Reading on Russia Roundup #47

MCIS 2017: Cooperation Lost in Translation (Russian Military Reform)

This year the conference attempted to balance a confrontational tone with offerings of cooperation, in particular on counterterrorism, which was the overall theme for the event. But judging from much of the discussion, the real topic should have been information warfare, which not only made its debut at this conference, but permeated many of the talking points. “Fake news,” “post-truth world” and numerous other terms in the modern discourse on information warfare were sprinkled throughout speeches, with a separate panel dedicated to the topic. “Information war” had clearly arrived in a big way, and not just because nobody could stop looking at their smartphone during the conference.

Sally Yates Failed to Land a Blow (The National Interest)

Sally Yates didn’t reveal much that was new in her testimony to a Senate Judiciary subcommittee. But she has arguably invented an entirely new genre of political spectacle: the news remix. Taking elements already well known to the public, Yates added a personal touch of drama and defiance, and the result was a fresh spate of headlines.

Afghanistan Syndrome: Blaming the Russians, Again (Mark Ames)

You can’t admit you’re failing in a lost cause, you need to scare Washington, to make them think they’ll be in trouble if they don’t fork over the public’s money. As you can guess, finding that bogeyman isn’t exactly rocket science.

Bacevich on 24 Key Issues that Neither the Washington Elite Nor the Media Consider Worth Their Bother (Ambassador Jack F. Matlock)

Donald Trump’s election has elicited impassioned affirmations of a renewed commitment to unvarnished truth-telling from the prestige media.  The common theme:  you know you can’t trust him, but trust us to keep dogging him on your behalf.  The New York Times has even unveiled a portentous new promotional slogan: “The truth is now more important than ever.” For its part, the Washington Post grimly warns that “democracy dies in darkness,” and is offering itself as a source of illumination now that the rotund figure of the 45th president has produced the political equivalent of a total eclipse of the sun. Meanwhile, National Public Radio fundraising campaigns are sounding an increasingly panicky note: give, listener, lest you be personally responsible for the demise of the Republic that we are bravely fighting to save from extinction.

If only it were so.  How wonderful it would be if President Trump’s ascendancy had coincided with a revival of hard-hitting, deep-dive, no-holds-barred American journalism.  Alas, that’s hardly the case.

Sharon Tennison on checking our beliefs and Oliver Stone’s upcoming “documentary” “PUTIN”

