Benny Avni: China, Russia Celebrate the Dawn of the Un-American Century

FILE - In this Sept. 5, 2013 file photo, President Barack Obama shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during arrivals for the G-20 summit at the Konstantin Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia, Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013.   Congress is stepping up pressure on the White House to confront Russia over allegations that it is cheating on a key nuclear arms treaty, a faceoff that could further strain U.S.-Moscow relations and dampen President Barack Obama's hopes to add deeper cuts in nuclear arsenals to his legacy.  (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Benny Avni writes: Supposedly “isolated” Russia’s bromance with China flourishes. No wonder: Both countries appreciate power politics and scoff at America’s display of global weakness.

President Obama pooh-poohed Moscow ever since his “reset” with Russia crashed and burned. He argued that under President Vladimir Putin Russia is an isolated country on the verge of bankruptcy.

That was then. On Tuesday, after months of snubbing the Kremlin, Secretary of State John Kerry came hat in hand to Sochi, Russia, where he tried to schmooze Putin and his foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov.

The Kremlin signaled its disdain for Washington by declining to confirm Kerry’s meeting with Putin until the last minute. Afterward, Kerry sheepishly said the sides weren’t seeking a “major breakthrough.”

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While this haphazard attempt at diplomacy took place, the Russian and Chinese navies exercised together for the first time in the eastern Mediterranean — a symbol of a fast-gelling alliance between two growing military powers.

Beijing just invested $6 billion in a Russian rail project. Dozens of trade and other bilateral agreements address mutual interests in Central Asia.

[Read the full text here, at New York Post]

And to address Beijing’s never-satiated hunger for energy sources and Moscow’s need for cash, Russia just signed a pact to build a lucrative natural-gas pipeline to China. Annual trade between the two countries is estimated at $100 billion.

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Meanwhile, as cyber threats to America grow, including, prominently, from Chinese and Russian hackers, the two countries just signed a cyber non-aggression pact, raising fears about the future of Internet freedom.

And in the world of global diplomacy (Obama’s supposedly strong suit), Beijing and Moscow unite on United Nations Security Council votes that could harm them or their allies, blocking and vetoing American and other Western resolution proposals on Syria, Ukraine and, of course, anything to do with Beijing land grabs in the East and South China Seas.

Then there’s Kerry. Read the rest of this entry »


Putin and Xi: A New World Order?

Russia Victory Parade

Echoes of the past as Moscow’s Victory Day parade stirs memories of a previous anti-American alliance

 reports: At first sight, things look very different now. When President Xi Jinping of China took pride of place next to Vladimir Putin of Russia on Saturday, they looked like any other modern world leaders: pragmatic men-in-suits, full of smiles, temporary possessors of power rather than dictators-for-life.

“Once again, the Russia-China axis is the main threat to the West’s vision of peaceful and prosperous international relations.”

Back in 1949, when Chairman Mao Tse-tung paid his first visit to Moscow to celebrate Comrade Joseph Stalin‘s 70th Birthday, it was a paean of old-school Communism.

Children in Young Pioneer uniforms paraded through the Bolshoi Opera House telling of their ambition to become tractor drivers. Mao wore a “Mao suit” and Stalin military uniform. Both men looked grumpy.

From left: LM Kaganovich, Chairman Mao Tse-tung, NA Bulganin, Joseph Stalin, Walter Ulbricht, J cedenbal, NS Khrushchev and I Koplenig (Getty)

From left: LM Kaganovich, Chairman Mao Tse-tung, NA Bulganin, Joseph Stalin, Walter Ulbricht, J cedenbal, NS Khrushchev and I Koplenig (Getty)

But the two events, six decades apart, have a clear parallel. Once again, the Russia-China axis is the main threat to the West’s vision of peaceful and prosperous international relations.

“China has been railing against a ‘unipolar world’ for a decade. Mr Putin and his allies all have their reasons for disliking the West’s tendency to set a high store on open elections, a free press and ‘cooperative’ foreign policies.”

The line-up of leaders alongside the two men was a walking representation of a new anti-American alliance that has formed bit by bit since the invasion of Iraq demonstrated the frightening ease with which Washington could destroy hostile leaders far away.

[Read the full text here, at the Telegraph]

Alongside Mr Xi were Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Raúl Castro of Cuba, Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela: standouts against what Mr Putin called a unipolar world, his code phrase for the spread of western-style democracy.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, centre, and Cuban President Raul Castro, centre right, after the parade (EPA)

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, centre, and Cuban President Raul Castro, centre right, after the parade (EPA)

In itself, there isn’t much new to this. China has been railing against a “unipolar world” for a decade. Mr Putin and his allies all have their reasons for disliking the West’s tendency to set a high store on open elections, a free press and “cooperative” foreign policies.

[Also see – China Parades Closer Ties in Moscow]

What is stark is that Russia and China are now openly stating their intention to stand together to lead such an alliance….(read more)

Chairman Mao Tse-tung, left, welcomes US President Richard Nixon at his house in Beijing (AFP)

Chairman Mao Tse-tung, left, welcomes US President Richard Nixon at his house in Beijing (AFP)

Twenty years ago, when both Presidents Bill Clinton and Jiang Zemin of China stood alongside Boris Yeltsin at the 1995 Moscow Victory Day parade, the power relations were self-evident.

