William J Burns (former U.S. Ambassador to Russia and a former Foreign Service Officer who has been called “the quintessential diplomat” and who served in five administrations) writes: In the quarter-century since the end of the Cold War, profound grievances, misperceptions and disappointments have often defined the relationship between the United States and Russia. I lived through this turbulence during my years as a diplomat in Moscow, navigating the curious mix of hope and humiliation that I remember so vividly in the Russia of Boris N. Yeltsin, and the pugnacity and raw ambition of Vladimir V. Putin’s Kremlin. And I lived through it in Washington, serving both Republican and Democratic administrations.
There have been more than enough illusions on both sides. The United States has oscillated between visions of an enduring partnership with Moscow and dismissing it as a sulking regional power in terminal decline. Russia has moved between notions of a strategic partnership with the United States and a later, deeper desire to upend the current international order, where a dominant United States consigns Russia to a subordinate role.
The reality is that our relationship with Russia will remain competitive, and often adversarial, for the foreseeable future. At its core is a fundamental disconnect in outlook and about each other’s role in the world.
It is tempting to think that personal rapport can bridge this disconnect and that the art of the deal can unlock a grand bargain. That is a foolish starting point for sensible policy. It would be especially foolish to think that Russia’s deeply troubling interference in our election can or should be played down, however inconvenient.
President Putin’s aggressive election meddling, like his broader foreign policy, has at least two motivating factors. The first is his conviction that the surest path to restoring Russia as a great power comes at the expense of an American-led order. He wants Russia unconstrained by Western values and institutions, free to pursue a sphere of influence.
The second motivating factor is closely connected to the first. The legitimacy of Mr. Putin’s system of repressive domestic control depends on the existence of external threats. Surfing on high oil prices, he used to be able to bolster his social contract with the Russian people through rising standards of living. That was clear in the boomtown Moscow I knew as the American ambassador a decade ago, full of the promise of a rising middle class and the consumption of an elite convinced that anything worth doing was worth overdoing. But Mr. Putin has lost that card in a world of lower energy prices and Western sanctions, and with a one-dimensional economy in which real reform is trumped by the imperative of political control and the corruption that lubricates it.
The ultimate realist, Mr. Putin understands Russia’s relative weakness, but regularly demonstrates that declining powers can be at least as disruptive as rising powers. He sees a target-rich environment all around him.
If he can’t easily build Russia up, he can take the United States down a few pegs, with his characteristic tactical agility and willingness to play rough and take risks. If he can’t have a deferential government in Kiev, he can grab Crimea and try to engineer the next best thing, a dysfunctional Ukraine. If he can’t abide the risk of regime upheaval in Syria, he can flex Russia’s military muscle, emasculate the West, and preserve Bashar al-Assad atop the rubble of Aleppo. If he can’t directly intimidate the European Union, he can accelerate its unraveling by supporting anti-Union nationalists and exploiting the wave of migration spawned in part by his own brutality. Wherever he can, he exposes the seeming hypocrisy and fecklessness of Western democracies, blurring the line between fact and fiction.
So what to do? Russia is still too big, proud and influential to ignore and still the only nuclear power comparable to the United States. It remains a major player on problems from the Arctic to Iran and North Korea. We need to focus on the critical before we test the desirable. The first step is to sustain, and if necessary amplify, the actions taken by the Obama administration in response to Russian hacking. Russia challenged the integrity of our democratic system, and Europe’s 2017 electoral landscape is the next battlefield.
A second step is to reassure our European allies of our absolute commitment to NATO. American politicians tell one another to “remember your base,” and that’s what should guide policy toward Russia. Our network of allies is not a millstone around America’s neck, but a powerful asset that sets us apart.
A third step is to stay sharply focused on Ukraine, a country whose fate will be critical to the future of Europe, and Russia, over the next generation. This is not about NATO or European Union membership, both distant aspirations. It is about helping Ukrainian leaders build the successful political system that Russia seeks to subvert.
