Hat Tip: BB
Hat Tip: BB
Hat Tip: BB
By: Cliff Kincaid
Accuracy in Media
Businessman Bill Browder, who ran an investment fund in Russia called Hermitage Capital Management, told “60 Minutes” in February that “The Russian regime is a criminal regime. We’re dealing with a nuclear country run by a bunch of Mafia crooks.” In a more recent interview with this writer, he had some words for those American conservatives embracing Vladimir Putin as a spokesman for family values.
“If you want to talk about family values, go talk to the Magnitsky family about what happened to their family, as a result of Vladimir Putin’s evil,” he said.
Sergei Magnitsky, the attorney for Browder’s firm in Russia, was imprisoned and then killed by Russian authorities in 2009. He had uncovered official corruption involving the theft of $230 million.
Browder says people who find some good in Putin “ignore the fact that he is a stone-cold killer and kills for money…”
Browder, the grandson of Earl Browder, former head of the Communist Party USA, has a unique perspective, having invested in Russia when it appeared that the old Soviet system was dying, and that capitalism was taking root. The Magnitsky case became a concrete manifestation of how Putin and his group of former KGB officers were looting the country and consolidating their power.
Putin, he said, acts on the basis of a “Mafia principle” of “extracting as much money as possible from the state and staying in power and keeping that money.”
The invasion of Ukraine has been a wake-up call that the Kremlin is not to be trusted. Moscow, after all, had signed an agreement that was supposed to guarantee the country’s territorial integrity.
But Browder, in a telephone interview, said he believes Putin’s invasion of Ukraine doesn’t stem from some communist master plan to remake the USSR. Rather, he believes it was a reaction to the overthrow of his corrupt ally, President Viktor Yanukovych, whose luxurious presidential home in Ukraine included artificial lakes, a private zoo, golden toilets, a huge garage full of cars and motorbikes, and a new golf course.
“Vladimir Putin is a verified kleptocrat,” Browder says. “He has spent most of the last 12 years stealing as much money as he could, registered in the names of his friends. As he has done this, the Russian people have received no economic benefit from the rising oil and commodity prices. So after a certain period of time people started getting angry, and about two years ago, when Putin came back as president, there were 100,000 people on the streets of Moscow chanting ‘Putin is a thief’ and ‘Get rid of Putin.’”
In Ukraine, Putin “watched a junior varsity version of himself—Viktor Yanukovych—who is a thief, but only a small thief, compared to Vladimir Putin—get completely run out of his own country for doing exactly what Vladimir Putin is doing on a larger scale in Russia. After Yanukovych was kicked out, Putin panicked and he needed an enormous distraction as quickly as possible.”
That “distraction” was the complete takeover of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine.
“They used Crimea as a vehicle to distract and build the Russian population into a nationalistic fervor,” Browder said.
Other observers and experts, however, make the case that Putin does have a grand design that amounts to a resurgent Russia seeking to reconstitute the old Soviet system.
Browder agrees that Soviet-style control and manipulation of information is part of the plan.
Putin controls most sources of information inside Russia, Browder notes, but the Internet is still relatively free and provides alternative news to Russians who want to look for it. However, he added, “A lot of people in Russia aren’t hungry for it and they’re just happy to be fed whatever the propagandists put out there.”
Browder says he understands the failure of the West to respond militarily to the invasion of Ukraine, since the U.S. is coming through two major wars in the Middle East and doesn’t have the stomach for another confrontation of this nature. Another option—general economic sanctions on Russia—could have resulted in the Russian regime nationalizing U.S. assets. So targeted sanctions on Putin’s associates who hold his money, if they are done correctly, could have a significant impact, Browder said.
Regarding Putin’s wealth, estimated as high as $70 billion, Browder said, “I’ve heard numbers higher than that.”
The report, “The Life of a Galley Slave,” examines Putin’s lifestyle, including yachts, planes, state villas and palaces, helicopters and luxury wristwatches. The title was taken from Putin’s comment that he works like a galley slave for the Russian people.
It was estimated that Putin and his cronies, many of them KGB veterans, stole $30 billion that was supposed to go for construction projects for the Sochi Olympics.
