No Minister

Posts Tagged ‘President Vladimir Putin

Andrei will approve of this Fact Check

with 17 comments

I make a practice here at No Minister of bagging the MSM for their shallow ignorance, stupidity and overwhelming Lefty bias, and how ordinary citizens on the Internet can and have done their job for them.

It thus seems entirely fair to look at an example of this where “my side” of an issue is the one getting dunked. This was the original story.

Now there’s no question that the Russian Army has lost more than few senior officers, including several generals, because their command and control problems have led these men far too close to the frontline as they try to get their army to achieve objectives. As a result there are serious stories out of Russia – including from pro-Russian military blogs – of Putin and company dredging through the officer corps back home looking for replacements.

So this story was made to measure for the British Tabloid press. I suppose it should be pointed out that the “premium name brand” MSM sources, especially in the USA, did not go for this story, which had clickbait written all over it. Still, as you can see from images above, it made the tabloids dance for a day.

Which makes the following a lot of fun to read as an ordinary citizen does the investigative work the reporters should have done, and could have done using the same Internet resources. In his case things like:

  • A facial recognition app called PimEyes to identify the people in that photo
  • Google Street View visitor photos to identify the park, the memorials and the specific troops (Border Guards as it turns out
  • A Russian search engine called Yandex to find local Russian news stories of the event.
  • A Russian social network called Odnoklassniki that had a Border Guard group.

Which eventually leads to the identification of Pavel The Obese General – who turns out not to be that at all. Read the whole thread to see how Fact Checking can actually be done nowadays using both the tools and the human networking power of the Internet.

Written by Tom Hunter

July 12, 2022 at 11:52 am

Russia’s existential crises.

with 29 comments

This is basically a followup to the article I wrote yesterday about the US intelligence agencies proxy war against Russia, because I wanted to explore some of the larger issues surrounding that war.

That includes the idea that – while Putin’s invasion of Ukraine needs to stopped and even turned back – there’s no need to try and leverage it to get rid of Putin right now, as various fools from “President” Biden to Lindsay “There is no off-ramp” Graham have been demanding in the most bellicose terms.

There are two reasons why getting rid of Putin should not be considered an objective right now, let alone a priority.

First, because Russia’s thousand year history is of a massive, centralised, state led by a strongman “Czar”, from Czar Ivan to Czar Stalin. Putin is merely the latest and would likely be replaced by someone in his inner circles (or even the outer ones) who thinks much the same about Mother Russia, the West and Ukraine. In light of the history of such leaders back to the ancient civilisations you can bet there are already such schemers at work, thinking ahead to post-Putin days.

But the second reason is actually more sobering and, frankly, a bit sad; and it is that the Russian nation is slowly dying, war or not, and it’s this I want to focus on here, starting with a blunt statement in this article, Russia is dying out:

“One hundred and forty-six million [people] for such a vast territory is insufficient,” said Vladimir Putin at the end of last year. Russians haven’t been having enough children to replace themselves since the early Sixties. Birth rates are also stagnant in the West, but in Russia the problem is compounded by excess deaths: Russians die almost a decade earlier than Brits. Their President is clearly worried that he’s running out of subjects.

That excess deaths bit has a very nasty reference point from the 1990’s in the wake of the collapse of the USSR.

One journalist in Russia at the time wrote about how “the deaths kept piling up. People … were falling or perhaps jumping, off trains and out of windows; asphyxiating in country houses with faulty wood stoves or in apartment with jammed front door locks … drowning as a result of driving drunk into a lake … poisoning themselves with too much alcohol … dropping dead at absurdly early ages from heart attacks and strokes”. By the early years of this century, life expectancy for Russian men was on par with countries such as Madagascar and Sudan.

Over which an often drunken, shambolic President Yeltsin “ruled”. It was no surprise to many Russia watchers that Putin rose to power and promptly went after the causes of these things, to the extent that he could, starting with getting rid of the first wave of post-Soviet oligarchs who’d looted the place and replacing them with more cautious and amenable men. A must-read book on this is the 2011 work, The Oligarchs, by the former Moscow bureau chief for the Washington Post.

