Gordon Campbell on Vladimir Putin’s wonderful, fabulous, very good year

Safe to say that no-one, but no-one has had a better 2016 than Vladimir Putin. What an annus mirabilis it has been for him. Somehow, Russia got away with directly interfering in the US election process, such that a friendly oligarch that Putin can do business with – ie someone he can flatter, cajole and induce – is about to take up residence in the White House, rather than a genuine rival. Why, Putin has been eating the Russian versions of Donald Trump for breakfast for the past 15 years.

As the satirist Stephen Colbert mused last week, who would have thought that the US election would be won by a Washington outsider who no one really thought had a serious chance of ending up running the country: namely, Vladimir Putin.

Foreign policy is working out nicely elsewhere for the Russian leader, too. Who talks about Ukraine, or Crimea these days – except to poke fun at Putin’s enemies in Kiev or to lament the betrayal of the Maidan Revolution?

The Middle East is falling into line, too. In Syria, Russia’s sudden entry into the civil war in September 2015 seems about to culminate in the fall of east Aleppo to the forces of Russia’s ally, Bashar al-Assad.

Huh. So much for the Americans, and their feeble claims that the Syrian civil war couldn’t be won militarily. At a terrible cost in civilian lives, Putin proved otherwise in 2016, such that any final Syrian resolution will be on his and Assad’s terms. Europe? That’s lining up particularly nicely for Moscow, too. The right wing’s chosen candidate Francois Fillon looks set to become the next President of France, and Fillon has a long track record of sympathy for Putin’s foreign policy adventures.

Fillon has consistently backed Russia in Syria since 2012, saying Moscow could be instrumental in resolving the conflict and refraining from calling for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s removal until the Islamic State is defeated. In 2013, Fillon was a guest of the Valdai forum, which Putin and his foreign policy elite use to communicate Russia’s policy views to Western experts; apart from calling for cooperation in Syria, he expressed hope that Europe would soon abolish short-term visas for Russia — something that’s not even on the agenda today.

Fillon has also been fervently against economic sanctions against Russia following Putin’s Crimean escapade. In April, Fillon welcomed a French parliament resolution that called for lifting the sanctions. He called them “inept and strategically devastating for our farmers” as well as counterproductive. Russia, along with France, is involved in fighting the Islamic State, he reasoned.

The UK has sidelined itself by its Brexit decision, which has been another free gift to Putin. That leaves only Germany’s Angela Merkel as an obstacle in Europe, and she will be facing a tough fight for re-election next year. Of course, there are well-meaning people who think that the West’s election of Putin-friendly leaders will actually reduce the prospect of a major shooting war. Unfortunately, there is another way of looking at it. As Noah Smith of Bloomberg News recently pointed out, the world’s three Great Powers – the US, Russia, and China – are now headed by individuals of a remarkably similar personality type, and with the same penchant for centralising power in their own hands:

With the election of Trump, all three of the Great Powers now have a strongman at the helm. Xi Jinping’s power is unprecedented since the days of Mao, Putin’s since the days of Stalin, and Trump’s… well, we’ll see. Strongmen are decisive and can get thing done, but they’re also unpredictable. A strongman may be for peace one day and war the next. What’s more, strongmen tend to have big egos. Trump is friends with Putin today, but what happens if the two alpha males get into a pissing contest?

What’s more, the number of flashpoints between the Great Powers is increasing. Russia has rattled its sabre at the NATO-protected Baltics, and China has steadily ratcheted up its attempts to claim the whole South China Sea.

Let’s hope that Putin quickly learns how to read the traffic signals at the Trump White House, because they’re likely to go from red to green to red again quite rapidly. During the election campaign for instance, Trump all but gave Putin the green light to invade the Baltic states, by indicating that NATO’s mutual protection obligations should apply in future only on a pay-for-play basis, according to whether the countries facing invasion had been sufficiently uncritical of US foreign policy in the past. If Putin did take those signals at face value and invade Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania, he would find himself in exactly the sort of alpha male contest that a less erratic US leader might have avoided. Ditto if China misreads the extent of the newly declared US isolationism, when it comes to flexing its ownership rights in the South China Sea. Basically… like the bully in the bar, Trump is all but inviting his rivals to test his mettle.