Read the rest of this entry »


China Parades Closer Ties in Moscow

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On display: an upgraded military relationship that could complicate U.S. strategy

BEIJINGJeremy Page reports: When a Chinese honor guard joins a military parade in Russia’s capital this weekend, watched by China’s President Xi Jinping, it will mark more than just a symbolic recognition of the two countries’ contributions to the Allied victory in 1945.

China’s participation also reflects an upgrade of its military ties with Russia, including joint naval exercises and a revival of arms purchases, that could complicate U.S.-led efforts to counter both nations’ expanding military activities, analysts and diplomats say.

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“They’ve basically come to a consensus that despite their differences over some national interests, they really face the same common enemy.”

The 102 Chinese troops who will join the Victory Day parade in Moscow on Saturday were seen during a rehearsal this week marching through streets near Red Square singing the Russian wartime ballad “Katyusha”, according to video footage posted online.

The only other foreign countries with troops in the parade are India, Mongolia, Serbia and six former Soviet states.

Three Chinese navy ships also made a rare foray into the Black Sea on their way to join commemorations in Russia’s southern port of Novorossiysk on Saturday.

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“I think they’re both sending a message that their relationship is stronger than outsiders generally expect and if others put pressure on either in their own arenas, the two will stand together.”

— Gilbert Rozman,an expert on China-Russia relations at Princeton University

The Chinese ships—two missile destroyers and a supply vessel — will then take part in joint exercises with the Russian navy in the Mediterranean Sea for the first time, according to Chinese and Russian authorities.Xi-tall-Jinping-HT

Both sides say the drills aren’t directed at other countries, but the timing, after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, and the location, on NATO’s southern flank, have compounded Western concerns about an emerging Moscow-Beijing axis.

[Read the full text here, at WSJ]

“The main significance is that the two countries’ navies are learning how to jointly project power into the other regions of the world,” said Vasily Kashin, an expert on China’s military at Moscow’s Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.

The Chinese ships’ visit to Novorossiysk could be seen as a response to NATO ships holding exercises in the Black Sea in March, he said, the message being: “Russia has allies too.”

On Wednesday, Russia’s government unveiled a draft cybersecurity deal with China under which both countries agree not to conduct cyberattacks against each other and to counteract technology that might disrupt their internal politics.

The rapprochement between Moscow and Beijing has been driven in large part by Western sanctions which have forced Russia to seek new markets for its oil and gas and new sources of investment.

Mr. Xi also appears to share a personal affinity with Russian President Vladimir Putin who is seen by many in China as a strong, patriotic leader.

The relationship, though well short of a formal alliance, is now developing a more substantial military dimension as Russia ramps up air and naval patrols around Europe and China seeks to challenge U.S. military dominance in Asia. Read the rest of this entry »


SPACE: Progress Failure Puts Burden on Upcoming Resupply Missions

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jeff_foust_4c-90x90WASHINGTON — Jeff Foust writes: The failure of a Russian Progress spacecraft to deliver cargo to the International Space Station is unlikely to have a significant near-term effect on station operations, but will place a greater burden on upcoming resupply missions and could alter the cargo those missions carry.

A Soyuz-2.1a rocket carrying the Progress M-27M spacecraft lifted off on schedule from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:09 a.m. Eastern time April 28. The launch appeared to take place normally, putting the spacecraft on track to dock with the ISS about six hours later.

However, shortly after the Progress reached orbit, controllers reported that two antennas used as part of the spacecraft’s docking system failed to deploy properly. NASA initially announced that the docking would be delayed until early April 30 to give engineers time to resolve the antenna problem.

“Roscosmos announced that the Progress will not be docking and will reenter the Earth’s atmosphere here some days in the future.”

— NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, April 29, 2015

Within hours, though, it was clear the problem with the Soyuz was more serious than a faulty antenna. The spacecraft entered a roll, and Russian controllers reported problems maintaining communications with the spacecraft. NASA announced later April 28 that it had called off an attempted April 30 docking.

The U.S. Air Force’s Joint Space Operations Center, tracking the Progress, said in an April 28 statement that the spacecraft was rotating “at a rate of 360 degrees every five seconds,” or 12 RPM. The Air Force also reported tracking 44 pieces of debris in the vicinity of the Progress and its Soyuz upper stage, but could not determine from which object the debris originated.

NASA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos ruled out any attempt to dock the Progress with the ISS on April 29. “Roscosmos announced that the Progress will not be docking and will reenter the Earth’s atmosphere here some days in the future,” NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, currently on the station, said in an interview on NASA Television April 29.

The cause of the Progress failure, including whether it is a flaw with the spacecraft or its launch vehicle, is unclear. Roscosmos, in an April 29 statement, said telemetry from the Progress was interrupted 1.5 seconds before the Progress was scheduled to separate from the Soyuz upper stage. When contact was restored after separation, the spacecraft was in a spin.

With no ability to control the spacecraft, the Progress’s orbit will decay and the spacecraft will reenter some time in early May. Holger Krag, head of the European Space Agency’s Space Debris Office, said April 30 that he estimated the Progress would reenter on May 9, with a margin of error of two days.