Unfortunately there’s not much that Putin can do, any more than can other leaders facing such demographic problems (It should be noted that here in the West it’s not even considered a problem – yet)

It’s a humiliating state of affairs because Russian power has always been built on the foundation of demography. Back in the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville foresaw that Russia would become a world power, because “Russia is of all the nations of the Old World the one whose population is increasing most rapidly”. The only other country with its population potential was the United States. De Tocqueville prophesised that, “Each one of them seems called by a secret design of Providence to hold in its hands one day the destinies of half the world.” A century later, they were the world’s two uncontested superpowers.

The article points to practical outcomes such as the Eastern portions of Russia – the ones right next to a resource hungry China – being steadily abandoned, as well as rural areas and small towns dying as young people flee to the cities. When it comes to the military the current demography is one of the reasons the Russians are having so many problems in the Ukraine.

Year after year, the share of recruits from the peripheral republics went up, while the share from Russia went down; in the late Eighties, three-quarters of recruits from Central Asia could not speak Russian.

It’s also worth recognising that the Russian men who fell fighting the Germans in the Forties were from families of six or seven siblings; those who fell fighting the Afghans in the Eighties were from families of two or three. Those falling now, fighting in Ukraine, are likely to be only-children or one of two siblings. The preparedness of a society to sustain military losses falls as family size falls.

That sort of fundamental problem also goes to the heart of how you design a military that allows for it. As pointed out here in The Russian Army Wasn’t Designed for War:

With the break up of the USSR, Russia no longer had access to virtually unlimited manpower supplied by Belarus, Ukraine, and other now-independent nations. It attempted to create a hybrid of the traditional Russian military where soldiers are cannon fodder with a professional Western military, including a professional corps of noncommissioned officers. They gave up on the noncommissioned officer experiment about 20 years ago and rely on commissioned officers to do all leadership and management tasks.

The problem is that the Russian armed forces are neither those of the USSR nor the West.

That article is long but has a wealth of detailed evidence on the problems with ethnic units in the Army – who are basically the cannon fodder nowadays – including a story from March that I thought was propaganda bullshit but turned out to be true; several hundred Ossetian soldiers got so pissed off with the uselessness of the Russian Army that they just up and quit, hitchhiking their way 500 miles back home, where they later got into public, video-recorded arguments with the Ossetia President Anatoly Bibilov, telling him exactly how bad it was.

No WWII Russian steamroller then, but also not a flexible, networked modern military either, as shown with other things like:

  • Abandoning their secure military comms and using captured cellphones and Ukrainian cellphone networks instead, with the associated loss of security.
  • Hopeless logistics capability, covered here in Punch It Vladdy.
  • Legal desertions by paid contractors.
  • “Training” and “Discipline” that still involves the traditional practice of dedovshchina.

As this other article (which references that first) points out, one of the real, unspoken reasons for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine may have simply been the prospect of instantly adding 40 million Russian speakers to the Motherland:

I think Russian chauvinism despises the very idea of a free and independent Ukraine, and lot of Putin decisions seem to be driven by ego. Pro-natalist policies like tax and welfare incentives seem a much better way to deal with their looming population crash than a risky invasion. But Putin makes all sorts of stupid calculations. And seeing his army’s performance in Ukraine would cause a sane man to back away from open conflict with NATO.

Yes, well, “artificial nation” and all, fits perfectly with that take. The article also references a YouTube analysis and summarises its points, of which I’ll list just three:

  • Russia has to win in Ukraine because ““The Russians see this as an existential crisis. They will fight until they can’t.This is their last chance….they will never stop until they have to, or they are forced to.
  • This is going to last months, probably years.
  • “They’ve killed at least 50,000 [Ukrainians], probably closer to 100,000.”

That last is important when you consider that Ukraine is about as bad a demographic basket case as Russia, with an even lower birthrate. The last comment in that piece also fits with yesterday’s post:

But Zeihan’s theory that the U.S. and NATO see this as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to defang Russia short of a direct conflict with NATO countries strikes me as correct.

