The Russian Oligarchs and their Western Pets
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"IMR panel on information war. Left to right: Mark Galeotti, Michael Weiss, Pavel Khodorkovsky, Ekaterina Mishina. Photo: IMR"
By Oriana P. and Cherneyy Koshka
It takes a magnifying glass and a lot of determination to find an accurate assessment of the situation in Syria when digging through the pile of garbage “leftwing” outlets and icons regurgitate on a regular basis. Apologizing for and defending bloodthirsty dictators seems to be lucrative business when we look at the barrage of pro Assadist propaganda being spewed in both the mainstream media and on the internet. It then becomes an oasis of relief when writers for once do tell the truth about Syria and we give them much credit because it takes a lot more research and a willingness to listen to local people to understand what is really going on. However, when these same writers then turn around and window dress the atrocities done to the Chechen people by the Russian Empire one has to investigate their motives. You can’t just pick and choose your genocides and you can’t condemn racism against one group while being racist against another. Justice doesn’t work that way, racism is racism is racism.
A pro Palestine activist like George Galloway loses all credibility when he becomes an Assad apologist especially when we know he is getting paid for his position on Syria. When “pro Syrian revolution” writers and bloggers fail to present the truth about Russia and its role in the Caucasus and even use racial slurs against the peoples of the Caucasus we must equally ask the question where their money comes from and who has a vested interest in covering up for Russian crimes. Furthermore, because of their bias on the Caucasus and their concealment of the Russian massacres in that region their reporting on Syria now becomes suspect and must be seen in a new light. Their refusal to give an actual assessment of the situation makes them accomplices to the on-going murder of peoples because it gave Putin and his gang the green light for their crimes in Syria, Georgia and Ukraine. These writers now make blood money writing about the genocide in Syria they helped create in the first place exactly because they were, and still are, covering up a previous genocide.
When Michael Weiss goes on talk shows as a “terrorist” expert while using racial slurs such as ‘black widow’ his whole presentation is nothing but Russian propaganda recognized by those who intimately know the details and the dynamics of the Russian occupation of the Caucasus. Many people in the west fail to grasp the concept that one can be anti Putin but very much pro Russian Empire and this basic not-understanding is where propaganda can slip through the cracks and present itself as truth. After all, as long as Putin is criticized and the Syrian revolution supported we must be on the same page right? Not so fast. The Russian political opposition hates Putin, that’s why they are called “the opposition”, but loves the Empire and supports the continued occupation of the Caucasus. Often, in their justified eagerness to discredit Putin, western writers will side with fascist xenophobic Putin critics such as Khodorkovksy or Navalny and paint them as “liberal” and “pro-democratic”. In other words, they are not writing against oppression, imperialism and colonialism but are simply pawns, and well-paid pawns at that, of an opposition that is vying for a power position within the same system that is still occupying vast regions in the North Caucasus, Georgia and now Ukraine.
Yeltsin and Gangster Capitalism
Mikhael Khodorkovksy was once the richest man in Russia, worth about $15bn, and one of the wealthiest people in the world. As so many of the New Russians and oil oligarchs he became rich during the ‘90s, the Yeltsin years, thanks to Voucher Privatization (1992-1994) and the “Loans for shares” schemes (1995-1996), both large scale privatization measures of state-owned assets in Russia, which enabled Russia to replace its planned economy with a market economy. In other words, it was a shift from “communism” towards capitalism and designed by “shock therapist” professor Jeffrey Sachs, and his colleagues from the Harvard Institute for International Development (HIID), who advised Yegor Gaidar, Minister of Economics, Minister of Finance and Prime Minister under Boris Yeltsin, for a fast dismantling of state controls - abandoning state planning, free up prices, promote private competition with state-owned industry, and sell off state industry – upon which prosperity would follow naturally. Of course the opposite became true: economic inequality, concentration of wealth and power and a bigger collapse of the economy than the Great Depression in the US, which caused the Russian government to go bankrupt and stop paying salaries. In the mid to late nineties 44 million of 148 millions of Russians were living in poverty while 80% have no savings. In 2013, according to the Credit Suisse Wealth Report, 110 Russian billionaires were holding 35% of the total wealth, or $420bn of $1.2 trillion. The report of 2015 states that the top decile of wealth holders in Russia owned 87% of all household wealth compared to 76% in the US and 66% in China. This makes Russia number one in wealth inequality. The pro-capitalist reforms resulted in a “grabification” in which the New Russians plundered the country. Gangster capitalism was born and its architects came from the West.
Besides a shift towards capitalism the “Loans for shares” were also a scheme from Boris Yeltsin to get re-elected. Before the Russian presidential elections of 1996 Yeltsin’s popular support was at an all time low with only 3-8 percent support against the 21 percent of Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov. As a result Western leaders at the World Economic Forum of 1996 in Davos, Switzerland treated Zyuganov as the next Russian president, which greatly worried the brand new tycoons as they would stand to lose their new found freedom and wealth under a communist leadership. The oligarchs decided to take charge of Yeltsin’s re-election campaign and waged an extensive information war in favor of Yeltsin using their massive control of the media. Ninety percent of all Russian TV influence was concentrated in 3 channels: ORT, RTR and NTV. Berezovsky controlled ORT in addition to the newspapers Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Novaya Izvestiya, and Kommersant, and Ogonek magazine, while Vladimir A. Gusinsky owned NTV. Potanin controlled the newspapers Izvestiya, Komsomolets, and Russki Telegraf and Ekspert magazine and one of Khodorkovsky’s pawns was the deputy head of ITAR-TASS, the state news agency. The oligarchs also enlisted the help of American campaign experts to help with the campaign. In the end it was good old voter fraud that got Yeltsin the presidential position. According to the election results 1,000,000 Chechens had gone to the voting booth with 70% voting in favor of Yeltsin. However, before the first invasion by Russia of the sovereign Chechen Republic of Ichkeria in 1994 there was a population of just over 1 million people. At least 120,000 were killed during the war and 300,000 displaced. Russian elections were held in June of 1996 with a second run off in early July. Although central Johar (Grozny) was under occupied siege by Russia's military at this time, Chechens were no longer participating in Russia's internal election process as they had declared independence in 1991. Subsequently the war was won following the liberation of Johar (Grozny) during the military operation under Chechen command that began on August 6th. On August 31st the war was officially declared over with a Chechen victory and a defeat of Russia. Therefore, unless Russia is claiming that, at the time, they had 1 million of their citizens on military duty during the war they were waging against the Chechens, something that can easily be checked- 38,000 (December 1994) and 70,500 (February 1995) would be the total number of troops involved according to Russia -, the numbers of the election results that lead to a Yeltsin victory simply don't add up. Yeltsin's re-election was one big fraud from beginning to end.