Browder said that when he was investing in Russia, he was a regular participant in the conferences known as the U.S.-Russia Forum, held in Washington, D.C. and Moscow. We covered the recent one in the Hart Senate Office Building. Browder was expelled from Russia in 2005, and the authorities raided his Russian offices in 2007. One year later they arrested his attorney and in 2009 they murdered him.
Although Big Business promotes trade with Russia, and various American companies are represented at the U.S.-Russia Forum, Browder said that he meets many businessmen at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and that 90 percent of them don’t invest in Russia. He adds, “Many of those 90 percent don’t invest because of what happened to me.”
“It makes no sense from a financial standpoint to be investing in Russia, because there’s a very real chance you will lose all your money and even possibly have people killed,” he says. “There are no property rights, no legal rights, no rules. They will do anything.”
Before the events in Ukraine, a perception had been developing among many in the West that one could do business with Russia, even after the invasion of Georgia in 2008 and after Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney called the regime a “geopolitical foe” of the United States.
“People don’t have a lot of information about Russia, so they base their impressions on how they want Russia to be instead of how it really is. Unfortunately, the truth about Russia is very, very bad,” Browder said.
Congress passed the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act at the end of 2012 over the objections of the Obama administration. It placed visa and financial asset bans on Russian officials either involved in Magnitsky’s case or accused of human rights abuses.
“The next step is to get the Magnitsky Act implemented in America,” Browder said. The administration, he added, must move forward by putting on the Magnitsky list the names of more human rights abusers in Russia.
“Sergei didn’t die in vain,” Browder said. “We want to make sure his legacy is one where bad people are sanctioned and the threat of sanctions hangs over the heads of other bad people.”
As head of the Global Magnitsky Justice campaign, Browder publishes a website dedicated to the case.
But while he seeks justice for his murdered lawyer, Browder says he is concerned about his own safety and security as well.
Every week on Monday morning the Council and our invited guests weigh in at the Watcher’s Forum with short takes on a major issue of the day, the culture or daily living. This week’s question: Which Should America Choose – Shi’ites, Sunnis or Neither?
The Independent Sentinel: We need to bomb ISIS. We should have bombed them a month ago when they were on the Syria-Iraq border. They must be stopped. They present an existential threat to the United States and her allies. I don’t view it as taking sides. We need to halt or slow their advance. I don’t care about Sunnis. Shias – I care about whoever threatens the US and Israel. I’d like to see us arm the Kurds to the hilt. We most definitely should not work with Iran – that’s an insane idea.
Robert Avrech, Seraphic Secret: I spoke to an Israeli intelligence officer the other day and asked what the IDF was thinking about the Sunni-Shia war. His response was simple and instructive: “They have been killing each other for centuries. There is no side to pick. Only pinpoint strategic and tactical opportunities from which to choose. For Israel this might be a good time to destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities. We have written off America under Obama. We will do it ourselves. Watch the skies.”
GrEaT sAtAn”S gIrLfRiEnD: Great Satan’s side should be against the Artist Formerly Known As al Qaeda In Iraq.
Easier said than done – see, ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) is essentially the “lead dog” of a larger Sunni militant coalition.
ISIS has been fighting in conjunction with a number of other Iraqi Sunni militant groups. Effectively the entire rogue’s gallery of Sunni militias from the 2006-2008 civil war have been revived by Prime Minister Maliki’s alienation of the Sunni Arab community since 2011. AQI, the Naqshbandis, the Ba’th, Jaysh al-Muhammad, Ansar al-Sunnah, and all of the rest are back in operation in Iraq, in at least tacit cooperation with a number of Sunni tribes.
Of greatest importance, we need to recognize that the Iraqi Security Forces are fast becoming little more than a Shia militia. This trend began 3-4 years ago when Prime Minister Maliki began to push Sunni and Kurdish officers out of the armed forces, to replace them with loyal Shia officers. As a result, even before the current debacle, the ISF had become far more Shia than it had been, with fewer and fewer Sunnis and Kurds. Even before the dramatic events of last week, most Sunnis and Kurds referred to the ISF as “Maliki’s militia.”