Most of the spacecraft will burn up in the atmosphere. “However, we cannot exclude the chance that some portion of its structure, for example the heavy docking mechanism or tanks and thrusters, could survive reentry to reach the surface,” Krog said. Read the rest of this entry »


The Other Giant Leap: What Happened to the First Man to Walk in Space

Originally posted on TIME:

No one knows what the first words of the almost-first man on the moon would have been. They would surely would have been contemplated well in advance. No such landmark moment was left to chance back in the days of the great lunar steeplechase. And they would surely have been in Russian.

Half a century ago, when the space race was raging, no truly objective, truly honest observer gave the Americans much of a shot. The Soviet Union simply had too big a lead, having launched the first satellite (Sputnik), the first space dog (Laika), the first human being (Yuri Gagarin), the first woman (Valentina Tereshkova) and the first two- and three-person spacecraft. And 50 years ago this week, on March 18, 1965, they seemed to have sealed the deal, when Alexei Leonov, then just 30 years old, became the first human being to walk in space. Had things gone…

View original 876 more words


REPORT: Vladimir Putin ‘Neutralized’ by Stealth Coup; Health Rumors Intensify

Putin-DailyMailUK

For MailOnlineWill Stewart reports: Vladimir Putin is ‘alive’ but ‘neutralised’ as shadowy security chiefs stage a stealthy coup in Moscow, it was claimed last night.

Former FSB chief Nikolai Patrushev was behind the plot, claimed chairman of the pro-Kremlin national Islamic Committee, Geydar Dzhemal.

  • Vladimir Putin is supposed to hold public meetings on Monday
  • The Russian leader has not been seen in public for the past nine days
  • Putin reportedly met the head of the Supreme Court on Friday for talks
  • However, the video is now believed to have been taken from file footage

There have been no confirmed sightings of Putin for nine days, while in the febrile atmosphere engulfing Moscow a convoy of large trucks parked outside the Kremlin fueled rumours of a flit by the president.

In fact, the lorries close to St Basil’s Cathedral were more likely connected to a nationalist celebration of the first anniversary of the return of Crimea to Russia – seen by Putin’s supporters as his ultimate masterstroke.

Despite this, bloggers likened it to Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych’s treasure-grab as he fled into exile just over a year ago in Kiev.

“There are allegations that a security official closer to Kadyrov ordered the Nemtsov murder, and that the FSB and Interior Ministry in Moscow have full proof.”

‘I think that Putin is neutralised at the moment, but of course, he is alive,’ said Dzhemal, seen as a Kremlin loyalist.

FLASHBACK: Wax figure of Vladimir Putin Attacked by Topless Feminist

‘He is under the control of the power-wielding agencies, who have, in my opinion, organised a coup d’etat.’

“His slaying has triggered bitter factional infighting in the Kremlin, which includes talk of defence and security service generals seeking to replace Putin.”

Recent pictures of Putin supposedly working during a nine day absence from public sight was ‘playing for time’ by the plotters, he claimed.

fem-putin

MORE: Topless Feminist Stabs Wax Putin in France, Wax Figure in Critical Condition

‘My information is that Patrushev met Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov in Pyatigorsk on 11 March and tempted him over to his side.’

“I think that Putin is neutralised at the moment, but of course, he is alive. He is under the control of the power-wielding agencies, who have, in my opinion, organised a coup d’etat.”

— Dzhemal, a Kremlin loyalist

He also pointed to a recent visit by Patrushev – head of Putin’s security council – the US.

The visit came despite sanctions barring visits by most senior Russian officials.

‘I think he was offered something there that he failed to reject,’ said Dzhemal on Georgian TV channel Rustavi-2.

trucks-kremlin

Several large trucks were parked near Kremlin Square fueling rumours connected with Putin’s absence

flowers-kremlin-Putin

Putin has not been seen in public for nine days which has caused certain consternation in Russia

Putin failed to reappear again on Saturday – the ninth day without a confirmed sighting – as his Chechen enforcer suggested the Russian strongman is in danger of being overthrown.

“With feverish speculation in Moscow over Putin’s health and whereabouts, and claims of a bitter power struggle in his entourage which could even trigger an attempted coup, the head of Chechnya spoke emotionally of people ‘trying to harm the president of Russia – and Russia itself’.”

Ramzan Kadyrov – a devout Muslim whose security apparatchiks are seen as being behind the brutal murder of Boris Nemtsov – said he would remain devoted to the Kremlin leader ‘whether he is in his position or not’.

This came amid a claim that pictures issued by the Kremlin on Friday of Putin meeting Supreme Court head Vyachevslav Lebedev may date from 2011. Read the rest of this entry »


BOOM: Shanghai in 1987 and 2015


Left-Wing Realpolitik Has No Interest in the World Beyond America’s Borders

Barack Obama, John Kerry, Joe Biden, Chuck Hagel

Obama’s Brutal Foreign Policy

The Democratic left’s worldview was defined forever by the Vietnam War. LBJ’s budget got caught between guns for Vietnam and butter for the Great Society. Barack Obama is refusing to be trapped by this dilemma. The Obama legacy will be about butter…

Daniel Henningerrenocol_DanHenninger writes: Conventional explanations for Barack Obama’s foreign policy need an update. Mr. Obama’s famous indecision or antipathy to America’s traditional postwar role in the world all have had their moment. They inform an understanding of this president’s worldview—up to a point.