In order to pay for his campaign Yeltsin practically gave away state assets to a small group of bankers in return for their support against a resurgent Communist party. The ‘Semibankirschina’, or seven bankers, - Boris Berezovsky (Sibneft), Mikhail Khodorkovsky (Bank Menatep, Yukos), Mikhail Fridman (Alfa Group), Pyotr Aven (Alfa Group), Vladimir Gusinsky (Media-Most holding), Vladimir Potanin (UNEXIM Bank), Alexander Smolensky (Bank Stolichny)-, obtained control over Russia’s most valuable state assets at bargain prices through a scheme concocted by businessman Vladimir Potanin. In exchange for loans to the state the oligarch banks placed government shares under their trust management. According to plan the state would then default on these loans, which enabled the trustees to auction the collateral stakes. The winners of the auction just happened to be affiliates of the banks who, on top of it all, used government’s money for winning their bids, e.g. billions of dollars in federal funds meant for the reconstruction of Chechenya had simply disappeared. Berezovksy would later introduce the term “The Rule of the Seven Bankers” in which he references the power of the aforementioned seven oligarchs, who supposedly controlled at least 50% of all Russian economics, owned large media outlets and manipulated the decisions Yeltsin made. He himself was amongst the most powerful, responsible for the rise of the pro-Kremlin Unity party, representing a district in Karachay-Cherkessia and at one point being the deputy head of Russia’s security council using security council head Yvan Rybkin as his lackey. While he was a citizen of Israel he was able to shape Russian politics at home and abroad. Having an Israeli as well as a Russian citizenship was illegal under Russian law and especially in such a high political position, which is why Berezovsky tried to revoke his Israeli citizenship and then attempted to antedate this to before he took his position. Washington was well aware of all the corruption but didn’t care because it enabled them to take control of massive amounts of barrels of oil and gas by the Caspian Sea worth billions of dollars.
The whole transfer of capital was a definite move towards the west and it put the country on a determined pro-US course. The transition enabled Khodorkovsky to obtain the Siberian oil fields and acquire the oil and gas company Yukos from the Russian state for $350mn in 1995. Two years later the company was worth $9bn. In those days Khodorkovsky and his gang had the reputation of being exceptionally ruthless and even bullies according to Lee S. Wolosky, the lawyer of American investor Kenneth Dart who had been pushed out of Yukos. Khodorkovsky didn’t shy away from defaulting on big foreign loans or anything else he had to do to protect himself. In a climate where corruption is the norm and oligarchs are actually looting their own companies and defrauding any and all stakeholders including strategic partners, workers, creditors, local and federal governments, and suppliers it is no small feat to be called “exceptionally ruthless”.
“The oligarchs dominate Russian public life through massive fraud and misappropriation, particularly in the oil sector….Whoever controls this massive industry controls much of the world's oil supply -- and today it is the oligarchs.”~ Lee S. Wolosky in Foreign Affairs, 2000.
Between 1996 and 2003 Yukos became one of the biggest Russian oil companies producing 20% of Russia’s oil output, which is as much as Libya or Iraq, and controlled 2% of the world’s oil reserves. The company had five Americans on board.
After the age of Yeltsin, in which the mob highjacked and looted the country, the age of Putin - personally handpicked by Yeltsin, who he himself had never been the legitimate president - began, a poly-amorous marriage of gangster capitalism, Russian Orthodox Church conservatism, neo-Soviet style authoritarianism, chauvinist nationalism, militarized FSB, imperialism and, most of all, “order”. After the chaos Yeltsin left behind – economic crises, excess corruption, crony capitalism – people were thirsting for stability and many became nostalgic for the old Soviet order. Never mind the gulags, here’s Putinism! At least Putin was sober and most of his puppet theater "campaign" was focused on Putin's sobriety as opposed to the chronically drunk Yeltsin.
Yeltsin, and with him his oligarchic gangster backers, had indeed succeeded in crushing communism in Russia but he had failed to create its promised successor, democracy. Instead of democracy Putin delivered the Kremlin-controlled “managed democracy”, which was not about completing the transition to "democracy", more accurately a capitalist coup, but about consolidating power back into the Kremlin and he did this by getting rid of all kinds of alternative views such as independent media but also by clipping the wings of the oligarchic tycoons and curbing their political ambitions while banking in on their power and wealth. Putin had actually been a special project of the oligarchs, a puppet they had hoped to control. The puppet had different ideas.