Finally, we should be wary of superficially appealing notions like a common war on Islamic extremism or a common effort to “contain” China. Russia’s bloody role in Syria makes the terrorist threat far worse and despite long-term concerns about a rising China, Mr. Putin has little inclination to sacrifice a relationship with Beijing.
I’ve learned a few lessons during my diplomatic career, often the hard way. I learned to respect Russians and their history and vitality. I learned that it rarely pays to neglect or underestimate Russia, or display gratuitous disrespect. But I also learned that firmness and vigilance, and a healthy grasp of the limits of the possible, are the best way to deal with the combustible combination of grievance and insecurity that Vladimir Putin embodies. I’ve learned that we have a much better hand to play with Mr. Putin than he does with us. If we play it methodically, confident in our enduring strengths, and unapologetic about our values, we can eventually build a more stable relationship, without illusions.
Brian Whitmore writes: One announcement came from Berlin. Another came from Washington. And they came weeks apart.
German intelligence warned in late November that Russia had launched a campaign to meddle in upcoming elections to the Bundestag. And in early December, the CIA said it concluded that Moscow had already interfered in the U.S. presidential election.
In any other year, either of these claims would probably have been astonishing, sensational, and even mind-blowing.
Not in 2016.
This was the year such things became routine as the Kremlin took the gloves off in its nonkinetic guerrilla war against the West.
It was the year Russia’s long-standing latent support for the xenophobic and Euroskeptic far right became manifest, open, and increasingly brazen.
It was the year cyberattacks moved beyond trolling and disruption and toward achieving specific political goals.
It was the year long-cultivated networks of influence across the West were activated.
It was the year the Kremlin expanded its disinformation campaign beyond Ukraine and the former Soviet space and aimed it at destabilizing the West itself.
It was the year Moscow turned Western democracy into a weapon — against Western democracy.
And most importantly, with the West suffering from one of its worst crises of confidence in generations, 2016 was the year Moscow began to see results. [Continue reading…]
Shaun Walker writes: Kiev was far from the only capital city in which the ruling elite reacted with alarm to the election of Donald Trump, but the Ukrainian government has more reason than most to fear the new US administration.
The US president-elect made a number of positive comments about the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, during the campaign, and even suggested he might consider recognising Crimea, the territory annexed by Russia from Ukraine two years ago, as part of Russia. There has been talk of a “big deal” between Trump and Putin over Syria, which some have suggested could see Ukraine thrown under the bus.
“Everybody was tearing their hair and running around like crazies,” said Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister, Vadym Prystaiko, of the first days after Trump’s election victory.
While the current US administration has stopped short of supplying Ukraine with lethal weapons to fight Russian intervention in the east of the country, it has been a strong supporter of Ukraine with financial aid, and has slapped sanctions on Russia in protest at its actions. With Trump in the White House, amid suggestions that Russian hacking may have been employed to help his cause during the campaign, many in Kiev fear they could be abandoned.
“It’s what everyone is talking about,” said a European diplomat based in Kiev. “It’s a pretty disturbing time for Ukraine.” Michael McFaul, formerly the US ambassador to Russia, declared when Trump was confirmed the winner of the election that Ukraine was “the biggest loser in the world tonight”. [Continue reading…]
Manuel Lafont Rapnouil writes: François Fillon has just won the French conservative primaries by a huge margin. Now, he will be trying to capitalise on the momentum he has gained from his win to deliver the result he wants in the upcoming presidential election. And with his foreign policy option, this presidential vote will pose a formidable challenge to Europe’s unity. Fillon’s views on Russia, in particular, fly in the face of the current European consensus. But neither foreign policy nor Europe are at the centre of the campaign, and domestic issues are much more likely to prevail when French voters make their choice in the spring of next year.