We have reached that point. They are not enough.

In just the past few weeks, the following events have happened. They are a blur of chaos and brutality.

P1-BR570_USISIS

Islamic State videotaped its beheading of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya and Egypt’s bombed Islamic State camps in retaliation. An ISIS sympathizer sprayed bullets into a free-speech meeting in Copenhagen. A 4,000-man army post in Yemen was overrun by fighters from al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula. Russian-supported rebels in Ukraine commenced an artillery barrage on Kiev’s forces inside the city of Debaltseve after the grand cease-fire brokered by Germany and France.

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Jordan’s King Abdullah asked the U.S. to send aircraft parts and munitions after ISIS immolated a caged Jordanian pilot. Nigeria’s homicidal Islamic jihadist group, Boko Haram, extended its assaults into Niger and Chad. Both Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi separately called on the United Nations, of all things, to organize a coalition to clean up Libya. A Jewish cemetery in France was smashed to pieces.

The reaction of the U.S. government to all this?

counteringviolentextremismfrankenterrorsummitcarolyn-kaster

The White House this week assembled a “summit” on “countering violent extremism,” where on Wednesday Mr. Obama restated the difference between Islam and the perversion of Islam.

Ukraine’s embattled army, encircled in the strategic railway city of Debaltseve by rebels using Russian artillery and tanks, desperately needed defensive military equipment from the U.S. They didn’t get it. On Tuesday Vladimir Putin said they should surrender. On Wednesday, hours before Mr. Obama spoke to the extremism summit, they gave up.

rice-obama

“Before I go through the elements of this strategy, I want to note how our approach may differ from what others may recommend. We believe in the importance of economic growth, but we insist upon investing in the foundations of American power: education and health care; clean energy and basic research.”

— National Security Adviser Susan Rice

Islamic State’s videotaped barbarism expands, but the U.S. commitment against them in Iraq and Syria will not move beyond limited airstrikes.

Nigeria, like Libya and Iraq, is a nation of vast oil revenue for whoever controls it. Nigeria’s chance of getting support from the Obama administration before it falls into chaos is zero, no matter how many girls Boko Haram kidnaps.

ISIS-tank-flag

“Leftist realpolitik—melting guns so it can churn more butter—may survive a pullout from the world in normal times. But it’s not going to hold for the next two years, not at this pace, not with Islam’s jihadists using social media to make all of us party to the de-civilizing of the world.”

It is a mistake to think that Mr. Obama’s passivity or indecision are sufficient explanation. What is on offer here is the American left’s version of realpolitik. The decision by the Obama White House not to deploy American resources is thought-out, brutal and unapologetic.

obama-oval-solo

“Eventually Barack Obama will be forced to act, or his presidency will erode politically, taking many Democrats with him.”

President Obama in his Feb. 6 national-security statement explained what he is doing—or not doing. He was precise and clear:

“We have to make hard choices among many competing priorities and we must always resist the overreach that comes when we make decisions based upon fear.”

Short version: He’s not spending real money on any of this. Get over it. Read the rest of this entry »


Cartoon of the Day

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First Chimp in Space, January 31, 1961

Ham-chimp

On January 31, 1961, a Mercury-Redstone rocket from Cape Canaveral carried a chimpanzee named Ham, aka Ham the Astrochimp, on a journey to become the first great ape in outer space. As you can see in the photoset, Ham was fitted with bio-censors and fastened into a “flight couch,” a biopack placed inside the space capsule. But Ham wasn’t just a passenger.

15-003AstroChimpHAM

Unlike previous simian spacemen, Ham was trained to perform a lever-pulling task in response to a flashing blue light. (Training involved rewards of banana and the “positive punishment” of mild electric shocks. More on that later.) Like any good mission specialist, Ham bravely did his job, all while racing 640 kilometers down range in an arching trajectory that reached a peak of 254 kilometers above the Earth.

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This humble primate, born in the wilds of Cameroon, didn’t set out to beat both Yuri Gagarin and Alan Shepard in the race to space. But when history came calling, he stepped up. After splashdown in the Atlantic, Ham the Space Hero was lavished with love and apples….(more)

humanoidhistory

On January 31, 1961, a brave 3-year-old chimpanzee was strapped into a capsule inside the Mercury Redstone rocket and launched 160 miles above the earth. For 16 minutes, he orbited at a speed of 5857 mph before crashing down into the Atlantic Ocean, a little dehydrated, but otherwise unharmed. Read the rest of this entry »


Garry Kasparov: The Global War on Modernity

Russian-backed-sepratist-WSJ

Islamists set the time machine to the Dark Ages. Putin dreams of czarist Russia. A common enemy: Americakasparov-tall

Garry Kasparov writes: The recent terror attacks in Paris at the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, and at a kosher supermarket, leaving 17 people dead, represented the latest offensive in a struggle that most people, even many of its casualties, are unaware is even taking place.

“The guaranteed freedoms represented by the First Amendment frighten the radical mullahs and dictators more than any drone strike or economic sanction.”