When Putin came into office he had himself surrounded by these mighty oligarchs, who were organized into clans. During his first three to five years in office Putin shared federal power with two key clans: the St. Petersburg siloviki or the “men of power”, loyal ex-KGB and military veterans who had invaded Moscow along with the President, and the ‘Family’ he inherited from Boris Yeltsin. Khodorkovsky was part of ‘The Family’. When Khodorkovsky downplays the power of the oligarchs in Russia he is simply covering up for himself. How else can he present himself as a viable opponent of Putin, one who wants to turn an authoritarian state into a democracy - here we go again, the promise of democracy - , when he himself was part of the ruling elite and one of the undisputed leaders of corruption-Russian-oligarch style? Putin’s government is a government not only for the oligarchs but of the oligarchs wherein deals were made in which the oligarchs would not be obstructed in their corrupt ways of amassing wealth as long as they didn’t challenge the present government. In other words a gang of maffioso, of which Putin is the godfather, is looting the country and its occupied territories under the protection of the state.
In October 2003 in a Moscow trial Khodorkovsky was convicted of tax evasion and fraud worth $1bn, charges he has always denied stating it was his political ambitions that lead to him being sentenced to 15 years in jail. Ahead of the Duma elections he did fund opposition parties, which of course doesn’t mean he can’t be guilty of fraud. He also funded the Kremlin-loyal United Russia party. In his business dealings and in his philosophy Khodorkovsky is decidedly pro- west and pro-capitalist. Right before his arrest, in April 2003, his company Yukos had sought to merge with Sibneft (Roman Abramovich and Boris Berezovsky) in order to create the fourth largest private company in the world. Khodorkovsky had also been negotiating with ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco. Three weeks after his meeting with Exxon Mobil he was arrested upon which Rosneft, the Russian state oil company, swiftly made its own deal with Exxon Mobil. When oligarchs try to break from the clans and use their wealth and influence to develop an opposition to the Putin dominance they are purged. The rest of the oligarchs then try to steal their wealth. However, Khodorkovsky had already hid his money in Germany and a big chunk was entangled in offshore vehicles outside of Russia like the Netherlands. Upon his arrest his Yukos shares passed on to Jacob Rothschild because of an earlier deal they had agreed upon. Also in 2003 Leonid Nevzlin, a billionaire partner of Yukos, obtained the control of 50% of the Menatep Bank he helped create for Khodorkovsky that had been instrumental in getting Yeltsin re-elected and thus responsible for the financial empire of Khodorkovsky in the first place. Menatep is a holding company, which owns a large part of Yukos. Khodorkovsky owned 60% of Menatep, or 42% of Yukos indirectly, of which he transferred the majority to Nevzlin. That is about $920 million of the $2.2bn that is currently being held in Dutch foundations. Nevzlin had left Moscow after he had been questioned about his involvement in the Yukos fraud case. In November, right after Khodorkovsky’s conviction, he became an Israeli citizen as so many Russian Jews, about 1.3 million, had done after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Currently Nevzlin enjoys prominent status in “Israel” as a major philanthropist and close friend of Binyamin Netanyahu.
On December 20th 2013, a little over 10 years into his jail time, Khodorkovsky was pardoned an early release brokered by the former German Foreign Minister Hans-Dieter Genscher. German Chancellor Angela Merkel had arranged for Genscher to meet with Putin on two occasions, both in 2012. The following months, Genscher and Khodorkovsky’s attorneys designed a plan to allow for Putin to grant him early release, which included amendments to existing laws and clemency. In November 2013 Genscher suggested the prisoner should write a pardon letter emphasizing his mother's ill health. Putin then was able to pardon him “for humanitarian reasons” upon which a private plane provided by Genscher flew Khodorkovsky to Berlin for a family reunion. The pardon came right before Putin’s precious Socchi 2014 Winter Olympics, which undoubtedly helped Putin paint himself as a benevolent fair leader. Khodorkovsky’s release was warmly welcomed by numerous international observers, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton, amongst others. Mikhael Khodorkovsky lives in London these days.
The Chechen Republic of Ichkeria
This ruthless oligarch and oil tycoon supposedly saw the light in prison and came out a beautiful butterfly or so he wants the world to believe. In interviews and TV shows he presents himself as the noble philanthropist fighting for Russian reform and democracy. However, when we take a closer look at his rhetoric his true intentions reveal themselves.
“I think that this question should be decided by the West. We will solve our problems independently of whether we have sanctions or we don’t. The policy of the West towards Russia should be based on the understanding of the fact that Russia can solve its problems only by itself. What can the West do? It can help, it can assist the new Russian political elite to come into existence. It can help in preventing the political field in Russia from becoming completely barren – because later it will, God forbid, grow only poisonous plants. This is where the West can help. But we can only solve the issues of Russia by ourselves.” ~ Khodorkovsky
Khodorkovsky wants the West to help him and his friends into power just as the West helped Yeltsin get re-elected. This has little or nothing to do with democracy, it’s merely a changing of the guards. At the same time however he is saying that “Russia can solve its problems only by itself” and “we can only solve the issues of Russia by ourselves”. The fact that he is repeating this several times betrays the significance of it. It is a reference to the Russian mantra at the UN, "it's an internal affair of Russia", giving the UN an excuse not to interfere when Russia was committing the genocide of the Chechen peoples in which 300,000 people were slaughtered - a quarter of the Chechen population - including 42,000 children. Khodorkovsky is still a supporter of the continued occupation of the North Caucasus. Anti-Putin doesn’t necessarily mean anti-Russian interests and imperialism.