Dear Friends,
Polls and news indicate that Americans see VVPutin as a grave danger to the current world order and Russia as the greatest threat to our nation. If this is so, it may be because of the repetitious hammering of these points day and night in mainstream TV and print news by people who have not set foot in Russia for years, if ever.  But are they accurate?
Tomorrow, May 10th,  30 business and professional Americans travel to ten cities across Russia to checkout these assertions. Our first day’s meetings in Moscow include a sit-down with former President Mikhail Gorbachev, then a range of experts and specialists over the next four days days ending with Vladimir Pozner, Russia’s iconic TV personality (who doesn’t support a number of Putin’s views). The 30 delegates were asked what questions they would like to have answered by each VIP. The questions were then sent to each of the presenters, including President Gorbachev––in an attempt to get maximum learning extracted from each meeting.
After Moscow, we go to 10 regional cities from Novosibirsk out in Siberia and south into the Crimean cities plus several others, where we will meet with business and professional counterparts and a range of local people including Russian Rotarians in most cities.  This trip has no cultural program. It was created solely to meet Russian citizens at all levels and holding discussions to learn their attitudes and concerns regarding relations between our countries.   We can’t predict outcomes of our venture with the supposed “enemy” people, but are eager to get this experiment underway.  What will happen, if due to direct exposure, we find ourselves shifting some of our beliefs?  Who knows?
Changing beliefs is extremely difficult for individuals and nations; both have so much invested in what has been believed and promoted as truth in the past.  History is replete with peoples and leaders who promoted beliefs that bore no relationship to the truth during their eras. It has taken years for some of these truths to surface – but many will remain occluded forever.
However, today is decidedly different: communications are instant and out in the public. Tweets carry short truths (or untruths) around the world in seconds. More people are realizing that something is amiss and are questioning. Then along comes giants like Oliver Stone who labors to get current beliefs examined and truths unveiled for public consumption––so they can be debated in public forums across the time zones. I’ve not seen Stone’s “Putin” documentary, but it may corroborate my experience and research into the topic. With luck, Stone’s “Putin” could burrow into Americas’ belief systems and cause many (like our group) to begin making personal inquiries.
Our world has come to an unprecedented crisis of late over unverified accusations and highly questionable policies.  To our embarrassment, VVPutin has checkmated a number of them, i.e., for one, getting Assad to give up his chemical weapons to avoid U.S. air strikes on Syria. This fact and others, make Putin enemy #1 for those intent on regime changing and  maintaining unipolar world status––which can no longer be assured except through subjugation and worldwide military might.
Stone’s documentary comes at a prescient moment: aggressions, tensions and ungrounded beliefs have fulminated against Putin and Russia to heights previously unknown. At the same time, we in America are in a slow decline and searching for ways to guarantee our hegemony.
As a nation we need to realize that eventually all Great Powers rise, plateau and again take their place among other nations; and others rise … this is inevitable. We watched the British Empire go through this process in the 20th century. How we deal with this dilemma in the near future will be the measure of America’s real worth to the world at large and to ourselves. Fortunately there are no nations around that aspire to unipolarity, but many that hold a glimmer of hope for multipolarity. The critical thing for us in America is to make our own nation as good as possible, from the inside out––regardless of unipolar or multipolar status. We must again believe in and promote truth, fair play and seek the common good for our planet––of which we have lost sight in recent years. Yes, we will need to shift economic expectations and begin to reassess our “beliefs” about who and what we are as a nation.
Friends, think about what “beliefs” really are: they are not some holy writ!  Beliefs are ephemeral. They are made up of subconscious impressions and fears from childhood, heroes from history and comic books, good or bad parenting, our levels of education, the TV we watched, the mindsets of others in our lives, fears and apprehensions we hold deep in the gut … and above all our decades of “self talk.”
Our beliefs are burp-ups, distillations from our unconscious.  Some get melded into political “beliefs” which we tend to consider them sancrosanct.  We hold onto these beliefs tenaciously as though they are inspired utterings. We are willing to lose friends, and some in our Congress are ready to promote a nuclear war over them. It’s quite insane come to think about it!
As for Stone’s latest documentary, let us heed his advice: “It’s very important that we hear what Putin has to say,” compared to what is being conjured up about his character in U.S. mainstream media …  all of which drifts into the inner vaults of our unconsciously-held belief systems, whether it is fake news or somebody elses’ exaggerations or rumors.
Excuse my harping on “beliefs” — but as I see it, they are central to today’s extremely dangerous international dilemma.
Watch for reports coming out as we travel across Russia, hopefully gathering information that will be useful for us all.


  1. Really good collection of news/analytics, truly deserving to enter into some kind of diamond platinum collection of “Russia Roundups: The Best”.

    If you go all the way to Koffman’s full version of the article on the National Interest there is the following:

    “Despite the fire and brimstone, the Russian leadership did signal a desire to reengage with the United States, while compartmentalizing other issues in the relationship, but it was presented on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. Moscow did not come off as desperate to cooperate, but if anything as more firm. Fighting ISIS together was the focal point of Russian commentary on prospective cooperation with the United States, but these points came with reproaches on violating countries’ sovereignty, and the recent cruise missile strike in Syria, which was termed a crude violation of international law. It seemed that Russian officials were trying to speak from a position of strength.”

    I’ve been saying as much since… forever. But the narrative of “Russia is desperate to lift the sanctions!” (which presupposes that the sanctions were, indeed, working, and that Obama was, therefore, stronK and wise) is still reigning supreme, ’cause it offers a balm to, ah, hearted body parts of certain politically opinionated people.

    On a personal note, about “Rotarians” (i.e. Sharon Tennison and her folks) visiting Russia. Really – I see no reason for that. Getting a real perspective about present day Russia talking with Gorby (hated by the vast majority of the people of the former USSR) or the crappy liberal Pozner (who never masked his Russophobia and opposition to the “Regime”, no matter that he works for the “state controlled” Channel One). Once again, they plan to visit the “members of civil society”, i.e. the same old 5% consisting of shy and modest members of intelligenzia, urbanites and kreakls. How this will give them an understanding why the Russians keep voting for Putin and EdRo is beyond me. Guess, they are more after seeking someone like them class-wise.

    I’d like to remind you, that both the USA and the Ukraine consider Crimea to be “occupied” by Russia. As we could have noticed recently, both the SBU and “vigilant citizens” of the Ukraine are keeping track of all those who dare to enter the peniunsula in avoidance of the proper procedures, i.e. via Ukrainian territory. The “illegal trespassers” are publicly outed and often placed on the notorious Mirotvorets site. Already several delegations of the European politicians (some of them EU Parliament members) drew Kiev’s ire and official denounciation.

    Not the “Rotaries” though.