Globalization has effectively compressed the world in size, increasing the mobility of goods, capital and labor. Simultaneously this has led to globalization across time, as the 21st century collides with cultures and regimes intent on existing as in centuries past. It is less the famous clash of civilizations than an attempt by these “time travelers” to hold on to their waning authority by stopping the advance of the ideas essential to an open society.

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“Many politicians and pundits in the Free World seem to think that refusing to acknowledge you are in a fight means you can avoid losing it. But ignoring the reality of the conflict puts more innocents like the Paris victims—instead of trained soldiers and law enforcement—on the front lines.”

Radical Islamists, from the Taliban and al Qaeda to Boko Haram and Islamic State, set the time machine to the Dark Ages and encourage the murder of all who oppose them, often supported by fatwas and funds from terror sponsors like Iran. The religious monarchies in the Middle East are guilty by association, creating favorable conditions for extremism by clamping down on any stirring of freedom.

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 “There are no easy ways to deter homegrown terrorists or nuclear-armed dictators, but this culture of denial must end before true progress can be made.”

Vladimir Putin wants Russia to exist in the Great Power era of czars and monarchs, dominating its neighbors by force and undisturbed by elections and rights complaints. The post-Communist autocracies, led by Mr. Putin’s closest dictator allies in Belarus and Kazakhstan, exploit ideology only as a means of hanging on to power at any cost.

ISIS-swells-numbers

Since the time travelers cannot fight head-to-head with the ideas and prosperity of the Free World, they fall back on their arsenal of ideology, violence and disregard for human life.”

In the East, Kim Jong Un ’s North Korea attempts to freeze time in a Stalinist prison-camp bubble. In the West, Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela and the Castros in Cuba use anachronistic socialist propaganda to resist increasing pressure for human rights. Read the rest of this entry »


Russia Says Mohammed Cartoon Publication Illegal: ‘One Cannot Laugh at the Feelings of the Faithful’

russia-afp

Russia is an overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian country, but is also home to a sizeable Muslim minority

Russia’s media watchdog on Friday warned publications that printing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed was against the country’s law and ethical norms following the Charlie Hebdo attack in France.

“The publication in Russian media of such caricatures go against ethical and moral norms worked out over centuries.”

“The publication in Russian media of such caricatures go against ethical and moral norms worked out over centuries,” said the media and communications watchdog Roskomnadzor.

Roskomnadzor

“Disseminating caricatures on religious themes in the media can be considered insulting or humiliating to the representatives of religious confessions and groups, and qualified as inciting ethnic and religious hatred.”

— Roskomnadzor, Russia’s media and communications watchdog

The publication would also violate the Russian media and anti-extremism laws, the watchdog said, adding that it was asking Russian media to “refrain from publishing caricatures that can be seen as a violation”.

The watchdog published the statement as a response to the ongoing debate on the “legality of publishing caricatures depicting religious objects of worship which affect feelings of religious people.”censorship2

“It further said Charlie Hebdo’s post-attack issue featuring a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed on the front page was an ‘unacceptable response’ to the shooting, because one ‘cannot laugh at the feelings of the faithful’.”

Many newspapers and magazines around the world reprinted cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed by Charlie Hebdo, whose Paris office was attacked by Islamist gunmen on January 7, leading to the deaths of 12 people.

Although Russia’s leadership extended its condolences to France, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov participated in the unity march staged at the weekend, pro-Kremlin commentators and Muslims accused the cartoonists of provoking the attack. Read the rest of this entry »


Oops! Russian Hedge Fund Founder Disappears With All The Firm’s Money

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 reports: The value of the ruble isn’t the only thing that is vanishing in Russia. A Moscow hedge fund chief executive has disappeared, along with all the money in the firm’s accounts.

That’s according to a stunning feature in The Wall Street Journal. Kim Karapetyan, 29, the youthful founder of Blackfield Capital CJSC, has disappeared, much to the dismay of his staff, which didn’t know until a group of men charged into the firm’s plush offices.

From The Journal:

The firm’s employees didn’t know anything was amiss until mid-October, when three men charged into Blackfield’s offices in an upscale complex along the Moscow River in central Moscow, said people who were there.

The men, who didn’t identify themselves, said they were looking for Blackfield’s 29-year-old founder, Kim Karapetyan, according to the people who were there.

But Mr. Karapetyan wasn’t in the office that day or the next, when senior executives explained to the staff of about 50 that there was no longer any money to pay their salaries, said one former senior executive and ex-employees. The executives disclosed that all the money in the company accounts — some $20 million, including investor cash — was also missing, they said. It couldn’t be determined whether investors were from Russia or other countries.

“Our CEO just … disappeared,” said Sergey Grebenkin, one of the firm’s software developers, in an interview.

No attempts to contact or find Karapetyan were successful, and he is still MIA. The company’s website brags that its “systematic investment process helps avoid human-factor, cognitive-biases, and emotional-trading errors,” but the CEO running away with all your money seems like a fairly big human error. Read the rest of this entry »


The Usual Suspects: Putin Critic Alexei Navalny and Brother ‘Found Guilty’ of Fraud

Alexei-Navalny

MOSCOW, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Prominent Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny and his brother, Oleg, were found guilty of fraud and sentenced Tuesday.

The Navalny brothers were found guilty of embezzling 26.7 million rubles ($470,000) from cosmeticsupi_RUSSIAN-ELECTION company Yves Rocher Vostok and stealing more than 4.4 million rubles ($80,000) from a processing company between 2008 and 2013.