Fillon, a former prime minister under Nicolas Sarkozy, made his position on Russia clear long before the primary campaign even began, and he has stuck to it ever since. He believes French policy has been too aligned with the US, whether on Ukraine or the Middle East – in spite of the countries’ significant differences in opinion on these issues. And that, with ISIS and Islamism being the top security priorities for France following the terror attacks since January 2015, an alliance with Vladimir Putin’s Russia is badly needed, even at the price of conflating ISIS and other terrorist groups with any other forces fighting against the Assad government.
Worryingly, he calls not only for the ‘re-establishment’ of a political dialogue with Russia – a dialogue that was actually never interrupted – but also for the EU to lift all sanctions against Russia, including those adopted as a consequence of the forceful and unlawful Russian annexation of Crimea.
The French public’s opinion on the Russia question differs from Fillon’s. The majority have no confidence in Vladimir Putin and support maintaining economic sanctions against Russia on the Ukraine issue. Fillon’s critics add that, rather ironically, his desired relationship with Russia mirrors the alleged alignment with the US that he has attacked so fervently.
If both Fillon and the Front National’s leader, Marine Le Pen, reach the second round of the presidential election, a rapprochement with Putin’s Russia will become the order of the day for French foreign policy. At the moment it seems that a majority of presidential candidates will run on a pro-Russia or at least anti-sanctions platform. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: Vitaly Sych, the editor of the Ukrainian weekly Novoye Vremya, had readied a profile for only one candidate, Hillary Clinton, to run once the results came in after what he called “the most closely watched U.S. election by Ukrainians” of all time.
Then came the bombshell that echoed all the way from the Potomac to the Dnieper.
“AMERICA PLAYS THE FOOL” was the headline looming above a portrait of Donald Trump the next day. (Sych’s colleagues talked him down from his first choice: “A boor, an ignoramus, and a racist: Meet the new president of the United States.”)
“The major emotion here is anxiety and concern because he really said all those things, so he must believe some of them,” Sych said. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: Russia has said it is formally withdrawing its signature from the founding statute of the international criminal court, a day after the court published a report classifying the Russian annexation of Crimea as an occupation.
The repudiation of the tribunal, though symbolic, is a fresh blow to efforts to establish a global legal order for pursuing genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
In recent months, three African countries who were all full members of the ICC – South Africa, Burundi and Gambia – have signalled their intention to pull out, following complaints that ICC prosecutions focused excessively on the African continent.
The Russian foreign ministry made the announcement on Wednesday on the orders of the president, Vladimir Putin, saying the tribunal had failed to live up to hopes of the international community and denouncing its work as “one-sided and inefficient”.
Russia signed the Rome statute in 2000 and cooperated with the court, but had not ratified the treaty and thus remained outside the ICC’s jurisdiction. This means that the latest move, though highly symbolic, will not change much in practice. [Continue reading…]
RFE/RL reports: Ukrainian hackers claim to have broken into a second e-mail account linked to Vladislav Surkov, a senior aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, releasing documents they say add to mounting evidence of the Kremlin meddling in Kyiv’s affairs.
The new e-mails were obtained by RFE/RL from the hackers in advance of their public release on November 3. If authentic, they provide detail about the extent to which Surkov’s office worked to set up separatist enclaves in eastern Ukraine in 2014.
The e-mails include plans that ostensibly show how associates of Surkov plotted to destabilize Ukraine’s eastern Kharkiv region, researched Ukrainian politicians who openly supported weakening central power in a bid to exploit the country’s political divisions, and helped establish the leadership of separatist groups in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
They indicate that, in one case, a draft law on an economic zone in eastern Ukraine purportedly written by Surkov himself was sent to the office of an opposition lawmaker and later introduced in the Ukrainian parliament.