That test will happen, soon enough. So lets enjoy 2016, while we can. Next year may be quite hard on the nerves. BTW, in the unlikely event in France that the ultra-rightist Marine Le Pen beats Francois Fillon, Putin can feel pretty relaxed about that outcome, too. Here, from Le Monde a year ago, are the two Le Pens, daughter and father, expressing their joint appreciation of the Russian leader.

Keep that in mind at Christmas time. There are people out there who think that the rise of Vladimir Putin offers the world a chance for peace in our time.

Footnote to Fidel

As Havana gears itself up for the funeral of Fidel Castro, a predictable barrage of abuse – Castro was a blood soaked tyrant, another socialist failure akin to Pol Pot, Stalin and Mao etc – has been coming from Castro’s critics in Miami, and from elsewhere on the right. Such comparisons are absurd. Castro’s human rights record. while hardly perfect, bears no comparison with a Pol Pot, whom incidentally New Zealand and the US chose to support in the UN even after his crimes were well known and even after Vietnam had invaded Cambodia and toppled the tyrant. At the time, the West was keen to curry favour with Pol Pot’s main remaining backer, China.

In addition, the scale of Castro’s excesses were no match for the hideous human rights abuses committed by the Washington-blessed champions of capitalism in the immediate region – i.e. dictators such as Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, Videla in Argentina, Pinochet in Chile, Duvalier in Haiti, Rios Montt in Guatemala, Somoza in Nicaragua, Duarte in El Salvador etc etc. Yesterday, the London Review of Books carried an interesting commentary on the scale of Castro’s human rights abuses:

Amnesty International counted 216 completed death sentences in Cuba between Castro’s coming to power and 1987; the figure may be much higher when extrajudicial killings are included. It is however a clean-hands fantasy to think that political actors could simply have implemented a liberal democracy in Cuba at the time of the revolution against Batista’s kleptocracy, which John F. Kennedy credited with 20,000 political murders during the dictatorship of 1952-59. Castro began as a land reformer, but various forces, US policy not least among them, pushed him towards ideological complicity with Marxism and geopolitical complicity with Moscow. Non-alignment on the Bandung model was hardly an option.

‘It is no wonder,’ Kennedy said in a presidential campaign speech in October 1960, ‘that during these years of American indifference’ – under Batista – ‘the Cuban people began to doubt the sincerity of our dedication to democracy.’ Elsewhere in the speech Kennedy lambasted the Eisenhower administration’s record on Cuba, noting that at the start of 1959, US companies owned 40 per cent of Cuban sugar plantations, 80 per cent of the country’s utilities and most of its cattle ranches, mines and oil businesses. US arms funnelled to Batista were ‘justified in the name of hemispheric defence’, Kennedy said, but ‘their only real use was to crush the dictator’s opposition.’

As the LRB concludes, if the US is really interested in bringing imprisonment without trial (and the torture of those in custody) to an end on the island of Cuba, it should close its prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Song For Putin

As parodies go, this one is a bit OTT, but it does an amusing enough job of extolling the range of Vladimir Vladimirovich’s exceptional abilities. Russia still needs him, even though he’s 64.

And if you want to know where some of those parodic elements came from, here’s the Red Army Choir gradually working its way into a full blown Cossack table dancing frenzy:

16 Comments on Gordon Campbell on Vladimir Putin’s wonderful, fabulous, very good year

  1. Really Gordon?
    You’re buying in to the laughable notion that Putin somehow interfered in the American elections. Try reading Glenn Greenwald’s article on the new Mccarthyism., and the attempt to smear any criticism of the Democrats with the Putinist label.
    You could also try Andrew Cockburn, Washington editor of Harper’s magazine .He’s written a piece called “Did the Russian government interfere in the American elections?”The answer is no, with a lot more substance underlying that conclusion than any of the assertions proposing the opposite.
    And seriously , do you really think Russia wants to invade the Baltics when they already have enough on their hands supporting Crimea and propping up the Donbass region because Kiev with held all pensions and severed all responsibilities early on.
    Incidentally , speaking of Cuba, Russia forgave them of some billions debt in 2014
    I’m not so sure these leaders you cite are “Putin friendly”. They merely wish for an easing of tensions with Russia, and why not?
    No mention of the sabre rattling done by NATO, all in the service of arms manufacture, and job retention.
    Next you’ll be publishing lists of online news sites under the svengali like influence of Vladimir Putin