Finally there’s yet another example of the dysfunction of Russian institutions in this story of how the GRU (Russian military intelligence) seems to be gaining influence over the FSB (the former KGB) because of FSB failures in the Ukraine – starting with their under-estimation of the ability and desire of the Ukrainian military and government to fight, as well as Western and US resolve, but also including propaganda failures from the recent past in Ukraine:

“The Kremlin’s decision to favour outgroup animosity over in-group identity building, and its vast overestimation of the extent to which its lies about non-existent Ukrainian ‘fascists’ promoted pro-Russian sentiment, are key reasons why the invasion has been a strategic and logistical disaster.”

“What identity-building propaganda I could find in Donbas after 2014 was vague, poorly conceived, and quickly forgotten. Political attempts to invoke Novorossiya [“New Russia”] were cast aside by the summer of 2015, but such weak propaganda suggests they didn’t stand much chance anyway.”

In short, too much “de-nazification” bullshit and not enough, “Why Russia is amazeballs”. FSB propaganda is not what it once was in the days of the KGB, but that’s true of the FSB across the board.

Read the whole story here, but don’t laugh too much at such things. Here in the West, we’re merely traveling down a different dysfunctional path with our various government institutions, whether in NZ, Europe or the USA.

Written by Tom Hunter

May 17, 2022 at 6:00 am

Discretion is the better part of valour

with 22 comments

“Joshua son of Nun sent two spies out from Shittim secretly with orders to reconnoitre the country. The two men came to Jericho and went to the house of a prostitute named Rahab..”

Discretion is certainly a quality prized by both the first and the second oldest professions in the world.

Nobody who uses either of these services wants that fact broadcast across the community, and both the provider and the user understand the mutual protection provided, even in these days of legal prostitution and advertising thereof.

Speaking of the CIA and its friends, they’ve been leaking to their favoured MSM sources, starting with the NYT, that they’ve provided intelligence to the Ukrainians that has enabled them to:

  1. Kill some of Moscow’s generals,
  2. Down a plane carrying Russian soldiers (at the start of the war near Kyiv International Airport)
  3. Sink one of Putin’s warships (the Moskva)

Now I doubt that anybody, least of all the Russian FSB and GRU, has ever doubted that US intelligence has been helping the Ukrainians from day one and earlier, using satellite and drone observation, plus signals intelligence of all types. And I don’t have a problem with that because I want Putin to lose.

But it’s long been understood that all this is done on the down low. Aside from anything else you don’t want to show your cards to the enemy as to how you’re getting all this information. Let them guess. And in this case you also don’t want to start a larger war by pushing the Russians to start taking more direct actions against specific US intelligence platforms and generally pushing Putin into a corner he can’t get out of. For once I’ll quote the Democrat-supporting moron NYT opinionater, Tom Friedman:

“Boasting about killing his generals and sinking his ships, or falling in love with Ukraine in ways that will get us enmeshed there forever, is the height of folly.”

Which leads into one of those classic spycraft, “you know that I know that you know…” things. Surely the US intelligence agencies are not so stupid as to run such risks, in which case the question is why they would be blabbing about this.

The rather frightening theory I have is that elements of US intelligence have concluded that since the Russian military has proven to be a bit of a paper tiger and Putin has been revealed as not so smart as was claimed, that the US can start rubbing his nose in this stuff; “Yeah, we did all this! Watcha gonna do tough guy? Huh? Huh?”

Before anybody says that the CIA and company could not be that arrogant, hubristic and stupid let me remind you of the rather long list of hubristic failures they’ve had over the decades, from missing the fall of the Shah of Iran, to missing the fall of the Warsaw Pact and then the USSR, to the 9/11 attacks and Iraqi WMD’s. Yes, they’ve had spectacular successes, including greatly contributing to the fall of the USSR. But there’s enough failure and mistakes in that history to put the brakes on when it comes to confronting a nuclear power, one still with some 6000 warheads.

Incidentally that second claim about the downed transport plane is likely to be bullshit, as detailed here in Red State where the reporter (a former US Army officer) tears it apart and wonders why the CIA is trying to take credit for something that does not appear to have happened. The details of the claim are fascinating in themselves, like no wreckage spotted for such a shoot down; but in light of the other stuff about killing Russian Generals and the Moskva it’s this I find fascinating:

The lead reporter on the story was the Intelligence Community’s and FusionGPS’s go-to guy, Ken Delanian. Delanian is basically a stenographer for the IC who, in the past, has submitted his reporting to the CIA for pre-publication review and correction. The story goes on to sing the praises of the intelligence community’s work in keeping Ukraine in the fight.