"This is our land, we have won it... we have conquered the North Caucasus. If the question is separation of the North Caucasus and war – then it’s war" ~ Mikhail Khodorkovsky
For the past 400 years Russia has been trying to occupy the lands of the Caucasus one way or another and Chechens have always fought back. In 1991, after a series of events that lead to the inevitable collapse of the USSR, Dzhokhar Dudayev proclaimed the independence of The Chechen Republic and this made it official. Internationally their independence largely remains unrecognized. Only Georgia and Afghanistan officially recognized the Chechen Republic as an independent country and with it its exiled government. When referred to in the international press it is called the “secessionist” or “separatist” government. However, this is using the language of the occupier similar as when Palestine is referred to as “Israel”. There is nothing to secede or separate from since the Chechen peoples were already independent and never part of the Russian Federation. When the Soviet Union ceased to exist each federalized region had been offered to enter into a federalized agreement with “Russia”. The Chechen Republic refused to sign the agreement in 1992. Chechenya then became occupied territory and is since 1994 called The Chechen Republic of Ichkeria or occupied Chechnya. In 1992 the Chechen Republic wrote its Constitution according to which the Chechen Republic was an independent democratic state. As a matter of fact, the constitution of the Chechen Republic was written two years before a constitution of the Russian Federation even existed and this Republic was recognized by many, even by muscovy, as sovereign and independent. This means when western writers and bloggers referring to the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria as being part of the Russian Federation or as a “secessionist” or “separatist” government they are downright lying. Nobody can claim that much ignorance when writing on the subject and claiming to be experts especially when their articles appear in certain outlets that specialize in Russian news such as The Interpreter. Therefore writers like Michael D. Weiss or Paul Goble, respectively the editor-in-chief of and a writer at The Interpreter, are obviously biased when they use the term “terrorists’ when referring to the people that are resisting the occupying force.
- Russia is a defective State legally.
Russian Deputy Lysenko asked Dudayev:
- Tell me President, why have you chosen separatism and don't want to be a part of Russia?
Johar, agitated by this question, said back to Lysenko with his voice slightly raised:
-Show me your Passport
He [Lysenko] took out his Soviet passport. Johar asked him:
- Here, do you see what is written here? It says [you are a] Citizen of the Soviet Union, how can you be a Deputy of Russia if you are not even a formed Nation? Your "Russia", isn't even a full-fledged State legally and you dare to attempt to talk to me about separatism? If the question is, who should recognize who, Ichkeria, is a fully formed State legally and we should consider recognition of you actually.
Khodorkovsky knows full well the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria is being occupied, has a government in exile and does NOT belong to the Russian Federation. He - and the rest of the world for that matter - simply pretends that it does because he needs the Russian Federation to be able to hold the lands of the North Caucasus and its peoples hostage. The occupied regions of the North Caucasus are one of the richest natural resources regions in the whole of the Russian Federation. Losing the North Caucasus means the end of the Russian empire.
Russian money in the West
The enormous wealth of the Russian oligarchs, pro- and anti-Putin alike, has swarmed all over Europe and the US and with that also their influence. Russian oil tycoons and business oligarchs have invested in all kinds of western enterprises such as English football clubs, a trend started by one of Russia’s richest tycoons Roman Abramovich who famously bought Chelsea FC in 2003, and in real estate in Greece, London, Germany and the US.
“The oligarchs' criminality therefore threatens more than the security of the world's energy supplies; to the extent that it leaks out of Russia, it also challenges the West's commitment to the international rule of law.” ~ Lee S. Wolosky, Putin's Plutocrat Problem, in Foreign Affairs, 2000.
Between the third quarters of 2008 and 2013 Britain granted Russia 433 three-year “investor” visas. These visas are granted to foreigners who invest £1m or more in government bonds. After 2 years they can then buy residency for £10m. With 433 visas this places Russia in the lead by a landslide except for China, who is a close second with 419 visas. The high amount of these visas are an indication how eager Russian oligarchs are on buying, especially London, real estate. In prime central areas such as Chelsea and Westminster Russians are spending £6.3m on average and make up 4% of all the buyers. Russians are also highly active, as are the Chinese, in Britain’s off shore structures such as the British Virgin Islands and about 28 Russian firms, with a market value of £260 billion, are listed on London’s main exchange while another 15 are on the AIM market for growth stocks. No British politician will ever crack down on these post-Soviet plutocrats no matter what atrocities Russia is guilty of. They will not go after the owners of Rosneft because their very own BP has a 20% stake in it. Equally they will not challenge any Putin opponent who might become the next leader of Russia or part of a new power elite. London then, as the rest of the west, becomes hostage to the power games of the Russian oligarchs.
Besides football clubs Russian oligarchs also invest in media. From the Yeltsin years they learned how important media is if you want to protect your fortunes and shape the politics around you. Father and son Lebedev own the British newspapers The Independent and the London Evening Standard together good for one million copies a day, and also the TV channel London Live. Alexander Lebedev, former KGB and Russian Foreign Intelligent Service, is part owner of Russia’s liberal, anti Putin newspaper Novaya Gazeta together with Mikhael Gorbachev. However, Ukrainian hackers leaked Kremlin emails revealing that Alexander Lebedev was seeking Western support for the illegal annexation of Crimea to Russia thus helping Putin. In 2009 Yuri Milner, former CEO and Vice President of Khodorkovsky’s Menatep Bank, bought Facebook shares turning his $200 million investment into $1bn. In 2011 he invested $400 million into Twitter, which was then valued at $8bn. In the beginning of 2015 Twitter was worth $26bn.
Khodorkovsky himself has a big foot in western media and any other projects that can exert influence on public debate promoting his political and imperialist ambitions. Even before his arrest Khodorkovky was already courting Washington’s inner circle by donating heavily to American think tanks.
“Philanthropy is what smart guys do when they get rich'' ~ Sarah Carey, a Washington lawyer, Yukos board member and a close adviser to Mr. Khodorkovsky.