Since last Tuesday, we have seen large numbers of Sunni Arab and Kurdish soldiers desert the ISF, leaving an even more homogeneously Shia force. There are still Sunnis and Kurds in the ranks and in the officer corps, but that seems likely to dissipate over time.
The selective and careful use of air assets is appropriate and necessary to blunt the advance and bottle up elements into isolated pockets if possible, or break the lines of supply and command, at minimum.
With Syrian, US, Iranian forces (and possibly others, the Saudis) already in the airspace defined areas of operation and rules of engagement need to quickly come about. Base our air assets in Kurdistan and hit the staging areas and logistics centers. Refine the approach to personality/decapitation tactics after intel is back on its feet. Make the Sunnis choose between a state and a state of war.
JoshuaPundit: Just to show you what sort of creature we elected, this president and his dysfunctional team think they can choose both! On the one hand Secretary Kerry is asking congress for half a billion of your tax dollars to arm and train ‘the Syrian Rebels’, which is exactly how ISIS got so strong.
At the same time, we now have over 600 ‘advisers’ in Iraq fighting against ISIS,which means we’re fighting on the same side as Assad, Hezbollah, Iran and Moqtaddah al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, all of them with substantial American blood on their hands to help Iran hang on to the colony under Maliki we handed them at the cost of a trillion dollars and over 4,000 lives. We’re already working with the Iranians, we’re simply using Maliki as an intermediary. And we’re also bolstering Putin’s status, of course, who just sent Maliki a dozen Sukhoi-25 fighter planes.
Which also pits us against our other allies the Saudis, Qatar and the other QCE countries who are arming, funding and training the Syrian rebels!
The only consistent policy in the Middle East this president and his minions have is hysterics when Israelis builds houses for their people and support and appeasement of Islamists at home and abroad. These folks could screw up a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and turn it into something sickening and lethal. Literally everything they touch turns to crap.
The situation in the Middle East is the same story. Barack Hussein Obama was sold to the American people as the smartest guy in the room ( with Joe Biden for – wait for it – gravitas) who was going to restore good relations with all our allies. Remember that? The reality is that none of our allies trust us today, and both they and our adversaries justifiably regard this president as a bumbling. duplicitous weakling whose word and commitments are worthless.
That’s a big part of the problem, by the way. Several people in this Forum have mentioned putting bases in Kurdistan. That would have worked just fine when we still occupied the country and the Kurds begged us to do it. Instead, President George W. Bush sold them out for Maliki and the likes of Turkey’s Tayyip Erdoğan and actually pulled our military out of position so the Turks could bomb their villages and sent troops across the border to rape and pillage. And President Obama responded to the complaints of the Kurds and Sunnis as Maliki purged them from the military, stole elections and reneged on the federation agreement with total indifference. Seeing as we’re helping Maliki and the Iranians, does anyone think the Kurds trust us now? Neither do the Sunnis, after we used them in the Awakening Movement to fight al-Qaeda and then let Maliki and the Shi’tes have their way with them after we left. And what are the odds that we’re actually going to arm the Kurds or put bases there when our new ‘allies’ Iran and Maliki as well as Obama’s BFF Tayipp Erdoğan are against it?
This is harsh stuff, but it’s reality. We have no business picking sides in this conflict when our president’s actions have already ensured that we lose out either way. In fact, the one successful path is to do absolutely nothing:
Both sides love carnage and a war to the knife for Allah, and since Iran now has boots on the ground, we can sit back and watch as they savage each other. The last time it happened, an 8 year bloodbath back in the 1980′s, there were over a million battlefield deaths and both sides were weakened ..at least until we stupidly took Saddam Hussein out of the equation, the regional counterweight to Iran.The idea of the Iranians, Hezbollah, the Mahdi Army and ISIS engaging in this fashion is fine with me and as ISIS is going to be a tough nut to crack, Iran could end up being tangled in Syria and Iraq for years.