Why did the IC “officials” who fed stuff to Delanian push this story out, and why Delanian and his co-authors didn’t attempt a fact check?

Actually he answered that question with that earlier paragraph. He goes on to point out that the sources probably have little to do with with Ukraine and are just passing along water cooler gossip.

But that’s still rather reckless in this situation. Another writer points out that the Pentagon is pushing back on such claims, and that this leads to a speculation only a little less worse than the deliberate goading of Putin:

Now, however, identifiable Pentagon officials—people with names, like, “John Kirby”—are walking back the claims of the anonymous “senior American officials” and “US officials”.

That the US government is so divided on the core issue of war or peace with a nuclear power is disturbing in and of itself. That one faction in the government is attempting to go over the heads of the Pentagon on the issue of a war of choice adds to the concern. The fact that the sources are identified so vaguely is further cause for concern, since it suggests a lack of military expertise. That this semi-public debate is taking place with essentially no significant input from the one constitutional institution of the American republic which has the authority to declare a war—the legislative branch—or meaningful public debate should raise our concerns to the level of alarm.

Then there’s “The Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act of 2022”, which is being touted as a way of expediting the delivery of weapons and munitions to Ukraine. Lend-Lease? I don’t object to the actions but the choice of name, with its quite deliberate echo of World War II history, is another marker of Washington arrogance and hubris, on both the Democrat and GOP sides.

And that’s apart from the $40 billion Ukraine aid bill passed by the House, amazingly an increase from the $33 billion requested by Biden, so you know how hot a bipartisan Congress is for this stuff, even when it contains shit like this:

  • $54 million goes to the Center for Disease Control.
  • $67 million is given to the DOJ for salaries and expenses.
  • $110 million is marked for embassy security in other countries
  • $4 billion is delegated to Joe Biden for “foreign military assistance” with essentially no stipulations.
  • $17.6 billion goes to the Department of Defense for stuff that may or may not have anything to do with Ukraine.

Chip Roy of Texas summed it up very well.

None of this is smart, from the leaks to the spending, all of which may be nudging the US to something more than a proxy war, which is why it’s even led to speculation about other reasons that may lie behind all this:

Abraham Lincoln arrested opposition journalists and publishers during the War between the States.  WWI saw the passage of the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918, the latter of which absolutely infringed upon freedom of speech.  And Franklin Roosevelt is notorious for having interned U.S. citizens of Japanese and also of German descent and for persecuting some Italian-heritage Americans.

Civil rights’ trampling would surely be worse under a major-war scenario today.  Not only are we much farther down the rabbit hole of moral nihilism and wanton constitutional trespass, but Americans who even question our Ukraine policy are already labeled “stooges of Putin.”  Moreover, Democrats have already made crystal-clear what they want: complete power — by any means necessary.

I don’t think the Democrats are either smart enough or courageous enough to pull that off.

Lastly from the world of Smart People In Charge, I’ll leave you with this video of some Ukrainian “soldier” supposedly doing a training video on how to operate a mortar. It’s not just the Russian military that have training problems. Here’s the snapshot from near the end in case you don’t want to watch two minutes of video.

I’ve never fired a mortar or even been near one, but I’ve watched enough war movies to know that that is not the end you stick in the mortar tube first.

THAT NICE MR PUTIN’S WAR ON UKRAINE ISN’T GOING WELL ON ANY NUMBER OF FRONTS

with 5 comments

Including the news that the United Nations Human Rights Council is to set up an inquiry into possible war crimes by Russian troops in the Kyiv area and beyond and then the double whammy that Finland is expected, as early as next week, to formally apply to join NATO with the move supported by both its President and Prime Minister. Sweden is reportedly also considering its options after 200 years of neutrality.

Clearly Putin has miscalculated on many fronts and his chickens are coming home to roost with a vengeance.

One suspects the Kremlin ain’t an overly happy place to be right now.