Through his former company Yukos he was able to give large sums to all kinds of American organizations such as $1 million to the Library of Congress and a $500,000 pledge to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the US State Department NGO, whose current president William Burns previously served as US Deputy Secretary of State. Such courting pays off as is evident in the fact that the Carlyle Group, an investment bank of which the elder Bush was an adviser, maintained a close business relationship with Khodorkovsky. His Open Russia Foundation, a Russian philanthropy based in Britain of which the first version launched in 2001, features several American board members such as former Secretary of State under the Nixon administration Henry Kissinger on invitation of Lord Rothschild, who is also on the board, and former senator Bill Bradley.
After the first version of Open Russia closed in 2006 it was relaunched in September 2014 with a statement from Khodorkovsky that he was prepared to lead Russia despite an earlier promise to Putin he would steer clear of politics after his pardon and subsequent early release. .
“I would not be interested in the idea of becoming president of Russia at a time when the country would be developing normally but if it appeared necessary to overcome the crisis and to carry out constitutional reform, the essence of which would be to redistribute presidential powers in favour of the judiciary, parliament and civil society, then I would be ready to take on this part of the task.” ~ Khodorkovksy as quoted by Le Monde newspaper.
His Open Russia movement states that the aim is to “enable citizens to communicate and work together, to make their voices heard, and to mobilise effectively in the cause of common interests and goals”. These “common interests and goals” are of course to get him in power and for that he uses the grassroots model of “horizontal alliance” that has been so popular amongst other political projects such as Syriza, the Kremlin connected so called leftwing party of Greece that claimed it came from a popular movement. This “horizontal alliance of small civic groups” still keeps him firmly at the helm though just as Tsipras always remained the undisputed leader of Syriza before its "betrayal". These parties simply use the structures and the appeal of “movements” in order to grab power. It is the new and tested formula we can also find with Podemos and with American presidential candidates such as Bernie Sanders, who even used “revolution” rhetoric in an American presidential electoral campaign. Open Russia wants to leave its footprint in the areas of education, media, arts, culture, theatre, films and music and a lot of this Russian cultural life is taking place in London, “where 300,000 Russians are living, working and studying”.
“Open Russia’s long-term focus is to ensure a solid and sustainable foundation for democratic governance when change eventually comes to Russia.”~ from Khodorkovsky’s website
The Institute of Modern Russia and The Interpreter
The Institute of Modern Russia, which was launched in 2010 by Pavel Khodorkovsky, the president of IMR and son of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, became another project of the Open Russia “movement”. It is a non-profit charity and think tank based in New York. According to the website it wants to promote “a principles-based approach to US-Russia relations, and Russia’s integration into the community of democracies”. One of its principle aims is “the theoretical construction of an alternative future for Russia”. From May 2013, the same year Mikhail Khodorkovsky was released, the Institute ran a special project called The Interpreter magazine.
The Interpreter started out as an outlet dedicated to translating Russian articles but quickly became a distinctly anti-Putin vehicle. All of its analyses of Ukraine and Syria are simply opportunities to criticize Putin, who obviously deserves all the contempt he can get. However the underlying motivation is not to give an accurate assessment of the situation but to destroy the political opponent of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. When we take a closer look at some of the writings of the editor-in-chief Michael D. Weiss the pro - Russian Empire agenda of the continued occupation of the North Caucasus becomes exposed.
In the article “Russia is sending Jihadis to join ISIS” in The Daily Beast, of which Michael Weiss is a senior editor in addition to being the editor-in-chief of The Interpreter as mentioned earlier, the devil is in the details.
The title sets the tone for the rest of the piece. It is misleading from the start because in fact Russia is mostly sending FSB agents posing as “Jihadis” to so called pledge allegiance to Daesh. They do try to coerce Mujahideen or freedom fighters to join IS by infiltrating. Ramzan Kadyrov, Putin’s poodle in the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, is openly admitting he has sent his forces, which he refers to as "volunteers"- they must be on vacation probably-, to Syria where they are embedded into ISIS doing "important surveillance work" for Russia's military to ensure the security of Russia. He states since day 1 his forces have been embedded with ISIS in both Syria and Iraq. However, he completely forgot to mention that Russia has been doing recruiting all along as was confirmed by Elena Milashina of Novaya Gazeta in July of 2015 (Green Corridor to Ethnic Cleansing).
- “It is an article of faith among the many critics of the current Russian government that, however unpleasant Vladimir Putin may be, he is still a necessary partner in one crucial field of US foreign policy: cooperation in the war on Islamic terrorism.”
The “common enemy” approach becomes solidified here as if it is a fact rather than a scheme from Russia to continue its occupation of the oil-rich North Caucasus with the help from the West. People fighting for their lives and land are called terrorists. .
..."Chechenya is certainly a case where the label of terrorism has been and is still being used both to justify the military occupation and to de-legitimise the resistance. Though the apparent convenience of the anti-terror paradigm may seem for Moscow irresistibly tempting for its policy in Chechenya, it is in fact counter-productive – de-legitimising the Chechen resistance achieves neither a victory nor a solution but simply prolongs the war and further increases the polarization of the two confronting sides. Recognizing the incontestable distinction between international terrorism and the Russian-Chechen conflict is therefore a prerequisite to solving the conflict. To begin with, the Russian-Chechen conflict and international terrorism have no common background.The former has deep historical roots and a definite political cause. It is not a new phenomenon, nor is it global or anti-western. The conflict had existed long before international terrorism came into being, and the Chechens never had any quarrel with the western democratic world and indeed any other country. Their cause of dispute is entirely limited to the Russian-Chechen confrontation."... ~ Ilyas Akhmadov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, March 2003.