Critics have called the charges politically motivated. Alexei, an anti-corruption blogger and critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has maintained his innocence.

The judge on Tuesday gave Alexei a suspended sentence of three years and six months while Oleg was sentenced to prison for the same amount of time.

Alexei yelled angrily as the sentence against his brother was read in the courtroom.

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The brothers were also ordered to pay a fine of more than 4 million rubles ($70,000) to the Multi-Profile Processing Company. Read the rest of this entry »


Thomas Seddon, 1821-1856: ‘Penelope’

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THOMAS SEDDON
1821-1856
PENELOPE ‘THEN DURING THE DAY SHE WOVE THE LARGE WEB, WHICH AT NIGHT SHE UNRAVELLED’ THE ODYSSEY
signed and dated l.r.: T Seddon 18/52
oil on canvas
91.5 by 71cm., 36 by 28in.

PROVENANCE

George Wilson of Redgrave Hall, Suffolk and thence by descent to Mr P.J. Holt Wilson, by whom sold Sotheby’s, 28 November 1972, lot 49

EXHIBITED

London, Royal Academy, 1852, no. 339;
London, Society of Arts, Thomas Seddon Memorial Exhibition, 1857

LITERATURE

John P. Seddon, Memoir and Letters of the late Thomas Seddon, artist, By his Brother, 1859, pp. 16-17;
The Journal of the Society of Arts, May 1857, pp.360-362;
The Art Journal, 1857, p.198

CATALOGUE NOTE

This is the first recorded work from the hand of the short-lived and very remarkable Pre-Raphaelite artist Thomas Seddon. Thought of principally as a painter of eastern landscape subjects, the present beautiful and important work provides a fascinating clue to his artistic training and formative years. Although quite unlike the type of work for which he did become known, it reveals the instinctive creative talent and natural skill that he possessed. An unusual subject for an English painter to take in the 1850s, and therefore possibly reflecting his knowledge of contemporary French art, it shows Penelope looking out as the dawn breaks – her companions still sleeping – after a night spent undoing the previous day’s work on a woven shroud. Her reason for doing this was because – according to the story told in Homer’s Odyssey – during the long period during which her husband Odysseus was away, assumed by most to be dead, she remained faithful to him and, when pressed to give herself in marriage to another, always said she could not until the shroud was finished, a subterfuge which she maintained for ten years until a maid servant revealed how it was that the garment was never completed. Read the rest of this entry »


Putin Accuses West of Provoking Ukraine Crisis

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MOSCOWJames Marson and Andrey Ostroukh report: Striking a defiant tone, President Vladimir Putin on Thursday accused the West of provoking a crisis in Ukraine and using sanctions to try to constrain Russia.

In his annual state of the union address, Mr. Putin defended Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region in March, saying Russia would never give up the “sacred” peninsula. He accused the U.S. and Europe of cynically using the Ukraine crisis as an excuse to pursue a long-held strategy aimed at weakening Russia.

“The policy of containment was not invented yesterday. It has been carried out against our country for many years,” he said. “Whenever someone thinks that Russia has become too strong or independent, these tools are quickly put into use.”

Mr. Putin’s one-hour speech in the Kremlin’s ornate St. George’s Hall underscored his hard-line response to Western sanctions that, along with low oil prices, have pushed Russia’s economy toward recession. Read the rest of this entry »


Russia prepares nuclear surprise for NATO

VladPutinKGBOn September 1, 2014 the US State Department published a report, in which it was stated that for first time since the collapse of the USSR, Russia reached parity with the US in the field of strategic nuclear weapons. Thus, Washington admitted that Moscow regained the status that the Soviet Union had obtained by mid-70’s of the XX century and then lost.

According to the report from the State Department, Russia has 528 carriers of 53936strategic nuclear weapons that carry 1,643 warheads. The United States has 794 vehicles and 1,652 nuclear warheads.

It just so happens that today, Russia’s strategic nuclear forces (SNF) are even more advanced in comparison with those of the US, as they ensure parity on warheads with a significantly smaller number of carriers of strategic nuclear weapons. This gap between Russia and the United States may only grow in the future, given the fact that Russian defense officials promised to rearm Russia’s SNF with new generation missiles. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] NATO Sees ‘Significant Buildup’ of Russian Forces in Ukraine

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Large Convoys Reported to be Moving Into the Region

BRUSSELS—Naftali Bendavid reports: Russia has sent convoys of tanks, howitzers and other weaponry along with troops into eastern Ukraine in recent days, possibly aiming to consolidate separatist enclaves there in preparation for a long-term standoff, Western observers say.

The new incursions represent a sharp increase in Russia’s presence in the region, posing a significant new challenge to the peace plan signed in early September in Minsk, Belarus.

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“This is a severe threat to the cease-fire,” the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said. “Any attempt by separatist forces to seize more territory in eastern Ukraine would be another blatant violation of the Minsk agreement.”

The flow “includes Russian artillery, tanks, air defense systems and troops,” he said.

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‘We…are again at a point in which we can’t say for sure how this conflict will proceed.’