Written by The Veteran

May 14, 2022 at 8:55 pm

Posted in Russia

Tagged with , ,

Mysteries of the Special Military Operation – Part 4

with 23 comments

The Mystery of Putin’s Health

He’s been looking pretty pudgy lately after years of sporting a trim, even athletic figure, well into his 60’s.

But good food and drink catches up to all of us as we age. Perhaps it’s just that? There’s also the fact that Russians of Putin’s vintage had to deal for much of their lives with diets and healthcare that have led to much lower life expectancy rates than are normal for a developed country. Maybe that’s catching up to him as well despite twenty years of what is undoubtedly a very good diet and healthcare as President of Russia.

But you certainly don’t see him doing this shit anymore.

That was just eight years ago.

But there are other things that are just weird about the guy, starting with this photo released by the Kremlin themselves a few months ago.

I haven’t heard of anybody, not even the Russian trolls, who have tried to pass that off as normal. I at first assumed it was some Western smartass having fun with Photoshop to produce a Monty Python moment, but it turned out to be the genuine article.

Then just a few days ago they released this video.

Putin held onto the table with his right hand for many minutes and again he looks bloated compared to even last year.

We all saw how badly Joe Biden deteriorated mentally just between 2017 and 2019, so anything’s possible and can happen quickly in the health area, especially when you’re 69 years old as Putin is. Unlike Biden, he at least appears to have all his marbles intact and can speak coherently, although the invasion of Ukraine cannot be described as the sort of decision you’d expect from the Chess Master that Putin has been acclaimed as for years.

Maybe he senses the approach of the end and is determined upon his vision for a Great Russia before he passes from this world?

Written by Tom Hunter

May 10, 2022 at 7:00 am

Place your bets gentlemen

with 11 comments

On what Putin is going to say in today’s May 9 WWII victory parade in Moscow, celebrating the victory of the USSR over Nazi Germany in 1945 in The Great Patriotic War.

Over at Red State, former US Infantry officer, “streiff”, lays out the options, for which I’ll give the synopsis here and you can click on the link for a fuller explanation of each:

  1. Acknowledge the war, promise better days, and move on.
    Message: “we are fighting, and we are winning.”
  2. Our work demolishing naziism is done.
    Putin announces the annexation of all currently occupied territory, declares the war over, and blames Ukraine for attacking Russia when it doesn’t stop.
  3. Declare war.
    “Contract soldiers would no longer be able to quit when they desired, and conscripts could legally be herded off to the front”
  4. Declare partial or full mobilization.
    “Mobilization means that men, potentially up to the age of 65, would be swept up and put in the Russian armed forces. Don’t laugh. This has been done in Donbas”

He gives an amusing example of what a “mobilization” exercise can mean:

In 1978, the Department of Defense carried out a nationwide mobilization exercise called Nifty Nugget. The exercise involved the military and government agencies from federal to state to test America’s mobilization plans in case of a war with the Warsaw Pact. The motto might have been, “I’ve been to two goat ropes and a county fair, and I ain’t never seen sh** like this before.” The same aircraft were used in the mobilization plans of multiple organizations. Federal agencies didn’t know which of their staff were reservists or had plans for filling their positions. Rail lines critical to moving troops and equipment and been ripped up. Some installations designated as mobilization centers no longer existed. The capability to clothe, arm, and feed the mobilized men was challenged. The officers and noncommissioned officers needed to train and staff the new units did not exist. In short, even as a paper-only exercise, it was a disaster.

I can’t imagine it working much better in Russia.

Hence the great US term: SNAFU

It’s 10:30am, May 9 in Moscow so we wait with bated breath.

Heh, I’d did like his final comment because this is pretty much me as well:

What happens? On February 23, I would have bet good money that the whole “I’m gonna invade Ukraine” thing was a put-on. I got nothing.

Written by Tom Hunter

May 9, 2022 at 8:24 pm

Mysteries of the Special Military Operation – Part 3

with 7 comments

The Mystery of the Sunken Ship Salvage

Three weeks ago the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, the Moskva, sank.

In a storm while being towed to port.

After an ammunition bunker exploded.

And it was not, I repeat NOT, anything to do with the Ukranians firing land-based anti-ship missiles at it. In the same way that when reports first broke of it being towed after being damaged by … something… that was denied too – until it could no longer be denied.

