“In the typical weasel words, “strategic considerations.” The truth is, if they acknowledged what Putin has done on their soil, they would have to act far more seriously then they could bring themselves to.”
— Garry Kasparov (3-28-18)
By Dan Peak
The Commoner Call (4/2/18)
Dear Fellow Readers,
The above quote was a March 28th tweet by Russian dissident and former world chess champion Garry Kasparov (@Kasparov63). He has long been an outspoken critic of Russian president Vladimir Putin, as well as Trump. Kasparov had this to say about the recent Russian election while appearing on ABC ‘This Week’ with George Stephanopoulos, “First of all, stop calling it elections. It’s a charade. It’s the only vote that matters in a dictatorship like Russia is Putin’s vote, so you’re right showing him voting for himself and that’s it.”
Kasparov’s view of Trump can be summarized by this commentary he wrote for the Daily Beast two years ago: Donald Trump And His Enablers Are Killing Democracy.
“When I retired from professional chess to join the anti-Putin pro-democracy movement in 2005, I was often asked how my chess experience would help me in what was laughably called Russian politics. “Not at all,” I answered. “In chess we have fixed rules and uncertain results. In elections in Putin’s Russia, it’s exactly the opposite.”…
“Trump’s assault on “the system” is a politically convenient assault on democracy. Unfortunately, it is also a popular message in this year of insurgent candidates on both sides of the political spectrum. Purely negative messages usually don’t win out in American elections, but this year is not normal. Trump’s own campaign now says that his dictatorial rhetoric was an act, as if a candidate cynically employing bigotry and extremist rhetoric for political gain should be reassuring.”
As Trump removes anyone around him that has advised caution, he becomes more outrageous and manages to push Trump-Russia corruption off the front page for an entire day. But in parallel there are new voices speaking on how to respond to both Putin and Trump.
How about punching Putin where it would hurt
Edward Luce, Washington columnist for the Financial Times (behind a pay wall), offers some sound foundational points: Russia And The West’s Moral Bankruptcy.
The subhead on the Financial Times piece lays bare the path to getting to Putin – and just what the western nations are unwilling to do: Vladimir Putin’s wealth extraction machine could not operate without our connivance.
Luce begins by sizing the problem:
“… Roughly $300bn is laundered in the US every year, according to the US Treasury. Britain and its offshore financial centres take in about $125bn. Most of it goes undetected. The largest foreign share of it is Russian, according to Anders Aslund, a leading specialist on Russia’s economy. Estimates of Mr Putin’s personal wealth range from $50bn to $200bn. Even the lower figure would exceed the gross domestic product of most UN member states. Yet we have taken few steps to disrupt it.”
After referring to the expulsion of Russian diplomats following the exposure of former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal as “kubuki theater Russian style”, he acknowledges that Russian interference in the U.S. election was at least in part in return for Panama Papers leaks about Putin’s personal wealth.
But Putin’s ‘success’ is dependent on our greed and complicity:
“Most of the west has the Russia threat back to front. Russia’s economy is no larger than Italy’s and its military is in disrepair. It is run by an autocrat who dares not release his grip for fear of losing everything. The weapon Mr Putin fears most is transparent accountancy. Tellingly, he stores his wealth in jurisdictions where property rights are secure and the rule of law still holds.
“On top of that the west offers a dictator’s bargain: the greed of a system that has lost its moral compass. All that was true before the gift of Mr Trump’s election. How much juicier is it now?”
As The Washington Post notes, there are more voices demanding we impose real penalties for Putin’s actions: It’s Time To Go After Vladimir Putin’s Money In The West.
Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, comments that Putin and his oligarchic cronies enrich themselves to the tune “of some $20 billion to $25 billion a year since 2006”.
Echoing Luce’s point from The Financial Times about the limited impact of the expulsion of Russian diplomats, Aslund offers this view:
“Russia’s economic means are limited. Therefore, the Kremlin prefers cheap asymmetric or hybrid warfare, such as the hacking of elections, cyberwarfare, manipulation of social media and the corruption of foreign politicians. We need to respond asymmetrically, hurting the Kremlin more than it hurts us.”
Between our short-term greed and Trump-Putin corruption, we play into Putin’s hands. It’s not brilliantly executed 4-D chess, but it works for him and his tight little circle of cronies. He ends with the same message put forward here last week, effective penalties directly attack the wealth of Putin and his cronies.