- “That conference was held principally because of the international threat posed by ISIS and the coalition war against it in Syria and Iraq”
Everybody and their mother is using IS and the perceived international “Jihadist” terrorist threat as a way to serve their agenda. Daesh is very hyped up and doesn’t have that many fighters. The terror organization mostly shines in propaganda as is evident in the widespread release of their snuff movies that are really recruiting videos. They are deflectors that serve to take away the focus on state terrorism, which is far worse both in scale and level of cruelty than any of the “private” terror organizations could conjure up simply because they lack the resources. The coalition bombing is only benefiting the Syrian regime and damaging to the democratic forces in Syria that rose up against their genocidal dictator, Bashar Assad. This whole conference takes the focus away again from the real culprits: the Syrian regime waging war against their own people, Russia occupying Chechenya, Georgia and Ukraine and the West allowing this.
- “The Chechen identity of the Tsaernaev brothers...”
A complete lie and Weiss knows it. The Tsaernaev brothers didn’t come from the Chechen Republic but from Dagestan. Even though their father is Chechen, their mother is Avar and they grew up with their mother. There is a deliberate attempt by Russian imperialists, taken over by their western allies, to link Chechens to terrorism. When you call occupied people terrorists the door is open to their complete annihilation. The hyperlink in the article features Zakayev, who has lost support of the majority of Chechens because of his stubborn collaboration with Russian oligarchs who don’t have the slightest interest in the Chechen struggle for independence. In the past, Zakayev also demonstrated suspicious activity when dealing with Kadyrov and Putin’s FSB. It should be crystal clear why Chechens have no faith in someone who maintains connections with individuals and organizations that are in fact responsible for the continued slaughtering of the Chechen peoples. Akhmed Zakayev was also funded by Boris Berezovsky, who was, before his apparent suicide, decidedly against Chechen independence.
I am absolutely against independence for Chechnya. I was also against it, when it was negotiated in 1996-1997. If we give independence to Chechnya, then tomorrow we will have to give it to Tatarstan, and the day after tomorrow, Ingushetia and so on. This would mean the collapse of Russia. I am against the collapse of Russia." ~ Boris Berezovsky
Furthermore, cooperation between Russia and the US is proposed again in the fight against “Islamist terrorism”, another variation of the same old “common enemy” narrative.
"Russia uses state terrorism against the civilian population and of course, for these reasons they pretend to have some kind of answers. The US or Western countries just closed their eyes for their own reasons and purposes. Even today no one who occupies an official position in the US or Western Europe will ever use the term "war crimes against a civilian population" or "massive killings in Chechenya". A quarter of the Chechen population has been killed without any justice and all settlements have been destroyed by Russia. In 1999, Russia had only one problem, it was the Chechens, but Russian policy manufactures terrorism and now they have problems in all of the North Caucasus. However Russia has no program, mechanism or viewpoint to solve this problem. Recently, a bombing occured in the Domodedovo Airport in Moscow. It comes from Russian policy, but Russia always accuses different groups or states of terrorism. This is not true. And everyone in the West knows that it is not true. But they continue their game with Russia because they need Russian gas, petrol or some transit to Afghanistan." ~ Ilyas Akhmadov (Feb.2011)
- “Bortnikov's presence was a mutual recognition by the US and Russia that fighting Jihadism is a shared challenge between two countries now embroiled in a pitched standoff over the fate of Europe and much else”
Again, the "common enemy" pitch now linked to "the fate of Europe" indicating the sanctions should be lifted or else...
- “It may sound paradoxical -helping the enemy of your friend – but the logic is actually straightforward: Better the terrorists go abroad and fight in Syria than blow things up in Russia.”
His conclusion is completely wrong and betrays his agenda. First, IS is not the enemy of Assad. They have a non aggression pact for reasons that are mutually beneficial. IS is protected by the regime from the sky. If this is not acknowledged from the start then the rest of his analysis doesn't hold any water because Russia supports Assad, which is acknowledged by Weiss, so it totally makes sense for them to also support IS by joining their ranks. IS even has a Russian speaking department and a fighter who goes by the name of Abu Zarr (Czar) al-Muscowi. How ironic is it that a Wahhabi would be openly proud of coming from Moscow let alone use the name “Czar”, which is very fishy when many of those “FSB agents on vacation” who came to invade Ukraine loved Czarist Muscovy. Second, he still calls the freedom fighters terrorists whereas they are resistors to an occupation.
"The lack of a principled assessment in the west contributed to the radicalisation of the Chechen resistance . . . The radicalisation didn't happen in a day and it didn't happen in a vacuum. We didn't ask for money or weapons, we only asked for an adequate assessment of what was happening and we never got that,"- Ilyas Akhmadov (feb 2011)
In another Michael Weiss article for The Daily Beast, "The Volgograd Bombings and the Return of Big Terror to Russia" the biased writer shows off his racism.
- "2009 also saw the Nevsky Express railroad bombing, followed in 2010 by the bombing of the Moscow metro by two “black widows” (female suicide bombers). In 2011, Domodedovo Airport in Moscow was attacked, the last major “spectacular” to be waged inside the Russian heartland until Volgograd happened this week.”
These female suicide bombers, who are dressed in black chador, are commonly known as "shakhidki", the Russian feminized word of the Arab "martyrs", which the sensationalist and racist Moscow media turned into "black widows". Anytime the word "black" is thrown into a sentence to describe any person of Caucasus ethnicity it is rooted in racism. Ironically in the West, “Caucasian” refers to white-skinned people from European decent, whereas in the East, and especially in Russia, it refers to the peoples from the Caucasus who are called “the blacks” because their complexion is slightly darker than that of the Slavic peoples and they also have darker hair and eyes. Racists sometimes call Caucasian peoples, “the monkeys from the mountains”. The Caucasians are greatly discriminated against in Russia. This means that our anti-Putin writer Michael Weiss has no problem whatsoever using Kremlin racist language as long as it aligns with the pro Russian Empire stance of occupying the North Caucasus.