The new release comes one week after an initial batch of e-mails from an inbox allegedly associated with Surkov, a longtime Putin aide who is the point man for Ukraine in his administration. [Continue reading…]
Andreas Umland writes: Russia watchers have been intrigued by the recent email leak of Vladislav Surkov – Russia’s adviser responsible for policies towards Ukraine and Russia’s satellite states in northern Georgia. The so-called “Surkov Leaks” have reinvigorated the discussion of Moscow’s involvement in the war in Ukraine and the emergence of “people’s republics” in the east of the country. The leaks confirm the Kremlin’s involvement in the armed conflict in the Donbas, and make clear that fueling the conflict in east Ukraine is just one part of Moscow’s broader policy for undermining the Ukrainian state.
But these leaks do not alter our understanding of the conflict. Rather, they confirm — with more empirical proof — what was already known and proven. However, two months earlier there was another leak. And this one did provide new evidence that challenges earlier interpretations concerning the roots of the so-called “Ukraine conflict” in 2014.
In August 2016, Ukraine’s General Procurator published a video tape of audio recordings of a number of telephone conversations between Sergey Glazyev — a Russian presidential advisor — and several Russian as well as Ukrainian pro-Kremlin activists in southern and eastern Ukraine in late February and early March 2014. The recordings vividly illustrate Moscow’s covert support for the still unarmed anti-government protests in Ukraine several weeks before the actual war started. Specifically, the tapes reveal the Russian state’s involvement in the coordination and financing of separatist meetings, demonstrations, pickets and similar actions in Crimea as well as in various regional capitals in Ukraine’s eastern and southern parts immediately after the victory of the Maidan revolution in early 2014.
Despite the importance of the tapes and their revelations, they have largely been ignored by Western media outlets and think-tanks. This may be due to suspicions that the published records were tampered with, or that they do not reveal the full story. It is, however, unlikely that these recordings are mere fakes. The published conversations are held between interlocutors whose voices can easily be identified through audio verification and cross-referencing.
If the Glazyev Tapes are indeed authentic, they should change our understanding of the origins and nature of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Until the publication of the Glazyev Tapes, many observers believed that Moscow intervened with paramilitary and later regular military forces into an ongoing civil conflict between pro-Kyiv and pro-Moscow Ukrainian citizens. Few serious analysts ever doubted the Kremlin’s crucial role in turning the winter confrontations on the streets of the east and south Ukrainian cities into a putatively civil war in spring. But the extent of Russian meddling in the unarmed protests before the military escalation was disputed. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Her face puffy from lack of sleep, Vivika Barnabas peered down at the springs, rods and other parts of a disassembled assault rifle spread before her.
At last, midway through one of this country’s peculiar, grueling events known as patrol competitions, she had come upon an easy task.
Already, she and her three teammates had put out a fire, ridden a horse, identified medicinal herbs from the forest and played hide-and-seek with gun-wielding “enemies” in the woods at night.
By comparison, this would be easy. She knelt in the crinkling, frost-covered grass of a forest clearing and grabbed at the rifle parts in a flurry of clicks and snaps, soon handing the assembled weapon to a referee.
“We just have to stay alive,” Ms. Barnabas said of the main idea behind the Jarva District Patrol Competition, a 24-hour test of the skills useful for partisans, or insurgents, to fight an occupying army, and an improbably popular form of what is called “military sport” in Estonia.
The competitions, held nearly every weekend, are called war games, but are not intended as fun. The Estonian Defense League, which organizes the events, requires its 25,400 volunteers to turn out occasionally for weekend training sessions that have taken on a serious hue since Russia’s incursions in Ukraine two years ago raised fears of a similar thrust by Moscow into the Baltic States.
Estonia, a NATO member with a population of 1.3 million people and a standing army of about 6,000, would not stand a chance in a conventional war with Russia. But two armies fighting on an open field is not Estonia’s plan, and was not even before Donald J. Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, said European members of NATO should not count on American support unless they pay more alliance costs.