As was acknowledged about two weeks later by the US DOD and others, a missile strike is exactly what happened to the ship, but they probably knew from day one, given the electronic coverage they have of the area.

However, things got ever murkier when Russia sent a salvage ship, the Kommuna, to the location, complete with deep diving submersible. (cool side note: the Kommuna was commissioned during the time of the last Russian Czar)

Why would they do such a thing?

I think everyone could agree that the largest warship sunk since 1945 — 600-feet long and displacing 11,490 tons in 300 feet of water — isn’t going to be raised. Then the question is, what is worth the effort of deploying a submersible and possibly divers to recover. It is difficult to imagine that there are surviving electronics or crypto gear that just have to be salvaged. The idea that conventional munitions or missile tubes would be worth this level of effort strikes me as ludicrous. Just as silly is the theory that the Russians are trying to recover bodies from the wreckage. The Black Sea is a closed environment; ships entering have to pass through The Straits, and Moskva’s wreck is a very short distance from the major Russian naval base at Sebastopol. Physical monitoring of vessels entering the Black Sea and the wreck site could provide eternal security. There is no danger of a repeat of the Glomar Explorer going after the wreck of the K-129 in the open Pacific.

Well there could be one reason and it’s related to a propaganda claim that the Ukrainians threw out after they sunk the ship – that it was carrying nuclear weapons. None other than the US DOD jumped on that, saying they’d seen no indications of such. But the Russian reaction was interesting, as this writer said:

What aroused suspicion was Russia ignored the allegation. If you’ve been following the progress of Putin’s War, you know any time Russia is accused of something egregious or criminal, they have three sequential responses:
a) we didn’t do it;
b) you faked it to create a “provocation”;
c) you do it all the time.

All of this, of course, is speculation except for one thing. There is a marine salvage vessel with a submersible at the site of the Moskva, and there are no logical reasons that don’t involve nuclear weapons.

Readers are invited to contribute suggested reasons – logical and otherwise.

Written by Tom Hunter

May 9, 2022 at 11:00 am

Mysteries of the Special Military Operation – Part 2

with 20 comments

The Mystery of the Russian Fires

It seems that the Russians are having an awful run of bad luck with fires in major installations recently.

On Thursday [April 21], a catastrophic fire ripped through the building housing the Russian Ministry of Defense’s 2nd Central Scientific-Research Institute in Tver, some 80 miles northeast of Moscow. This “scientific-research institute” is actually the design bureau responsible for creating Russia’s ballistic missiles and anti-aircraft missiles.

Later that same day one of the largest chemical plants in Russia caught fire.

Dmitrievsky Chemical Plant is the largest producer of butyl acetate and industrial solvents in Russia and Eastern Europe, as well as a supplier of a wide range of chemical and petrochemical products in Russia and in the world. Which means a lot of military applications also in Russia.

Then the next day, Friday, April 23, there was this.

The fire wasn’t just any location. It was at a massive plant owned by Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation Energia, or RKK Energia, Russia’s primary manufacturer of ballistic missile, spacecraft, and space station components.

But wait! There’s more! Early Monday morning (local time), explosions rocked two oil tank farms in Bryansk, Russia.  Bryansk is about 250 miles northeast of the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, and less than 70 miles from the Ukrainian border.

One tank farm catching fire is careless; two flaming up is rather extravagant. Two tank farms, geographically separated, going Zippo on the same night pushes the laws of probabilities.

So let’s count them up. A missile design bureau building, a major chemical plant, a place that builds missiles, and not one but two massive oil tank farms. I think these are what’s called strategic targets.

I’m sensing another one of those “Three Five times is enemy action” situations – in a nation at war.

Written by Tom Hunter

May 8, 2022 at 7:00 am

Mysteries of the Special Military Operation – Part 1

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The Mystery of The Dead Russian Oligarchs.

I never did much like the classic British crime story, where a murder occurs in some small, obscure English village, filled with quirky characters, unusual methods of killing and unusual motives; stories crafted by very English writers like Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, and Ellis Peters. To date there have been at least 132 murderous episodes of Midsomer Murders, which makes that fictional English county seem awfully dangerous.

