret that Kremlin insiders run Russia for their own enrichment, but this barrage of revelations provides extraordinary levels of detail, and lays bare the nature of how Russia is governed in ways we have not seen before.

When we have phrases like ‘of course it is not a secret’ or (another typical phrase in this genre) ‘it is widely believed’ we know we are being fed narrative lines which are not being substantiated with fact-based reporting. Even a glance at the news from Russia shows a series of decisions being made from the (elected) leadership designed to develop Russian interests. To develop the economy and society. The picture of a basket-case third-world country run by a dictator creaming off the wealth of the nation and stashing it away in offshore accounts is phantasy projected onto reality. Again; anyone who follows the news (not just Russian media) can see that the leadership of Russia is working to develop the country. The British government for example promotes Russia as a suitable country for British firms to do business with:

Russia improved to 62nd in the World Bank ˜Ease of Doing Business” ranking in 2014. It’s making some headway in meeting President Putin’s target of reaching 20th position by 2018 after starting from the position of 122nd.

and

Russia has started major investment and modernisation programmes which will provide opportunities for UK firms. It is looking for foreign investment, expertise, technology and resources to help. [3]

This summary from the OECD also reflects the fact that the current leadership of Russia has been successfully developing and modernizing the economy:

The new fiscal rule has anchored budgetary policies, but there are loopholes due to the possibility of tapping into oil funds, providing guarantees and shifting unfunded spending obligations on regions. Increasing attention is being paid to public sector efficiency. The monetary policy framework benefits from the transition to inflation targeting and a flexible exchange rate regime, although the importance of administered and food prices in inflation increase transparency requirements. The banking sector is stable but a consumer credit boom poses risks.

and

The authorities seem to have become more energetic on fighting corruption and strengthening the legal protection of businesses. However, capital outflows and the low market valuation of Russian companies suggest that business is not yet fully convinced. Law enforcement appears to be uneven, whistleblower protection is weak, and civil society organisations and non‑aligned media face constraints. Red tape has been reduced, and recently adopted federal initiatives tackle many administrative barriers. There has been less progress on the regional level. Governance of state-owned enterprises has improved somewhat, but privatisation plans were recently downsized. Notwithstanding WTO accession in 2012, market opening is meeting resistance. Transport system bottlenecks pose barriers to more geographically balanced growth. [4]

We’ve quoted the full extract. It is of course a mixed picture. (Though the critical reader will be aware that the OECD is firmly behind privatization of state assets and a market-run economy and this necessarily influences their assessment).

At any event it is clear that the reality is as far from the image of Russian being run by ‘rulers’ for their own benefit as it could possibly be. The author of the Guardian piece is doing what so many Western based ‘Russia experts’ seem to do; they make a living out of embellishing a narrative about ‘Russian corruption’ and crooked leaders. That Russia is developing. That the facts are otherwise is simply ignored. After all there is a circuit on which these people can write these articles and books and it would be bad for the industry to tell the truth. We cannot tell whether the author of this article has looked and then decided to stick with his phantasy world anyway – or whether he never even bothered to look at the subject about which he is writing in the first place.

This Guardian article has the not unusual attribution at the top-left. In this case it is credited to something called the New East network. Recall at this point that the Guardian has started carrying content provided by amongst others the Bill Gates Foundation [5] and US government propaganda outlet – Radio Free Europe. [6] This appears in part to be another route by which interested parties can place content in the Guardian. The Guardian has a page describing their ‘New East network’.  What is striking is that so many of the ‘partners’ i.e. those who will be providing the content, are not journalists. They are partisan think-tanks and single-issue media groups. For example; take one partner ‘Caucasian Knot’. Briefly looking at their web site this appears to be a campaigning organisation devoted in particular to ‘human rights’ and defending journalists in the Caucuses. Who funds it? We are told no more than “The edition is funded from various charitable foundations“. – Why not tell us which? (Does that include “USAID”?) Caucasian Knot is registered with the Russian state media regulator. Presumably then they are allowed to do business and print the stories that they print. At the same time as the Guardian tells its readers about the “greater censorship of online publishing” in Russia  [7] they are teaming up with those ‘censored’ outlets to print – and re-print – their stories. Other members of the ‘New East network’ include the Carnegie Foundation – a US based foundation. Specifically the partner is the Moscow office of the Carnegie Foundation. Again; while telling stories about repression in Russia the Guardian reveals that Western NGOs and independent media can and do operate in Russia. At the very least the real picture is much more nuanced than the one-sided narrative line about ‘crackdowns’ and ‘censorship’.

There is nothing wrong with a media outlet reporting on stories produced by lobby groups. However; in ‘proper’ journalism what happens is that the journalist assesses the press release (for that is what it is) and reports on it, in context; such and such an organisation has claimed she might say. She might then fact-check the claims and report these results to her readers. She might also inform her readers about the allegiances of the organisation making the claims. The new form of ‘journalism’ which the Guardian is developing is to skip this step. Lobby groups of various kinds can simply place content directly in the Guardian. The Panama papers leak itself is an instance of placed content; the leak was helped by funding from wealthy financier George Soros, who has a track record of interfering in political processes. [8] The material in this stream of Guardian articles is presented as journalism. The only tell-tale sign for the reader who might otherwise take this at face value is a small attribution on the top-left of the page – an attribution which is easily missed. These are information products planted in the news with a specific aim of manipulating public opinion.