    Sharon Tennison and her organization did a lot of stuff in Russia, some of it obviously good – like buying computers for the orphanages. The only quibble here is that her organization’s initiatives are funded directly via USAID – an organization classified as “undesirable” on Russian soil since 2012. Since then, the fact of being funded by the USAID are viewed by Russian Persecution Office as enough reason to deem such grant recipient as the “foreign agent” – with the chance of upgrading this status to the “undesirable organization” in the future.

    Nowhere does Sharon (or Natalye for that matter) mention, how in February 2016 she and her another fellow “Rotarian” were detained in Volgograd for the violation of visa’s regime. Instead of promised “tourism” she was engaged in the organizing mutual projects with the local businesses. Namely to create a coordination council on “cooperation” between the local civil society, businesses and the administration (i.e. what is covered by the “political activity”). They were fined 2000 rubles and the allowed time of their vises had been cut.

    “Rotary Club” has about 60 chapter houses in Russia (11 in Moscow, 4 in St. Petersburg). Their existence became possible only thanks to successful lobbying to Gorby himself. Among the (in)famous Russian Rotarians were former mayor of Moscow Yuriy Liuzhkov, former mayor of St. Petersburg late Anatoliy Sobchak and former owner of NTV 90s mega oligarch Vladimir Gusinsky, a member of “semibankirschina”. Handshakable list, indeed.

    Sanctions and other stuff seem to be not affecting Mrs. Tennison’s activity in Russia – and Crimea.

    Suddenly, if you are, like me, paranoid enough, some things start making sense. Of course they have no desire to really get to know “Real Russia” – they are, indeed, all for establishing their “lodges” and contacts among those, whom they view as the “local elites” to further only them known aims. Sorry, but I do not believe even for one sec that they indeed just want to “build a civil society”, or “forge links between the nations via citizen diplomacy”.

    And I have enough reasons to be suspicious:

    “In 1994, as a member of Peace Corps volunteers, Mr. Blanco arrived in the Nizhny Novgorod region to help build a market economy in our land. The first thing the “bachelor of management” did was to open in Nizhny Novgorod a branch of the international organization Rotary Club. This club was established more than a hundred years ago in the United States. Its main task is to unite the business elite of all nations for close cooperation.

    However, experts say that this club is often used by the US special services for the legal collection of classified information. In this regard, the Nizhny Novgorod branch of “Rotary” was no exception. Blanco was able to draw into the membership of the club prominent Nizhny Novgorod businessmen and directors of defense enterprises. And very soon these people began to be courted by the Americans of a very specific profession.

    So, the meetings of the club were repeatedly visit by some Theodore Wilson and Kenneth Nots. Both were intelligence servicemen from the United States. These guys behaved quite brazenly. At one of the club meetings, they directly invited one of the leaders of the Sokol aircraft factory to give them secret data on the military aircraft produced by the enterprise. And in 1996, Blanco made an attempt to organize a meeting of directors of Nizhny Novgorod defense factories with the US Air Force Attaché David Johnson.

    The attaché allegedly offered profitable investments to our “defensemen”. Directors immediately realized that for investments from the US they were clearly required to provide certain services, which did not exactly strengthen Russian defenses. They were also baffled by the personality of the negotiating partner. Military attaché of any state is essentially a spy under diplomatic cover, and, except for purely intelligence information, this type of people usually do not care of anything else. Naturally, a scandal broke out. The meeting with the attaché fell through, and Mr. Adam Blanco was asked to leave the country… And now he is back in Russia.

    As we know, today he works in the structure of the United States Agency for International Development. The Russian branch of the Agency is located in the building of the American Embassy, notably, apart from other embassy units. It is not surprising, because the Agency is a cover for several intelligence services of the United States having very specific tasks: penetration into various spheres of Russian life – from politics to economics. People from the Agency have repeatedly been exposed in the transfer of money to Russian opposition parties and human rights organizations, in collecting information about the Russian defense potential, in industrial espionage, etc. As for Blanco himself, he is reportedly responsible for working with enterprises Our small business. And first of all with those of them who are involved in servicing military orders.

    Small businessmen are given preferential loans, which then need to be worked out. Including detailed information about their activities. Perhaps, in this way, Blanco also credits Nizhny Novgorod businessmen. In any case, knowledgeable people say that he is still very interested in the life of the Nizhny Novgorod region.”

    Maybe it is true and Mrs. Tennison is indeed a wide-eyed idealist who wants to change the world for the better. But she appears too clueless in doing so and her organization appears (at least – to me) as a perfect front for a spy-op.

    P.S. Rotary Club’s symbology:

    Not suspicious. At all. Noooooooope!


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