—German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier

In addition, international monitors in the region said that the Russian-backed rebels have been gaining territory, and that the mission’s surveillance drones have been shot at and jammed.

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‘While our aim is to try to work to consolidate the cease-fire, it is more on paper.’

Lamberto Zannier, OSCE secretary-general

Russia’s Defense Ministry denied the allegations of a military presence—troops or weaponry—in Ukraine, calling them, like previous ones, “regular concussions of the Brussels air.”

Since the cease-fire was reached between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists on Sept. 5—under Russian auspices—the two sides have regularly accused each other of violations. Hundreds of deaths of fighters and civilians have been recorded since then. Read the rest of this entry »


Marin Katusa: Mysterious Death Of A Top Oil Executive In Moscow Raises Questions

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Marin Katusa writes: Last month, almost no one was talking about oil giant Total SA’s move to cut the U.S. dollar from its energy trade. Now its CEO is dead, and it looks very suspicious.

As I noted just weeks ago:

Patrick de la Chevardière, CFO of Total SA (which is France’s largest energy company), has publicly announced that Total is looking to finance its share in the $27-billion Yamal LNG project using euros, yuan, Russian rubles, and any other currency but US dollars.

The effect of US sanctions was that Yamal LNG [in Russia’s far North] will be prevented from raising any dollar financings,” Patrick de la Chevardière stated in London at a news briefing.

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Patrick de la Chevardière’s boss — the CEO of Total SA and presumably the man who made that decision — was Christophe de Margerie. De Margerie is now dead, along with three crew members aboard his private jet when it collided with a 51cLQpgqUQL._SL250_snowplow just after midnight at Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport. The plow’s driver was drunk, according to Russian investigators, and was seemingly unhurt.

[Check out Marin Katusa’s book “The Colder War: How the Global Energy Trade Slipped from America’s Grasp” at Amazon]

You have more of a chance of being struck by lightning than hitting a plow or any other ground support vehicle.

So… is it a coincidence that the one CEO who prominently broke with the petrodollar is now dead?

In my new book The Colder War, there is a whole section on “suspicious deaths” that have occurred during the current conflict between Vladimir Putin and the West. You don’t want to be on the wrong side of this political stare down, and it doesn’t much matter whether you’re against Putin or against the West. Many have fallen on both sides.

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De Margerie could now be one of them. We may never know for sure.

What we are sure of is that he was outspoken in his support for Putin’s agenda, and believed Russia was a good partner for Europe. He wasn’t afraid to take on the U.S. and its primary support mechanism, the petrodollar. Read the rest of this entry »


How Russian Spies Hacked NATO, Ukraine

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Russian hackers use ‘zero-day’ in cyber-spy campaign

For The Washington PostEllen Nakashima reports: A Russian hacking group probably working for the government has been exploiting a previously unknown flaw in Microsoft’s Windows operating system to spy on NATO, the Ukrainian government, a U.S. university researcher and other national security targets, according to a new report.sandworm-dune

“This is consistent with espionage activity. All indicators from a targeting and lures perspective would indicate espionage with Russian national interests.”

—  iSight Senior Director Stephen Ward

The group has been active since at least 2009, according to research by iSight Partners, a cybersecurity firm.

Its targets in the recent campaign also included a Polish energy firm, a Western European government agency and a French telecommunications firm.

“This is consistent with espionage activity,” said iSight Senior Director Stephen Ward. “All indicators from a targeting and lures perspective would indicate espionage with Russian national interests.”

“The firm began monitoring the hackers’ activity in late 2013 and discovered the vulnerability  in August…The flaw is pres­ent in every Windows operating system from Vista to 8.1, he said, except Windows XP.”

There is no indication that the group was behind a recent spate of intrusions into U.S. banks, including JPMorgan Chase, Ward said.

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“ISight dubbed the recently detected hacking group SandWorm because of references embedded in its code to the science-fiction novel ‘Dune.’ There were various mentions in Russian to the fictional desert planet of Arrakis, for instance.”

Current and former U.S. intelligence officials say the capabilities of Russian hackers are on par with those of the United States and Israel. Read the rest of this entry »


By Proxy: Ukrainians Pull Down Putin’s Pants


The Provocations of Putin: Russian Nuclear Bombers Buzz Alaska, Northern Europe

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Weakness Invites Aggression. Putin’s Only Responding to Passive U.S. Leadership, Happily Accepting the Invitation

Update 5:50 P.M.: This story has been updated to include developing information about the Russian incursion off the coast of Alaska

 reports: Russian strategic nuclear bombers carried out air defense zone incursions near Alaska and across Northern Europe this week in the latest nuclear saber rattling by Moscow.

“They are having a very aggressive nuclear readiness exercise now as a show of force. Whereas the U.S. has been on a path of nuclear zero which they think is ridiculous.”

Six Russian aircraft, including two Bear H nuclear bombers, two MiG-31 fighter jets and two IL-78 refueling tankers were intercepted by F-22 fighters on Wednesday west and north of Alaska in air defense identification zones, said Navy Capt. Jeff A. Davis, a spokesman for the U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command. Two other Bears were intercepted by Canadian jets on Thursday.

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Russia, under Putin, is engaged in a large-scale nuclear buildup that includes new missiles, submarines, and a new bomber.