No, in the face of the drive-by murders that happened in Chicago (and are happening more than ever now), where people are hardly ever even arrested, let alone convicted, the sheer randomness and frequency of modern murders made those English tales just too quaint, one even might say twee, to bear watching.

But there are times when such stories are worth looking at, as with The Mystery of The Dead Russian Oligarchs.

It seems that since January of this year six such people have committed suicide. This seems rather a high rate of death for people who seemingly have everything. I admit I didn’t notice any of this until this story broke a few days ago:

On April 18, former vice-president of Gazprombank Vladislav Avaev was found dead in his multi-million apartment on Universitetsky Prospekt in Moscow, together with his wife and daughter.

Murder-Suicide, and the murder of his own family no less. Unusual. Even amazing.

But it gets more amazing. Another two of those six oligarchs, Sergey Protosenya and Vasily Melnikov, also committed suicide after murdering their families.

[Protosenya], the 55-year-old millionaire was found hanged in the garden of the villa in Lloret de Mar by Catalonian police, Spanish media reported, while his wife and daughter were found in their beds with stab wounds on their bodies.

According to police investigations mentioned by Kommersant, Melnikov—who reportedly worked for the medical firm MedStom—was found dead in the apartment together with his wife Galina and two sons. They had all died from stab wounds and the knives used for the murders were found at the crime scene.

What a coincidence. As a famous writer once put it.

Mr Bond, they have a saying in Chicago: ‘Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action’”

No shit Sherlock. I wonder if the Wagner Group are involved in helping the Police with their inquiries?

Wagner is Russia’s most famous private military company, and is reportedly named after its commander, Dmitry Utkin, a former Russian military intelligence (GRU) officer who used the nom de guerre Wagner during his service in Chechnya.

Wagner is active in eastern Ukraine, Syria, and several countries in Africa and Latin America.

The Russian oligarch, under whose business empire Wagner sits, is a solid pal of Putin’s, naturally. He actually got his toe in the door via catering:

Today, his official business is a sprawling catering consortium that provides meals to millions of Russian soldiers, policemen, prosecutors, hospital patients and schoolchildren in return for hefty tax-funded payments estimated at at least $3 billion since 2011. 

Normally I’d be very surprised if such a man committed suicide. On the other hand he’s leveraged this business into other things to help out President Putin, which may put him at risk when a scapegoat is needed:

During this period, Prigozhin spoke or texted with practically the entire leadership of the Presidential Administration Office, along with a number of senior figures at the FSB, in the Federal Protective Service (FSO) and the Ministry of Defense. In particular, he called and texted Dmitry Peskov – President Putin’s adviser and spokesperson – a total of 144 times. He also called – or was called by – Anton Vayno, Putin’s chief of staff, a total of 99 times.

As well as similar numbers of calls and texts with a lot of other higher ups that would not appear to be connected with catering, even to the Russian Army. At the link (from the Bellingcat investigative site) is a clickable chart for all this with more detail. In case you’re wondering about them being “a CIA-backed venture”, well let’s just say that although their focus has been Russia in Syria and Ukraine, the Dutch-based outfit doesn’t express a lot of warmth to the USA either, given their uncovering of the use of Croatia as a front for shipping MANPAD missiles to Jihadi fighters in Syria.

How they got hold of Prigozhin’s information is a story in itself:

This investigation is based on a review of leaked email archives belonging to employees working for Prigozhin’s group of companies. Some of these archives have already been subject of investigations by independent Russian media while others have been obtained exclusively by the investigative team. We have validated the authenticity of the messages and contained documents through interviews with several former and current employees of Prigozhin’s overseas influencing operations.

Bellingcat has analyzed Prigozhin’s telephone records for an eight-month period spanning late 2013 and early 2014. The records were obtained from hacked emails of Prigozhin’s personal assistant leaked in 2015 by the Russian hacking collective Shaltai Boltay. The emails contained telephone billing records for his company Concord Consulting & Management, and we were able to identify Prigozhin’s personal number among the list of corporate numbers based on a reverse-phone-number-search app.