A perfect example of what racism and xenophobia looks like in Russia would be from a scene of the '90's Russian movie “Brat” "Брат" (Brother). A Russian veteran of the first Chechen war, played by Danila Bagrov, forces two North Caucasian immigrants at gunpoint to pay for their tram ticket. Bagrov's character uses the ethnic racist slur "chyorny" to address the men, meaning "Black"- an offensive term for people of Caucasian descent such as Georgians, Azers, Chechens, Avars, etc....comparable to the n-word for people of color in western or US countries. Similarly, the word "chernozhopy”, meaning Black-ass or "darkies", is very offensive and used quite regularly by racist nationalists in Russia and Eastern Europe towards peoples of Caucasus or Central Asian regions with non Slavic "appearances". Some western media, such as The Interpreter, like to ignore that some, even within the Russian opposition, political group leaders like Russian nationalist Alexei Navalny, who is described as a liberal democrat by clueless western writers, have used words like these in public towards "non white" ethnic groups on more than a few occasions.
Of course racism, dehumanizing “the other”, has always been the strategy for the justification of colonialism and slavery. How else can stealing the land and resources of peoples be justified? Only when “the other” is seen as less than human, not like “us”, is there seemingly no moral objection to their enslavement, murder, torture, rape, forced disappearance and genocide. The Europeans did it with the natives from the Americas and later with the African slave trade, Leopold II did it in Congo, the Israeli occupiers are doing it in Palestine and Russia did, and is doing it, in the North Caucasus, Georgia and Ukraine. And when your victims object to your brutal oppression, occupation and/or colonization you simply call them neo-nazis – like Russia in Ukraine – or terrorists – like Assad/Russia and Iran in Syria, Russia in North Caucasus or Zionist occupiers in Palestine. It is the same story every time but somehow Michael Weiss and his staff, writers such as Cat Fitzpatrick, seem to think there’s a difference between Syrian people rising up against their oppressors and Chechen people rising up against their occupier.
In the article "Christmas in Grozny" in The Interpreter Cat Fitzpatrick dutifully executes the agenda of her editor-in-chief Michael Weiss and their mutual boss Mikhael Khodorkovsky.
- "On December 4, hours before Putin was to give a defiant speech about Russia being surrounded by enemies and defeating any attempts to divide it, terrorists conducted an impeccably-timed and surprised attack in the manicured of the former war torn republic of Chechnya, Grozny.
She calls people resisting against their land being occupied terrorists and refers to The Chechen Republic of Ichkeria as "Chechnya", which is the language of the oppressors. Similarly, "Grozny" should be "Jokhar".
- "...analysis was already coming out about the insidious spread of ISIS to the North Caucasus and the return of an insurgency that failed to mount a spectacular attack on the Sochi Olympics (Not to mention there is a very public feud between the Emir of the Caucasus Emirate and many of the fighters from the Caucasus proclaiming allegiance to ISIS rather than Al-Qaeda or Jabhat Al-Nusra).
Here she attempts to connect the Caucasus Emirate to ISIS, which has been debunked and exposed as a special FSB operation. It is Russia that would benefit the most of linking Chechens with Daesh (ISIS or IS) because it is important for Russia to paint the peoples they are occupying as terrorists-so they have a justification to continue to massacre them-and what better way to do that than to surf on the fame of Daesh? It also serves the discourse of the "common enemy" and "fighting international terrorism together" desperately promoted by Russia in order to seek an alliance with the west that would force the west to lift the sanctions against Russia.
She talks about an "insurgency". An insurgency is a movement within a country dedicated to overthrowing the government. An insurgency is a rebellion. However, The Chechen Republic of Ichkeria does not belong to the Russian Federation and therefore there is no movement within a country and there is no overthrowing their government because it is not their government. It is also not a rebellion but a liberation movement against an occupying force.
One of her hyperlinks leads to an article by Joanna Paraszczuck, who once worked for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty- a US State Department broadcasting organization established by the CIA and funded by US Congress, but who was let go because she had been called out regarding her lack of knowledge about the peoples of the North Caucasus. Joanna claims to be an expert on the North Caucasus but was infamous for referring to all of its peoples as "Chechen" no matter if they are Kists, Circassian or even Uzbeks, which are not peoples from North Caucasus or even the Caucasus region but peoples from Central Asia.
The agenda here is clear: call everyone in the North Caucasus Chechen and then link the "Chechens" to a famous terrorist organization, Daesh, hence "Chechens are terrorists", which provides the justification to use military force against a population that is being occupied by Russia. It is the same strategy as the Israeli occupying force in Palestine when they are calling the Palestinians and Hamas terrorists and claiming they are merely defending themselves against these "terrorists" but are in fact in the process of a total genocide.
Incidentally The Interpreter is now under the umbrella of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty. On December 23, 2015 Michael Weiss anounced at The Interpreter that The Interpreter joins RFE/RL.
"We are proud to announce that starting January 1, 2016, The Interpreter will be a special project of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty"
"...to the prevalence of North Caucasian Jihadists joining the ranks of ISIS".
He fails to mention this was a special FSB operation as it aligns with the shared goal of painting the resistance to Russian occupation as terrorists.
"And given our overlapping interest, we could not be more excited to start 2016 as an outpost of a venerable news organization."