What we are looking at is sponsored ‘information products’. The target of these products is the current (elected and popular) Russian government with its belief that businesses of strategic importance should be in state hands. The likely aim is to replace this government with one run by the pro-Western liberal opposition in Russia. The pro-Western liberal opposition in Russia is a very minority interest – coming behind the actual opposition, which is the Communist party and the parliamentary socialist Fair Russia party, in elections. [9] Nonetheless the democratic preferences of Russians notwithstanding the aim is perhaps to finally achieve that longed-for goal of total acquisition by Western finance capital of all of Russia’s extractative industries. All of this will be done in the name of ‘human rights’ of course.

Notes

1. http://thenewobserver.co.uk/putting-it-on-putin/

2. https://www.rt.com/news/338683-wikileaks-usaid-putin-attack/

3. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/exporting-to-russia/doing-business-in-russia-russia-trade-and-export-guide

4. http://www.oecd.org/economy/economic-survey-russian-federation.htm

5. http://thenewobserver.co.uk/mock-concern-about-hiv-used-to-promote-the-us-corporate-world/

6. http://thenewobserver.co.uk/more-rfe-propaganda-on-the-guardian/

7. http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/dec/20/donald-trump-defends-vladimir-putin-endorsement

8. https://www.rt.com/news/264037-soros-ukraine-poroshenko-leak/

9. http://thenewobserver.co.uk/the-opposition-in-russia/

Mock concern about HIV used to promote US corporate profits

This is a story in the Guardian about the HIV crisis in Russia.

The first half of the article is a factual – and troubling – presentation of the situation in Russia with respect to HIV. But the second half is full-on promotion of the Western solution. Western responses to the HIV virus include: sex education in schools, methadone substitution programmes for heroin users and ‘harm reduction’ advice programmes to at risk groups. The author of this article just promotes these particular approaches without any sense that they may not necessarily be suitable for Russia – or desired by Russians. He mocks a senior Russia official for statements that Russia does not need sex education in schools; because people can learn about life from literature. He blames Putin (gosh, no surprises there) personally for the ‘conservative political climate’ that makes it difficult to implement harm reduction programmes. (Harm-reduction programmes provide state acceptance of illicit behaviours. At risk individuals are to be advised on how they can reduce the harm to themselves whilst carrying on with their illicit and illegal activities. Such programmes are very popular amongst Western liberals. However; even in the West they are challenged by people, often from the point of view of religious or moral values, who argue a) that on principle we should not accept this watering down of values and b) that ‘abstinence’ programmes are as effective at reducing harm as ‘harm reduction’ programmes and c) that ‘harm reduction’ programmes often have the side-effect of encouraging more young people into the illicit behaviour. Methadone substitution programmes are also criticized from a sociological type perspective. Here, the argument is that they are based on imposing a disease model on people; to the benefit of the health industry). The author of the Guardian article reports on the fact that due to funding problems local clinics in Russia often run short of anti-viral drugs used to treat HIV. He does not link this funding shortfall to the wider picture which includes Western sanctions on Russia; sanctions which the US President recently boasted were destroying the Russian economy. [1]

This article appears in the Guardian apparently as reportage. It is not even tagged as opinion. Western liberal ‘journalists’ often simply write on Russia from the point of view of their own ideology and values but even by these standards this piece stands out for its one-sided and propagandist approach. It may take the reader a moment to find the clue. The clue is in a small byline at the top left of the page which admits that the ‘content’ is sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This foundation is used by computer entrepreneur Bill Gates to promote his vision of development around the world. This vision relies heavily on solving problems of development by training people to be skilled consumers of the products of US based global corporations: GM modified seeds and agricultural chemicals, computer software and, now, perhaps methadone and HIV drugs. See here for a piece where we review the report of campaign group Global Justice Now into the Bill Gates Foundation. Global Justice Now’s report on the Bill Gates Foundation shows that in Africa it acts in concert with the interests of multinational argi-business. [2]

Of course; many of the proponents of these kinds of models of development probably genuinely believe in them. It is a nice coincidence that what they believe in is very profitable for themselves. But this doesn’t mean per se that they are being cynical. However; these models can be criticized and questioned. And in practice they are; from multiple viewpoints. When an article in a newspaper simply promotes these unquestionably as the only solution we know we are in the realms of corporate propaganda.

So. A piece ostensibly about concern for people with the HIV virus in Russia turns out to be propaganda for a particular model of development. A model which puts Western global corporations at the heart of any solution. One brand of methadone is Dolophine. This is produced by US Pharmaceutical company Roxanne Laboratories. [3] Another producer of methadone, appears to be UK registered company Rosemont Pharmaceuticals Ltd. [4] It appears that the substance is out of license and there are multiple manufacturers either producing the generic substance or branded variants.