Since the Ukraine war, Estonia has stepped up training for members of the Estonian Defense League, teaching them how to become insurgents, right down to the making of improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.s, the weapons that plagued the American military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another response to tensions with Russia is the expansion of a program encouraging Estonians to keep firearms in their homes. [Continue reading…]
The Associated Press reports: A group of Ukrainian hackers has released thousands of emails from an account used by a senior Kremlin official that appear to show close financial and political ties between Moscow and separatist rebels in Eastern Ukraine.
The cache published by the Ukrainian group CyberHunta reveals contacts between President Vladimir Putin’s adviser Vladislav Surkov and the pro-Russia rebels fighting Ukrainian forces.
Ukraine’s National Security Service said Wednesday the emails were real, although they added the files may have been tampered with. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the published emails as a sham, saying Wednesday that Surkov doesn’t use email.
Russian journalist Svetlana Babaeva told The Associated Press emails from her in the cache were genuine. “I sent those emails,” Babaeva said, referring to three emails in the leak discussing arrangements for an off-the-record meeting between Surkov and editors at her publication.
Russian businessmen Evgeny Chichivarkin, who lives in London, said in a Facebook post Wednesday that emails attributed to him in the cache were genuine too. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: Sanctioned and thus banned from travel to the EU for his role in the Kremlin’s Ukraine policy, the 52-year-old Surkov nevertheless popped up at recent four-way negotiations in Berlin over Ukraine, sitting at the round table next to Putin, and just one seat across from Angela Merkel. It was a very visible signal of Surkov’s importance to the Kremlin’s controversial Ukraine policy.
Several sources have told the Guardian that Surkov has on occasion made secret trips to Donetsk, technically still part of Ukraine, to bring local separatist politicians into line and tell them what is expected of them if they are to continue to receive Russian funding and support. More regularly, emissaries from east Ukraine come to Moscow to meet with Surkov. [Continue reading…]
Chris Zappone writes: The timing of the hack and the target, Vladislav Surkov, suggest that this could be a form of retaliation for the purported Russian hacking of the US election.
The group, called Kiberkhunta (or Cyber Junta) posted 2000 emails from Surkov dating from between September 2013 and November 2014.
Coming against the backdrop of the Russian cyber campaign against the US during the current presidential election year, at least one analyst sees the possibility of a connection to those events.
“It is possible that we are seeing the first example of mutually assured doxing,” said Kenneth Geers, Kiev-based Senior Research Scientist at COMODO, referring to the practice of hacking and publishing private emails.
‘Mutually assured doxing’ is a play on the Cold War concept of Mutually Assured Destruction – the permanent nuclear stand-off between Russia and the US which dissuaded either side from starting a war.
“We should usually assume there is some political goal behind every leak,” he said.
Geers, who is also an ambassador for the NATO Cyber Centre, said the Surkov leak may hint at an emerging behavioural norm between nation states.
“We may see a doxing escalation ladder materialise: how far do you want me to go, all the way to the top?” said Geers.
“As painful as it is today, doxing serves a long-term historical role in reducing corruption.” [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: Russian government hackers began targeting a British citizen journalist in February 2015, eight months after he began posting evidence documenting alleged Russian government involvement in the shoot-down of a Malaysian jetliner over Ukraine.
And then in February 2016, a group that researchers suspect is a propaganda mouthpiece of the Russian government — CyberBerkut — defaced the home page of Eliot Higgins’s citizen journalism website, Bellingcat.com.
That same month, CyberBerkut hacked the email, iCloud and social media account of a Bellingcat researcher in Moscow, then posted online personal pictures, a passport scan, his girlfriend’s name and other private details.
Russia’s information operations against Bellingcat are a taste of what may be in store for other media organizations whose reports anger the Kremlin, said a cyber-research firm that has extensively documented the effort. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: A Dutch-led investigation has concluded that the powerful surface-to-air missile system that was used to shoot down a Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine two years ago, killing all 298 on board, was trucked in from Russia at the request of Russian-backed separatists and returned to Russia the same night.