“Helpfully, Putin has himself told us what sanctions hurt him the most by incessantly about the and the of his St. Petersburg cronies in March 2014 for their role in Russia’s occupation of Crimea. These acts prohibit named individuals from entering the territory of the United States and freeze their assets whenever they are detected. So far, unfortunately, these new laws haven’t proved especially effective, since the U.S. government has detected only a few million dollars of their assets.”
Putin’s long hands
Russians that fled Russia for safety have found they are not safe. We’ve reported often on Russians murdered in the UK and now in the U.S. Here’s an interesting New York Times walk-in-the-shoes-of as told by Russian opposition figure Vladimir L. Ashurkov following his flight to London in 2014: As Putin’s Opponents Flocked To London, His Spies Followed.
“… As he built his life in London, Mr. Ashurkov learned to look for Russian agents reflexively — men in dark suits sitting alone at émigré gatherings, dinner-party acquaintances rumored to be informants.
““You can’t do much about it,” he said. “Even after you escape from Moscow to London, you know they have long hands.”
“Russia now has deployed in London than at the height of the Cold War, former British intelligence officials have said. They serve a variety of functions, including building contacts among British politicians.”
Here is Ashurkov’s London as described by a British intelligence officer:
“A former British intelligence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity in line with protocols, described it as “a lot of Putin’s friends, and former friends, and enemies and allies, all swirling around together in this moneyed scene.”
““And of course half of them send their kids to British public schools,” the former official added, using the British term for private schools.”
Empty, ineffective responses to Russian murders add to the danger.
Fox and Fraud
Since we all agree, we can get the facts out on the table and act accordingly, right?
After ten years as a contributing Fox News analyst, retired Army officer Roger Peters has had enough:
“… I was the one person on the Fox payroll who, trained in Russian studies and the Russian language, had been face to face with Russian intelligence officers in the Kremlin and in far-flung provinces. I have traveled widely in and written extensively about the region. Yet I could only rarely and briefly comment on the paramount security question of our time: whether Putin and his security services ensnared the man who would become our president. Trump’s behavior patterns and evident weaknesses (financial entanglements, lack of self-control and sense of sexual entitlement) would have made him an ideal blackmail target — and the Russian security apparatus plays a long game.
“As indictments piled up, though, I could not even discuss the mechanics of how the Russians work on either Fox News or Fox Business.”
Could it be — A role for Paul Ryan in the Trumputin investigation?
We’ll end with a reference to a news item from the McClatchy DC bureau that may or may not contribute to our understanding of Trump-Putin corruption: Alleged Russian Hacker Extradited. Will He Help Mueller Probe?
“The Justice Department announced Friday afternoon Yevgeniy Nikulin’s sudden appearance in a San Francisco federal courtroom after an 18-month legal tug-of-war with the Russian government, which made a competing claim to extradite Nikulin.
“Nikulin, 30, was arrested in a Prague restaurant on Oct. 5, 2016, and three days later, then-President Barack Obama made his first accusation of Russian meddling in the U.S. election. On Oct. 20, Nikulin was indicted on federal charges of hacking the private user databases of three U.S. internet giants — LinkedIn, Dropbox and Formspring — and mail accounts tied to Google. The indictment alleges Nikulin used several aliases, including Chinabig01 and itBlackHat.”
Notice the legal process took 18 months. Proving corruption and money laundering across international borders is a complex and lengthy process. For anyone wanting fast results or for anyone banging the table babbling about a “witch hunt” should be brought to an end, that’s not the way it works.
In spite of Trump’s attacks on the FBI, apparently they are good at some things:
“The FBI office that investigated Nikulin also, last March, built the first-ever criminal cybercase against a Russian state actor. That case involved the hack of Yahoo’s network and 500 million of its subscribers. Two of the four defendants were officers of Russia’s Federal Security Service, a Russian spy agency known by the letters FSB.“
And just to end with a bit of a twist there is this:
“Nikulin’s extradition happened days after a visit to Prague by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who called for his extradition during his stay. Ryan and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis discussed the case during a meeting Tuesday. Ryan tweeted out thanks late Friday for the action.”
Ryan may aid and abet Congressional Trump-Putin complicity, but at least this one time he appeared to be on the right side of the rule of law.