A day later two more Bear bombers were intercepted by Canadian CF-18 jets in the western area of the Canadian air defense identification zone near the Beaufort Sea, north of Alaska, he said. Read the rest of this entry »


Secretary General of NATO on the Dual Threats

Pro-Russia rebels in Krasnodon in eastern Ukraine, Aug. 17. Associated Press

The Islamic State and Vladimir Putin’s Russia are enemies of liberty, democracy and the rule of law

Anders Fogh Rasmussen writes: The abhorrent beheading of two American journalists and a British aid worker shocked the world. So did the tragic downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine. The deaths of these innocents show the global consequences of two major crises on Europe’s doorstep: the advance of the so-called Islamic State terrorist group across Iraq and Syria, and Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. The peace and security we enjoy in Europe and North America are under threat like never before.

These challenges will last for years, and we need to face that reality.

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With Russia, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has tried long and hard to build a partnership that respects Russia’s security concerns and is based on international rules and norms. Regrettably, Russia has rejected our efforts to engage. Russia has trampled on all the rules and commitments that have kept peace in Europe and beyond since the end of the Cold War. It is now clear that Russia regards the West as an adversary, not a partner.

The terrorist threat is now growing in Syria and Iraq. The Islamic State terrorists are fueling the fire of sectarianism already burning across the Middle East and North Africa, with the risk rising that terror will be exported back to our shores. Read the rest of this entry »


How The West Has Fallen Behind In The New Propaganda Wars

A poster in Sevastopol reading "On March 16 we will choose either... or...", March 13, 2014. Photo by AFP

A poster in Sevastopol reading “On March 16 we will choose either… or…”, March 13, 2014. Photo by AFP

George Dvorsky writes: As Russian troops advance into Ukraine, and as ISIS forces ravage parts of the Middle East, the world is being forced to confront an uncomfortable fact: these belligerents aren’t just winning battles on the ground, they’re also winning over minds. Here’s what propaganda looks like in the 21st century — and how the West has failed to adapt.

Propaganda may seem like an archaic concept, but it’s very much alive and well. The world has changed significantly in the past few decades, as has our means of consuming information. Many state and non-state actors have taken notice, developing new strategies to sway public opinion both at home and abroad, and as a means to further their foreign policy agendas.

The Revival Of State Controlled Media

One area in which Western leaders have most certainly lagged behind is the effective use of media to promote its perspective. Much of this has to do with the independent nature of media in democratic countries; freedom of the press is a much-vaunted institution of free thinking and critical societies who look to the media for unbiased accounts of world events and as a way to hold their governments to account.

But these values aren’t shared at the global scale, particularly in authoritarian states such as China and Russia. Inspired by the state-controlled media of the Soviet regime, President Vladimir Putin is making a concerted effort to “break the monopoly of the Anglo-Saxon mass media” and to “illuminate abroad the state policies” of the Kremlin. To that end, he’s pouring incredible amounts of money into Russian media. The country now invests around $136 million each year just to influence public opinion abroad.

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Russia is currently expanding its foreign broadcaster RT (formerly known as Russia Today) and the Ruptly News Agency. Launched back in 2005, RT is currently available in English, Spanish, and Arabic, and is being positioned as an alternative to Western international media, such as CNN and the BBC. Ruptly is currently working to establish itself as an alternative to Reuters and the Associated Press in providing video coverage.

As noted by Anton Troianovski, “While viewership is relatively small, observers say that by airing increasingly shrill criticism of the West and comments from anti-American conspiracy theorists as well as far-right and far-left Western politicians, RT has sought to undermine the authority of Western media.”

According to Andrew Weiss, the Vice President of studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “We’re in the middle of a relentless propaganda war.” He describes RT as a crucial tool used by Russia to conduct its foreign policy. By using the Internet, newspapers and television — along with the deployment of allegedly neutral journalists and pundits dispatched around the world — the Kremlin is effectively propagating its position.

Currently, RT reaches out to more than 644 million people worldwide, and as a state-influenced organization, it can slip messages about Russian policy into its programming (a good example can be found here). Looking ahead, Russia plans on expanding its Berlin office from two staff members to 30. It has also adopted a $39 million budget for expansion into French.

Misinformation Campaigns

By using the media and other information channels, the Russian Federation has relentlessly and effectively conveyed it’s own narrative on unfolding events. Its startling ability to control information has become a critical tactic in its current efforts to annex portions of Ukraine and to influence events in the Middle East. Read the rest of this entry »


Prophet? Or Just Read a Book or Two

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It isn’t so much that former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was a prophet. Just that he had read a book or two.

From last week’s Hot Air, Noah Rothman writes:

…In 2012, Romney called it “troubling” and “alarming” that Barack Obama had essentially appeased the Russian bear by offering concessions like the withdrawal of interceptor missile and radar installations in Eastern Europe without reciprocity from Moscow. He said that Russia’s actions have made that nation “without question, our number one geopolitical foe.”

This prompted a flood of scorn and mockery from a raft of self-assured critics. But by 2014, after Russia had frustrated America’s ambition to contain the Syrian civil war, invaded neighboring Ukraine, and unilaterally annexed a portion of that nation’s territory into Russia proper, nearly all of Romney’s self-respecting critics were forced to concede that he had a point. Read the rest of this entry »


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