The report largely confirmed the already widely documented Russian government role not only in the deployment of the missile system, called a Buk, or SA-11, but the subsequent cover up, which continues to this day.
The report by a team of prosecutors from the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine was significant for applying standards of evidence admissible in court, while still building a case directly implicating Russia, and is likely to open a long diplomatic and legal struggle over the tragedy.
With meticulous detail, working with cellphone records, social media, witness accounts and other evidence, Dutch prosecutors traced Russia’s role in deploying the missile system into Ukraine and its attempt to cover its tracks after the disaster. The inquiry did not name individual culprits and stopped short of saying that Russian soldiers were involved. [Continue reading…]
From Kiev, Anna Nemtsova writes: Perhaps you remember Ukraine. Perhaps you remember this war. But if you’re in the United States in the blur of the American presidential campaign, it must seem faint and far away.
For the people here, however, what they read and see coming out of Republican candidate Donald Trump sounds very loud, and clear, and tantamount to a death sentence for their country.
Adding despair to pessimism, they realize their own leaders aren’t really prepared if Trump wins.
It seems to them almost inconceivable that an American president would praise and be praised by Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who illegally annexed Ukraine’s strategic Crimea Peninsula in 2014 then started a shadow war waged by proxy forces and unidentified Russian soldiers to carve off eastern Ukraine (Donbas) like a butcher cutting a roast.
Of course, the factions that have set up “republics” in the east think Trump is great, just as many Russians in the Motherland do after a steady diet of Moscow-generated praise for The Donald.
But that’s certainly no consolation here in Ukraine’s capital. [Continue reading…]
Anna Nemtsova writes: In living rooms and kitchens across Russia and Ukraine, the U.S. presidential election is as riveting to TV viewers as “Game of Thrones” is to their American counterparts. Every time Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump speak of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Crimea, Russian hackers or the Donbas (the disputed region of eastern Ukraine) — and it’s rebroadcast here, which it usually is — people in both countries sit up as if some crazy American reality show has just come on. Almost every day, television channels in both countries highlight America’s new scandals and intrigues involving Trump’s connections with post-Soviet oligarchs, or leaked DNC emails, or the endless hurling of insults and the constant debate over America’s supposedly disappearing greatness.
But the main reason the U.S. election has become must-see TV is not because it’s a great reality show, or because Putin and the conflict between Russia and Ukraine come up as issues in the campaign as often as Mexican immigrants, ISIS and Benghazi. It’s because the political rhetoric across the Atlantic is actually starting to change facts on the ground in Russia and Ukraine. In both countries, coverage of the political chaos in the United States — the north star of politics for both anti-American and pro-American figures in this part of the world — is stirring public discontent and doubt about the future in Ukraine, and a sense of confidence, even arrogance, in Russia.
In short, the rhetoric in the U.S. election campaign — especially Trump’s — is already altering policy in the region, hardening Moscow’s attitude toward Ukraine and at the same time frustrating and confusing the Ukrainians who want to stand up to Putin. [Continue reading…]
CNN reports: FBI and Justice Department prosecutors are conducting an investigation into possible US ties to alleged corruption of the former pro-Russian president of Ukraine, including the work of Paul Manafort’s firm, according to multiple US law enforcement officials.
The investigation is broad and is looking into whether US companies and the financial system were used to aid alleged corruption by the party of former president Viktor Yanukovych.
Manafort, who resigned as chairman of Donald Trump’s campaign Friday, has not been the focus of the probe, according to the law enforcement officials. The investigation is ongoing and prosecutors haven’t ruled anything out, the officials said.
The probe is also examining the work of other firms linked to the former Ukrainian government, including that of the Podesta Group, the lobbying and public relations company run by Tony Podesta, brother of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. [Continue reading…]
Anna Nemtsova reports: Tatars knew Remzi Memetov as a jovial cook who made the best traditional plov, a dish of rice and lamb, in the little Crimean town of Bakhchysarai. Memetov’s cooking was especially popular among Muslims coming to the local mosque to participate in religious festivals.