  2. Gordon my friend,
    You need to start getting your “fake news” from other than the Washington Post and the New York Times. There is no credible evidence that “Russia got away with directly interfering in the US election process”. This claim, repeated ad nausea by Hilary Clinton sycophants, is just without factual evidence. Prove to me otherwise.
    Also Gordon, calling the conflict in Syria a “civil war” is unconscionable coming from someone with your geo-political knowledge. It’s right from the start been a proxy war being fought on behalf of Israel and the US to oust Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad from power. Another despicable plan by the US for Regime change. ISIS was created by the US. financed and armed by the Anglo Zionists.
    Also Gordon, maybe centralizing power in Russia and China with Xi Jinping’s and Putin as leaders will be a pleasant change from the centralized power of US leaders since WWII who have claimed they say over 20 million lives, and destroyed dozens of countries in the US’s imperial drive for World hegemony. Couldn’t be any worse, eh?
    To say that “Russia has rattled its sabre at the NATO-protected Baltics, and China has steadily ratcheted up its attempts to claim the whole South China Sea’, again just shows that you falling for the propaganda of the Western MSM.
    But Gordon, your five paragraphs on Fidel Castro are 100% on the money. You got something right today.

  3. Dennis Merwood. Couldn’t have said it better. Gordons getting lazy as he gets older. So much easier to swallow the latest MSM memes than to read around and look for intelligent explanations for world events or to look for context to puzzling actions by global powers. His stuff on Castro is an example of material from when he was good at doing investigative stuff.

  4. I have to say I was shocked to read such a twisted reality mash-up of mainstream propaganda from you Gordon. Quite unexpected. I’ll keep you bookmarked for now but will watch this space with great care. Especially around topics less familiar to me than this. Please keep up the good work and research Syria once more. Check Ex-president Carter’s view on the US empire and Chomsky re Syria for a start.

  5. Like Dennis and Andrew, I’m not buying the new Red Scare tactics (acknowledging ‘Red’ no longer applies) coming out of US msm and Clinton campaign allies. While certainly not a Vlad fan, I’m surprised Gordon feels able to work his way through the claims and counter-claims around Russia and American politics with enough confidence to declare this direct influence took place. I’ve been reading pretty widely on this, from left to msm to right, and I’m a long way from convinced. This column also seems to go so far as to suggest were it not for this “interference”, Trump would not have won. Really?! What about all the other “reasons” being thrown around, like racism, misogyny etc. (I don’t actually buy those either)? What about Clinton winning the popular vote? How di Vladimir arrange it so well? What about the Senate, House, governerships and state houses? Neither a Clinton nor a Trump supporter, I’m a dual US/Kiwi who voted for Jill Stein in a safe Democratic state (i.e. it didn’t matter much), it’s surely time for those of us on the liberal left (though I’m rapidly wanting to ditch the ‘liberal’) to take some ownership of these elections whose outcomes we apparently don’t like. We’ve spent so much time shaming both those on our own side (or potential allies) as well as our opponents about how racist, sexist, —phobic they are, we somehow gave up on the core issues of economic justice and peace. To even begin to think Clinton would have seriously tackled this is, ki ōku nei whakaaro, a mistake. So “we” (well, not me, I didn’t support her) lost. And still we go on blaming someone or something else. Putin (which is another way of telling voters they’re stupid), —ism, —phobia. When will we learn?

  6. Gordon, please read more widely than the Washington Post or the Guardian
    Try Glenn Greenwald of the Intercept on the new McCarthyism, or Andrew Cockburn of Harpers magazine for a well researched piece”Did the Russian government interfere in the American elections?”Answer…no…with a great deal more substance to back his thesis up than the fact free assertions in the partisan US press
    Disappointing article by you

  7. Gordon, regrettably you are in the old paradigm with zero understanding of geopolitics. I interviewed Dr Helen Caldicott of Physicians for Social Responsibility for 54 minutes – 2 weeks ago. This is what she said:
    Malcolm Fraser ex Australian conservative Prime Minister, before he died in 2015 stated, that the then Soviet Leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, when negotiating with James Baker, on behalf of US President Ronald Reagan that when he brought down the Wall, freed up Eastern Europe and dissolved the Soviet Union that in doing so NATO should not move one foot East, or closer to Russia as this was an area of traditional Russian influence. But President Clinton pushed to expand the Nato alliance to the very borders of Russia. There was talk of the Ukraine and Georgia being included. The US BROKE THIS AGREEMENT – and then installed missiles in Poland frightening the Russians to rearm – and yet it is the Russians that are to blame for rearming! This is Helen’s words and is absolutely correct.