You may have heard that name before if you follow US politics. Concord is the troll farm that bombarded Facebook and Twitter with about $100,000 worth of adverts and bots (fake accounts) during the 2016 US election. To be fair it should be pointed out that while this was claimed to be “Russian interference” in the election by the Mueller Trump-Russian Collusion Investigative team, leading to Concord and a bunch of other Russians being indicted in 2018, the entire case collapsed when Concord’s lawyers unexpectedly turned up in court demanding to see the evidence, only for the Mueller team to squeal about how they needed more time or that it was “sensitive” information. The judge, aware that when an indictment is made it means you’re ready to go to trial, promptly threw the whole thing out.

Even so, Prigozhin is clearly one of Putin’s right hand men and is up to his armpits with Concord, the Wagner Group and a lot of other business. I’d say he’s playing with fire:

When you combine this with stories of a purge within the Russian domestic security service (150 FSB Foreign Intelligence Agents and Putin’s Domestic Policy Advisor Purged for Ukraine Fiasco), the head of Putin’s personal paramilitary force being placed under arrest (Top General in Putin’s Personal Army Is Arrested by FSB), the firing of eight senior generals, and a fresh purge underway in the Ukraine theater, one is not left with the view of a healthy government.

Written by Tom Hunter

May 7, 2022 at 7:00 am

The business of America is business

with 9 comments

That’s one of the famous quotes from my favourite American President next to Lincoln and Washington – Calvin Coolidge.

It would seem that President Biden believes in that also – sort of. In this case he believes in doing good business with President Putin, to the tune of $10 billion.

WHAT!? You may say? Aren’t there just a ton of sanctions the USA has laid on Russia because of its invasion of Ukraine.

Putin is winking in this photo from 2021

Well yes, but that doesn’t mean other things aren’t important – like reviving the hopeless 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, the JCPOA, of which Russia is a key component, in both the negotiations and the aftermath:

Sure, Biden talked tough about imposing sanctions on Russia and called out Putin for his fiendish actions, but the Russians knew that his words were as hollow as Obama’s meaningless sanctions over Crimea. And the Russians gleefully rubbed Biden’s nose in it. Lavrov boasted publicly that the United States had provided written guarantees that sanctions imposed over Ukraine would have no effect on Russia’s nuclear cooperation with Iran. In other words, the cash influx that the JCPOA promised Putin would be unaffected by whatever happened in Ukraine. No matter how many Ukrainians Putin murdered, Biden was going to make the man he called a war criminal even richer. Half a million dead Syrians could testify that America would keep its word.

When the Iran deal is formalized, Iran will be a Russian nuclear client. Russia’s state-controlled Rosatom energy firm and at least four of its major subsidiaries will receive sanctions waivers to finish nuclear projects in Iran worth more than $10 billion. Iran will also be buying weapons from Moscow worth billions of dollars more. By relieving sanctions on Iranian banks, the restored JCPOA provides Putin with financial channels invulnerable to U.S. financial measures.

Helping Russia make lots of money. Enabling Iran to get a nuclear weapon.

Apparently this is what passes for great US foreign policy nowadays, certainly with Biden’s staff, the bulk of whom are Obama retreads determined to give Obama his third term.

Read the whole thing.

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Postscript.

Given that this quote is often used to slam both the USA and Coolidge I think a fuller quote is needed:

After all, the chief business of the American people is business.  They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world.  I am strongly of the opinion that the great majority of our people will always find these are moving impulses of our life. . .  Wealth is the product of industry, ambition, character and untiring effort.  In all experience, the accumulation of wealth means the multiplication of schools, the increase of knowledge, and dissemination of intelligence, the encouragement of science, the broadening of outlook, the expansion of liberties, the widening of culture.  Of course, the accumulation of wealth cannot be justified as the chief end of existence. But we are compelled to recognize it as a means to well-nigh every desirable achievement.  So long as wealth is made the means and not the end, we need not greatly fear it. 

And on a separate occasion:

Great captains of industry who have aroused the wonder of the world by their financial success would not have been captains at all had it not been for the generations of liberal culture in the past and the existence all about them of a society permeated, inspired, and led by the liberal culture of the present.  If it were possible to strike out that factor from present existence, he would find all the value of his great possessions diminish to the vanishing point, and he himself would be but a barbarian among barbarians.

Written by Tom Hunter

April 17, 2022 at 11:14 am