Of course, this nonsense with Iraq is causing us to ignore our real security problem in the region, Iran’s rogue nuclear program. The Iranian nuclear talks are stalled, of course, while the Ayatollahs play for time. So the major threat to our security in the region isn’t being addressed at all, because they’re playing Our Dear Leader and John Kerry like Jimi Hendrix used to play a stratocaster.
There is, of course, a perfectly good solution to dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions:
We now have two successive presidents who have known full well what the Ayatollahs were up to and failed to do anything about it, even though both of them did a lot of chest thumping. That’s the main threat to U.S. security we have in the region, and the job is going to be a lot more costly and destructive because of their delays and their failure.
At this point both the Iranians and our allies know that Barack Hussein Obama isn’t going to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. In fact, he probably welcomes the idea. Our best hope is that (a)either the Iranians get tangled up enough in Iraq and Syria to delay things, (B)this president is either impeached or out of office before things get critical or (c) one of our allies decides enough is enough and does the job for us.
I say we choose neither.
The Razor: There is no way we should get involved – at least until ISIS is in the process of attacking American interests abroad or at home. Given our intelligence failures, which amazes me considering how much data we scoop up through electronic surveillance, it may be impossible to know this until it is too late. Unfortunately that means suffering an attack. But until that attack happens we should let the Sunnis and Shi’a do what they do best: kill each other. Supporting one side just makes us a target for both sides (if that sounds contradictory just look at what happened in Afghanistan when our attacks on the Taliban were decried as attacks on civilians by the Afghani president Hamid Karzai.)
A pox on both their houses.
Ask Marion: I keep wrestling with this question and myself regarding it… What should we do in Iraq? Who should we support? How does it affect the Middle East… Israel? And what do we owe those who died or have lifetime severe injuries because of their service… and do we subject more troops to the same?
The more I think about, the more torn I am! But I think we have already jumped the shark when we pulled out without leaving enough troops and needed assistance to help the Iraqis do what they needed to do to hold the line and to become self-sustaining in the areas of defense and maintaining a Democratic nation.
After listening to all the experts, the general consensus seems to be that it is too late unless we want to start from scratch… a new full offensive, for which there is now support.
So at this point with all the internal problems we have I think we should maintain a low profile and what little we do offer or decide to do should be done with forethought and clarity… instead of sending advisers, drones, air support or anything else without a plan.
Our elected and appointed officials must come to terms with the doctrinal basis for jihad so we can properly and effectively defend America, protect American lives and face our enemies.
So, what should we do in Iraq? We need to pray for Israel and help them survive. We should have stopped Obama from pulling out of both Iraq (and Afghanistan) completely… and now we, the Middle East and the rest of the world will pay for our foolishness and weakness as the radicals have been emboldened to move forward with their worldwide Islamic Caliphate… which has always been their goal.
The Glittering Eye: Neither. Recently our track record has been very poor–either picking the wrong factions or the wrong individuals to back. We should’ve swallowed hard and allowed Qaddafi to prevail in Libya, the military in Egypt, and Assad in Syria. Instead we’ve got chaos in Libya, less influence than we had in Egypt, increased carnage in Syria, and Iraq is now on the verge of collapse.
Rather than siding with factions or individuals we should be doing what little we can (and it’s admittedly little) to foster institutions in the countries of MENA. Institutions like a free press and an independent court.
At the very least we need to stop supporting Islamists.
Well, there you have it.
Make sure to tune in every Monday for the Watcher’s Forum. And remember, every Wednesday, the Council has its weekly contest with the members nominating two posts each, one written by themselves and one written by someone from outside the group for consideration by the whole Council. The votes are cast by the Council and the results are posted on Friday morning.
It’s a weekly magazine of some of the best stuff written in the blogosphere and you won’t want to miss it.
Blogging may be a bit slow this week. I had an accident over the weekend and took a bad fall. I’ll be okay, but severely bruised on my left leg and arm. A little inconvenience like pain and swelling won’t stop me though. However, it may slow me down just a tad. 😉 Thanks for your patience and understanding and thank you for hanging in there with me.
By the way, it is some of the most epic bruising you have ever seen. Award worthy, I might add.