    She said “ NATO is America” – let’s be frank. The enlargement of NATO since the Berlin War came down, was orchestrated by Norman Augustine who was the chairman of Lockheed Martin and he went to the newly liberated countries from the Soviet Union and asked them if they wanted to be a democracy?

    Even though in Helen’s words, America is an autocracy, Dictionary meaning. absolutism, absolute power, totalitarianism, dictatorship, despotism, tyranny, monocracy, autarchy; dystopia.

    They apparently agreed but to become part of NATO they had to re-arm to the tune of 3 billion dollars – so that the US Military Industrial apparatus, could then sell more weapons to them and by enlarging NATO creep all the way up to the border of Russia.

    So, in Helen’s words, they could then provoke Russia and moreover tell the world that Russia is very aggressive. When is it is not.

    If you read Putin’s speeches they are very moderate and conciliatory and he is really worried. Thus America has the absolute gall that now these ‘Neo cons’ in the State Department are talking about regime change in Russia.

    If you wish to get up to speed and be the leading edge of the 21st Century please try: http://www.paulcraigroberts.org – Dr. Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy under President Ronald Reagan and associate editor of the Wall Street Journal. He will confirm the above.

  8. Oh, Gordon! Drinking the Kool-aid like a true Hillarybot! I suppose you are still convinced that Saddam had nukes and vast stockpiles of other WMDs because the Americans told you so and the NY Times confirmed it, and how could they ever say anything that wasn’t conclusively proven? To pretend that the Americans know that Russia did any of the hacking at any time during the US election season is to fool yourself. If the Americans really did believe what they say, would they not have retaliated and done so big time? It’s because they don’t know if Russia did it rather than China, Israel, or a couple of kids in Singapore, that they did nothing to Russia or anyone else. Yes, Biden threatened to retaliate, but you’ll notice that never happened. It’s because it was all propaganda to distract from the content of the leaked documents: the sabotaging of Sanders by the DNC, Podesta people rounding up all the most compromising stuff in Hillary’s undestroyed emails in order to know what they might have to spin (or deflect, e.g. blaming it all on Putin), and so on and on.
    You really need to rethink the Russia situation. The US promised not to expand NATO one inch to the east and broke the promise. It then promised not to militarize the new NATO areas and broke that one too. It unilaterally abrogated the ABM treaty. It promised Georgia admission into NATO and encouraged it to violate a UN brokered cease fire agreement by attacking Ossetia. The US then tried to get NATO to approve bringing Ukraine into NATO but Germany and France knew that would be such a red flag in the face of Russia that they refused to go along. To assuage the US for their momentary defiance, the Europeans offered economic integration to the Ukrainians. The Russians couldn’t tolerate that either, so the US orchestrated a coup (Victoria Nuland was even caught on Wikileaks saying who the new PM would be once the elected President was overthrown). The coupsters included unreconstructed Ukranian nazis (the ones behind the Azov Battalion), who announced their intention to turn Sebastopol into a NATO base. The Russians couldn’t tolerate that and so they took Crimea.
    In the meantime, the Urkanian army has been shelling rebel cities and villages, killing some 10,000 mainly pro-Russian civilians in the process. And the Ukrainian government has proven even more corrupt than its predecessor and is wholly dependent on its fascist supporters.
    Russia with France and Germany signed the Minsk II agreement with the parties to the Ukraine conflict to bring peace and establish a new federal system in the country that could meet the needs of the culturally Russian Ukrainians in the south east. The US refused to sign on to Minsk II and has encouraged the Ukrainian side not to comply, which it hasn’t. And that’s where we are today.
    Annexing Ukraine may not be kosher in international law terms, but the Russians defy anyone to say how it is different from what the US did with Kosovo: in both cases a part of a country was detached from the country against the wishes of its government and the majority of the population because of a referendum held only in that part not the whole the country, under the supervision of a foreign power.
    As for Russia’s imperial ambitions, think again: who has militarized who’s borders? I don’t see any Russian missile launchers in Toronto or Mexicali or indeed anywhere outside Russia itself. The US navy is steaming off the Russian Baltic coasts including destroyers and other ships with missiles on them that are supposedly defensive but could easily be armed with nukes that could destroy Russia in minutes. NATO has also put nuke-capable missile launchers in Romania and plans to do so in Poland. The Russians are rightly scared shitless. Is it any wonder that they are doing everything they can to advertise the cost they can inflict on anyone who attacks them? Remember too who the last power was that massed military might on the Russian frontiers and you begin to comprehend the other side to this business that you don’t see in the mainstream press. If you really want to learn, read constoriumnews, East-West accord, and listen to Stephen Cohen on the John Batchelor podcast (most Wednesdays).