Nobody in the town’s sizeable Tatar community would have imagined that their favorite chef would be accused of terrorism.
At 6 a.m. the morning of May 12, the Memetov family heard a knock at the door of their house on Lazurnaya Avenue. The voice outside said: ”Open up, this is the Federal Security Service.”
The visitors were two FSB investigators, two official witnesses, who the FSB invited to be present while they searched the house, a camerawoman, and several people who did not identify themselves.
After a few questions, they looked through all the rooms in the house, confiscating a few religious books and a few CDs. As the investigators were taking Remzi Memetov away, his neighbors gathered around the FSB officers to ask why they were arresting a friendly cook everybody loved. An official said Memetov would just be away a few minutes, just enough to sign a few papers.
“Shame, Shame!” people chanted. And soon their worst expectations came: Memetovs wife and two adult sons learned he was accused of participating in terrorist activities as a part the Islamic movement Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in Russia. He was accused together with three more neighbors, who were arrested the same day. One of them, Enver Mammoth, had seven little children.
Soon after Moscow annexed what had been Ukrainian Crimea in 2014, Russian security agencies began to crack down on Muslims there, and after many arrests they knew only too well what happened when the FSB detained one of them. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: On a leafy side street off Independence Square in Kiev is an office used for years by Donald J. Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, when he consulted for Ukraine’s ruling political party. His furniture and personal items were still there as recently as May.
And Mr. Manafort’s presence remains elsewhere here in the capital, where government investigators examining secret records have found his name, as well as companies he sought business with, as they try to untangle a corrupt network they say was used to loot Ukrainian assets and influence elections during the administration of Mr. Manafort’s main client, former President Viktor F. Yanukovych.
Handwritten ledgers show $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Mr. Manafort from Mr. Yanukovych’s pro-Russian political party from 2007 to 2012, according to Ukraine’s newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau. Investigators assert that the disbursements were part of an illegal off-the-books system whose recipients also included election officials.
In addition, criminal prosecutors are investigating a group of offshore shell companies that helped members of Mr. Yanukovych’s inner circle finance their lavish lifestyles, including a palatial presidential residence with a private zoo, golf course and tennis court. Among the hundreds of murky transactions these companies engaged in was an $18 million deal to sell Ukrainian cable television assets to a partnership put together by Mr. Manafort and a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin. [Continue reading…]
Owen Matthews writes: I was recently invited to appear as a guest on Channel One’s “Special Correspondent,” a news-related chat show, where I sat through two hours of increasingly wild theories linking the Olympic doping ban to a Western conspiracy to punish Russia for its “independent” stance in international affairs.
“Tell us, Owen, do you agree that the Olympic ban is payback for our having taken Crimea?” barked the quick-talking presenter Evgeny Popov. “Russia defied Washington’s hegemony and now its time for us to be punished?”
Then, on Friday, Sergei Ivanov, a former KGB officer and long-time Putin ally, was removed from his post as head of the Presidential Administration and replaced by his deputy, Andrei Vaino, a minor apparatchik who made his way up in the Kremlin protocol service.
Ivanov’s sacking is part of a pattern. Russian President Vladimir Putin has consolidated his personal rule, purging long-time political allies in favor of young, faceless, but utterly loyal bureaucrats.
Earlier this year, Putin appointed two former bodyguards as the governors of the Tula and Kalinigrad regions, and he placed his former personal bodyguard, Viktor Zolotov, in charge of the powerful National Guard, a newly-formed law enforcement organ composed of 250,000 armed men and directly answerable to the Kremlin.
“Putin is purging old friends and replacing them with servants,” Kremlin-connected analyst Stanislav Belkovsky told fontanka.ru. “These people reminded [Putin] of a time before he was a boss, let alone President … Now he needs executors, not advisers.” In other words, Putin is removing anybody capable of standing up to him. [Continue reading…]