The writer Ivan Illich wrote about ‘right-wing’ (in his words) institutions that seek to make people passive consumers of goods and services provided from above. Right-wing institutions try to create dependency and addiction in their users. The relationship between the institution which provides the service or product and its consumers is hierarchical and manipulative. Methadone treatment would be a case in point. Why let illegal drugs dealers make money out of drug addiction when we can do it ourselves? The reference in the article to a ‘conservative political climate’ is a way of referring to religious values without actually mentioning the word ‘religion’. This ‘climate’ may have been fostered by the present political regime in Russia but this regime is an elected one and these ‘conservative’ policies have widespread popular support. Russians just have more adherence to these kinds of values than the decadent Western liberal class. [5] In this article there is zero respect for these cultural differences. Russian ‘conservative’ values are attributed solely to ‘Putin’. These values are directly blamed for the suffering of people with the HIV virus. As usual with propaganda of this kind the author is careful to find a Russian who does have a leaning towards Western liberal values who can be used as a mouthpiece. The tactics of attributing everything in Russia which doesn’t suit the Western corporate/liberal world to ‘Putin’ and of using Russian liberals to voice the values of the Western liberal elite are designed to avoid the appearance of criticizing the Russian people and of superimposing values. Power works stealthily. As usual with Western liberal propaganda it is just taken as ‘beyond argument’ that the values of the Western liberal class are superior. All this, mock ‘humanitarian’ concern which masks profit seeking and imperialism, is the norm for the US corporate machine. It is slightly alarming though to see this being served up as ‘journalism’ by a newspaper in the UK.

Addendum

It isn’t just methadone. If ‘conservative’ values in Russia can be overthrown and the disease model of behaviour adopted then this will open up scope for other opportunities. For example; currently in Russia it is not legal to ‘treat’ ‘ADHD’ with stimulant drugs. But if the disease model of behaviour can be imposed on Russians then another huge market will open up for these amazingly profitable (and harmful) drugs – all of which are manufactured by US pharmaceutical companies. [6]

Notes

1. http://www.cnbc.com/2015/01/21/obamas-remarks-on-russias-economy-dead-right-experts.html

2. http://www.globaljustice.org.uk/resources/gated-development-gates-foundation-always-force-good

3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methadone

4. https://www.rosemontpharma.com/product-listing/m

5. http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/russians-consider-marrying-giving-birth-and-education-most-important-things/528835.html

6. https://newobs.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/part31.pdf

 

Unpacking US propaganda (1)

Apparently the US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, has told US law-makers that she doesn’t know how many of the 6,000 or so deaths in Ukraine [1] have fallen on the rebel side – including civilians. [2]

This is a lie.

The US has hundreds of military advisers in Ukraine. They will have a very good idea of casualties on the side of Kiev’s military forces. Let’s say that is X. 6,000 – X gives an idea of deaths on the side of the rebels – and their families (as the question asked). [2]

During the illegal invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq the US claimed that they did not have figures for the number of civilian casualties. They specifically claimed not to be counting. That was exposed as a lie by Wiki Leaks. [3]

(According to this web site they are playing the same game in connection with their illegal bombing in Syria [4])

So. We can imagine the same game is being played in Ukraine. The US will have a good idea exactly how many are dying on the side of the rebels. Including civilians. This is vital intelligence for their overall planning. But they don’t want it in the public domain because civilian deaths on the other side are not part of the published narrative about the war. (Russia is very bad and everything which is happening in Ukraine is due to “Russian aggression”).

The reality is that a few thousand dead Eastern Ukrainians are calculated as an acceptable price to pay for getting Ukraine settled 100% into the EU and the Western orbit generally. Especially considering the the East of Ukraine contains some of the most economically productive areas of

The imaginary threat from Russia

The US/UK axis of [fill in the blank]*, fresh from a series of disastrous interventions across North Africa and the Middle-East, is now talking up the “threat” from Russia.

Because of the “threat” they are massively increasing or talking about massively increasing their military capacity in Europe, in the Baltics, and in the Black Sea.

Naturally Russia is trying to respond to each move.

In the Cold War the Soviet Union was in some senses a threat. Until Gorbachev it was more or less Soviet policy to spread their economic-political system abroad. Since take-overs tended to be accompanied by a certain amount of gerrymandering of local politics and secret police activity it was certainly possible to perceive this as a threat. The West had to defend “freedom” against a state socialist tyranny. There was an element of truth in the narrative.

Is the modern Russia a “threat”? NATO claims that Russia is trying to re-expand into the old Soviet space. They point to “frozen conflicts” in South Ossetia and Georgia, the Armenian enclave of

What is the real reason for the anti-Russia campaign?

The real reason is pretty obvious.

In the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union there was a pretty much free-market in Russia. Its resources were up for grabs – by a combination of home-grown entrepreneurs and Western capital. It looked like Russia was ripe for an unrestricted orgy of returns on investment for Western capital.

Since Putin came to power in 2000