  9. Dennis
    Do you have any hard evidence that ” ISIS was created by the US. financed and armed by the Anglo Zionists.” that you can refer me to.

  10. Putin( EX KGB) a high level Royal Freemason with Richard Tomlinson was initiated in the Royal Arch as were all MI6 members – which was apparently identical with the KGB: Vladimir Putin and the other KGB Royal Arch Freemasons were educated alongside with Tomlinson.
    The Big Breach, book by ex-MI6 officer Richard Tomlinson
    Putin has always been an insider, an oligarchy puppet as you can now see . Don’t forget the accelerated conflict and bombing in the Syrian conflict (Russia coordination with Washington).

  11. Xi Jinping, Trump and Putin, all selected by the global banking cabal that chose your bankster PM( and Australia’s ) too.

    One big oligarchy war machine.
    Boogieman ‘ISIS’ Funded by Washington arm of the war machine through the World bank.
    Divide and conquer.
    Create “fake news and fake opposition” , maintaining control of both sides.
    The media fear mongers ” nukes” and so people become afraid of their own imagination.
    People that are afraid are easily controlled for in a state of stress/fear just do not have reasoning minds.

  12. @Ric….Do you have any hard evidence that ” ISIS was created by the US. financed and armed by the Anglo Zionists.” that you can refer me to.

    Ric, read this article today in Consortiumnews.

    an excerpt….
    “Jeb Bush is partially right about ISIS; it didn’t exist when his brother George attacked Iraq. Indeed, Al Qaeda didn’t exist in Iraq until after the U.S. invasion when it emerged as “Al Qaeda in Iraq” and it wasn’t eliminated by the “surge.”
    With huge sums of U.S. cash going to Sunni tribes in Anbar province, Al Qaeda in Iraq just pulled back and regrouped. Its top leaders came from the ranks of angry Sunnis who had been officers in Saddam Hussein’s army and – when the “surge” failed to achieve reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites – the U.S. cash proved useful in expanding Sunni resistance to Baghdad’s Shiite government. From the failed “surge” strategy emerged the rebranded “Al Qaeda in Iraq,” the Islamic State.
    So, despite Jeb Bush’s attempted spin, the reality is that his brother’s aggressive war in Iraq created both “Al Qaeda in Iraq” and its new incarnation, Islamic State.
    The mess was made worse by subsequent U.S. strategy – beginning under Bush and expanding under President Obama – of supporting insurgents in Syria. By supplying money, guns and rockets to “moderate” Sunni rebels, that strategy has allowed the materiel to quickly fall into the hands of Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Nusra Front, and its jihadist allies, Ahrar al-Sham.
    In other words, U.S. strategy – much of it guided by David Petraeus – continues to strengthen Al Qaeda, which – through its Nusra affiliate and its Islamic State spin-off – now occupies large swaths of Iraq and Syria.”

  13. For bad loser Hilary Clinton & co. to use the Reds under the Bed nonsense about Russia influencing or hacking the US Election is just plain laziness and an insult to the average Scoop reader. The Russians must be just loving the attention as it highlights the sheer uselessness of all the spy agencies supposedly listening in and keeping track of the internet/electronic activity – clearly the NSA, CIA, FBI and whatever other three letter money wasting intelligence outfit aren’t up to the job. Plus even the USA rust-belt and mid-west voters can see right through that load of invented trash (aka fake mainstream news).
    That video – weird.
    I agree with the rest though, Putin just can’t help himself to be pleased with the mess the West has got itself into, he doesn’t have to do anything – just chuckle and gloat and bide his time.
    Trump seized on the fact that the American tax payer has paid for Europe’s protection for decades and Western Europe has abused this generosity and taken it for granted. Clearly Europe’s political elite have been living in their own invented fantasy world (somewhere between Strasbourg and Brussels) and decided to unstable themselves with lunatic mass immigration policies and bizarre social engineering experiments.
    I think Trump is totally right to remove military support unless the USA gets paid in full before they turn up – if Europe has to pay and organise their own defence not one iota of the craziness of countrywide fear, mass sexual assaults, and social breakdown would have occurred.

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