Please note, he specifically mentions "the overlapping interest". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty was founded in 1949 as an anti-communist news source by the National Committee for a Free Europe as part of a large scale Psychological Operation during the Cold War. RFE/RL received funds from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) until 1972. The content they broadcasted was jointly determined by the CIA, the US State Department and the RFE/RFL staff. One of the writers of The Interpreter, Paul Goble, worked at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), The Foreign Broadcast Information Service and served as a Special Assistent for Soviet Nationalities and Special Adviser for Soviet Nationality and Baltic Affairs at the US Department of State. He was also the Director of Research and the Director of Communication and Technology at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and worked for The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the NGO branch of the US State Department for which Mikhail Khodorkovsky proved to be so generous.
- "...the insurgency has gradually been reduced to a loose coalition of disparate and atomized groups, operating relatively independently and motivated as much by opportunities for organized crime as any allegiance to Islamic fundamentalism."
Again the liberation movement is discredited as an insurgency, effectively side-stepping the truth of an actual occupation, and this time they are not called terrorists but criminals and extremists. It's apparently important to mix it up a little.
It is clear from the writings of Cat Fitzpatrick-a staff writer at The Interpreter-that, even though her articles are anti-Putin and anti-Kadyrov, Putin's puppet in occupied Chechnya, she writes in favor of the continued occupation of the North Caucasus.
How is it Michael Weiss can go on television and talk about the horrors done to Syrian people by Putin but fails to mention the exact same horrors against the Chechen peoples done by the same guy? The answer is simple. His boss, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who has a stake in the continued occupation of the North Caucasus, knows very well that the end of the Russian Federation is near and his only agenda is to stop that. Incidentally he also doesn’t care about the immorality of killing Syrian civilians. His main issue is that the killings are happening in order to keep Putin in power. That's it. Just as the suffering of the Palestinian people has become a bargaining chip in western pseudo-leftist circles, providing the desperately needed "progressive" activist street cred to cover up for western Islamophobia and orientalism, so is the suffering of the Syrian people now used to serve an imperialist agenda and a grab for power. Moreover, Mikhail Khodorkovsky hides behind his “pro-democratic dream for a future Russia” to justify his refusal to take a position regarding the illegal capture of Crimea. The truth is that he in fact very much takes position on Crimea. Don’t ever trust an oil baron and a gangster capitalist no matter how many times they utter the word “democracy”. It is only smoke and mirrors.
"The dispute fairly/unfairly leads into a maze of history not necessarily based in facts. Instead of staying on the path to resolve the conflict it leads to some nonsense and hysteria such as "immediately give back and pay compensation", "only the Crimean Tatars have the right to decide", "Russian trash needs to be thrown from the Crimea.." on a simple question of legal procedure, which would enable a democratic governement to decide, contrary to the position of society and democratic government, the answer is no. On the offer to look for a compromise, to convince society of both countries in the need for, there are insane accusations of theft (as if they are speaking to Putin, and not with the opposition) and even more insane is the proposal for the democratic forces in their country to repeat the experience of the current occupation forces, even though they are the losers of the war. The general feeling is that people (and not only Ukrainians but also some dear Russians) don't want to leave their fictional world they live in and enter into reality. These fictional worlds are not at all democratic." ~ Mikhail Khodorkovsky
Another thing not mentioned by Khodorkovsky when he talks about the need for "democracy" in order to settle the illegal occupation of Crimea is that since the beginning of the occupation the Russian Federation has moved 73,000 Russians to Crimea in order to change the demographics - a strategy Iran is also executing in Syria when they gave 500,000 Iranians Syrian passports and prospects of jobs and houses. He also never mentions in his bid for a "democratic solution" the mass imprisonment campaign of Ukrainian and Tatar peoples and conveniently ignores all the forced disappearances and the exiled people.
It should be obvious by now, given all the connections between the west and Russia that there is no such thing as "East versus West", there's only "the Haves versus the Have-nots". Geopolitics is nothing but a game of chess the elites play with each other in which the players take up different positions according to shifting economic and political realities. It is a game in which the common people, and their struggles against the elites, are overlooked and deemed of no importance not only by the power players themselves but also often by those who claim to be allies of common people when they insist on explaining current uprisings and revolutions in terms of "East versus West" and geopolitics. In doing so they speak the language of the elites, become mouth pieces for their strategies and end up calling revolutionaries terrorists and neo-nazis.
While the bulk of western pseudo-leftists and other "anti-imperialists" are Putinistas aligning themselves with the rightwing Islamophobic Euro-sceptics and cheering on a weakened EU, which will give fascist Russia relative more power and influence - one can't help but wonder when they will become Trump apologists, Putin's biggest buddy in the west-, another part of the "left" rallies behind the Putin critics, the oligarchs, who are no different from Putin in their thirst for power and money and are imperialists and racist colonizers all the same. It is one thing to having to rely on oligarchs when your country has been invaded and occupied as is the case in Ukraine. It is entirely another thing for free western journalists and writers to suck up to oligarchs out of opportunism.
As much as Russia is an imperialist threat and occupying reality it is however a declining power in denial, whose faith is very much dependent on the continuation of the western sanctions. China, another BRIC country and thus perceived “anti-imperialist” against the west, is a rising power. Just like Russia, just like Syria, China has become capitalist. In the future will we see NY “anarchists” and other western “leftists” deem popular revolt against a fascist and capitalist oppressive state such as China unfit for support on the grounds that the revolt is “capitalist”, read “not proletarian”, and thus “counterrevolutionary” according to their narrow standards for revolution as they do with Syria? Or even call the revolutionaries terrorists? And will we see others, who do see through the “anti-imperialist” scam, support Chinese oligarchs who pose as pro-democratic champions of the people but are nothing but exploiting elite all the same thirsting for power? In the end everybody is simply defending gangster crony capitalism, imperialism, occupation, oppression, exploitation and colonialism in whatever shape or form. At least everybody who doesn’t consistently support common people rising up against state terrorists no matter where. Yes, it can be that simple.